Indulging your cravings is part of eating healthfully, so my long-term goal when working with clients is to help them move from the cheat day mentality to eating in a balanced way that includes some splurges. But if you’re still operating with this mindset, here’s how to recover from a cheat day.
Be kind to yourself. Beating yourself up after a day (or week) of indulgences only adds to your stress, which takes a toll on your overall well-being. There are always going to be times when you eat more than you intend. If you criticize yourself in these moments, it’s demotivating and harmful to your mental health. So, be gentle with yourself and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can! (Are you a stress eater? Here’s how to stop stress eating.)
Remind yourself of other healthy behaviors your practicing. Being healthy means you’re consistently practicing a series of behaviors. It doesn’t all boil down to what you eat. So, to recover from a cheat day, take a step back and notice all of the other health behaviors you’re participating in. Maybe you exercised most days this week or drank lots of water or practiced meditation or slept seven to nine hours most nights. Maybe you even ate lots of veggies or cooked a few meals. All of these behaviors factor into your overall health, so it’s worth celebrating any and all of them you practiced!
Don’t turn a cheat day into a cheat week or month. There is no best time of day, week, or month to return to healthy eating, so after a cheat day, take the next chance to re-establish your healthy routine. If you had an indulgent brunch, have a balanced dinner that evening. If you were on vacation and enjoyed more restaurant meals, desserts, and cocktails than usual during the week, get back to your regular eating habits when you return, whether that’s a Saturday at noon or a Monday night.
Eat foods you crave most days. When you enjoy foods you love on a regular basis, you may not feel the need to have a cheat day! In fact, learning how to enjoy these foods is part of developing a balanced relationship with food and your body. I like to find healthier alternatives to really indulgent foods to eat most days, but everyone is different. Some of my clients prefer incorporating their favorite foods, like potato chips or ice cream, into their daily routine. Regardless of where you fall, don’t get too restrictive with your eating habits. This almost always leads to a yo-yo pattern of being ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ for a period of time and then ‘cheating’ or being ‘bad’ for some time, which tends to be unsustainable for the long run. It also moralizes your food choices, which isn't helpful. (If you crave sweets, check out these healthy sweet snacks!)
Stay consistent with exercise. Every form of exercise, no matter how challenging or how gentle, or even how long, contributes to your well-being. If you need to recover from a cheat day, participate in some form of movement, but resist the urge to exercise to burn off the calories you consumed. This mentality feels punishing and won’t motivate you to exercise most days. Instead, pick something you like to do and work out for the amount of time you have. It’ll feel good! (Check out the best equipment for your small home gym, according to fitness pros!)
Have a balanced meal. When you’re recovering from a cheat day, it’s ideal to return to healthy eating as soon as possible. Have a balanced meal that includes a generous portion fiber-rich, non-starchy veggies. (Need some veggie inspo? Here are 14 easy vegetable side dishes.) Pair your veggies with some protein and wholesome starchy carbs. A balanced plate has about twice the amount of veggies to starchy carbs, so see if you can get close to that balance. For some easy balanced meal ideas, download my FREE recipe booklet!
Practice tuning into your hunger and fullness. After a cheat day, you may want to reconnect with your hunger and fullness cues. These cues help you avoid overeating, whether you’re eating French fries or salad. Either way, the goal is to eat until you’re lightly full, not stuffed. When you develop this skill, you can use it to manage your portion sizes no matter where or what you’re eating. You may also find that you’d like a lighter meal following a heartier one, or that you don’t need a snack after a heavy meal. This practice can help you bounce back from cheat days and manage your hunger better every day.
Give up the notion of cheat days. You’ll never have to wonder what to do after a cheat day if you shift your mindset away from cheat days! Cheating implies that you’re doing something dishonest or undesirable, when in fact, you’re just eating for pleasure. Eating for pleasure is totally healthy and normal, and we all do it sometimes. When you embrace this concept, it can help you enjoy a reasonable amount of less healthful food when you want it rather than monstrous portions on cheat days. It can also help you be more consistent with your eating habits, rather than abandoning them for a period of time. If you need help with this, please schedule a no-obligation call!