I have many concerns around the complex intersection of ‘diets’, body image, self regard, morality, health, fitness and social media. The very small part of this complexity which is running through my head today is the concept of diet ‘cheat days’ or ‘cheat foods’. Diets as a sociocultural construction irk me. Layer the ‘diet’ (here used as a particular prescription for eating) issue with this notion of ‘cheating’ and I sort of shake my head.
To give credit where it is due, this entry was provoked by a video post by Steve over at logmyloss.com. (Steve has made some amazing, thoughtful lifestyle changes and has a ton of great information on his site — you ought to click on over). Steve’s video was in response/reaction to a post by The Anti-Jared (which is not a blog I’ve been following but will now be checking it out periodically).
When you are redefining your nutritional intake, it is important to think about what is in, and with what frequency, and what is out. That is all there is to it. If you are going to build into your eating patterns foods that you have only on an occasional basis, then do so. Feel good about it. It is then just part of your overall nutritional approach as opposed to a ‘violation of rules or regulation’. I don’t understand why/how this is conceptualized as a ‘cheat’. I do not think it well describes the intent and purpose of the periodic partaking of particular foods.
Labeling these occasional foods as ‘cheat’ normalizes cheating as a behaviour. Heck, it even helps create a habit of cheating! When cheating is ‘normal’ in one part of your life, it is easy to justify it in other arenas as well. Remember, cheating is not only a behaviour, it is a concept.
The label also places a value judgement on particular foods — cheat foods. Value judgements around food and eating are highly charged in our society. Popular perception has it that it is only the morally lax person who succumbs to cheating in our moralistic culture; it is only the person lacking personal control, and thus moral integrity, who eats foods that are not good for them. Hence ‘the cheat’.
Well, it isn’t so much the particular food which is a problem, nor is it our relationship to that food. It is the moral judgement placed on that food and our relationship to it. It is important, I believe, to stop putting so much emotionally-laden labels on our food. It is the labelling and the forces behind the labelling which are problematic. The food in question may not be particularly good for us in a biological sense — that’s the food’s action on us — but it does not possess inherently evil characteristics. Nor do we when we consume it.
When I have Ben & Jerry’s, I am enjoying some delicious ice cream. I am thoughtful, mindfully present in the enjoyable characteristics of the ice cream, just as I try to be with every food I consume. I am not of questionable morality. Nor am I ‘cheating.’ I am simply exercising a decision which fits the healthy lifestyle I have chosen for myself.
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. – Galileo Galilei