Can Cheat Days Help With Binge Eating Disorder?
Let’s talk about cheat days and whether cheat days can help with binge eating disorder.
Now, when I’m referring to cheat days, let’s also include cheat foods and cheat meals in that.
I have issues with using the term “cheat” anything when we talk about food. Your diet and your food intake are not moral issues in that sense.
You’re not in a relationship with your diet, which means that you can’t really, or you shouldn’t think of it as cheating on it if you have something that’s not on that plan.
But for this, we’ll just use the term cheat anyway. This does cover cheat foods, cheat meals and cheat days. I’m going to refer specifically to cheat days, although it applies to the others as well.
What Is A Cheat Day?
So a cheat day is when you’re on this specific diet or eating plan, and then you have one day where you just kind of throw it out the window, have whatever you want and probably even as much as you want.
The idea is that when you have this planned intake of foods that you normally ban or restrict, it stops cravings from building up too much. So whatever plan you’re on, it makes it easier to stick to in the long run.
I don’t know if that was the best explanation, but basically, you gave yourself a regular release of that buildup of cravings.
Can Cheat Days Help With Binge Eating Disorder?
So to answer the question about whether cheat days can help with binge eating disorder – as with pretty much any time you hear me talk, I’ll always say “It depends” because none of us are identical.
And to some extent, it also depends on your binge triggers.
Before we get any further, something to bear in mind is that what the fitness industry or diet industry usually refers to as a cheat meal or a cheat day is essentially a planned binge.
I don’t think it has any specific bearing on the rest of this conversation, but it’s just something to be mindful of.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that a cheat meal or a cheat day is different to a refeed, which is something I’ll come on to a bit later on.
Binge Triggers Are Often From Emotions, Not From Cravings
And I think that probably the most important thing to remember is that when you have something that triggers a binge, it’s usually an emotional issue or some kind of stress or something in your mind.
So if bingeing is one of your responses to that trigger, then you’ll kind of still feel it, regardless of how long ago you had a planned cheat, whether it was a week ago, a month ago, or a day ago, or even the same day.
So how long ago you last cheated might not have any impact on how you respond to that binge trigger. Those cravings might still be there.
And I think that applies to pretty much every eating disorder. While it manifests in your relationship with food, that’s not the underlying cause of it.
When Cheat Days Can Help
Under some circumstances, a cheat meal or a cheat day can help.
I know that one of my most common binge triggers is when I mess up on my eating plan. If I mess up a little bit, say I eat too much or have the wrong things, I’ll sometimes say, “Okay, I messed up today. I’ll just make the most of it. Have what I want and then get back on track tomorrow with a fresh start.”
And I know that’s not a great behaviour pattern and it’s something I’m working on. It’s something that I’ve spoken about before as well. But it is something that I know I do.
But something that I have noticed is that when I do have one of those days, like a cheat day or if I binge then it kind of gives me a new sense of discipline the next day to get back on track.
And I’m less likely to binge for another fairly long time.
Maybe it doesn’t specifically help with binge eating disorder in that sense, but it helps me manage one of my binge eating patterns.
What Are Refeeds And Why Are Refeeds Better Than Cheat Days?
I mentioned refeeds earlier.
That’s a term that does get used interchangeably with the idea of cheat days, but it is a separate concept.
Refeeds tend to be a little bit more planned, a bit more structured, and they fit in a little bit more to your overall eating plan.
It’s helpful if you’ve been on a diet or if you’ve been calorie-restricting, or if you’ve been putting your body in a position where it’s undernourished in any way whatsoever.
A refeed is going to help reset yourself mentally and physically. It’s going boost your mood, top up your glycogen, and probably help reduce stress in your body.
And to an extent, it can help make you feel a little bit more resilient to handling any kind of emotional or stressful events that might be happening in the coming days.
I know in my case, for example, when I feel well-nourished, I feel healthy, I feel resilient and I feel that I can handle most things that get thrown at me for the next few days.
And I think that’s basically, that’s when I know a refeed is serving its purpose and that’s very different than how I feel after a binge or a so-called “cheat”.
So Can Cheat Days Help With Binge Eating Disorder?
As I already mentioned, I have very strong objections to using the word cheat day or cheat meal. And I think the idea of it sucks.
Bear in mind that binge eating disorder or any other eating disorders aren’t necessarily food or hunger or cravings issues.
So with that in mind, a cheat or planned cheat might not have any bearing whatsoever on whatever triggers another binge in future.
Cheat days won’t necessarily blunt the cravings that you get when you have your next binge trigger.
And probably most importantly, when you are feeling well-nourished, you may find yourself more emotionally and physically resilient, which means that you can handle stress better.
You can handle emotional events better. You can handle trauma a little bit better.
And that might mean that when you do next, come up against an event that might normally trigger a binge, you might find yourself mentally and physically better prepared to handle it.