You're not "cheating." You're just eating.


"Cheat meals."

"Cheat foods."

"Cheat days."

When did we start determining that certain dietary choices should receive the negative connotation of "cheating"? And why do universally beloved and delicious foods have to be subjected to this stigmatization? Leave my pizza alone, you bully! It never did anything to you, except delight your belly with it's cheesy deliciousness!

Joking aside, labeling certain foods as off-limits or "bad" or "dirty," and only meant for consumption when we have been "good" on all other days of the week is (in best case scenario) a really screwy way of viewing food, and (in worst case scenario) dangerous, especially in our diet culture where many young women (and increasingly, men) often go to unhealthy lengths to achieve their self-perceived physical ideal. Food, poor food, becomes the enemy.

Certainly I am not advising that we completely abandon our grilled chicken and quinoa for cheeseburgers and french fries all the time (or even most of the time), and of course the importance of good nutrition cannot be overstated, but like with everything else, balance and moderation remain the keys to a healthy lifestyle (note: lifestyle, not diet). Extremity in either direction is dangerous, but if your food choices are, for the most part, nutritionally-sound, providing your body with the nutrients it needs to take care of itself, and your exercise routine is solid, then for God's sake, have the cupcake, enjoy the cupcake, and don't equate the eating of the cupcake to being bad!

I am also not attempting to ignore the fact that almost 40% of adults in the U.S. are considered to be obese; this is real data and is no doubt a result of a combination of factors (large portion sizes, the overabundance & high availability of processed food, sedentary lifestyles, etc.), and is quite obviously a big issue that needs to be addressed. But separating foods into "good" or "bad" is part of the problem. What happens, psychologically, when something we want receives the label of "bad," or "off-limits"? Duh, we want it more. And worse, we develop sneaky behaviors around getting what we want, which, guess what, leads us to feeling shame. Then, indulging in your favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor makes you feel guilty, yet still delights your tastebuds and raises your dopamine levels thus creating a negative pattern where each time you have said Ben & Jerry's flavor, you feel bad because someone (and/or the media) has told you that ice cream is BAD. Liking something that is labeled bad makes you feel, you guessed it, bad.

So, what's the solution? Yes, it would be extremely helpful if the media suddenly just eliminated the use of "cheat," or "bad," when referring to food, but as that is most certainly not going to happen, I'd like to make a suggestion. Whenever you are casually perusing your favorite women's mag or wellness site, with a mozzarella stick in hand, and are suddenly made to feel bad by a fear or guilt-inducing article on what you should or should not be eating, just take a moment and breathe. Think about how you really and truly feel, both body & soul, about your overall food choices, fitness routine, and spiritual condition involving both, and if you realize, "Hey! This is the seventh time I've eaten mozzarella sticks this week and my energy is a little low as a result," then maybe you want to not eat them again tomorrow. But if upon mindful consideration of your lifestyle choices, you feel pretty damn good, then flip the bird to the screen, and simply enjoy every single bite of that mozz stick. It's just food; neither good nor bad, and nobody has the right to make you feel shame over it.

In sound mind & body,

Jesse

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Personal Trainer + MYXfitness Coach + Runner