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Why should I avoid using the term: cheat meal?

Ask an Expert: Karina Inkster

Many fitness and nutrition coaches are moving away from using the terms “cheat meal” or “cheat foods” – and rightly so!

The word “cheat” instills a sense of guilt, which is not a psychologically healthy emotion to have about food. Instead of “cheat," I and my coaching team use the term “treat,” which is much more positive. “Cheat food” also perpetuates the myth that there are good foods and bad foods.

The term “cheat” also implies that you’re on a strict program of some sort, with rules that you can break. Rules don’t work around food. Guidelines or principles do, because they allow for flexibility and spontaneity. Having very strict rules around food can lead to disordered eating patterns, anxiety and guilt.

Author, speaker, and fitness coach Chrissy King said: “I don’t believe in cheating. For that reason, I never allow myself ‘cheat’ meals. However, I also do not label any foods ‘off limits,' so I would never have a reason to cheat. I listen to my body, I eat according to my personal preferences and I always do it in moderation.”

Molly Galbraith, founder of the worldwide fitness movement Girls Gone Strong, stops eating an indulgent food when the payoff is no longer greater than the price. The “payoff” is taste, and the “price” is calories or how the food makes you feel physically.

She says “bread is not bad. Kale is not good. I’m not good for eating one thing, and bad for eating another. I’m not on or off the wagon. I’m not cheating on my diet. I’ve realized that salad and cupcakes can co-exist in the same meal. The universe will not implode.”

So, if you currently use terms such as “cheat foods” or “cheat meals," consider switching to something more positive and something that doesn’t involve shame — like “treat foods” or “fun foods."

Karina Inkster is a qathet region health and fitness coach, author of five books, and host of the No-B.S. Vegan podcast.

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