Should you eat well for six days a week, and then spend the seventh day treating yourself? Or should you have a small treat regularly?
This question divides people completely as everyone has different preferences, but one thing we can all agree on is that it is important to include "treats" in your clean eating plan. Otherwise you will deprive yourself to the point that you crave something so badly, you will gorge on it and, more than likely, end up eating far more than you would've been comfortable with.
But what do the experts think is the best thing to do?
In a recent article on womenshealthmag.com, Angela Lemond, R.D, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said if you have a craving for something, satisfy it, then get on with your day.
Don't dedicate an entire 24-hour period to indulgence.
She added that it's imperative that you need to avoid the "bummed-out feeling" that you get when you've eaten too much, and I couldn't agree more.
Angela was quoted in the article saying: "I would say it's better to have one cheat per day and not an entire day of cheating or eating what I call 'sometimes food,' that nickname gives you an idea of how often you should be eating those foods: sometimes." In other words, not all day
(even if that's only one day a week).
She explains that, by saving your treats up for one day every week, you are more likely to gorge than if you allowed yourself small treats daily (or every couple of days), saying that the food you allow yourself for that full day could actually be more guilt-inducing than you may have realised, "and that guilt perpetuates more dieting."
Jillian Michaels, personal trainer and coach on The Biggest Loser, wrote a blog post on her website about this topic, saying: "I am actually not a big believer in the "cheat day," the reason being that psychologically, it messes with my head when I feel that I've binged. Cheat days imply that you can throw all of your hard work out of the window and go back to harmful eating and no exercise for a temporary “feel-good” time period. But you don’t truly feel good, right? Cheat days throw you off track and you’ll most likely end up feeling guilty, bingeing on excess food, or in a worst case scenario, completely giving up on yourself.
"With that being said, I do believe in higher-calorie days, but I don't call them cheat days — there is always
a calorie limit. I think that a blowout day of taking in 5,000 to 6,000 calories can throw off your entire week's work. Some trainers believe the body will not absorb all those calories at once, but it's been my experience that extremely high calorie days can really throw off a diet."
She went on to say that she recommends a maximum of 2,000 calories for a cheat day noting that "you can’t be perfect ALL of the time. There is simply no fun in that."
Jillian practises the 80/20 rule, where you can either make 20 percent of your daily calorie allowance treat foods (a brownie, glass of wine, etc), or make one out of every five meals a treat meal, pointing out: "Remember that a treat food or meal doesn’t give you free reign to turn the entire days into “cheat days". Once you get used to eating well, it’ll become second nature and you’ll understand how your body reacts to unhealthy foods. Life requires balance — and finding that healthy balance is the key to a healthy life."
She basically is saying that everyone slips up sometimes, and that you mustn't punish yourself for that: "The key is to realize what you're doing and stop yourself before you do further damage. Think of healthy eating as a game that's always on — if you draw a foul or get side-lined for a minute, your job is to get right back in the game as soon as you can. If you overdo it at one meal, don't just throw in the towel for the rest of the day (or the rest of the week). And don't beat yourself up, either — instead, learn from the experience and move on. Each mistake is an opportunity to add another strategy to your playbook so you get it right the next time."
Ciara Foy, The Daily Hiit's resident nutritionist, said: "I think it boils down to the individual. Some people have a very addictive personality and if they have "one" treat it snowballs, and fast! So for those people, they can't just have a little every day. They may be able to have something once a week. But they have to be really honest with themselves and know what works for them."
She explained that it's important to work through the cravings, and that after a few weeks the cravings will reduce. Ciara said: "Then they can start to have a treat because it will be a conscious decision instead of dealing with a craving."
But what does Ciara do?
"I have a treat when I want it, but because I eat well it's not that often."
She elaborated by saying that she does however, allow herself a couple of squares of organic dark chocolate every other day...and some red wine.
Isn't it good to know that nutritionists are "normal" people too!?
So basically, although the small but regular treat option will result in less guilt (and bloating), it is ultimately up to you how you choose to work treats in to your diet.
The experts however, don't like the name "cheat day" - the word "cheat" implies that it is acceptable to gorge, and ruin all of your hard work for that week, which it isn't. Call it a "treat day" instead. This will remind you that you are still working hard, but allowing yourself some treats.
Every person has a different idea of what makes a treat day though; for one person, it could be two squares of chocolate, but for another, it might be a double cheeseburger followed by a tub of ice cream.
This is what makes it impossible for any nutritionist or personal trainer to say that EVERYONE should follow one or the other rule for treats; simply because it is different for each person.
If you choose to have a treat day every week, then listen to Jillian Michael's advice and don't gorge all day; it will only make you feel guilty for ruining your hard work. Just have a reasonable amount of food and satisfy your cravings without going overboard.
If you choose to follow Ciara Foy's routine and have small but regular treats, then ensure that they are small. It's no good following the regular treats strategy if you are going to allow yourself a pizza every other day!
Personally, I follow the small but regular treats option as I hated the guilt (and bloating) I got from a full day of treats. During The Daily Hiit's recent 30 day challenge Ciara Foy
advised people to exclude all treats from their diet for one week, and amazingly, after just that one week I found my cravings dropped!
So although I often allow myself the foods that I crave, I actually very rarely crave large amounts of "bad" foods - it's usually a small amount of chocolate (as that's my main weakness).
So try excluding treats from your diet completely for a week or two, and see what suits you better out of a full cheat day or small regular treats.
If you don't trust yourself to stop at one small treat, then the regular treats option (as Ciara explained) would not be for you. You would be better off having a treat day; but remember what Jillian said, and don't let the day become a blowout day - try to stick to a maximum of 2,000 calories on that day.
If you really struggle to avoid sweet things, then check out my recipe for a clean eating dessert
count as a treat.
And remember, if you need help with your diet, we're here for you! Click here to check out the NEW definitive nutrition guide