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The Science & Psychology of Cheat Meals: Avoid These Mistakes

“Cheat” Meals

The problem with cheat meals is in the name, we associate cheating as being wrong and referring to, or associating, certain foods as “cheats” we are making a divide between good and bad foods

A cheat meal results in people viewing certain foods as “good” and others as “bad” – viewing certain foods as “bad” can result in binging and feelings of guilt after eating a cheat meal

Putting cheat meals on a pedestal also makes you view your normal eating habits, or the “healthy” food you normally eat, in a bad light – makes them seem tasteless and unappetizing, which will cause you to resent your diet even more

Cheat Meal Mistakes

Don’t Plan it or Associate with Reward

Planning a cheat meal, or associating a cheat meal with a feeling of escape or relief can be detrimental to your well-being

Study

A study conducted by the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto looked at two groups of eaters – restricted eaters and non restricted eaters

The study analyzed the effect of pre-exposure to two types of food cues (olfactory and cognitive) on food intake by restrained and unrestrained eaters

Patients were exposed to either no cue, an olfactory cue, a cognitive cue or a combination of the two types of food cues for ten minutes prior to eating

Restrained eaters ate significantly more than did unrestrained eaters after exposure to the food cues – was no difference in food intake when there was no pre-exposure to the cues.

Although baseline subjective ratings were equivalent for both groups of subjects, after cue pre-exposure, restrained subjects, in keeping with their increased consumption, indicated a significantly greater craving, liking, and desire to eat the cued food (pizza) than did the unrestrained subjects. (1)

Refeed vs. Cheat Meal

Calling your cheat meal as a cheat meal may be harmful to some as it’s been shown how you refer to things, particularly food, can influence your decision making

Study

A study in the Journal of Consumer Research divided people into two groups: one group was told that each time they were faced with a temptation, they would tell themselves “I can’t do x.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I can’t eat ice cream.”

The second group was told to say “I don’t do x.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I don’t eat ice cream.”

As each student walked out of the room and handed in their answer sheet, they were offered a complimentary treat – students could choose between a chocolate candy bar or a health bar. As the student walked away, the researcher would mark their snack choice on the answer sheet.

The students who told themselves “I can’t eat x” chose to eat the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time – students who told themselves “I don’t eat x” chose to eat the chocolate candy bars only 36% of the time (2)

Refer to your cheat meal as a refeed meal

Referring to cheat meals as cheat meals seems to bring about a negative response in humans – referring to it as a refeed day gives it a more structured, and controlled feeling

No Excessive Cardio

There’s something called compulsive exercise, also known as exercise bulimia, where people use exercise – usually cardio – to torch their bodies of the calories they’ve consumed

Many people will do extra cardio the day after a cheat meal, and while it’s not usually as extreme as exercise bulimia, it creates an unhealthy relationship with cheat meals – could also lead to compulsive exercise down the line

Compulsive exercising has to do with control, much the same way people with eating disorders use food as a way to take control of their lives.

They feel that by torching their bodies with cardio they’ll be able to control the effects of their overindulging – a way of controlling their guilt

But, it can turn into an endless workout if you’re not careful since most folks never feel satisfied with their bodies or their fitness levels, no matter how much they exercise

Compulsive exercise is usually link to, or can cause, eating disorders (3)

References

1) The Effect of Pre-exposure to Food Cues on the Eating Behavior of Restrained and Unrestrained Eaters – ScienceDirect. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666396900574

2) The Effect of Pre-exposure to Food Cues on the Eating Behavior of Restrained and Unrestrained Eaters* 1 | Janet Polivy – Academia.edu. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/12056162/The_Effect_of_Pre-exposure_to_Food_Cues_on_the_Eating_Behavior_of_Restrained_and_Unrestrained_Eaters_1

3) Exercise Bulimia: Symptoms, Treatments, and More. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-bulimia-symptoms-treatments-and-more#treatment4

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