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2 Reasons Why “Cheat Days” Are Not a Weight Loss Winning Strategy for Emotional Eaters

By Marion Holt February 10, 2023 Health and Fitness

When I am on a diet, I live for my cheat days. I fantasize every day, all day long, about the food I am going to splurge on during my next cheat day. I know if I want to reach my goal weight, I’m in for a long period of time. My cheat day allows me to feel less deprived of the food I like, and to keep going longer. At least this is what I tell myself.

Cheat days are supposed to help us stick to our diet. But for us, emotional eaters, cheat days make it harder to stick to our diet. Why? And what to do instead?

Cheat Days Reactivate Our Emotional Eating

Every time we are exposed to the food we crave and have eaten for comfort for years, we dramatically increase our risk of relapse.

Would you advise a person with an alcohol problem to get a drink a month? Or a chain smoker to allow themselves one cigarette a week? Of course not. Why? Because you know this choice will almost certainly lead them to more drinks and more cigarettes.

The same goes for emotional eaters. Cheat days lead to more cheat days. Splurging on comfort food during cheat days make it especially challenging to confine these cravings and cheat-day foods into a certain day of the week or monthly routine.

When we indulge on comfort food during a cheat day, we are doing what our mind is telling us to do. Not what our body needs. As emotional eaters often confuse what our body wants with what our mind wants. We are used to eating for comfort, and cheat days takes us directly back to our old, unhealthy relationship with food.

A cheat day mindset consisting of I’m only going to eat these snacks or comfort food on Sunday,” can easily turn into a more frequent behavior that leads to increased cheat days.

Cheat Days Maintain a Transactional Relationship with Food

Allowing ourselves a cheat day as an incentive for meeting diet or weight loss goals means rewarding ourselves with food. Which is a typical emotional eating answer. Eating not because we need a certain type of nutrients or number of calories, but because we’ve been “good.”

The flip side of the coin is when we don’t eat comfort food, it therefore subconsciously means that we’ve been “bad.” Healthy food is then assigned the function of a punishment. And you can be as strong-willed, motivated or dedicated as you want, nobody keeps on punishing themselves very long. When healthy food feels like a punishment, there is no way we can stick to it as our new lifestyle.

Using cheat days in our lifestyle is prescribing moral value to food. And this almost certainly reinforces an unhealthy relationship with food. There is no such thing as good food or bad food. Eating for health is not transactional. As soon as we find ourselves negotiating what we allow ourselves to eat or not, we are back into emotional eating behaviors. It’s only a matter of time before we get back to our old habits.

How to Avoid Cheat Days and Not End Up Bored or Frustrated

There are several efficient strategies you can use to stick to your diet without using cheat days.

Retrain Your Mind

Don’t think “I can’t eat cookies” but “I don’t eat cookies.” I can’t eat cookies” is a limitation to your freedom. “I don’t eat cookies” is a choice. Your way to exercise your freedom in your eating choices. After a while, “I don’t eat cookies” will become your new truth, and when presented with one, you will have no issue refusing it.

Plan Your Meals

Instead of incorporating cheat days to your routine, introduce new, fun, healthy food in your diet. Find a recipe you never tried before, using food you are not used to taste. This will keep your diet diverse and avoid boredom and fatigue.

Approach Food the Same Each Day

If you want to build a new lifestyle that you can stick with, it has to be pleasant and your healthy eating has to turn into a routine, not a punctual weight loss effort. Don’t wait a special day, occasion, or weekend to enjoy your favorite healthy food.

Instead, find a way to build them into your daily or weekly menu. When you are satisfied enough to not feel deprived, your cravings will not hit as bad, and you will be able to control your emotional eating better.

Find Support During Your Weight Loss Journey

Emotional eating is a coping mechanism that allows us to numb uncomfortable emotions we don’t wish to feel. Once we stop eating for comfort, all the emotions we have repressed come back. The longer you used food to deal with these emotions, the less equipped you are to embrace them today. Find a friend, support group or a professional that can help you navigate these uneasy feelings.

While cheat days can be an efficient strategy for some dieters, they are a form of emotional eating and reinforce an emotional attachment to certain types of food.

If you are not sure whether you are an emotional eater or not, you can take my quiz here.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you include cheat days in your diet? Are they beneficial or do they make it more difficult for you? Let us know in the comments.

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I mangiatori emotivi che si rivolgono al cibo per conforto o per alleviare le emozioni negative spesso lottano con abbuffate o schemi di eccesso di cibo. I “giorni cheat” possono innescare sentimenti di colpa, vergogna e perdita di controllo sul cibo, alimentando ulteriori abbuffate e sabotando gli sforzi per perdere peso. Un approccio più sostenibile potrebbe essere quello di incorporare cibi limitati con moderazione come parte di un piano alimentare equilibrato e flessibile, riducendo i sentimenti di privazione e promuovendo un rapporto più sano con il cibo. Nel complesso, un approccio equilibrato e flessibile al mangiare può essere più efficace per i mangiatori emotivi rispetto ai “cheat days” nel promuovere una perdita di peso sostenibile e un rapporto più sano con il cibo.
Per chiunque sia interessato a raggiungere i propri obiettivi di fitness, è bello sapere che programmi come Metodo Fespa offrono rieducazione alimentare e coaching. La loro esperienza può essere preziosa per guidare le persone verso uno stile di vita sano e sostenibile. È un modo conveniente per perdere peso senza sacrifici.


I am definitely an emotional eater so this article was especially helpful to me.
I know what happens if I allow one day of comfort foods a whole weekend would be my downfall and make it all the harder to get back into the healthy foods I actually truly love and love me back.

Marion HOLT

Thank you for your testimonial Elyse! I believe most of us emotional eaters struggle with that aspect


As a career behavior analyst, I LOVED this article! And agree with it 100%.

Marion HOLT

Thank you Leslie! I appreciate your support.

The Author

Certified professional coach Marion Holt has been an emotional eater since childhood. No longer. In her workbook series, Never Eat Your Emotions Again, she shares specific behavioral expertise and techniques for efficiently recovering from emotional eating. She’s helped many others going through their own journey to a healthier relationship with food – and a much more fulfilled life.

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