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Does a ‘cheat meal’ make sense?

When it comes to dieting, there are many different opinions as to what is “best.”

Cutting out certain foods, limiting portions and counting calories are all good ways to lose weight, but what about watching your diet through the week and allowing a “cheat meal” or “cheat day” on weekends?

Tom Nikkola, director of nutrition and weight management at Life Time Fitness ( gives his take on the subject:

“For some, limiting addictive, processed foods to once a week can make cravings stronger and all consuming. They find themselves developing an abnormal focus on their cheat meal, which can easily turn into more of a binge than a meal,” says Nikkola. “If that sounds like you, cheating is probably not a good idea.”

“Cheat foods” often have excessive amounts of gluten, sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, artificial flavors, MSG and other undesirable additives. Although we know excesses aren’t healthy, its can be easy to justify eating these types of foods because we tell ourselves it’s just once a week. But taking a step back before your binge meal could be an eye-opener. For example, is it really in your best interest to eat 52 pizzas in a year or 52 pints of ice cream? Whatever your cheat food is, if it’s on a weekly basis, taking a closer look may help you to choose more wisely, or even better, decide to eat healthy every day.

When we pig out, we often try to make up for overeating by skipping meals or cutting calories drastically to try to compensate. This form of yo-yo eating can wreak havoc on the body.

“Give yourself a break and get back on course to living a healthy way of life,” says Nikkola.

The bottom line is that we each must decide what benefits us when it comes to what and how we eat. If your diet has resulted in long-term weight loss, your energy is good, and you have healthy cholesterol and blood pressure, it’s a pretty safe bet you are on the right track. On the other hand, if you always seem to be on one diet or another without seeing results, it’s definitely time to get to the root of the problem and find out why. Along with diet of course, there must be a reasonable amount of daily activity to go along with it. Most experts recommend at least one hour of physical activity most days of the week if weight loss is needed, which can be broken down into small segments. It doesn’t take a lot, but it does take consistency in thought and action.

Ideally, consuming a great diet and getting some exercise should be a “want to,” not a “have to.” It’s not about being fanatical, it’s about behaving according to how healthy you want to be.

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