Studio 44 Column: Balance nutrition & indulgence

MK personal trainer and nutritional advisor Joana Todor Back expalins how having a good food relationship can be more beneficial to dieting.

As a qualified sports nutritionist, I shudder when I hear the term “Cheat Day”.

Not because I’m thinking of people shoving donuts and cheeseburgers in their mouths, but because it’s a term rooted in the diet culture, that places food in a “good” or “bad” category.

Here’s why associating morality with our food choices can trigger unhealthy eating behaviour, how to ditch the cheat day and focus on more helpful, positive eating strategies.

Black and white thinking

Categorising foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, sets us up for moral highs and lows that should never be associated with eating.

Whenever I have clients that start their session with a feeling of guilt, by being “bad” or “cheating” on their diet, one of the first things we work on is food neutrality. Putting all foods on a neutral playing field – that’s right, cookies and kale in the same category – no conflict.

Everything is allowed in moderation!

Bingeing and “Cheat Days”

Overeating or bingeing on a cheat day not only results in excess calorie intake, but is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame, that typically lead to another period of rigid dietary restriction.

I can back this up with my own clinical experience of being a body fitness competitor and I can confidently surmise that if disordered eating is not present in those with regular cheat days, it is often a gateway to more disordered eating behaviours.

Focusing on a positive relationship with food

As a sports nutritionist who often works with clients on a daily basis, the main focus is to find how to balance training with a good relationship with food.

A common step is to eschew the cheat day and work on flexible diet and a good food relationship, making sure to have a balanced macronutrients count.

This will help with food-neutral mindset and also take away the guilt often associated with cheat days and the yo-yo diet cycle that might follow.

1. Eat your favourite treat when it makes sense. Enjoy a food you’d typically have only on a “cheat day” after a good training session so the body can use the high glicemyc food for energy and recuperation.

2. Honour your cravings. Instead of feeling like you’re “giving in” to food cravings and ruining an arbitrary diet, honour it. Have a bit of it and learn to leave the rest for the next day.

3. Think nourishment. Nourishment is one of my favourite words to use with clients because it encompasses how we take care of ourselves both physically and emotionally. Ask this one question, before you chose what to eat: “what nutritional goodness will I be getting out of this food?”

Call Joana on 07808 030091 or email for further advice or to book her for personal training sessions

This feature was published in the April 2020 issue of Celebrate:MK lifestyle magazine. Read the full magazine above or by clicking on this link.

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