THOUGHTS: ‘Cheat Meals’, Mindset + IIFYM
The concept of ‘cheat meals’ is something I want to address, because it’s something I frequently come across or get asked about in relation to my ‘diet’.
I use these two phrases lightly, in inverted commas. This is because I don’t believe in the idea of either of them. Now, that might sound strange. If you know anything about the IIFYM diet, you might well view cheat meals as one of their defining features. And, for a lot of people, they are. Some people scrupulously eat the same boring meal every day in anticipation of the moment they can sink their teeth into the most chocolatey/fatty/carby/cheesy/indulgent *insert chosen adjective* meal they desire at the turn of the weekend. Foods they would never allow themselves for any other meal, because in an ordinary situation, they would be off limits. But I feel that there’s a huge danger in restricting and demonising food in this way that is all too reminiscent of the disordered eating mentality.
There are of course foods which are better for your body than others. For instance, a banana is a lot more energising and nutrient dense than a bar of chocolate. BUT- if you eat natural, whole foods the majority of the time, the chocolate is not going to undo all of your good efforts.
Indulging in decadent and delicious foods should be as much a part of our diet as green smoothies and brown rice. Labelling certain foods as ‘cheat meals’ is simply a recipe (har har) for bad feelings. It subconsciously sends our brain the message that we are falling off of a virtuous path of perfect health into a forbidden pit of bad character.
No, no, no.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have struggled with this for years, avoiding particular foods as a result of having convinced myself that they were going to derail all of my efforts.
Thankfully, I’ve come to realise that food truly is all about BALANCE. Think of that chocolate as a treat. A treat is a kind, positive word. It reinforces positive feelings about that food. A cheat is a harsh, negative word. It reinforces negative feelings about that food, disguised by connotations of indulgence. Do you see the difference?
Someone recently told me they’d read about IIFYM, and was confused as to why it only described macronutrients in terms of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Why was there was no mention of good fats, bad fats, simple carbs and complex carbs? Surely good nutrition should involve some awareness of these? It was a great point that resonated with me completely. My answer was that the IIFYM diet operates under scientific principles at the most basic level- how much protein, carbohydrate and fat does a person need to reach their individual body composition goals? From this view, the foods you eat within these macronutrient guidelines are up to you. Do you like to eat doughnuts and crisps? Great, you can eat them- just make sure they fit your daily macronutrient goals and away you go.
But that’s not for me. I genuinely love, enjoy and want to eat nutritious, whole foods every day. They make me feel better, both physically and mentally, and I’m endlessly fascinated by their healing and energising properties.
And that is how I make IIFYM work for me. The majority of my day to day meals are made up of nutrient dense foods, and if I fancy treating myself to a couple of squares of chocolate? I’ll do it.
A lot of people who follow the IIFYM diet stick to very basic and functional meals, with little variety. It allows them to hit their macros and enjoy the journey with minimal effort. And I’m not going to knock that. We’re all busy, and eating healthily can be hard and time consuming. If that’s how you can make healthy eating work for you, you’re doing a great job.
The thing is, we live in a convenience culture where grabbing a sandwich from the supermarket is easier than spending a little bit of time prepping your own food from scratch.
I totally get it.
But it does sadden me, and I want to change it. And that’s why I made this blog. I manage to follow the principles of IIFYM on a nutritious, whole food diet with the occasional treat. Cheat meals don’t exist. I make quick, easy recipes that are delicious and varied. Does it involve putting in a bit of effort? Yes. Do I have to make time? Yes. But its so worth it.
Check out my About Me page for more on IIFYM!