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Is Cheating Healthy?

The popular “4-hour Body” originator Tim Ferriss says that setting one day aside to totally indulge when you are dieting is the key to staying motivated and maintaining your metabolism. Is a “cheat day” necessary to achieve a healthy weight? Or does planning for a Saturday splurge just mean we’re cheating ourselves?

While some evidence suggests this metabolic boost does help spur on weight loss, the idea is dogged by a few good-health disconnects. The need for a cheat day automatically implies a regimen of food restriction. Dieting, characterized by short-term, sometimes tortuous limitations of food –  and often nutrition –  is no fix for bad eating habits. The road to long-term weight maintenance and disease prevention involves embracing consistent habits that incorporate new, better ways of eating every day.

Ways to Keep Your Cheat

Are you are born cheater? When it comes to eating healthy, some people are just meant to break the rules. If walking the line of healthy eating sounds like a stone cold bore, here are a few ways to get your cheat on, in a good way.

The Good Cheat. When you cheat, indulge in foods that you love and are good for you. Love the sweet extravagance of strawberry pie? Always had a soft spot for sauces, dips and melty things? Don’t deny your desire to indulge. Healthy eating is a rainbow of opportunities to love real food again. Start cooking, choose foods you love, eschew processed salt-sugar-fat non-foods and find recipes that capitalize on nutrition while still keeping the delish.

The Lite Cheat. Incorporate the cheat by regularly eating things you love as one part of an overall healthy diet.  One of the myths of healthy eating is that it’s bland, boring, and repetitive. That’s just old school thinking. Sure, a constant diet of carrot sticks can set you up to fail. Instead, use fruit and veggie servings to your benefit. How? We talk about delicious, nutritious food here all the time. Join us, buy a good cookbook, and learn about how to capitalize on foods that have a potent nutrition-to-calorie ratio, and start cheating your way to health, weight maintenance, and disease prevention.

The Unnecessary Cheat. Change your taste for processed foods and eliminate the need to cheat. Our desire for fat, sugar, and salt only increases the more we subject our bodies and our minds to it.  David Kessler, in his book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, explains that foods created with a magical recipe of high fat, high salt, and high sugar alters the brain’s chemistry in ways that compel us to overeat. They override our body’s signals that tell us we’re full, and they trigger cravings. Administered in intermittent doses, this combination can have a powerful affect on the brain that can mimic addiction. But you can break the chain. Stop the regular intake of this dangerous combination and you’ll lose the taste for it, Kessler says. Given a little time, you can start craving the nutrition your body really needs instead.

The Bigger is Better Cheat. Often, cheats are cheats not because of what we eat, but how much. There’s nothing more indulgent than simply putting away a whole lot of food. But here’s something we tend to forget: while 1/2 cup of rice is 300 calories, a 1/2 cup of spinach is only 15 calories. That’s why a diet can make us feel like we aren’t getting enough food and energy. If you are switching from a poor diet marked by processed, fatty foods to a diet of nutrient-rich foods, you aren’t – and you need to eat more. So, give yourself license to chew: eat as many of the good, healthy foods on your list as you want. Bulk up on frozen fruit and wild blueberries, shovel on the greens, go crazy with beans, and heap on the lean proteins.

Cheat-worthy Recipes

Remember your ace in the hole is always a food that is full of high-powered health and disease prevention and is also terrifically tasty. Wild blueberries are an ideal case in point. You can pretend you’re cheating when you eat them, but in fact, wild blueberries are a complexly delicious, nutritious, antioxidant-rich, low-calorie stand-in for a favorite forbidden food.

No matter what your cheat style, here are some wild cheats that fit the bill. Get extravagant with Wild Blueberry Cheesecake Tart with Nut Crust, get a chocolate fix with Fudge Cake with Wild Blueberries, and head for the comfort of Skinny Cook Allison Fishman’s Wild Blueberry Cobbler With Buttermilk Biscuits.

Need more? Epicurious plays “splurge day” recipes against “every day” recipes that include healthy comfort foods that you can incorporate into your healthy eating plan, including Mac and Cheese and Pizza.  And, WebMD has Turkey Tamale Pie that is hearty and veggie-heavy.

Thanksgiving…the ultimate cheat. From creamy onion tart to coconut butternut soup, New York Times Well blog says forgo the bird and indulge in wonderful flavors of veggies.

Got a favorite cheat? Share it with us!

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