The Biggest Difference Between a “Cheat” and a “Splurge” Meal

Is there a difference between a “cheat” and a “splurge” meal?

Yes, and that difference is BIG.

In fact, this might be one of the most important articles I’ve written, because knowing the difference between the two and changing how you view these so-called “cheat” and “splurge” meals/foods, can be the difference between living a healthy, enjoyable life and taking yourself through a vicious cycle of yo-yo “dieting” year after year.

Yes, this article is THAT important.

I regret not writing it sooner.

Let’s get started.

Are “cheat” meals the same as “splurge” meals?

Not to me.

Let me explain.

When it comes to food choices, I don’t like the word “cheat”…. at all.

Here’s why.

What do you think of when you hear the word “cheat”?

Here are some “cheats” that come to mind:

“I’m cheating on my spouse.”

“I’m cheating on this exam.”

“I’m cheating on my diet.”

These are all considered “bad” things.

And when we do something “bad,” we feel guilty.

That guilt often turns into a vicious cycle of feeling even worse about ourselves, which leads to us feeling terrible about ourselves, our actions, and our lack of discipline and control.

Here’s when we start “should’ing” all over ourselves:

“I should know better.”

“I should have more self-control.”

“I shouldn’t have eaten that.”

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Beating ourselves up doesn’t get us anywhere…. and it definitely doesn’t help us move forward toward our goals.

It just adds a deeper level of unbelief to what may have already been a lack of belief in ourselves.

So what’s a way for us to not get into this brutal cycle of beating ourselves up?

First, it’s to change our view of food.

I believe we need to stop putting different foods into “good” or “bad” categories.

Here’s why.

When we put foods into either the “good” or “bad” category, what happens is that when we eat something in the “good” category, we feel good about ourselves.

On the other hand, when we eat something in the “bad” category, we feel bad about ourselves.

Sometimes this goes as far back to childhood, where you were either being a “good” girl or a “bad” girl.

Consider this for a moment:

Is eating a Mickey Mouse ice cream with your grandson at Disneyland “bad”?

And this:

Is eating ice cream at night when you’re feeling bored “bad”?

Can you see how it’s not the “ice cream” per se that’s “bad,” rather it’s more about what that food “means” to you at that time?

Instead of thinking of foods as “good” or “bad,” I encourage my clients to think about it a different way, by asking themselves two crucial questions:

Question #1: Are you enjoying the food?

Eating a Mickey Mouse ice cream at Disneyland with your grandson might be really enjoyable for you – you are loving this fun experience with him as you both bite off Mickey’s ears together and laugh.

You might find that the ice cream might even taste better too, because you’re enjoying it with one of your favorite people. It’s an experience you two might remember forever.

On the other hand, eating a late night pint of ice cream because you’re bored or lonely might give you a quick feeling of satisfaction, but as you put spoon after spoon into your mouth, the instant gratification might slowly begin to fade and turn into feelings of guilt.

Again, it’s not about ice cream being “good” or “bad”; rather, it’s a question of enjoyment, during and after.

Question #2: Is it worth it?

Back to the Mickey Mouse ice cream example:

Even if you’re on a quest for weight loss, this special time with your grandson might be worth it or it might not. That is a question only you can answer.

My suggestion in this case is: Make a decision, stick to it, and OWN it. In other words, don’t feel bad about your decision during or after.

For example, you might consider:

“This is the first and maybe last time I will have this opportunity to be at Disneyland with my grandson and share this ice cream in his favorite Disney character’s shape. I’m going to choose to savor this time with him and I’m not going to feel guilty about it! Instead of skipping this moment with him, I’ll opt out of dessert after dinner later tonight. This ice cream will be my treat for the day.”

Now, I’m not saying this is the right response, but it’s just an example of how you might have a conversation like this with yourself.

On the other hand, when it comes to the late night pint of ice cream that you’re about to have, you can ask yourself the same question: “Is it worth it?”

Again, that’s not for me to answer.

The answer lies in your honest reflection on “why” you’re going to eat it.

If you’re eating it because you realize that you’re feeling lonely and sad, plus, you know from past experience that eating it will only make you feel more lonely and more sad afterward, then maybe the answer is No, it’s not worth it.

However, eating a late night ice cream in a healthy mental and emotional state while you watch one of your favorite movies on a Friday night after a long week might be worth it to you!

The take home message here is to stop thinking of foods as either “good” or “bad” because that wording means something to us.

Similarly, when we throw around words like “cheat” meal, it tends to make us feel “bad” about ourselves and throws us down that never-ending cycle of negative self-talk.

Instead, I prefer the word “splurge” meal/food.

Unlike a “cheat,” when you think of a “splurge,” you might think of a vacation that you treat yourself to even though it’s beyond your budget.

You choose to make this decision because you have worked hard for it, you’ve earned it, and you know you will return feeling refreshed, renewed, in a better mood, and more willing to come home encouraged to take better care of yourself (but perhaps in more affordable ways!).

Splurge meals are worth it to you.

 They are carefully thought out.

 They may even be planned out ahead of time (more on this another time).

 But most importantly, you are in a good mental space when you make the choice, which means:

  • You feel in charge of your choice,
  • You don’t feel bad about yourself when you consume it (in fact, you savor it because it’s special), and
  • You OWN your decision – you don’t feel bad about yourself afterward.

This is a healthy way to view and make food choices. Plus, it takes the pressure off.

Feeling in charge of your food choices is a wonderful feeling, but it’s not one that can come easy for women who have grown up in a world where certain foods have continually been demonized.

That’s why we have such a hard time not thinking of foods as “good” or “bad”.

It’s a deeply ingrained belief and it continues to be a product of our culture.

But you don’t have to think this way. You don’t have to buy into that.

It is possible to have a healthy relationship with food – to not feel guilty about what you eat because you have a strategy in place, a plan, and you’ve done the work I’ve shared today to cultivate a healthy, vibrant life that’s realistic, meaning that you enjoy ALL the foods you love.

This doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, splurge all the time, do whatever you want, whenever you feel like it, IF you have health goals that you want to achieve.

But, you can really have it all when it comes to living a healthy life where you enjoy all the foods you love at the right times for you.

“Hoping” you make the right food decision when the time comes is simply too hard.

You must have a vision, a plan, and a strategy in place.

What’s more, this vision, plan, and strategy are uniquely yours. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to all this.

So make sure you have this in place, or else you may find yourself repeating the same patterns and behaviors over and over.

If you don’t have a vision, plan, or strategy in place and you’re ready to get started on it, I’m here to help you do that.

Simply book a time during my Office Hours to talk with me.

Now that you know the difference between a “cheat” and a “splurge” meal, next week I’m going to take a deeper dive into splurges. Stay tuned!


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