“What do you eat?” This is a question I am frequently asked once I divulge my background in nutrition. Simply stating, “I eat healthy”, is never a sufficient answer since a large portion of the population does not know how to define what healthy eating entails. Therefore, answers to follow up questions usually require that I give a listing of a day or two worth of meals.

One of the biggest misconceptions I often encounter is the assumption that healthy eating requires restrictive eating. I promise, just because I eat healthy, does not mean I restrict myself in any way. Instead of restriction, I make sure I enjoy my meals, mind my portions, and listen to my internal physiological hunger and satiety cues.

In fact, besides the actual food that you put into your body, mindful awareness while eating with regards to meal enjoyment, portion control and physiological cues, is an extremely important part of eating healthy. Mindful eating is what allows me to indulge in what would be considered cheat meals or treats.

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You may find this next statement odd, but cheat meals or treats are important in maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle. Keep in mind that healthy eating is not a diet, it should not be temporary, rather, it should be an overall lifestyle change for the long-term.

Therefore, incorporating cheat meals or treats into your daily or weekly routine is important in order to avoid leading a restrictive lifestyle will either not last very long, or initiate a path of disordered eating that can be very destructive to your overall health. Giving in to your cravings and desires here and there will allow the flexibility necessary to maintaining a life of healthiness.

So back to the question of what do I eat? I focus mostly on fruits, vegetables, lean meat, poultry or fish, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. Following the United States Department of Agriculture’s recommended MyPlate eating plan, I am able to fill my plate with healthy foods the majority of the time. I also tend to eat about six meals throughout the day. I have my three main meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner with smaller snack sized meals in between. A healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals is important, so variation is key.

A typical day includes the following:

Cheat Day

Breakfast:

6-ounce oatmeal made with ½ cup low-fat or fat-free milk

½ cup fresh berries

2 hard-boiled eggs

Snack 1:

6-ounce greek yogurt with

2 tablespoons granola or fiber buds

Lunch:

Turkey Sandwich:

2-ounces sliced turkey breast

2 slices whole wheat bread

2-ounces low-fat cheese

½ cup mixed greens salad with 1 tablespoon low-fat dressing

½ cup fresh melon

Snack 2:

1 medium apple with 2 tablespoons nut butter

Dinner:

2 ½–ounces grilled chicken

½ cup brown rice

1 cup steamed broccoli

So, how do I cheat or fit an indulgent treat into my daily or weekly meal patterns?

I pay attention to my cravings and mind my portions. Paying attention to the nutrition facts and ingredients labels is also key to fitting these meals and treats into your daily routine. Denying cravings in the present can lead to overconsumption in the future, which is why paying attention to them is important. Portion control is also critical as the size of your portion could either keep you within your healthy guidelines or put you over the edge.

Cheating on a weekly basis:

One week I might have a slice or two of regular pizza for lunch or dinner one day, and maybe another indulgent meal for lunch or dinner another day of the week. The rest of the meals on those cheat days will remain within my normal eating patterns, as would the rest of the days for that week.

Cheating on a daily basis:

Instead of having a cheat meal once or twice per week, I can fit cheat treats or snacks into my daily routine. This usually results in having three mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups, 2-3 small pieces of dark chocolate, or two cookies at some point in the day. Other cheat treats may include a ½ cup of ice cream or frozen yogurt, or a mini ice cream bar. Following these small portion sizes keeps you within calorie limits while satisfying the craving for these treats. Additionally, small portions such as these are usually below 100 – 200 calories, which will not likely hamper your healthy eating lifestyle.

As you can see, cheating here and there can help maintain a healthy lifestyle. When careful planning and attention is paid toward how to incorporate cheat meals or treats into your routine, you can satisfy those cravings in a controlled manner. Make sure to load up meals with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and whole grains to make room for a little indulgence here and there.

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