No matter how you eat, cravings are bound to come up sooner or later. Low fat? Sometimes you want a slice of bacon. Low carb? There are days when you’d kill for a nice crusty piece of bread covered in butter. Low calorie or macro-based? At times, you’re probably sick of tallying up numbers in your head and just want to sit down to a nice big meal.
Or maybe you’re not that targeted with your diet and just generally try to eat well. Then, too, cravings can come up, and it’s helpful (we’d say essential) to give yourself permission to have a little fun now and then.
One popular way to deal with cravings is by having occasional “cheat days” – setting aside a meal or a full day to go wild and eat whatever you want.
We’re fans of straying from your diet now and then. The psychological relief can be good for you, especially if you’ve been, say, cutting calories to lose weight. We find it can actually make it easier to stick to healthy eating long-term.
But we’re not fans of cheat days. We prefer something similar, but intentionally different: Yes Days.
What is a Yes Day?
A Yes Day is when you say yes to whatever delicious food you want to eat. It’s a celebration of the decadence of food. Have you been dying for a pizza? Ice cream? Some nice crusty bread with butter? A PB&J? Bacon? Whatever it is, on a Yes Day you go for it. The only rule is that you eat all that tasty food from a place of enjoyment and check any guilt or disappointment in yourself at the door.
How is a Yes Day different from a cheat day?
If you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ve had a cheat day. Cheat days come in two forms: intentional and unintentional (AKA “falling off the wagon”). The latter usually leads to feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, self-hatred, and so on. And more often than not, on unintentional cheat days you end up eating way more than makes you feel satisfied because you’re dealing with all the unpleasant emotions that come with falling off the wagon.
An intentional cheat day is quite similar to a Yes Day. In fact, you could say Yes Days are the next generation of intentional cheat days. There are a few subtle (but important) differences:
- A cheat day is usually intentional and somewhat planned. A Yes Day is always intentional, even if you weren’t planning on having it ahead of time.
- The word “cheat” implies something shameful or dishonest. The word “yes” implies a celebration of food.
- With a Yes Day, you’re eating from a place of joy – not a place of cheating or doing something wrong.
- The real difference here is how you frame things in your mind. It’s positive psychology – saying yes to something and feeling good about it.
Why have a Yes Day?
The majority of diets fail, and the most common reason people stop eating healthily is that they feel like they can’t comply with the restrictions around food long-term.
This has more to do with psychology than physiology. There’s a big difference between “I’m never going to eat pizza again” and “I’m going to eat pizza on Saturday (and enjoy the hell out of it!).” Yes Days help you find a sense of balance that makes nutrition sustainable long-term. You don’t have to be absolute.
We don’t like the word “cheat.” It implies something shameful or dishonest. Food is one of the great pleasures in life, and eating to enjoy food is a cause for celebration. You’re replacing the guilt of cheating with the joy of saying yes to tasty food. And you’re appeasing the cheesecake-craving rebel in you so that you can continue to nourish yourself with healthy food most of the time, without feeling restricted.
Why restriction doesn’t work
Why not skip the Yes Day and just power through cravings, without going off your diet?
Because demanding that kind of perfection from yourself is stressful. If you’re pushing the pendulum way toward the “eat perfectly all the time” side, sooner or later it’s going to swing back toward the “eat all the cookies NOW” side. And it’ll do so with a vengeance. You’ll likely end up bingeing on unhealthy food and then feeling profound guilt or disappointment in yourself because of it.
Let go of the pressure of “no more pizza ever again.” Instead of feeling overwhelmed by your cravings and eating from a place of stress and unease, set aside the occasional time to eat what you want, and do it from a place of joy.
Isn’t this all just semantics?
Sort of. But how you think about things makes a big difference in how you experience them. It’s far too easy to view healthy eating as life-or-death. That brings so many negative emotions and such an air of seriousness with it that you can forget to enjoy your food.
Yes Days flip the script. They’re a celebration of the progress you’ve made on your journey to better health. They focus on the 90% of the time that you eat healthily, not the 10% of the time that you don’t. That makes a big difference in the way you approach food.
How often should you have a Yes Day?
The frequency of your Yes Days depends on your goals. Here are a few guidelines for Yes Days:
- Go for the 80-20 rule, or somewhere around there. Aim to eat nutritious stuff about 80% of the time, and leave the other 20% for tasty diversions. The numbers are flexible – maybe you do 70/30, or maybe you’re hardcore and do 90/10. Wherever you land, that range seems to strike a nice sustainable balance between taking good care of your body and enjoying yourself.
- Have Yes Days often enough that you don’t binge. If you find you’re bingeing on your Yes Days to the point where you aren’t enjoying yourself, try having smaller Yes Days more often. Yes Days should be enjoyable. They shouldn’t be junk food-eating marathons that leave you comatose on the couch, surrounded by pizza boxes and candy wrappers.
- Try Yes Meals, too. You don’t have to set aside a whole day. Maybe just say yes to a meal now and then, or to the delicious-looking crusty bread before the meal, or whatever it is you enjoy. Smaller splurges can encourage a more balanced look at nutrition. Yes Days are a little more all-or-nothing, and that’s totally fine. They work well for a lot of people. But you may find you do better with the occasional meal instead of the occasional full day. Try both and see what works for you.
- Keep your goals in mind. Are you trying to lose weight? Build muscle? Improve your digestion? Feel better? Tailor your Yes Days to your goals. If gluten makes you feel ill for days after you eat it, maybe enjoy a gluten-free pizza instead of a normal one. If you track your weight and find your Yes Days are keeping you from burning fat, scale them back a bit.
And above all, find a balance that lets you enjoy yourself. Yes Days are about building a sustainable path to better health. Change and growth take time. Be patient with yourself and learn to love the process. We find the occasional dessert helps.
Thanks for reading and have a great week!