Cheat Days and Addictions

Cheat Days and Addictions

Donuts, cakes, ice cream, hamburgers and bagels. I love all of these things! At the same time I am conscious and mindful that, “I love all of these things!” This is the battle many of us fight in an effort to be healthier.  As a society we have come a long way in terms of how we view our food. We now have the popular opinion that too many complex carbohydrates and simple sugars are bad for us. I think this is a big step in the right direction. That being said, the average person still struggles with healthy eating regiments more than ever.

The discussion today is focused on something called a “Cheat Day”, maybe you have heard of it. It is an approach to healthy eating that has become a pretty popular practice lately. I have chosen this topic because I think the purpose and many benefits of a Cheat Days are missed, even by many already using them. The majority are adopting the Cheat Day because they hate their diets and it adds guilt free, unhealthy eating to their diet plans. This alone does have its merits, however I think there is much more to it.  There are things we can pay attention to that will help us stay on track with our healthy eating goals. Even those with healthy diets might find some novel ideas to ponder. Lets take a look at how we can fully utilize a Cheat Day approach to eating.

The Sugar Addiction

The most popular cheat on a Cheat Day is complex carbohydrate and sugar binges. In this article I will do a deep dive on how we can really formulate an approach to managing the habits and addictions surrounding these food vices. I label them vices because I identify them as things we know are bad for us but we continue to consume anyways.

“We don’t need sugar to live, and we don’t need it as a society.” – Doctor Oz 

(I know Doctor Oz is a sore spot for some with his grandiose unproven claims lately however, I do like the quote.”

So why then do we eat it? Addiction is the short answer. Anything we can so easily derive pleasure from is addictive and eating sugar loaded treats is just a simple form of effortless pleasure. When the pleasure and reward loop has no resistance on it, the substance or action is usually quite addictive. This lack of effort needed to administer another dose eliminates any deterrent from the individual doing so. When you eliminate deterrents for experiencing more of something, its also very easy to overindulge. As a result, overindulging leads to lowering your response to the stimulus.  This creates a cycle that can spiral out of control and really impact your life. The exact results will vary depending on the substance or action and it’s addictive nature.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Let me take a side bar here to quickly explain how we as humans determine happiness. It is known that we can only know happiness through comparison. For those who have not come across this concept in the past, here is a quick example. A study was conducted where researchers compared the base line Happiness of Lottery Winners vs Paralyzed Accident Victims. The study revealed that perceived happiness (over time) returns to a relative baseline to your current environment. Happiness is relative and derived from the comparison of past experiences. The more recent past experiences seem to take precedence and alter your baselines as time passes.  Your mindset will change as we get used to new environments and this changing comparative mindset I like to refer to as your baseline for happiness. This is what allows us to keep on living after tragedy and able to continue to grow after amazing good fortune.

The lottery winners in this example were extremely happy at first, but their baselines rose with time and adjusted to their new lifestyles. This is easy to imagine for anyone that has experienced the excitement of buying the latest and greatest electronic gizmo. At first these items will make you smile just looking at them. Over time they slowly integrate into your daily life or routine with little to no effect on perceived happiness. The reverse scenario, is the one that people have a really hard time imagining. People can’t imagine losing an eye or an appendage for example, then being able to return to a state of being, where you are as happy as you were prior to the incident. These individuals however, do return to their regular patterns of perceived happiness, with ups and downs.

Mindfulness of our baselines and derived pleasures from exposure to addictive activities can be an approach to gaining control of this process. Gaining a greater understanding into how to reach our goals. We could probably discuss any vice, however the example I will use is junk food. I have chosen this because most can relate to overindulging from time to time using this example. Additionally I have first hand experience that will allow me to add to the conversation. 😉

Deep Dive Into Baseline Management

So what would a healthy Cheat Day cycle look like? The individual would have to eat cheat food at an interval where they would not increase their baseline.  This would look something like the diagram below.  Here the individual has allowed time to pass so their comparative baseline can drop back down between each dose.

Minimum Effective Dose

An example of balancing frequency and dose to maintain steady baselines.

When properly managing certain variables we create healthy habits instead of addictions. Properly utilizing a Cheat Day the individual in this example has found that 1 week is the right amount of time to return to their baseline. The green segment of line is the comparative pleasure derived from eating a cheat. The red segment is this returning back to baseline over time. Things however don’t always go as planned. Lets take a look at an extreme example where an individual has decided they want to eat ice cream bars every day.  Not only do they want them every day, but they also want to feel the same level of satisfaction each time they indulge.

Increasing Dose and Baseline

Upping the dose and frequency maintains pleasure over a shorter time but raises our baseline.

“I bet you can’t eat just one” – Lay’s Potato Chips Slogan

Here the example shows the dose increasing over time to maintain the same comparative pleasure spikes throughout their week. The individual is continuously not allowing baseline to drop back to a level where they would feel the same satisfaction from using the same size dose. This can happen both consciously and subconsciously. That first chocolate egg from Easter tastes about 10X better than the last chocolate egg that you didn’t even want… BUT! you can’t waste chocolate either, right?!

It is somewhat obvious that this cycle can’t carry on forever. There is a point where the dose will be so large it makes us sick. When this happens an individual has maxed out their dose and it would look something like this.

Maxed Out Dose

The dose can increase no further or it will literally make you sick. This frequency with no increasing dose yields less than satisfactory results for satiety and pleasure, derived from experience.

Food at this point has lost it’s satiety attribute and depending on how long this has been going on, you might not even remember how good food can taste. Carrying on like this or even worse, trying to raise your baseline even further can lead to heart disease, fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome or even type 2 diabetes. In drugs and other addictions it can lead to depression and/or anxiety. Some describe it as, “Life lost it’s colour.”  We never want to get to this point of a maxed out dose from overindulging.  If we are there, we know it is time for a change.

I think it is easy to identify with some of the quick onset addictions or immediately destructive habits.  For example, hard drugs like Heroin and Cocaine. Some addictions however, have a slow onset and unfortunately we have a tendency to treat symptoms in Western Medicine instead of trying preventative approaches.

I think we can change that mindset and begin to educate ourselves on preventative measures. Some would be surprised what it feels like to be back at that starting baseline. I encourage and support anyone who wants to give it a go. Examine any effortless pleasure derived activities in your life and see if recovering some baseline might benefit you. Using your cellphone too much is a big one for most people.

What might an attempt to recover baseline look like?

Recovering Healthy Baseline

Dropping baseline could just be a matter of stretching out dose frequency and reducing dose volume.

Perceived happiness will be much lower during this corrective regiment. Knowing this helps make it easier to execute. We are able to sway perceived happiness during this process by knowing what to expect. The plan is to gradually drop baseline over time. This is achieved through increasing the time between doses to an amount of time that allows baseline to fall. At the same time we would be reducing the dose volume. This is not the only approach available and it takes time as I previously mentioned.

Some prefer a cold turkey method of dropping all the way back to the original baseline. The danger of not using the gradual method is that you would not create any habits from repetitions. This is the yoyo effect most experience after binge dieting. The reintroduction of the vice is sure to fail with no healthy habits formed. You are going to return to bad habits having not trained any new habits for dealing with your addiction. You have only learned how to avoid the problem with this approach. AA uses this approach with a goal of never drinking again. This method leads to no healthy habits being learned to deal with actual consumption of alcohol. In contrast, reaching a healthy baseline again over time puts resistance in your reward loop. A vice can turn it into a healthier habit with properly managing perimeters over time. If you successfully stick to the plan and lower baseline, you will find that food will taste better along with life being in colour again!

The principals shared above can be applied to most addictive substances. Sometimes the most successful plan of attack is understanding what is going on with yourself.  Once you can fully visualize how your environment is affecting you, you can adjust your habits accordingly. After I finished writing this article it felt like I had created a lens to examine the use of moderation itself in great detail. I come from a school of thought where education and understanding yields far better results then blindly following a diet or exercise plan. I hope the information shared in this article helps you reach whatever goals you may have for yourself.

If you have any additional tips and tricks for Cheat Days or addiction management, I would love to hear them. Join the conversation in the comments section below or in the Facebook post comments.

As always, if you like any of what you consumed in this article, it is super appreciated if you spread the virus of abnormal thinking on social medias. Share buttons are located above and below the article 🙂

– Chris

Other Benefits of Cheat Days:

● Not allowing your metabolism to down shift.  – The amount and type of calories your metabolism is used to metabolizing is also a baseline to consider maintaining.  Too low calories or lengthy periods away from sugars and carbs can atrophy your ability to process them. Some over active health nuts can no longer even stomach hamburgers or sweets in extreme examples. I personally want to maintain my ability to down some Mcdonalds if caught in a jam or on vacation with no healthy alternatives.

• Reduced stress. – Taking a break from strict diets can do wonders for your stress levels.  Its like a vacation from being an Adult. More in depth information in “The 4hour Body” by Tim Ferriss

• Higher Adherence Rate for Dieting. – When you have planned cheating in your future, you are less likely to fail at your diet.  You find you have strength to hold off until that planned satisfaction time in the future.


  1. Charles de Weerdt


    Tried the cheat day thing and thought myself clever and basically responsible. Yes it’s a guilt free lifestyle and does have advantages. My perspective changed slightly when I discovered quite by accident (volunteering as a patient for ultrasound training) that I had a gall stone.

    What I learned. Eating right before or within an hour is a very bad thing for your digestion. (And a significant contributing factor to gall stones) My very rare but significant high fat binges were very bad. 🙁 I almost never eat dessert but once in a blue moon would eat a cheese cake, yes whole thing, extra buttery jumbo popcorn at the movies, pie and icecream instead of a proper dinner jumbo bag of potato chips from Costco with sour cream and salsa.

    I’ve since developed some new habits. Not cold turkey.
    1)gradually transformed my double double cream and sugar coffee to drinking it black, and enjoying it. (Premium coffee only. First half sugar and cream then switching cream to milk then removing milk and finally sugar free.
    2) eliminated dairy from my diet. (Was giving me irritable bowl)
    3) Changed my thinking on expensive out of season fruit. Why would I pass on that when I was prepared to pay for a $10 bucket of icecream?
    Now spoil myself with the best fruit whenever I can find it. So much better for me and regaurless of cost, I enjoy it as a special treat!!!

    Enjoying your page and perspective e very much. Sorry so long winded here. Please feel free to paraphrase or edit for brevity.

    Thanks. 🙂

  2. Chris MacSweyn (Post author)

    Thanks so much! Means a lot to me just starting out in the blog world. I think you might enjoy the documentary “Cereal Killer”s and it might make a good argument for why avoiding the fat might not be necessary for you. I have been experimenting heavily with Ketogenic diets recently after watching that documentary and reading “Keto Clarity” the book. I may dive into that topic in the future but want a bit more experience under my belt before taking it on. Again thanks for the kind words 🙂

    – Chris


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