What Mardi Gras Can Teach Us About Diet Cheat Days

By Jessica Lymberopoulos February 12, 2013 No Comments

Diet cheat days — in recent years, many US dieters have accepted the idea of scheduling weekly binge fests with unrestrained enthusiasm (and donuts).

Celebrity health writers love them too. Bob Harper recommends planning weekly cheat meals in his popular book, The Skinny Rules. Tim Ferris promotes the idea in The Four-Hour Body, even suggesting that cheat days can speed up weight-loss.

But is having a cheat day once a week really as healthy as you might hope when you’re biting into a handful of french fries from a king-sized box?

We’re not doctors or nutritionists here at Fooducopia, but we think there may be a few things to learn about diet cheat days based on the quintessential food free-for-all that many people are celebrating today — Mardi Gras.

Perhaps better referred to as Fat Tuesday for our purposes, traditionally speaking, this holiday was all about indulging in as many fatty, rich foods as possible before the start of the Lenten season — a period of fasting observed by many Christians between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

This simple observation leads us to Mardi Gras’ first lesson:

Binge before you start your diet, not once you’ve committed to eating more healthfully.

There’s no great binge day in the middle of the Lenten season, or afterward, for that matter. So perhaps you should consider scheduling all-out overindulgence only at the beginning of a period of mindful eating.

Lesson number two:

Don’t have a pre-diet binge alone. Binge with friends (and then diet with friends).

Pigging out on Mardi Gras is a group activity. The social aspect keeps it lighthearted and also creates a sense of added accountability for the period of restriction that’s to come.

Lastly, consider this: not only are there no scheduled eating sprees during Lent, but there are also days of increased eating restriction. According to americancatholic.org, participants should also abstain from meat (in addition to whatever else they’ve chosen to give up) all the Fridays of Lent. Behold lesson number three (gulp):

After a pre-diet binge, incorporate weekly fasting into your diet. 

This sounds hard-core, but think about the positives. If you don’t think it’s a good idea to deny yourself any sustenance, just pick one food enemy that usually trips you up. Sugar, processed food, or saturated fat sources would all be good candidates. Weekly “fasting” will help you take in less of your problem foods and appreciate the regular days of your less-restricted, but still healthful diet.

But for today, no matter what you think about diet cheat days, laissez les bons temps rouler.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user Shreveport-Bossier: Louisiana’s Other Side.

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