Health 26 October on mykitchen.co.za

Guilt-free eating: Rethinking ‘cheat meals’

Feeling racked with guilt over the chocolate bar you scoffed after dinner last night? Don’t! The odd indulgence feeds your soul as much as veggies feed your state of health (and, no, you won’t get fat…)

By Jana du Plessis

I don’t do cheat meals. Now don’t get me wrong: I love a juicy burger as much as the next person, I just don’t label it a ‘cheat meal’. Because what am I cheating on? If I’m striving for a balanced approach to health, doesn’t that burger just balance out the salad I had for lunch? Obviously, I know that a high-kilojoule meal every night is not the balance that will help me feel comfortable and happy in my own skin, but neither will the guilt of ‘cheating’ on my diet. And the same should go for you.

Changing view

Food is the energy our bodies need to function optimally. It offers nutrients such as vitamins and minerals to keep our cells happy and immune system strong, and it provides the life-giving thread that regulates everything from our heart beat to the function of our liver. Food is essential to all human life, yet we are influenced to look at certain foods and categorise them as something inherently bad. Yes, deep-frying your chicken wings on the daily will have bad consequences on your health, but our bodies are designed to take care of themselves, flush out any toxins and remove unwelcome substances. So, if you eat a deep-fried delight every once in a while, your body will merely deal with it as one of the tasks it was preprogrammed to do.

Changing gear

The reason I don’t like to refer to my diet indulgences as cheat meals is simply because I don’t tie myself down to a certain dietary prescriptive, other than favouring wholesome, homemade and non highly processed foods. Therefore a good old burger actually fits quite snugly into the way I eat, that is if the restaurant doesn’t rely on artificial flavourings and ingredients to produce their food. To me, it’s simply a indulgent meal feeding not only my body, but my soul as well. After all, many of these treats are shared within the context of social gatherings and strengthening of personal relationships.

Changing labels

The emphasis placed on ‘eating clean’ these days has left us believing that ‘eating dirty’ will be detrimental to our health, making us feel guilty at even one misstep. Naturally, it’s important to take note of the ingredients in certain foods and ensure that you provide your body with the nutrients it needs, but a healthy body can still only be as healthy as your mental well-being. So don’t decline the invite to happy hour or say no the beachside soft serve (don’t forget the Flake!) and let food be the means for a different kind of nourishment.

Changing outcomes

So how do we change our perspective on eating delicious, slightly more fattening foods and not feel a smidgen of regret about it? By acknowledging that it’s meant for nourishment and enjoyment. Each time we sit down to eat is a chance to fill our bellies with goodness and treat it with care and respect. If we focus on a nutrient-dense diet with a variety of produce, good-quality proteins and healthy fats, we don’t need a ‘cheat meal’ or a ‘guilt-free’ treat to keep overindulgence in line. No, all we need is the appreciation of food and gratefulness for the meals we’re able to share with loved ones.

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