The Danger of “Free Days”

How often have you heard that its important to have a “cheat day” or “free day” once weekly? Many people from nutritionists to celebrities praise the “free day” rule. The concept is that a person should eat healthy (or in other words “diet”) for 5-6 days at a time, and then once per week have a day where they eat a special meal of things they weren’t allowed to have.

The concept of a Free Day may work for those who do not have issues with overeating, binging, or emotional eating; however, it has been noted that even in those with healthy eating habits a Free Day can start up a disordered view of food. To make matters worse, a Free Day can subconsciously translate into “Binge Day” or “Overeating Day” for those suffering from issues with over consuming food. Believe it or not, one so-called “Free Day” can wreck havoc on your efforts to stop overeating and binging. Sure one special meal a week is in general “okay”, but for most bingers and overeaters the chances of them stopping after “one plate” of one type of off limits food is slim (and even if they manage too, it can cause them to daydream about the food all week).

So what is the answer? STOP HAVING A FREE DAY!

Relax, I do not mean for you to stop eating your favorite foods for life—in fact, I am about to tell you something that may shock you: Have your favorite foods WHENEVER you want. I know, I know! You must be thinking “What, I’d gain so much weight!”. The truth is that when a person understands they can have something, they tend to not want as much of it. Thinking you can’t have a food creates panic, and out of panic people generally consume more of the food than usual.

So what is your weakness? Cake, cookies, pies, pasta, potatoes, cereal, pancakes? Buy 1 or even two boxes of your favorite treat/s, store them in a place out of sites (like in a drawer), and remind yourself that when you hungry and TRULY want one you will allow yourself to have one EVERY SINGLE DAY if needed. You must gain your own trust that you will ALLOW yourself to have the treat when you truly want it. Promise yourself that you will NOT force yourself to ignore your hunger and craving for your favorite food/s EVER again.

– When you really want a cookie? have a cookie

– When you really want a slice of cake? have cake

– When you really want pasta? have pasta

The only catch? eat healthy all day long, and only use your treat foods in addition to your healthy foods. In addition, do not try to do extra exercise to burn off your “one cookie”, nor force yourself to chug extra water to prevent water weight gain. Eat normally. Though, never force yourself to have a treat “just because” you can. On days when you are not craving the treat DO NOT eat it. On days when you do want your treat, have it and banish the guilt. Once single serving of ANYTHING will not make you gain weight, and if it does its water weight that will go away with extra water. Don’t believe me? check out this great blog article:

Cupcakes Don’t Cause Weight Gain

To further prove this tactic works, I personally LOVE pasta so much that I have it EVERYDAY. I have pasta for breakfast, but have it in a single serving (serving sizes are key). By having it in the morning it keeps me full longer, stops carb cravings, and silences that little voice I get at night saying “Ah, wish I had some pasta”—because, guess what? I did for breakfast so I don’t have to feel deprived.

What if I Binge?!: Adjusting to Not Needing a Free Day

A lot of people worry that if they buy two boxes of their favorite cookies they will binge on them. The answer to that worry is to work on your self-trust. When you promise yourself that you can have a treat ANYTIME, you really have to work on regaining your own trust about doing. You have to show yourself that you are not lying, and until you truly learn to trust yourself there may be binging episodes out of thinking “Uh-huh, I bet I won’t get to have a cookie again!”. Your goal is to promise yourself consistently that you will not lie to yourself about allowing a treat, even if it means writing a contract in your journal and signing it. It can help to review such a contract 1-3 times daily: morning, noon, and night.

Sample Contract:

“I promise to let myself eat ____________ whenever I am truly HUNGRY, and that I will not beat myself up for having this treat when I do. I am choosing to have it in a SINGLE-SERVING, and without punishing myself later. This meaning, I will not cause (nor allow) myself to feel guilty, overexercise, or in any other way try to eliminate the extra calorie of my single serving treat. I will not let myself down, and I can trust myself. This food is safe around me, because I no longer am making it off limits. I will still reach my weight loss and healthy eating goals. This is my choice to learn to live realistically, and happily. Signed: ________”

You may experience a lot of emotions when ending free days, and learning to trust yourself around food. Some people report feelings of: sadness, fear, loss of control, anger, anxiety, and even confusion.
Image: Ambro /


2 thoughts on “The Danger of “Free Days”

  1. Free days don’t work for me. What starts as a free day becomes a free-for-all-FlabFest. Not good.

    I need control, and management.

    What works for me is just keeping myself on an even keel, not letting myself get too hungry, sad, happy (weird, huh? But there you have it)..the list goes on. Just staying…moderate.

    • Thank you for your comment! I agree about Free Days, and I hope that more people learn how to wean themselves off of them. Free Days really do create an unhealthy view of food, and can set a person up to binge. I am so glad that you found something that works for you! keep up the good work.

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