When I first started my fitness journey about a year and a half ago, I knew I had to be strict about my eating and exercising habits. Although it was very difficult at first, having set guidelines made making changes easier. I went from consuming fried and junk food to consistently eating whole, unprocessed foods. And when I started out on my "clean eating" path, my favorite part was the cheat meal I was allowed to eat weekly.

Although it worked for me in the beginning to have a weekly cheat meal, as the summer months approached, those restrictions started to really weigh me down. From birthday parties to amusement park days to brunches, having only one cheat meal per week became a challenge. I deprived myself of once-in-a-lifetime foods because I'd already had a cheat meal earlier that week. 

cheese, buttercream, cupcake, chocolate
Brooke Daly

The words "cheat meal" made me feel guilty. Every time I ate something that wasn't "clean", I felt like I had just committed a cardinal sin. Instead of enjoying a raspberry tiramisu cupcake with no regrets, I worried about the amount of sugar I just ate. Whenever I cheated on my diet, I was disappointed with myself. I thought I was an imposter. How could I call myself healthy if I just ate two different junk foods in one week? Those were thinking habits that I had never wanted to make. 

The truth is, calling a meal a "cheat" is detrimental to your mental health. The word cheat comes with such negative connotations, and therefore takes away from your enjoyment of a food. That's why I made the change from saying "cheat meal" to "treat meal." The word "treat" never makes me feel ashamed because treating yourself is important. Having a treat meal keeps you sane. If you love Snickers, eat a Snickers. Because when you go cold turkey from certain foods, you'll most likely eventually end up giving in and binging.

Putting less restrictions on yourself makes you healthier, in my opinion. When you realize that you don't have to be a slave to clean eating rules, you don't feel so much pressure. For me, the lesser pressure to make the quote-unquote right choices made being healthy a much more natural habit. Now, I enjoy healthy foods like roasted green beans just as much as I enjoy treats like brownies. Sounds strange, but trust me, it'll happen to you, too.

It's this change that made me into the physically and mentally fit person that I am today. I'm proud to say that I don't restrict myself. I'm proud to live a lifestyle that only brings me happiness. Being healthy isn't just about losing weight. It's about having a good state of mind and treating your body with the love and respect it deserves.

tea, coffee
Brooke Daly

Of course, setting guidelines is important if you're just starting out eating healthily, because it can be easy to derail if you haven't gotten into healthy habits. However, if you're trying to better your mental health and overall wellness, I have a challenge for you:

Stop telling yourself that you're allowed "cheats" only a certain amount of times a week. Instead, have treats. Then notice the positive changes that happen in your state of mind when you stop telling yourself you're cheating. Because after all, as our favorite Parks and Rec character says: #treatyoself.