Plenty of the “national days” that we as a social media society have accepted as truth are obscure and seemingly unnecessary. There’s Lima Bean Respect Day, National Lost Sock Memorial Day, National Ballpoint Pen Day — the list goes on. But none make me want to rip my hair out quite like the one coming up on May 11.
That’s right, folks, get your eating pants on, because Eat What You Want Day is finally here again.
According to the website National Today, Eat What You Want Day is the one and only day of the year when, I quote, “people are encouraged to treat themselves by giving in to their sweet tooth, carb-loading without having a marathon to run, and eating breakfast for dinner. Because on Eat What You Want Day, no one can tell you what NOT to eat.”
How exciting! Permission to do that thing we all need to do to live and *gasp* actually enjoy it!
The entire national day phenomenon is silly ― but mostly harmless. And perhaps the same could be said by some about this arbitrarily placed “holiday.” But the mere prospect of a “cheat day” drums up the problematic relationship that exists in our world ― and in many of our brains ― between food and shame.
Eating a diet rich in nutrients and healthy food is important, but the more important thing we can do for both physical and mental health is work on our relationships with food in general. Giving ourselves one day of the year to “indulge” and accepting this so-called holiday as anything but dangerous rhetoric is really not the way to accomplish that.
No one gets to tell you when, what or how to eat. Not on a stupid made-up holiday, and not ever. But in the event you need some further convincing, here are seven reasons every day should be Eat What You Want Day.
Because food is not just “good” or “bad.”
Food isn’t a feeling. It can’t be morally good or bad. It just is. When we assign labels to it is when we start to induce shame, creating unhealthy eating habits. Food psychologist Jen Bateman explained how it works to HuffPost in February. “When we make foods ‘bad,’ we can set up a cycle of rebellion and craving them more,” she said. “It’s the inner teen inside us that doesn’t like to be told what to do. People feel ashamed and often feel hopeless or a sense of ‘what’s the point,’ and then they overeat to comfort.”
Because restricting ourselves disconnects us from our bodies.
Our bodies actually know what’s best for us, and by restricting ourselves from what we actually crave, we’re creating a disconnect. Aaron Flores, a registered dietitian in Calabasas, California, told HuffPost in December why it’s so important to trust ourselves. “When we reject diets and diet culture, we learn that our bodies have amazing internal wisdom,” he said. “They can tell us how much to eat, when to stop and what foods make us feel most energized.”
Because, duh, cheat meals don’t help with weight loss in the long-term.
There are myriad reasons the cheat day is problematic as far as guilt goes, but if you are trying to lose weight, it’s not even an effective tool. Dietitian Alissa Rumsey laid it out for U.S. News and World Report, pointing out that when you heavily indulge on one day instead of allowing yourself indulgences as you want them, you could be setting yourself up for issues both physical and in your head.
“After being restricted all week, a cheat day often ends up as a binge on large amounts of processed foods high in sugar and fat,” she wrote. “Sometimes, that binge can stretch into multiple days of uncontrolled eating, which isn’t good for your health or sanity.”
Because we need to be kinder to ourselves.
I once tried to keep track of every time I felt guilt about the food I ate. I realized quickly that the task was impossible ― it was an all-the-time occurrence. Dr. Ashley Solomon, executive clinical director of the Eating Recovery Center in Ohio, acknowledged that while it’s quite difficult to eradicate that guilt completely, having awareness of it can help us learn how to handle it better.
“It’s more about noticing it, starting to become aware of what it sounds like and giving it attention,” she said. “If we start to much more subtly bring kindness and awareness to some of those processes and just sort of being gentle with our experiences, we can bring to our attention how our mind is working so it’s not automatic and compulsive.”
Because placing labels on certain foods can actually — wait for it — cause you to gain weight.
“When you stress over that piece of homemade apple pie that your grandma makes each year — because you want it, but you also think it’s not ‘clean’ or ‘healthy’ ― it actually causes a hormonal response in your body,” Autumn Bates, a certified clinical nutritionist based in Los Angeles told HuffPost about holiday eating in December. “The negative perception of holiday foods as ‘bad’ spikes cortisol (the stress hormone), which can lead to physical health effects ― including weight gain ― over time.”
Because the perfect diet — with cheat days or without — doesn’t exist.
There are so many fad diets out there claiming to be “the best,” but they’re polarizing in effectiveness and health impact. Keto, for example, which suggests a diet high in fat and low in carbs, has doctors and nutritionists torn.
Because life is short and food is delicious.
There’s no science here, it’s just fact.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.