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Why I’m not a fan of “clean eating” or “cheat days”

No food should make you feel guilty.

Food (much like religion and politics) is a sensitive subject. There are many different beliefs and opinions out there surrounding what is the ‘right’ way to eat for health, weight loss and physical performance. I’m often asked what my diet is like or what I eat in a typical day, and I’m often reluctant to share it because I feel it’s such a personal subject.

To me, terms like ‘clean eating’ or ‘cheat days’ imply that there are good and bad foods or right or wrong ways to eat. Personally, I don’t subscribe to any specific method or way of eating. I just like to eat. I enjoy food and find that I don’t do well if I try to limit or restrict what I eat based on the rules or basics of any specific plan or diet. I aim to eat foods that provide my body with energy and nutrition, but that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy some ‘nutritionally empty’ calories along the way.

For me, moderation and balance work best for the way I prefer to eat and workout. I know that doesn’t work for everyone, which is why I can only acknowledge that it’s my personal strategy and not necessarily best for all.

In my opinion, the best way to eat is the way that works best for you.Β Listen to your gut (literally) to find out what is right for your body and avoid feeling pressured or influenced to try to eat a certain way if it doesn’t match your lifestyle or body’s needs.

What are your thoughts? Do you follow a specific method when it comes to your eating habits?Β 

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31 comments… add one

  • Heidi August 22, 2017, 7:07 pm

    I loved this article! In this day and age there are so many ‘cleanses’ and ‘shakes’ to try to entice you into thinking this is what you need to do in order to get results and it’s simply not true! I spent way too much time as a teenager and young adult battling Bulimia and letting food and a number on a scale be my Master that literally took over my life! Now as a fully recovered Bulimic, I LoVe eating food!!! 😍 And I love exercising to feel strong πŸ’ͺ , not to achieve some ‘perfect measurements ‘! It’s indeed all about Balance and moderation! Thanks for sharing this awesome article, Jessica!

  • Maria August 22, 2017, 3:40 pm

    This is such a refreshing post! Recently, I got wrapped up in another diet book and was so stressed out. I told my husband, “It seems like all food is somehow bad for you!” He suggested I write down what I eat and note how it makes me feel physically. It reminds me of how you say “Listen to your body”. So I am noting that some foods make me tired, some give me headaches (diet soda!), some affect my sinuses, and some refresh me and give me energy (pineapples, smoothies with spinach in them). It is amazing what you hear when you start listening to your body! Thanks again for this post! Love your workouts and your philosophy!

  • Monica July 17, 2017, 5:45 pm

    I feel like “eating clean” and “cheat days” are yet another set of tools that we can use in forming a diet plan for someone. Just as you and I each have our own “method” (seems like a better word than diet) that works for us, there are a lot of people, especially those who are new to health conscious life styles, that have been really successful getting started. These terms, while potentially restrictive, are a good starting guideline to help those who may struggle with portion control (where eating unlimited healthy foods is easier than cutting down portions) or even those who are lacking nutritional education. These major ideals can be a great starting point that are easy to understand or even ending point for some. I think the idea of “cheat days” even reinforces your philosophy that foods shouldn’t be good or bad. Those foods are fine! They just can only be eaten one or two meals a week. I have found this has been really helpful to some people just setting up a diet plan. The idea that if they eat a donut- all has not been lost. All of a sudden with this notion of “cheat meals” they just used up one of their “free passes” for the week. It has been really very motivating for some, knowing if they make good choices all week they can still go out on the weekend and have dinner out, and not… wait for it… have to feel guilty about not ordering a salad. πŸ˜‰ All in all, I have to agree with your overarching theme of diet needing to be much more than A diet. I do think that sometimes it is more a matter of mentality versus vocabulary. Keep up the great work, I am a huge fan of both your writing and your videos! -M

  • Amy April 25, 2017, 11:40 pm

    I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies at age nine. My diet was severely restricted, which affected not only me but my whole family. We could not find a commercially made bread, for instance, so my mom began baking weekly. My allergies have changed as I have aged and some are no longer allergens for me. Living without major food groups for decades has given me a great appreciation for what a mind game deprivation really can be. As a child, I often didn’t understand my condition and resented my body. This resentment has shifted to more compassion for myself but I still have times when I am frustrated by my health. I try to always be grateful.

    • Jessica Smith April 26, 2017, 10:41 am

      So glad you’ve found what works best for your body Amy, and that you’ve learned to be compassionate with your body and grateful for your health. What a wonderful message – thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  • Robin April 25, 2017, 6:33 pm

    Jessica thank you for encouraging and supporting. I came upon your workouts online a year ago February and after struggling with my weight the past few years decided to try one and loved it. Since then I have a library of your videos and workout 30 min every day. A year later my scale is the same but I have toned considerably to a much smaller size / thank you for bringing back my energy smile and confidence!

    • Jessica Smith April 26, 2017, 10:43 am

      Congrats to you on all of your hard work and accomplishments Robin! What a great real example of why that number on the scale doesn’t mean much! Please keep up the great work you are doing taking care of your body and your health πŸ™‚

  • Shirley Franklin April 25, 2017, 2:23 pm

    It took me a long time to realize that food is just food. I try to listen to my body and eat when I’m hungry. I track calories, but only because I tend to overdo it if I don’t. I don’t eat breakfast, because I don’t ever feel like eating breakfast and after years of stuffing it in because “it’s the most important meal of the day” I just quit. Guess what, I didn’t die. I have more time in the morning to do things and I feel fine. I slowly got most of the processed food out of the house. I make our bread, yogurt and some cheeses from scratch. We eat a lot more fruits and veggies . I don’t drink any of my calories. I don’t do “cheat” meals or days at all. If I want cake, I eat cake. I just maybe have a smaller piece. My relationship with food is much better mostly because it’s not a relationship anymore. Food is fuel, just like the gas in my car. It’s necessary to make the thing go. I choose to put better food in so by body “runs” better. That’s it.

    • Jessica Smith April 26, 2017, 10:45 am

      Love this Shirley! So glad you’ve found what works best for your body. Please keep up the great work you are doing taking care of your body and your health. Thanks so much for sharing this important message!

  • Melissa April 25, 2017, 1:12 pm

    That names don’t carry much weight (pardon the pun) with me. I use them when discussing some days, but only because it conjures up the image of the kind of day to most people. I’m with you. My body and my brain may not always be on the same program, but most of the time good nutrition goes in and wonderful energy for keeping up with your workouts come out!

    • Jessica Smith April 26, 2017, 10:46 am

      That’s wonderful Melissa! So glad you’ve found a better balance of what works best for you. Please keep up the great work you are doing taking care of your body and your health (hope to see you for another session soon :-).

  • Beth June 24, 2016, 2:30 pm

    I completely agree with you! This is my philosophy of eating too after many years of dieting when I was very young. After I became a parent, I wanted to teach my kids “normal” eating without any extremes. I found a nutritionist and a book that teaches us how to eat normally and teach our kids to as well. It’s called “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” by Ellyn Satter ( I give that info because she is an expert and has done much research. Hoping it might help someone. Go to her website and read some of her articles…see if you agree. She focuses on structure and enjoyment. One of her quotes is “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers”. I even joined her Facebook group and she has answered many of my questions about feeding my kiddos. I am not super thin, but I’ve let go of that and have been able to maintain a normal weight for many years because of Ellyn Satter’s balanced approach. Now I’ve begun working out with Jessica and LOVE her!

  • Lori June 21, 2016, 7:24 pm

    Thank you for this Jessica. It was just what I needed to hear. ❀️

  • Stacy November 2, 2015, 2:43 pm

    I agree. I have diabetes, however, so I do have what I call “cheat days” which just basically means I’m having a few more carbs than normal. I have found that diabetes is all about moderation and balance and reasonable portion sizes. For me, a cheat day may mean that I have my potato in the form of french fries for once instead of baked. Maybe I could call them “treat days” instead because that’s really what it is.

  • Patricia October 13, 2015, 7:29 am

    I’m so encouraged right now, because I can’t keep up with the strict way of eating. When I do I eat more that way, and spend more money trying to eat healthy. I do realize for me that certain foods I can’t consume, if I plan to look good and be healthy. I always run well, but I let obstacles with working out hinder me. I went from a 36 inch waist to 34 to only gain it back up to a 37. I’m determine this time to stay focused.

  • Linda July 26, 2015, 11:26 am

    I am so glad to read this…I workout on a regular basis and am very active…I feel hungry most of the time. I constantly hear that I should eat snacks and many small meals. I tried that and I never felt satisfied and ended up eating too much. I prefer to eat 2 bigger meals during the day and a smaller dinner…it works for me. I do drink a lot of water though and that does work. I am tired of hearing what I should be doing and feeling like I am doing something wrong or failing somehow. I also treat myself to one sweet each day…I am at a maintenance weight, full of energy and have stopped worrying so much about it. I think the trick is being active, finding what works for you and making it a lifestyle, not just a short term quick plan….

    • Jessica Smith July 26, 2015, 12:00 pm

      Love to hear that Linda! Sounds like you’ve definitely found the right formula for your body, congrats! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us πŸ™‚

  • Tracy July 23, 2015, 6:28 pm

    I totally agree! I just love your common sense approach to diet and exercise! Moderation is the key to a long lasting healthy lifestyle!

  • Janet July 17, 2015, 10:39 am

    I agree. I have found that if I limit myself to “clean eating” then I will splurge, gain whatever I lost and not even touch a fruit or vegetable for weeks. lol … That said, I still haven’t managed to lose much weight. Yet. I am taking it slowly, learning about me and learning what motivates me to continue on. weight loss is such a slow process and I lose interest in slow things pretty quickly. Learning to stay motivated and on track is more important to me than not eating certain food groups.

  • Lisa July 5, 2015, 3:28 pm

    I just want to say you are great!!! πŸ™‚ Love your workout videos.. I agree with you 100%. I do believe not eliminate any good food from your diet. Yes I have my bad days too and I try my best to get back on track. I feel you should do everything in moderation.

  • laura July 4, 2015, 6:07 pm

    I love this article, your approach to exercise and food makes so much sense and what works for one doesn’t work for others I know I couldn’t enjoy sitting down to a plate of grilled chicken and brown rice like some food websites suggest for low calorie diets. I enjoy flavours and food in general so nothing is off limits just like what everyone else has said every thing in moderation works best.. I’m no good at limiting myself to certain foods as I end up wanting them more.

  • Nanci July 3, 2015, 3:36 pm

    I could not agree more with this. I’m so done with people looking down their noses at others who don’t eat the same way as them!
    No one way works for everyone, and we should all live and let live. When I first found your site a year ago, I had just come off an eating β€œplan” that claimed not to be a diet, but really was. I felt more in bondage to food than ever before because of it. Since I started exercising with you, my whole life is more in balance….I don’t even worry about what I eat anymore. I just love your common sense approach. Food is not a moral choice! keep spreading the word and setting people free.

  • Pam July 1, 2015, 11:12 am

    I love Jessica’s balanced approach to this subject and to general fitness. I laugh at myself because some days I’ll crave a ton of baby carrots and another day I’ll want Hersheys dark chocolate toffee & almond nuggets. Either way no big deal. The workouts have helped my metabolism & fitness so much I rarely even think about calories.

  • Erica June 28, 2015, 5:45 am

    I totally agree.. Being afraid of eating, being afraid of chocolate or sweets, avoid them every single day and feeling guilty when you eat them is just wrong, because it makes you unhappy and unsatisfied, you start seeing food like an enemy and it’s absolutely wrong. Everybody knows we can’t eat a cake per day, but we don’t have to be afraid of not being skinny just because we like chocolate. Eating has to be a pleasure, we should not forget that!

    • Jessica Smith June 28, 2015, 9:57 am

      I certainly love chocolate too Erica πŸ™‚

  • Barbara June 27, 2015, 9:06 pm

    My Great Grandma said “everything in moderation”. Go ahead and eat cake or bacon or whatever – just don’t eat the whole plate of it. I eat as much unprocessed foods as possible, but that doesn’t mean I never eat them. I just limit them. And a bowl of mac and cheese on a cold winter night or a milkshake on a hot summer afternoon are fine. I just balance them with other more nutritional foods throughout the day. I couldn’t live without my goodies, but I also crave salads and fruit. It all balances out in the end when using moderation.

    • Jessica Smith June 28, 2015, 9:56 am

      Great advice Barbara! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  • heather June 27, 2015, 6:36 pm

    I would agree, but I have to admit I have attempted a version on the clean eating. It gets to expensive, I eat more because I’m not full, or wasn’t what I wanted. I started out just with portion control and eating what i want and did great, but trying the clean eating and protein load I’m gaining weight.

    • Jessica Smith June 28, 2015, 9:55 am

      That’s interesting to hear Heather – thanks for sharing your experience! It definitely sounds like you have found what works best for your body πŸ™‚

  • Chelsea June 26, 2015, 11:18 pm

    I loved this article. It is hard not to get swept up in the “healthy eating” diets because that is exactly what they are…diets. I am trying to focus on the lifestyle change but portion control is difficult for me and I think it comes back to the guilt. I do great until I eat something that I think that I “shouldn’t” and then it takes me a week or longer to get back on track. I can’t seem to escape that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food mindset. I guess it has just been pounded in so hard that it has stuck. Something I am working on and would love some tips if you have any for me!! You have made fitness so easy, thank you for making my healthy lifestyle that much easier to obtain and keep up! πŸ˜€

  • Karen June 26, 2015, 8:53 pm

    i agree with everything you said and agree!!! Portion control works for me but no food is off limits. When all foodsbecame my friend and not my enemy is when I stopped having a weight problem.


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