Holiday weekends are known for many things. First, we all gather with family and friends to celebrate and say thanks. We share a bountiful meal and reflect upon the many things we have to be grateful for. Of course, there are leftovers – lots of leftovers. If you are trying to eat a low-carb lifestyle, you know that it’s ok to cycle carbs in and out of your diet. And, while it’s possible to prepare an entirely low-carb meal, you probably have many family members who don’t want to eat a low-carb holiday meal. Therefore, for many of us, it makes sense make the holiday a “cheat day” where we eat carbs. The biggest challenge, however, is not making the holiday a 3 or 4-day “cheat weekend”. This is the concept of “Thanks, but no thanks!” Say thank you on the holiday and eat what you want. Just make sure you don’t extend the cheat day to the entire weekend with leftover stuffing, potatoes, pies, and more.
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The psychology of the cheat day is a slippery slope. Allowing yourself to have the food that you have denied yourself for a period of time can be a nice mental break. You can thoroughly enjoy the types of foods you haven’t eaten in a long time. However, the cheat meal or cheat day can easily turn into a binge that is driven mostly by psychological issues. Psychologists call this the abstinence-violation effect.
Susan E. Collins Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Washington’s Harborview Hospital writes: 
(The lapse) can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness. People who experience the abstinence-violation effect (AVE) are more likely to progress from a lapse to a relapse, and several studies have demonstrated the role of the AVE in predicting relapse among drinkers, smokers, dieters, and marijuana users.
(If) people attribute the lapse to external, … changeable, and controllable causes, they may not interpret the lapse as a threat to their self-image and may instead view it as a unique occurrence that can be avoided in the future. This (approach) may diffuse the person’s affective (emotional) response to the lapse and reduces the likelihood of a progression from lapse to relapse.
In other words, if you are in control of your cheat day, you will feel good about yourself and will most likely not fall off your diet. However, if your cheat day is in control of you, you may resort to emotional eating, bingeing on comfort food, feeling guilty, and generally not feeling good about yourself. Therefore, it is really important to plan your cheat meal or cheat day so that you will be in control.
Here are four ways make sure you don’t turn a cheat meal or cheat day into a 4-day cheat weekend:
1. Set Limits
Set limits on the amount of time (i.e. 1 day or 1 meal) that you will go off your diet. Also, set limits on how much and what kinds of foods and drinks you are going to consume. For example, “On Thanksgiving, I’m going to allow myself to have 2 glasses of red wine, a full plate of food, and one large (or 2 small) pieces of pie. I will not be eating more pie, potatoes or bread later that night or the next day.”
2. Make it Easy
Make it easy to get back on your diet. Buy the foods you need ahead of time. Pick out what recipes you want to cook. If possible, prepare those foods ahead of time. That way, when you are tired or feeling like you want to cheat some more, it will be easier to grab the right foods.
3. Make it Hard
Make it hard to keep cheating. Try to avoid keeping the food around that don’t want to eat after your cheat meal. If you are at someone else’s house for the holiday meal, don’t take the leftovers that aren’t on your diet. If you’re hosting the meal, then give away all of the leftovers that aren’t on your diet. If you have family members that aren’t following the same diet as you who want some of those “off diet” leftovers, make sure they are stored in non-see-through containers and if possible, placed in a separate refrigerator or out of site in the main refrigerator.
It’s a simple philosophy. If it’s not at your house, you won’t eat it. And, if you have to keep it at your house for other family members, put it someplace where you won’t see it.
4. Tell a Friend
Tell a friend or accountability partner what you are going to do. Tell them what you’re going to allow yourself for the cheat meal (or cheat day). And then, tell them your plan on how you are going to get back on the diet and prevent further cheating.
If your accountability partner also wants to set limits, that’s even better. You can each share what your limits are and keep in touch over the weekend to make sure you are both following your plan. If you feel like cheating, remember that you will have to confess it to them. If you REALLY feel like cheating, call or text them to ask for support.
Having a cheat day can have positive effects on both your metabolism and mental attitude. However, there is danger in turning the cheat day into a cheat weekend or longer. The psychology of the abstinence-violation effect comes into play as our minds try to trick us into letting completely go. Be sure to set limits, make it easy to get back on the diet, make it hard to cheat again, and use an accountability partner to hold you to your plan.
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 Collins, Susan E., and Katie Witkiewitz. “Abstinence violation effect.” Encyclopedia of behavioral medicine (2016): 1-3.