Everyday Systems: Podcast : Episode 46

S-days vs. Cheat Days

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Hi, this is Reinhard from everyday systems. Welcome to podcast #46: S-days vs. cheat days.

Today I'm going to talk (again) about everybody's favorite No-S Diet topic, it seems: S days.

We've had two episodes on this subject already, episode 34 "S-days gone wild" and episode 40 "No solitary snacking: even on S-days"

So why talk even more about them?

Well, for one thing, it has been a while, and S-days still seem to be tripping a lot of people up.

Case in point, A recent reviewer of the no s diet book on amazon wrote:

"I don't know if it would work in the long run as I didn't do it for long. I still feel as though the 'S' days will wipe out the non 'S' days and the best I would get out of it is maintenance."

Furthermore, a related concept, "cheat days" seems to be gaining traction in popular diets, and I think some disambiguation is in order, because S-days, though superficially similar, are really subtly and importantly different, and in some ways even, I'd go so far as to say the opposite of cheat days. Looking at S-days as cheat days even when they're not calling them that is I think one of the big problems people are having with them. Explicitly calling them cheat days is a recipe for disaster.

Well, "cheating" implies that you're doing something wrong. "Implies" isn't even strong enough, cheating is doing something wrong.

S days aren't wrong. They're the opposite of wrong. They're celebratory. They're special. They're out in the open. The inspiration for S-days is the sabbath, feast days, sacred days. If anything they're more right than N-days.

This is important, because even if it starts as the same behavior, days on which you don't have to follow certain rules, casting that behavior as something sneaky and wrong rather than something appropriate and right is going to have extremely negative psychological consequences. For one thing, even if accompanied by smug little chuckles, if you practice something you're calling cheating, it's going to be hard not to start thinking of yourself as someone who cheats. That's not good in the narrow sense of your diet plan because people who think of themselves as diet cheaters are less likely to respect the rules on non cheat days. It's also probably not good in a larger moral sense, beyond diet. Why would you want to systematically practice cheating? It's like training yourself to be unethical.

Secondly, I think you are going to behave differently even on a rule free day, depending on whether you look at it as a cheat day or as something elevated and special. On a cheat day, by phrasing it that way, it's hard not to look at it like there's a power outage and you're looting as much as you can get away with. Stuff yourself now, with as much as possible, while you can, before lights come back on and the cops come. There's something furtive and diminishing about that. You're going to eat more of and of lower quality and not enjoy it as much, you might not even enjoy it at all.

But if you're looking at the rule free day as something positive, something not to be hidden but exulted in, preferably with other people around to share in your enjoyment, you're going to eat better food, better tasting food that you're going to enjoy more, and you're probably going to eat less of it because there isn't this psychology of sneaky rush about it. An S day, even taken by itself is a much pleasanter thing than a cheat day.

OK. So S days beat cheat days on 2 important counts: they're better in themselves, and they don't have these negative moral side effects.

But does that outweigh the fact that under vanilla no-s there are two of them a week (plus holidays!), vs. just one for most cheat day systems that I am aware of? S-days would have to be at least twice as good as cheat days simply to compensate for their greater frequency, right?

That seems like a tall order. And if you're looking at them purely from a caloric point of view, what is the net intake of 2 S days vs. 1 cheat day, we might have a serious problem. If all you're concerned about is "am I really going to eat half the calories on an S day as on a cheat day?" Probably not. I'm not going to go that far. But I'm convinced, that because cheat days are less enjoyable, and because they train you to think of yourself as a cheater, they are going to be vastly worse for compliance with your system as a whole, and long term, you're just not nearly as likely to stick with it as you would be using S-days.

And look, if 2 S-days a week is really your problem, if you just can't handle that much dietary exuberance, then look back to even older authorities than "the folks who brought you the weekend" and stick to a single "sabbath" S-day a week. No Snacks, No Sweets, No Seconds -- except on Sabbath days. Or No Snacks, No Sweets, No Seconds, except on Sacred days, to encompass holidays as well. And if you want a more secular-compible formula, No Snacks No Sweets No Seconds except on Special days, with a regular, weekly special day of your choosing.

My advice to those starting on No S remains use the Saturday and Sunday, 2 day a week, "S-days" formulation. But if you really find you're having problems with that, you have options, just please don't resort to calling them cheat days.

That's all for now. Thanks for listening.

By Reinhard Engels

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