Cheat: To break a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something; to take something from (someone) by lying or breaking a rule.

That’s what Merriam Webster has to say about cheating. Doesn’t sound good, does it?

I follow a lot of health- and fitness-oriented people on social media, and I often see references to “cheat days” or “cheat meals.” I understand the reference; these are meals or snacks that are indulgent, that fall outside a person’s usual, presumably healthy regimen. Here’s the thing: I don’t cheat. And I don’t think you do, either.

Wait—before you click away, I don’t mean that I don’t indulge in treats. I do. Often. For me, it’s usually in the form of sweets, especially chocolate. But I refuse to call it cheating, and I’d like it if everyone else would stop calling it that, too.

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Here’s why: Eating is one of life’s great pleasures. Food is not the enemy. Food is enjoyment, sharing, nourishment. It fuels us, it brings us together, it can help heal us.

To me, putting a negative spin on those occasional indulgences, calling them something as ugly as “cheating,” infuses the experience with guilt and shame. I refuse to do that.

Being a healthy eater involves more than just the amalgamation of items on your plate. A truly healthy eater also has a healthy attitude about food—that’s key. If you constantly deprive yourself of foods you love or stress about what you’re eating all the time, that sucks the joy right out of it.

Instead, think of those indulgences as what they are: An important part of having balance in your life. Or better yet, don’t think about it at all. Just do it, and enjoy it, truly savor it for the experience it is, then move on.

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Not only will this small change allow you to get more pleasure from eating things you love, it also could help you live longer. That’s not hyperbole; doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend replacing negative self-talk with positive thinking as a way to reduce overall stress, avoid depression, improve cardiovascular health, and, yes, extend your life.

So you see, a little thing like changing your perspective on grabbing a cupcake at your friend’s birthday lunch is actually no small thing at all.

Let’s make a pact: No more cheating. Yes to occasional indulgences, but a real yes, not a guilty, I-wouldn’t-if-I-had-more-willpower yes. Relax and just enjoy your well-earned indulgence, give that to yourself as a gift. No harm, no foul.

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