A new show on the Cooking Channel encourages dieters to splurge on high-calorie foods on so-called “cheat days,” even though diet and nutrition experts decry the practice.
The show, titled “Cheat Day USA,” premiered last weekend.
Hosted by chef and TV food personality Robert Irvine, the show exhorts its viewers to go whole hog on diet “cheat days,” which are days set aside -- often once a week -- in which dieters allow themselves to indulge in foods that don’t conform to the diets they try to follow on all the other days of the week.
Some nutrition experts even acknowledge that cheat days can serve a useful purpose in the weekly food regimen of dieters.
But the experts are also quick to add that cheat days are not generally advisable for many dieters who are struggling with weight issues and overeating habits.
Moreover, for those whose diet regimens can handle cheat days, the experts all advise that the cheat-day concept should be practiced only in moderation.
But that is not the concept on “Cheat Day USA.” Instead, the show enthusiastically encourages dieters -- many of whom may have serious health problems related to their weight -- to “throw caution to the wind” and indulge in the “richly decadent dishes you crave.”
“We try to eat healthy every day, but some days you just have to throw caution to the wind and go for that sweet, fried, cheesy, gooey, once-in-a-while kind of food …,” says a Cooking Channel description of the show.
“Strap on your stretchy pants and let Robert Irvine be the guide to your ultimate cheat day. … Through 13 half-hour episodes [of “Cheat Day USA”], Robert showcases some of the best locations from around the country to get your cheat day on.”
And what does Irvine find in his travels? “All the fried, buttery, creamy, ooey-gooey, and richly decadent dishes you crave,” says the show’s description.
These “decadent dishes” include “life-changing waffles, like the crispy, gooey mac and cheese waffle and a sweet cereal-crusted fried chicken and waffle” and, in Las Vegas, a dish of oats covered in crème brulee and a “luscious,” nine-ounce caviar omelet.
Then it’s on to “the most cheat-worthy sandwiches around,” including a “decadent, gravy-smothered roast beef and fried shrimp po’boy” from New Orleans and, in Denver, a “barbecue sandwich … with hickory-smoked beef, pork and sausage slathered with homemade creamy cheese sauce and topped with fried, beer-battered onion rings.”
In the photo above, Irvine is seen posing with the New Orleans po’boy, a monster sandwich that its purveyor has named “The Bayou Beast.” The calorie count of this “Beast” and the other “cheat-worthy” sandwiches and dishes was not provided.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorizes obesity as “a serious chronic disease” and “an epidemic [that] is putting a strain on American families, affecting overall health, health care costs, productivity and military readiness.”
According to the CDC, 42.4% of Americans are overweight or obese. “Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer,” the CDC says. “These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.”
The annual economic cost of medical treatment related to the obesity epidemic in the United States is an estimated $1.4 trillion, up from $976 billion in 2014, according to a 2020 report from the Milken Institute.
It should go without saying, but cheating on one’s diet, especially with “decadent” foods whose calorie counts must be in the many thousands, is no way to stay healthy and stave off obesity and the illnesses that it leads to, experts say.
“From where I am sitting, cheating days seem to be only sabotaging healthy eating head spaces and loftier nutrition goals,” writes registered dietician nutritionist Dana Angelo White in a commentary on foodnetwork.com, which is owned by the same company as Cooking Channel.
“I mean, what are you cheating on anyway? Torturing yourself with healthy eating?” she asks.
Writes another expert, Carolyn Williams Ph.D on cookinglight.com, “Having a regularly scheduled cheat day each week can actually be good for weight loss by preventing binges, reducing cravings, providing a mental break from dieting, and boosting metabolism -- if it’s done in a healthy way.
“Use it as a day when you give yourself a break from measuring every portion and counting calories and allowing yourself a little leeway to enjoy a favorite food or two. You still consume plenty of water, and try to get fruits and vegetables in, but in a more relaxed way.
“What’s not considered healthy (or good for weight loss) is to use a cheat day as a time when you go to extremes with eating or binges,” she writes.