Whichever plan you prefer, cheat days are the silver lining at the end of a physically challenging week. It’s like a brain break for your stomach – a time when you can toss aside tiresome rules about eating right and enjoy calorie-laden foods without guilt.
The idea of eating healthy some or most of the time isn’t new. The theory is that even if we can’t attain perfection, the more often we eat right, the better. Some studies even suggest cheating on our diets may help us stick with them by maintaining our resolve. After all, many people entirely give up on a diet after a single lapse, thinking, “I’ve failed, so what’s the point?”
With all this talk of cheat days, especially on social media, we wondered who’s cheating the most, when are they cheating, and with which foods. We analyzed over 500,000 Instagram posts mentioning #CheatDay and #CheatMeal. Here’s what we discovered.
Manhattan clam chowder. New York–style cheesecake and pizza. Bagels, pastrami, and knishes. When it comes to delicious but fattening foods, New York is birthplace to many of the best.
However, this may be a double-edged sword. It turns out, New Yorkers used #CheatDay and #CheatMeal on Instagram more than twice as much as other users (around 215 posts).
What might be surprising to some, though, is that Nevada and New Jersey – states which aren’t widely recognized for their indulgent foods – took second (84 posts) and third (nearly 70 posts) place, respectively.
Maybe the words #CheatDay and #CheatMeal just strongly resonate with residents of Nevada, considering Las Vegas is referred to as “Sin City.” Or it could be there’s a lot of bodybuilding going on in New Jersey. The concept of #CheatDay is a popular topic in bodybuilding circles, with athletes debating endlessly about the benefits and pitfalls of this indulgent technique.
Florida (about 48 posts) and California (around 40 posts) also made the top of our list for the most Instagram posts using #CheatDay and #CheatMeal. With all that sunshine and beach, dieting and cheating on diets are no doubt at the forefront of residents’ minds.
Based on the data, the most popular #CheatDay for breaking diets with a #CheatMeal is Saturday, and it’s easy to see why. Hunger is often said to be the best sauce – but it may be that appetites don’t truly get going until the weekend when people are kicking back with friends and family and enjoying a few drinks, which are known to boost hunger. Monday (which is probably also the most disliked day of the week) is also the least popular #CheatDay. Yet another reason NOT to love Mondays.
Have Your Cake – And Burger Too
When it comes to diet indulgences, America loves its burgers. Let’s face it – they’re inexpensive, easy to eat, and fattening. Add some cheese, and in no time, you’re face-deep in savory deliciousness.
Burgers were the most commonly mentioned food associated with #CheatDay and #CheatMeal on Instagram. Cake was a not-so-close second, which is a bit surprising considering it (with all that beautiful icing) tends to make for really inspiring photographs. Pizza, chocolate, and donuts were next in line. If anyone needs some #CheatDay inspiration, this graphic is the perfect reference. Not pictured? Broccoli and kale. They didn’t make the #CheatDay cut.
Just when you thought the debate around porn and cheating had been put to bed – enter #CheatDay and #FoodPorn. These words were often mentioned together in Instagram posts. Does one lead to the other? We’ll leave that for you do decide. Suffice it to say pretty pictures are always a welcome sight for hungry stomachs.
The word “fitness” and other fitness-related terms were also popular. Fitness junkies often discuss the merits of strategic calorie-cramming diets to jump-start metabolism and ramp up energy.
For those who eat – and those who cheat – sharing photos of delectable foods on social media is a common pastime. The hashtags #CheatDay and #CheatMeal may be a way of sharing these dishes with a little less guilt. It may even indicate Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of eating healthy, and the need to limit foods like pizza, cake, and burgers for special occasions. Who knows? The next hashtag to rise in popularity could just be #PlantBasedDiet.
We collected 510,785 Instagram posts with the hashtags #CheatMeal and #CheatDay and analyzed the related location data. We omitted D.C. from state results for its 1,879 mentions per 100K residents. Mentions per state were adjusted for population. We collected posts dated between May 2015 and October 2016.
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