Oh cheat days. We all want ‘em. They satisfy our inner rebel. They make us feel alive. They’re also familiar and comforting, as including them may have been the only way to survive restrictive diets in the past.
You know I want to give you the best answer to your questions, and it kills me to say this, but the fact of the matters is when it comes to the “What about cheat days?” question, my answer will almost always be: It depends. What does it depend on? You, your tolerance, your underlying biochemistry and therefore, sensitivity level to sugar and/or carbohydrates, your willingness to change, and of course, your personal definition of “cheat day.”
Here are my 5 considerations for Cheat Days:
1. Change your mindset. I don’t think the real food PFC balanced lifestyle is depriving. You shouldn’t feel like you're missing out (that’s no way to live!). You should be so freakin’ excited with how awesome you feel and the progress you’re making that junky foods aren’t even worth it to you. Our clients rave about how amazed they are that their sugar cravings have completely vanished, their energy levels have skyrocketed, and they are able to focus on tasks and projects for prolonged periods of time. They exclaim they never thought it would be possible to eat tasty food (like butter and bacon) and feel awesome and lose weight and reach whatever other health goals they have! If you’re feeling deprived, remind yourself that you get to make the calls and you get to eat whatever you want! For our clients, this might mean having that ice cream they’ve been craving all summer long, only to find that it’s not even half as good as they played it up to be in their mind. When they find that it leaves them feeling crappy (something people don’t usually realize when they’re fueling their bodies with crappy foods all day long), it becomes so much easier to give it up. It can take some time to get in touch with your body and some work to understand how your body responds to certain foods. That’s why this is a journey to health and not an overnight “quick fix” that won’t last.
2. Self-Experiment with Cheat Days. Now, let me explain this one before you go out and binge on pizza and ice cream and cookies. Like our PFC approach as a whole, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. If you can honestly say you don’t know how you’d handle a cheat day, then this may be a helpful exercise. Don’t use this as an excuse to go crazy because Dietitian Cassie gave you permission (more on that in #5), but if you truly don’t know if you’re the type of person who can have some not-perfectly-PFC-balanced foods and not go off the deep end, then maybe try it. I’m all for learning how your body responds to foods. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you: Some of our clients have one bite and they’re back on the blood sugar roller coaster for a week or even a month (especially if they don’t have their glutamine caps! Another set of of our clients find that having a “sinful” bite every now and then reminds them that they are in control and can eat whatever they want... they just CHOOSE to eat real food because it makes them feel amazing. Ultimately, the choice is yours. You get to choose what you fuel your body with and you get to choose if you want to include cheat days or not. It boils down to knowing yourself, and knowing your goals.
3. Assess Your Goals. When this cheat day question comes up, I think it’s important to step back and take a good, hard look at what’s most important to you. What are your goals? In coaching appointments, we always bring it back to the reason why you sought out coaching in the first place. We have real talk and explore if those goals still hold true or not. Goals can change, and that’s okay too. Maybe the goal of weight loss that you initially set just isn’t as important as ordering a margarita or three at happy hour with your coworkers (I’d argue that you can still go to Happy Hour and make a better choice as I outlined here, but I digress…) If your goal is weight loss, then the fewer “cheats” you implement, the better. The more you have, the more time it’s going to take to reach your goal. Period. (This is because you’ll be promoting inflammation instead of healing it, which needs to happen for weight loss.) Maybe it’s worth putting that weight loss goal to the side, in order to eat the foods you miss once in a while. That’s completely your decision and we’re okay with whatever it is you decide. It may be a tad disheartening, mostly because we don’t think eating real food is just about energy and weight loss—it has an incredibly strong correlation with disease prevention and I wish that reason alone would be enough for some folks. The reality is, for some people it’s not, and that’s their call. The choice is yours and I think that’s empowering and exciting!
4. Re-Define your idea of a Cheat Day. When I say, “whatever you want,” I’m not talking about going totally crazy and un-doing everything good you’ve done since your last cheat day. For example, it makes me nauseous when I see photos on Facebook of sugary, artificially sweetened, trans-fat laden foods that people “save” for their one cheat day of the week. They plan it out, pick their poison and binge to the point where they feel like death, then they hop back on their diet the next day, diligently follow it for the next 6 days, and repeat. Like six restrictive days makes up for the big binge they just had and will have again in another 6 days. Crazy. What they probably don’t realize is that these cheat days are a recipe for disaster and the six days in between them are likely not enough for their body to reduce the inflammation and undo the damage that was inflicted. This messes with not only your brain, but your metabolism, too. And most people adapting unhealthy patterns like this are in it to lose weight. This approach is a flat out mean thing to put your body through, and not in any way is it beneficial for weight loss. So the reality is to know that you “can” eat whatever you want, whenever you want. For me, I simply choose to eat what is best for my body and brain, most of the time. I don’t like restrictions. We are wired to be a little rebellious and any time we feel like we “can’t” do something, our natural instinct is going to be to want to do it, right? I don’t recommend having a strict list of “cans and can’ts” but I do encourage you to be empowered by your choices, knowing that you get to make the calls.
5. Get Honest With Yourself. You know yourself better than anyone else. Did my sugar addiction story resonate with you? Are you someone who has a single bite and goes off the deep end? How in control of your food choices are you feeling, in this very moment? Are you ready to makeover your life and experience real, lasting change, for good? It’s okay if you’re not ready yet. It can be frightening to try something new, especially something that just might work. As odd as it may sound, we see clients deliberately hold off on making healthy changes because they’re afraid of reaching the goals they so desperately want to achieve! It sounds backwards, but if you’ve struggled with your weight your entire life and found your identity in being overweight or obese, and you finally found something for weight loss that works, it can be scary. Many overweight people enjoy a certain amount of invisibility in the crowd and when they are successful with their weight loss, the newfound attention might just be more than they are prepared to handle. This way of thinking is not only normal, but also common, so if this is you, then don’t fret. We also hear from clients that they notice other’s expectations of them change as they lose weight. I’d encourage you to take one step at a time and if you have emotional barriers, such as the fear of “once and for all”, reaching your goal, or you have the “then what?” questions standing in your way, we’ll hold your hand and walk you through the steps. You don’t have to do it alone. That’s what we’re here for and it’s what we’re good at. 🙂 Don’t let your fear of giving up comforting bad habits for good ones interfere with becoming a healthier you! If you’re ready for real life change, apply to our one-on-one coaching program today. We can get you on track to reaching your health goals so that you no longer have to feel controlled by food cravings and can experience TRUE (and lasting!) freedom.
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