Cheat Days Vs. Healthy Eating Habits

The question came at me again. Often there are similar ones that arise in conversations  in regards to health and wellness.

“Do you allow yourself a cheat day/meal?”

If you don’t know what that means, in the fitness world it’s a day set aside where you eat whatever suits your fancy. Anything you’ve been craving or put off limits from yourself. It could be a meal or an all day eating frenzy depending on how deprived you feel.

The answer is a big “no”.

No, I don’t. Never have and don’t have any intention of starting.

I’ll tell you why. October marked my 8th year on my health and wellness journey.

8 years people. I’ve lost the weight of a hefty toddler child and about 5 pant sizes. In those years I not only lost fat but have built muscle and a strong physique that allows me to enjoy all my outdoor athletic sports and gives me a good deal of energy and strength for living life.

I’ve not gained it back or played yo yo dieting games.

As I’ve gotten deeper into endurances sports I’ve come to accept that my body will go through times of being leaner when I’m doing a lot of training and a bit softer when I’m not heavy training. I can fluctuate within 5-7 pounds and I’m ok with that.

Losing weight and keeping it off for a lifetime involves small, consistent, changes that turn into new habits. It’s really the only thing that works and you have to intentionally build on it every day.

The cheat day/meal thing

if you’ve followed me for awhile you know I’m “anti” diet and diet hype nonsense. I consider my take on things practical, livable and sustainable. When I started my journey one thing I set out for myself was that nothing was off limits or to be considered “Bad or good”.

For me, it took a ton of power away from food. Mentally, if I knew I could have “whatever” then I was less likely to think about it or “wish” I could have it.

cheat meal days

It’s amazing how that works.

Allowing myself a fun meal with my family and then resuming my normal eating took away feelings of “deprivation”.

Admit it, haven’t you at some point been dieting and everyone is eating and living the good life and you feel freaking miserable, left out, disgusted with yourself and well…fat?

Me too and enough of that already.

Having a fun meal or some birthday cake at a party didn’t undo all my efforts. I had mentally taken on living healthier and I loved being in control of my choices.

If I didn’t want cake, I didn’t eat it. If I did I was smart enough to know a small piece wouldn’t end my efforts.

On the other side, saving a day to eat all the things you’ve withheld from yourself or over eating can lead to you feeling bad (physically) and bad (mentally ) for over doing it.

Binge eating only feels good in that moment.

The power of your choices

Learning to change my lifestyle I also learned there was a tremendous amount of power I had in my choices of food I made.

It was rather freeing.

Making healthier choices began to get easier and the other foods that used to have a pull on me began to have less.

But sometimes… chocolate. Or French fries.

Let’s face it when you are trying to lose weight those cravings or desires don’t come in at your scheduled cheat day do they? And what if it’s cheat day and you don’t really feel like having it?

I found allowing myself a small amount of whatever I wanted set the craving aside and took it out of my mind.  I’m still like that. If there is a strong pull, almost a physical need, I listen to my body.

I can tell you if I want something particular the need is quenched and I’m on with life again.

It is powerful making choices for yourself. Choices that involve thinking and listening to your body.

Think of how mindlessly you can eat. Eek. Tell me you’ve had those moments, that I’m not alone!

You know.. maybe you aren’t truly hungry but you are stuffing food in ’cause it’s there? or you’re in the pantry at 10 at night trolling but you know you aren’t needing food? Or when you eat past what you need to feed your appetite?

Making smaller more mindful choices on a daily basis will lead to weight loss that lasts long term and not just a few weeks until you’re eager to get back to “normal”.

Practice makes perfect…er… perfect “ish”.

Ok so no one is perfect or nails the eating thing perfectly.  With time, consistency and practice the cool thing is it will start to become second nature.  As you teach yourself to balance all food groups and eat in a healthy manner with room for those treats and celebratory moments you will find yourself automatically making those good choices and passing on things that don’t support your health and fitness goals.

You won’t need a cheat day to enjoy life or the things you love. You won’t feel deprived as you work on building new habits and skills in your life. You will feel empowered by trusting yourself and making mindful choices.

cheat days

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Food And Cheat Days

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It’s hard to believe we are already moving quickly into another year, and yet another holiday is behind us with the celebration of Easter this past weekend.

For many it’s a time of worship, family gatherings, and well, food. As things go with holidays there are special treats and meals that are prepared as we gather in celebration.

Holidays are meant to be enjoyed. Food is meant to be savored and appreciated.

Therefore, I found it semi-amusing when I was asked on Saturday not once, but twice, in different conversations if I allowed myself  “cheat days”.

If you don’t know what this means, in some dieting plans there is a day in the week you’re basically allowed to just eat whatever and enjoy it without any (supposed) guilt for doing it.

The first person to ask me was a friend… he simply inquired if I allowed myself to do that… to have days of indulgence.

The other person was an employee in the store I had chatted with briefly. She was telling me about an asparagus dish involving bacon and she laughed and said ” I know you look really disciplined, but I figure you’ve got to have some cheat days along the way too!”

Ok, I admit, I don’t really “see” myself like others do. Does anyone ?

I know I am a bit more muscular looking than a lot of people roaming around so perhaps there’s an idea I don’t ever touch anything that might be considered “off limits”.

That idea kinda makes me laugh….

So here’s the deal… I’ve never subscribed to the idea of having “cheat days” and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, why would I just want to bomb a whole day needlessly ? And what if I didn’t want anything “off limits” on cheat day ? What if I really need a piece or two of chocolate on a non-cheat day ? Or there’s a special celebration?

On another thought, it also begins to set you up for thinking of foods in “good” or “bad” terms. The idea being you eat bad foods on your cheat day… good foods the rest of the time…

On a personal opinion I’ve just never seen it as a productive idea.

What has helped me be successful and lose weight is balance and moderation of allowing myself things which has kept me from feeling deprived or the need to binge on something because I have withheld it. Somehow, this seems to have worked as I’ve lost weight these past few years and maintained my fitness goals.

This is how I counsel people who are trying to find a balance of losing weight and living this thing called life.

That being said, even though I don’t like setting foods into “good” or “bad” groups, you need to have an awareness that there are definitely foods that support optimal health, keep you well and energetic, that contribute to weight loss and support your fitness goals.

These should make up the majority of your daily diet.

Then there are foods that are enjoyable and make life fun but should be consumed in careful moderation.

There are some “foods” I will never put in my mouth as I see them as wasted, useless, calories that do nothing for me.

When you begin to see foods in this light it also removes guilt that people tend to put on themselves for eating “bad” foods.

I can’t tell you the times I’ve heard people apologize because they had a treat at a party or a piece of birthday cake or something similar. Or worse, feel they have to punish themselves or “work it off”.

Seriously, lose the guilt, stop apologizing. When you make a decision to have something, own it and move on.

As you progress and eating healthy begins to feel what is more normal and natural to you, those other foods honestly, will have less attraction. You will feel better eating healthy foods and (personally) I don’t feel so great if I have a day eating foods my body isn’t used to anymore.

In brief:

Eat healthy, whole foods the majority of the time.

If you need or want something special, consider a small amount to meet that need. Take a moment to decide if it’s really what you want.

Is it something you really love or are you eating it because it’s there?

Don’t lock yourself into one day to go off the tracks. There’s no point in wasting a day or ruining your efforts for the week.

Think moderation and balance.

Guilt is not a part of success. Don’t entertain it.

If you really overdo, just refocus on your goals, pick up, and keep moving forward. Quitting isn’t an option!