Let’s face it…Self control isn’t infinite and if you feel deprived on a regular basis, eventually you are going to binge. And then that binge usually leads to guilt, which in turn leads to another binge and then guilt….and then potentially another binge until you finally go back to restricting what you eat.
But you can’t eat healthily and eat exactly what you want all the time. You simply can’t eat burritos and frozen yogurt every night no matter how good it tastes.
But you also can’t DEPRIVE yourself of the food you love for too long because if you do, at some point you are going to give into deprivation and go and eat it anyway. You also most definitely can’t starve yourself because not eating enough is also going to lead to binging and won’t get you results any faster (For all you women that eat only like 500 calories a day, I wrote a post for you about how you may actually be HINDERING your progress because you are STARVING yourself!)
So if you can’t eat exactly what you want any time you want it, but you also can’t deprive yourself of the food you love, what the heck do you do if you want to be healthy?
You don’t restrict yourself…Or at least you do so as little as possible.
I’ve mentioned this before, but when making diet changes, you really have two options – go all in or make small changes.
Which one you do is really dependent on you.
For some people, it is best to go all in at the beginning because any temptation at the beginning away from the clean eating habits they want to instill will lead to a binge.
For others, “going all in” leads to feelings of deprivation, which in turn leads to binging.
So when starting to make healthier choices, you need to decide which one will work best for you.
Then you also need to figure out what triggers your feelings of deprivation. What makes you feel like you are restricted and can’t indulge?
Is it not having dessert at night? Is it that you miss that salty snack in the afternoon? Is it when you get stressed and just want to eat?
Once you figure out your triggers, you can PLAN for them.
You can have healthy alternatives on hand when you know you may need them.
Like for me…I grew up eating dessert every night so when I’m stressed or tired or just not in the right frame of mind, I start craving dessert.
But instead of completely depriving myself, I’ve found healthy alternatives that satisfy me. Like a piece of dark chocolate or some delicious fresh fruit. And honestly for me this works because I physically feel way better and SATISFIED.
It’s not that a pint of ice cream doesn’t still sometimes sound good, but for me most of the time it just isn’t worth it. I would rather my chocolate bar.
Basically what you need to do is nip the craving in the bud. If you let that craving fester, you are doing to feel deprived and eventually not care what you eat and binge.
If you just deal with the craving, you are going to be way better off.
And right now your probably thinking…”Ok well sometimes a healthy alternative isn’t good enough.”
This is where I say…”Well it’s not about perfect…It’s about eating well 80% of the time and indulging 20%. Dealing with the craving could be indulging occasionally when you really really want something or it could be planning in a cheat.”
There are definitely times when you just really really want that cookie, that bag of chips, that snack that everyone else at the office is indulging in.
And sometimes it is ok to give in.
But if you indulge in that thing that you truly want, don’t allow it to be an excuse to binge.
Indulging and enjoying things you love isn’t bad!
You shouldn’t freak out if you eat a calorie that isn’t on your “diet program!” (Shoot you shouldn’t freak out if you go on vacation and indulge for a week because you’ve got to enjoy life!)
It isn’t a big deal!
If you stress about not being perfect with your diet, that stress is what will TRULY lead to binging. Because that stress is what makes you feel restricted and turns one little indulgence into a year-long binge.
If you really want to eat well, you’ve got to realize healthy living is a LIFE-LONG PROCESS. It isn’t about perfection day in and day out. It is about trying to simply eat whole natural foods as often as you can while STILL enjoying life!
So don’t stress yourself out about dieting. Don’t make yourself feel deprived and completely restricted.
If you LOVE Thanksgiving food or Christmas food or have one restaurant you go to occasionally on a Friday night, indulge on that day! Don’t deprive yourself of things that you love! That one day, one meal isn’t going to destroy all your hard work! What will destroy your healthy lifestyle is stressing about the indulgence and NOT enjoying to the fullest! Feel satisfied when you indulge, not guilty, because satisfaction leads to adherence in the long run, which is what truly matters!
So now the question is…Are you caught in the binge eating cycle? What do you do so that you ENJOY eating well and don’t feel deprived?
Holidays are usually full of partying and bad food. The question is, “Do you cheat or do you stick to your diet?”
Both can work. And frankly what I do depends on the holiday.
On holidays where BBQ is common, like Memorial Day, the fourth of July and Labor Day, I find it very easy to stick to my diet.
So I do.
BUT on holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ryan or my birthday, I find it much harder to eat well.
I don’t believe in all of those tips to keep the fat off during the winter holiday seasons. I mean seriously…get a smaller plate so you don’t eat as much?!?!
I would much rather just eat badly with family on those days and then go right back to my diet afterwards. I would much rather eat super clean before the holidays and super clean afterwards than deprive myself of food in a social environment that has so much meaning for me.
I don’t like having feelings of deprivation. That is why I eat the diet that I do!
So if I think I’ll feel like I missed out, I indulge. A little indulgence one day could keep me from binge eating for the next week or so.
But it is really up to you. The question I always ask myself way in advance is, “Will I feel like I missed out enough to make me want to cheat for the entire week after or will I be satisfied eating well?”
We all “know” that no one is perfect – that we will never be perfect.
Yet we all try to achieve perfection in our diet and exercise programs.
If we “know” that perfection is unattainable, WHY ARE WE PRESSURING OURSELVES TO ATTAIN IT!?!
DON’T DO IT!!
Slip ups, mistakes are going to happen, but they don’t mean that we’ve failed or that we should just give up trying because we weren’t able to be “perfect.”
I’ve tried to attain perfection according to other diet and exercise programs and I’ve always fallen short. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but I just couldn’t follow their rules every day, all day. There were just times when I was too worn out/stressed/busy/on vacation to be able to stick to all of the rules.
So what happened when I slipped up?
I gave up.
But I realized I would never achieve my goals if I gave up every time I made a “mistake” – every time I cheated on my diet or missed a workout.
I couldn’t let one cheat or one missed workout lead to a week of bingeing or a week off from working out.
I had to change the expectations I had for myself.
I could seek perfection, but my definition of perfection had to include room for cheats and missed workouts. I couldn’t expect myself to be perfect 100% of the time.
BUT I could expect myself to achieve perfection 80% of the time with room for cheats or missed workouts 20% of the time.
I didn’t necessarily want to encourage cheats or missed workouts, but I had to expect that from time to time they may happen and that I could still reach my goals if I was “perfect” 80% of the time.
I stopped looking at reaching my health and fitness goals as an all or nothing thing, but a journey that I had to enjoy.
Plus I found that expecting perfection only 80% of the time lessened the pressure I felt and actually helped me stick to my program more consistently than I ever had before.
If I went on vacation, I didn’t force myself to stick to my diet if there was a dessert I really wanted to indulge in. I didn’t force myself to workout if we were all enjoying lounging by the pool.
But I found that because I wasn’t “forcing myself” to do certain things, I almost had more desire to do them even while on vacation than I ever had before.
And because I allowed myself to enjoy the times I did choose to cheat, it was easy to go straight back to my diet and exercise program when I got back from vacation.
I found a way to strict a balance between perfection and enjoyment of life. You can achieve your goals without sacrificing everything that you enjoy to do so.
You just have to accept that there will be setbacks along the way. And you can’t let them get you down. There will be mistakes and cheats and missed workouts that might upset you at that moment, but they won’t matter if you just accept them and move on.
Perfection isn’t important. Getting right back on track when you cheat or miss a workout is what matters.
It is what makes you stronger and will help you accomplish your goals.
So don’t force yourself to be perfect 100% of the time. Seek perfection 80% of the time and you will find much more success and enjoyment.
Lots of people pressure themselves to never cheat and to stick 100% to a diet.
These people also never manage to stick to a diet for very long.
The belief that you can maintain a PERFECT diet is completely and utterly unrealistic especially if you plan to do the diet for any extended period of time.
Instead I don’t plan on perfection. I plan on cheating.
I live by the 80/20 rule – I eat well 80% of the time and badly 20% of the time. Always have. Always will.
And I think you achieve the greatest success when you don’t expect yourself to be perfect. That frankly is just too much pressure and leads to failure.
You simply run out of self-control when you are working to maintain perfect. However, if you plan in a cheat day, you allow your self-control to recharge.
And if you PLAN in cheat days, not only do you recharge but you do DAMAGE CONTROL.
WHAT!?! By doing damage you are controlling the damage?
When you plan in cheats and allow yourself to recharge, you prevent yourself from completely losing control and doing more damage than that one single cheat day would do.
I mean think about it…
When you feel super deprived, what do you do? You eat everything in sight and eat way too much because you’ve run out of self-control. And sometimes it takes you weeks or even months to get back on track.
On the other hand, if you plan in a cheat once a week, even if it is just a Primal cheat, such as dark chocolate and cheese, you quench your cravings enough that you don’t feel the need to stuff your face until you have a food baby! AND you also can go back to eating well the next day because you know you will get all that wonderful tasting food again in only a few days!
So what seems better?
I personally would rather plan to be good 80% of the time than plan to be good 100% of the time. Because I know that 80% is attainable while 100% simply isn’t.
Why set a goal that isn’t realistic when you can set yourself up to succeed and get great results while indulging 20% of the time!?!
Take a look at your diet? Do you always feel like you are falling off the bandwagon because you are expecting too much?
Your self-control is like a tank of gas.
You start with a full tank, but each and every time you use your self-control, the tank goes down.
And you know when you hit empty – it’s the day when no matter how hard you try, you just can’t stop yourself from stuffing your face with everything in the cabinet.
So how do you keep yourself from getting so low on self-control that you lose all control?
You give yourself days to recharge where you don’t have to use your self-control!
We take days off from working out to rest our bodies. We take days off from work to recharge for the next week.
So why wouldn’t you need to take a day off from eating a perfectly clean diet?
This recharge each week isn’t an all out cheat, which can be good to do every once in a while if you enjoy non-healthy foods like I do.
But instead this recharge day, unlike the other 6 days of the week when you try to not eat past being satiated, you can eat till you are absolutely and completely stuffed full of all the Primal foods you enjoy!
For me this day is Saturday, each and every week. Yep even during my very strict two months, I had a day to recharge.
Each and every Saturday, I would indulge in all of the Primal foods I loved until I was so stuffed full I didn’t want to eat anything else. Depending on the week, I could have anything from potatoes fried in duck fat to full-fat cheese, dark chocolate, nuts and fruit.
All still whole, natural foods, but I didn’t worry about the quantity in which I ate them. If I wanted a huge hunk of cheese, I ate it. If I was craving something sweet? I would eat dark chocolate macadamia nut bark, or fruit or my primal “sorbet” (frozen berries, heavy cream and dark chocolate pieces all mashed together).
Not only did this day help me refill my self-control tank so that I could make it through another week of meat and veggies, but I also truly believe that this high calorie day really helped me get as lean as I did in two months.
All of the diets that I’ve found to be successful and fairly easy to maintain, are diets that have give you one “cheat day” each and every week. I mean just take a look at Lean Gains or Tim Ferriss of the 4 Hour Body.
And these diets incorporate cheat days because cheat days promote fat loss because they:
- Increased thyroid hormone output. When in a caloric deficit, underfed individuals produce less T3 and T4—both important thyroid hormones that play roles in the regulation of metabolic rate. A cheat day or strategic overfeed is used in part to increase these hormones.
- Increased 24-Hour Energy Expenditure. A caloric surplus from a cheat day causes the body to upregulate basal metabolic rate (BMR). Some studies have shown an increase of 9% above baseline, and it’s hypothesized that more is possible.
- Increased serum Leptin levels. The big one that most harp on. Leptin levels drop while in a caloric deficit (lasting as little as 72 hours), and a periodic bump in leptin coming from a cheat day has several benefits including increased thyroid output, increased energy expenditure and BMR, and overall increased thermogenesis.
Of course, there’s the psychological benefit of being able to take a day off from your diet; eat whatever you like and be comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll still get lean. It’s hard to quantify how much that actually helps, but the majority of folks who opt to use cheating protocols cite this as one of the most significant benefits. (RFS)
So if you “cheat” once a week not only can you recharge your self-control, but you also make your diet more conducive to fat loss (and more enjoyable)!
I found an interesting post on The Great Fitness Experiment about cheat days and whether or not they work. In my opinion, there isn’t a simple “yes” or “no” answer to this. It just depends on the person.
I think the most important part of any diet is just to follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time you should maintain a healthy diet. 20% of the time you should indulge. However you choose to break it down just make sure you stick to the 80/20 rule.
Here are the two most common ways people follow this rule:
1. Daily mini cheats. 80% of the food you eat each day is healthy while 20% is an indulgence. This works if you can be satisfied (and make yourself stop eating) after one cookie for dessert. Portion control is key here.
2. Cheat days. During the average week, you eat well for 6 days with 1 day where you eat anything and everything in sight. This works if you are like me and seem to have no shut off mechanism once you start eating bad food. (Even feeling like I’m going to barf sometimes doesn’t stop me from stuffing more food in my mouth.)
Either way you choose to do it, daily mini cheats or once a week binges, just make sure that 80% of the time you are sticking to a healthy diet!!!
Another dieting dilemma…when do you just say screw it to your diet and enjoy life?
There is also no easy answer to this question. It all depends. I’m sure that answer makes you so happy! HA!
For me, vacations, holidays and other big celebrations are all times to just forget about my diet and eat whatever I want. BUT that is only IF I’m going to be stressed out about trying to eat well OR I’m going to be missing out on something I only can get at that specific time or place.
Like when we go to California for Ryan’s bday. I’m going to eat whatever I want the entire time I’m there. We just don’t have the wonderful Mexican food that they have in Southern California here in Boston. AND I’m going to also eat a HUGE cinnamon roll from this diner in Cali since it is the best cinnamon roll in the ENTIRE WORLD!
BUT since I know that in about two weeks I will be eating bad food for 4 days, I had to make a tough decision about this weekend when my mom visits. (YAY! For a visit from Mom) I had to decide whether or not I was going to stick to my routine of only one cheat day per week. And I decided that yes, I will.
There are so many good restaurants here that I can easily eat Primally at…so I really have no excuse to not eat well every day but Saturday. Anytime I can stick to my diet without spending too much time stressing out or feeling like I’m missing out, I will.
Living life doesn’t always have to mean cheating on your diet. BUT there are also times when you do just need to say screw it and enjoy!
I don’t think it is possible to ever get used to waking up at 4:30 a.m. Humans weren’t meant to be up before the sun! And to make matters worse today, my stomach isn’t feeling too hot…Chinese food, chips, dips, cupcakes, ice cream, burritos, bread and candy all make for a nice little stomach ache.
A cheat weekend sounded like such a good idea on Friday…and today…well today I’m paying the price. Usually I only do a day, but for some reason I just let myself go all weekend. A nice little relaxing weekend with no stress – no stress even about what I was eating.
Why do we want to cheat on our healthy diets? Why does junk food sound so good when it really just makes us feel super crappy?
Today, I don’t remember how good any of the food tastes – all I can think about is how bloated I feel and how irritated my stomach is. All I can think about is how bloated my abs look and how much I set myself back (and my abs were just starting to look so wonderful!!! :-)).
So really, why do we cheat? I mean sticking to my healthy diet really isn’t painful – actually the reason I chose to do it, aside from health reasons, is because it is so easy to stick to on a day-to-day basis. I mean I’ve done low-fat, low carb diets. And I get why I can’t stick to them. But a diet full of flavorful foods that just requires you not eat processed crap? That should be easy! I mean dark chocolate is even allowed occasionally!
Yet sometimes I just crave certain foods. I mean sometimes I just want those bad for me carbs that I can’t have everyday. And so I eat them, never remembering or thinking about how crappy I’ll feel afterwards.
And then the day after I cheat, I swear I’ll never cheat again, but a few weeks down the road, my pain is forgotten, and I’m again giving into temptation. WHY!?! SERIOUSLY….WHY!?!
I guess if you need to cheat, the only reason to cheat would be to enjoy life and to then reaffirm your dedication to the healthy lifestyle you maintain at least 80% of the time. As most people who’ve been successfully eating healthily for any length of time will tell you – the 80/20 rule is key.
Anyway, here is my usual day after promise, “I will never cheat again….ok so at least not until Ryan’s birthday on September 13th!” Back to eating healthy!