Disclaimer: This post isn't meant to offend anyone nor shame anyone for their approach to healthy eating. I'm simply sharing my perspective and experience to an issue I hear time and time again about dieting and eating healthfully. Lastly, I may or may not over use quotations in this post, you be the judge.
What is "cheating"?
There are many versions of the "cheat", but essentially, it's the treat you "earn" for being "good". Some people have a "cheat meal", some people have a day and others have the whole weekend.
This used to be me 100%.
If I was “good” then I would allow myself to “go off the rails” for a set amount of time. I used to think this approach was more sustainable because I never had to deprive myself for very long. But the fact is, I always felt deprived. I was living for the day or meal I could "cheat".
Let’s face it, after a "cheat day" you don’t want to go back to your "diet". Often, you wake up the next day feeling groggy and you're starving so decide to extend your cheat into one more meal. You get to work and discover that your co-worker brought in donuts and then your friends invite you to lunch to celebrate a co-workers birthday. By the time you leave work, you're too tired to hit the gym and since you feel like the whole day is shot anyway, you might as just swing through the drive-thru for dinner. You tell yourself you'll be back on track tomorrow. The next thing you know you're in a vicious cycle of making bad choices.
Is calorie restriction effective?
I’ve mentioned before I no longer believe in calorie in, calorie out. (The method that tells you if you restrict your calories to a specific number, creating a deficit each day that you will lose X pounds.) This is why the "cheat" was invented! Calorie restriction leaves people feeling deprived because
they aren't eating enough day-to-day
they aren't eating the right foods to fuel their bodies
they often "save their calories" to eat at a specific meal
Sure, there are some people that can make a calorie restricted diet work using the "cheat day" strategy, but for many, this is not sustainable and leads to "yo-yo dieting".
Your body needs calories, aka energy, to sustain life. Even when you're at rest, it requires energy to keep your heart beating, blood circulating, your liver functioning and more. The body also uses vitamins and minerals to perform vital functions all day, every day. We need to be focused on what we're eating, not how many calories we're eating.
Is there any other way?
Studying holistic nutrition has proven to me that, yes, there is another way. By learning which foods work for you and which do not, you can create a way of eating that keeps you satisfied, healthy and anything but deprived. Eating mindfully or intuitively is a way to have a healthy mindset around food and shifts the power back to YOU.
If you shift your focus to eating nutrient-dense foods and eating for health, your mindset around food will change. This way of eating is a lifestyle, not a "diet".
Wondering what a nutrient-dense
diet looks like?
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Mindful eating is learning to trust your body. This can be really, really hard because most people have a history with food and they don’t believe their body can be trusted.
The thing is, if you quit restricting yourself on a daily basis and change your mindset around food this approach really works. Part of the reason you want "it" so much is because you’ve told yourself you can’t have it or can only have it as a "cheat"! Having the freedom to eat what you want, when you want it is so powerful.
Eating mindfully also means you don't have "good" and "bad" foods. Sure, there are foods that won't work well for you and don't make you feel well. There is also, sugar, which as I've said before, doesn't serve anyone. But giving those foods power by telling yourself you "can't have them" is just simply going to make you have them. A lot of them. Instead, make the decision to have or not to have based on how you will feel.
Option A: You may think, hey, I'm in Italy and I'm having the bread and pasta even though I know it will cause GI distress, but I don't care. Great! Eat the bread and pasta. Missing out on the opportunity to enjoy bread and pasta in Italy may actually make you feel worse.
Option B: You may decide, I want to enjoy the rest of my day here in Italy so I'm going to skip out on the bread and pasta and save myself a lot of uncomfortable hours. Great! Then skip it.
Which is the right answer? Which ever one YOU choose. There is not a right or wrong answer. Regardless of what you choose, own it. This means no beating yourself up because you did or didn't have something. You are being mindful about what you are choosing and owning your choice.
It will get easier...Really
In the beginning it may feel like you are "out of control" everyday, but overtime if you keep focusing on getting in the nutrients your body needs, you’ll find that you don’t want the “cheat foods” all the time. Every time you eat, you want to choose foods mindfully.
Sometimes I pass on the food because the quality isn't good and it's simply not worth it to me. Other times, I know I haven't been feeling 100% and don't need to add fuel to the fire. Then there are times that I choose to eat it and relish every bite. There will still be holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, family events, Aunt June's pie, you name it, but your mindset will be different. The key is letting your mind accept your choice.
When you make a mindful choice and you understand why you said no, then you won't feel deprived. The moment you tell yourself "you can’t have this", you’ll want it ALL. THE. TIME. As in 24/7. Your mind will tell you that you need it and can’t live without it. You may eventually "give in" and then beat yourself up about it.
The same is true if you choose yes. Enjoy it. Don't beat yourself up later because you "really shouldn't have had it". The stress response you're creating in your body alone is not good for your health and may be more damaging than the food you ate.
Your mind is powerful. When you eat, choose mindfully, enjoy it and move on. Just because you have something you consider a “cheat” doesn’t mean your “day is blown”, “you’ve fallen off the wagon” or “you need to just start over next week”. I repeat, enjoy it and move on. No dwelling, no mental battle and no "saving your calories for the cheat". It’s one thing in a sea of many meals.
One of my favorite quotes in Fitness Confidential by Vinnie Tortorich is, "It doesn't matter what you eat between Christmas and New Years, it only matters what you eat between New Years and Christmas".
If anything I've said resonates with you, a great read is Nourishing Wisdom: A Mind-Body Approach to Nutrition and Wellbeing by Marc David.
Lastly, if your current approach is working for you, then keep going! There is no need to fix something that isn't broken.
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