After our interview came out I was flooded with emails saying “thank you so much for setting the record straight,” “I love how you talked about food, rewards and cheat days,” and “why haven’t I heard this before?”
Today I want to expand on a very important topic we briefly touched on in the interview: Cheat Days.
Traditional diets recommend that you follow a strict set of eating rules (green juice only, gluten-free, low-glycemic, etc.) for a set period of time, or until you lose a certain amount of weight. If you read my last article in TDL then you know that I think this way of doing things is ridiculous, but we’re not going to harp on that today.
Then there are diets that try to make the plan seem less ‘Stalin’ by deeming one day a week a “cheat day” when you get to eat anything you want.
Here are the 5 reasons cheat days are setting you up to fail and what to do instead that actually works:
1. They make you feel like crap. Let’s face it, if you’re restricting your food all week, you’re going to go hog wild on your cheat day. Ice cream, burgers, a bottle of wine, cupcakes, chocolate, chips, caramel popcorn, more ice cream… this only leads to a major stomach ache, low energy, water retention (hello chipmunk cheeks) and a crazy food hangover the next day. Why spend a whole day feeling terrible?
2. You rob yourself of a real “reward.” During our interview when we were talking about this Mastin asked, “Isn’t it important to give yourself a reward after having such a great week?”
“YES!” I screamed, “but food should never be a reward.” A real reward is a massage, a long bath, a trip to the spa, a walk in the park or a new dress. We are so programmed to reward ourselves with food that we miss out on the pure joy of real rewards.
3. You can’t have a life: What happens when it’s your friend’s birthday on a non-cheat day and you’re at one of the best restaurants in your city? You’re either going to order a salad and grilled chicken (what a waste), or say “screw the diet” and stuff yourself with pasta and dessert until you want to puke. I mean, if you’re going to cheat, you might as well get the most out of it… right? There’s no room for spontaneity or flow when you’re tied to strict diet, and it can put a real damper on your life – both when you hold back and when you’re so stuffed you can’t fully show up.
4. It makes you fat. When you deprive yourself during the week, our bodies start to think that we are in a famine and will significantly lower our metabolism. So when our bodies get hold of some sugar and fat on your cheat days, it holds onto as many calories as possible and stores everything you eat as fat, so you’re well prepared for the next famine. Pretty smart when you think about it.
5. You become obsessed with food. When you’re on a diet, all you can think about is food and how many days you have to get through until cheat day. It just takes up so much energy. Can you imagine what you could accomplish if you took all that energy, planning and stress and put it towards something like a new hobby or nurturing your relationship?
All right, now that I’ve given you an ear full, here’s what I have found to be way more effective than cheat days for weight loss: I call it, “Eating Like a Human.”
Here are the rules: Eat foods that support your health 75-80% of the time. Eat foods just because you want to eat them 20-25% of the time.
I believe in being healthy, I believe in having a body that supports who you want to be in the world and I believe in feeling amazing all the time… and I know from personal experience and working with thousands of women worldwide, that Eating Like a Human is the only way to accomplish that. Let me walk you through a typical week.
On Monday I’ll start with a green smoothie, have a salad for lunch and a beautiful dinner with salmon, asparagus and roasted sweet potatoes. No snacks because I don’t eat when I’m not hungry. If you find yourself wanting to snack all the time, I suggest you check out my free emotional eating training here. I eat lots of vegetables and organic protein not because I’m trying to lose weight, but because it makes me feel amazing.
On Tuesday I may make eggs, kale and gluten free toast for breakfast and plan to have another salad for lunch. But, gasp, my friend calls! She wants to meet at our favorite French cafe for lunch. Hells yes! The mussels and fries are too good to pass up and perfect with a glass of Pinot Gris. I know that this is just a normal part of my week, part of my 20%, and I leave lunch feeling satisfied, but not full as I know this isn’t the last time this week I can have fries. I am totally guilt-free making it easy to go home, get some work done and cook a healthy dinner.
The week goes on much the same with lots of veggies and a brownie Wednesday afternoon, and maybe a bowl of ice cream Friday evening, all enjoyed with gusto. Now, on Saturday I’m not rushing to a donut shop or looking forward to putting extra butter on my popcorn because I’ve been on a diet all week. Instead I’m off for a hike, going to the beach or planning an amazing date with my husband.
When all is said and done, my weight is exactly where it’s supposed to be, without restriction, calorie counting or spending hours at the gym.
In the comments below I’d love to know:
1. What do you think of this approach?
2. What things are you going to shift in your eating habits going forward?
I can’t wait to hear from you.
If you want some free training on how to make your life a frickin’ blast and end your struggle with emotional eating, check out LiveMoreWeighLess.com.
Sarah Jenks helps women who’ve been struggling with weight for years finally have a life and body they love, even if they’ve tried everything. She’s been featured in ForbesWoman, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Martha Stewart Weddings and The Knot. Connect with Sarah via her website, Facebook and Twitter.