Death to Cheat Meals, Clean Eating and Pleasure Deprivation
Here’s how you can have your cake AND six pack abs, and why I think the concept of cheat meals must die.
Some time ago, I made the decision that I was done with cheat meals. The gorging felt good for a moment, but I’d always walk away feeling disgusted.
I felt out of control when it came time to “cheat.” Looking back, I see why. Having tuna straight out of the can dabbled with some hot sauce and a few cups of steamed broccoli gets old really fast. The more I tried to “eat clean” and restrict myself of any kind of pleasure, the worse the cheat meals became.
Polishing off whole cartons of ice cream. Jamming down the last few slices of pizza to finish the entire pie. Mowing through several rows of Oreo’s.
I’m not claiming that eating well and meeting all of your nutritional needs aren’t important. I am claiming that a overly-restrictive diet isn’t necessary. It took me a while to break from the cycle of clean eating, but once I did, I realized that there was something wrong with cheat meals.
Cheat meals identified that there was something missing from my diet.
And by the intensity of my cheat meals, there was a lot missing. If my clean eating diet was so great, then why did I have such a uncontrollable desire to gorge when it came time to cheat?
My fixation on cheat meals identified that there was something missing from my diet.
Cheat meals almost ruined my relationship with food
The word cheat brings along a negative connotation with it regardless of how it’s used. If you engage in any kind of cheating behavior, guilt follows close behind. When you apply this word to food in a cheat meal, you then create an invisible wall between “good” foods and “bad” foods. This then creates abnormal food behavior.
For a while, I used to think that carbs of any kind in any amount would me make fat. So I deemed them as a “bad” food. But you and I both know, if you’re strength athlete of any kind, carbs are essential to performance, cognitive function and body composition. But the clean eating mentality and severe restriction had influenced me otherwise.
The “good” food versus the “bad” food thought process can be debilitating. Over time if the pattern isn’t disrupted you start to see foods that you are allowed to eat and foods you are off limits from. Then, when you have a cheat meal and enjoy some of those comfort foods that you’ve been wanting for months, you feel guilty for having them. When the cheat is over, you return to the foods that you have to plug your nose to eat. The cycle continues and you’re relationship with food is miserable.
Yes, whole food sources from high quality protein, fruits and veggies are better than junk food. You already know that. But that’s not the point I’m making. What I am saying is that there shouldn’t be such a divide between good and bad foods that cause destructive eating patterns. Why? Because pleasure matters
Pleasure matters: Clean eating influences deprivation
The key to eating well is to not relentlessly resist pleasure. That means indulging in the comfort foods you love as part of your regular diet, but in portions that are intentionally modest.
The reason why the success rate of most diets are so poor is because they are built on the foundation of deprivation; avoiding the most desirable foods. Modest weight loss occurs in the first few weeks and the results keep your motivation levels high enough to keep grinding.
After several weeks of investing tons of energy into resisting certain foods, you finally give in. Much of the initial weight loss was water due to the severe carbohydrate restriction, so when you dive into the foods you’ve been resisting for too long which are usually carb heavy, the weight comes back.
As I’ve learned, you cannot make lasting change by resisting temptation. By focusing on what you can’t have, eventually pushes you to want it more. Feeling deprived increases the craving, which then turns into an indulgence and often times leads to abandonment of any kind of moderation.
Your willpower is a finite resource. If you’re saying “no” to food that you want every day for multiple times a day, at some point the anxiousness, the tension and the restraint will become to great. If your diet leaves you hungry, unhappy and driven by cravings, you won’t last long.
By knowing your needs based on your goals, indulging in a few slices of pizza or a cup of ice cream when the desire hits won’t wreck your diet. By regularly allowing yourself to have your comfort foods as part of the plan, you take deprivation off the table. And, cheat meals are no longer necessary. This allows for long-term success, without the abusive relationship with food.
Plan your meal spree
Don’t be that person who won’t eat their own birthday cake.
There will be times when you are faced to go big. Special occasions like a birthday, holiday parties, your wedding, your anniversary, a reunion or simply just a night out in the town. The point of these occasions is to have fun and spend time with the people you’re with, not obsess over how many carbs in are in the garlic bread served at the table.
This is why I came up with the idea of a “meal spree.” A meal spree is different from a cheat meal because you’re choosing to indulge in food out of pleasure rather than craving. By incorporating comfort foods regularly in your diet, it keeps you from letting the wheels fall off with a meal spree. You won’t act like a savage when they put the food in front of you. It’ll allow you to enjoy the pleasure of food with a mindful approach.
With your recurring expenses, like your house payment, phone bill, and utilities you allocate certain amount of resources to meet these responsibilities. In your diet, you have recurring needs to meet with your macro nutrients. These are ongoing, non-negotiable investments that need to happen consistently.
With shopping sprees, you’ve allocated a certain amount of money toward something that isn’t a recurring expense; a video game console, a new laptop, or a new camera. These purchase items are planned. You know in advanced that you’re going to purchase them because you’ve spent the last months saving up for it.
The key to a sound shopping spree is that you’re not spending money you don’t have. You’re still operating under parameters (a budget) that moves you closer to your financial goals. But with a little strategic planning by putting some money aside, you allow yourself some flexibility to have some fun. You go big on a new purchase.
This is how you plan your meal sprees. You know it advance when a special occasion is coming up, so plan for it. Here are four tips on how to meal spree without feeling guilty.
I’m done with clean eating. Food shouldn’t make you miserable, unhappy and bored. Food is nourishment. Food is fuel.
4 Tips to have an awesome meal spree
1. Turn up the volume
One way to defend yourself against the holiday surge of comfort food is to bump up your training volume a few days prior to the dinner (or event). By increasing your volume and intensity (more sets and reps with less rest) you recruit glycogen for fuel, and increase fat oxidation. By depleting more glycogen than you typically do with your increased volume, you’ll create some space for the incoming carbs like the sweet potato casserole, pizza or ice cream. Training also suppresses appetite.
2. Eat sauerkraut
Compromise a little bit and have some sauerkraut. This fermented food is a natural probiotic. The friendly bacteria will help optimize your digestion by aiding intestinal bacteria in performing their tasks more efficiently. Your meal sprees will probably take place outside of your home at a restaurant. Before you take down that bowl of fettuccine alfredo, help your stomach out and give it some re-reinforcement to assists in digestion with some sauerkraut.
3. Decaf coffee
Meal sprees often are going to be carb-heavy. Carb-heavy meals at restaurants are also laced with more fat than you think from cooking oils. To plan for this, pull back on your carb and fat intake with your meals prior leading up to the meal spree. Inevitably, you’ll face some mild hunger. This is where decaf coffee comes in.
I know, for some of you the only place decaf coffee should make an appearance is in the trash can. I like my dark roast to. But studies show that decaf coffee may have a greater impact on reducing hunger than regular coffee, due to the the higher plasma levels of the hormone PYY. PYY lowers appetite and food intake.
4. Know your needs
What you don’t measure you can’t manage. Knowing what your needs are is the foundation to making this work. As a general guideline a 40/40/20/ ratio of macro nutrients is where I recommend strength athletes to start. Using this baseline for someone who needs 2,400 calories per day to support thier goals, the break down would look like this:
- Protein 240g
- Carbs 240g
- Fat 53g
By utilizing the three tips above and planning for a meal spree, you can easily manipulate your intake during the day by eating mostly protein and allocating most of your carb and fat intake for later on in the day.
Diet doesn’t mean denial
I’m done with clean eating. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, but it does come at a very high cost. One that I’m not willing to pay if another method is just as effective. Food shouldn’t make you miserable, unhappy and bored. Food is nourishment. Food is fuel.
I’ve been on the dark side of the clean eating-which is an eating disorder few in the fitness industry will talk about. It’s time for it to be brought to the light. The shame, the guilt and the viscous cycle that takes hold of your life is a lonely road. If you know what I’m talking about, I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way.
Diet doesn’t mean denial.
A few cookies here, a slice of pizza there won’t de-rail weeks of training and dieting. Build flexibility into your diet so cheat meals are no longer necessary. When you want to go big for a special event, plan your meal spree.
I need you to be willing to deal with this directly. Even if you hide it well in public, you know if you have a problem with food. It’s time to face it. Shakespeare said, “Take arms against a sea of troubles, and in doing so, end them.”
I know it can be a worrisome concept to abandon your clean eating approach. But worry is the cousin of fear and worry rarely portrays reality. In this case, worrying about flexibility in your diet resulting in failure simply isn’t true.
With some planning you can have your cake and have your abs show to.
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