Okay, first let it be known that I used to have cheat meals. I look back fondly on the Sundays Dan and I spent on the couch with bags of chips and salsa spread across the coffee table and a Chicago deep dish pizza on the way.
Secondly, there’s only cheating in the bedroom and the gym (did you really do 15 OHS before taking off on that 400m, bro?).
Now let me get to the point.
Your diet should not be so boring, dull, and tasteless six days a week that you’re only choking down your food most of the time to just enjoy it one day a week. Start enjoying your food.
Cook with some butter and season with salt and your favorite spices, add in some jalapeños and onions. Buy a cook book. Your food should taste good and be satisfying. Eat steak and chicken thighs, sear some shrimp and roast some green beans. Eat decked out omelets with avocado and bacon, have dressing on your salad. Live a little.
Now, if you are you thinking, “what do you mean cheat day? What’s wrong with Oreos, chips, and deep dish pizza followed by an entire cheesecake? That’s what my entire week looks like!” If this is you, the good news is you’re not even trying. So any change, however small, will have an impact.
Now, I’d say the scenario below falls into the common category with a lot of our gym members or people who like a good challenge or bootcamp type of short term diet cleanup. Meaning, the dietary changes are temporary.
Do you eat a low carb diet six days a week only to binge on an entire pizza with a loaf of garlic bread and a gallon of ice cream on the seventh day? Do you eat a diet free of grains and gluten and white potatoes and avoid dairy Monday through Saturday, only to eat 6 breakfast tacos with a side of churros and drink a case of beer on Sunday? Did you just do a Whole 30 (that lasts 30 days, to be clear), only to find yourself lying on the floor with the remnants of Doritos and 3 foot long subs and 6 donuts scattered about on your 31st day? It’s not rhetorical, answer me! You’re missing the boat. The short term diet challenges are great for a kick in the pants, but you should be able to maintain clean eating for the rest of your life.
The short term challenges, or diet “tryouts” only do good if you stick with them. It’s the consistency that’s important.
You can totally undo all your hardwork Monday - Saturday by binging on Sunday. You can also undo 30 days of clean eating by binging on the 31st day. The keyword here is binge. A beer, cookie, slice of pizza, breakfast taco, donut, or nachos will not set you back from clean eating. It’s not cheating to eat a donut while eating a Paleo diet. You’re an adult; you wanted a donut, so you ate it. It’s not cheating, it’s making a decision. Sometimes I over-serve myself on margaritas. Does that mean, as Robb Wolf puts it, I go all “hookers and cocaine” the next day, or for a month afterwards? No. I get back to my normal diet because I know how awesome I feel when I eat that way consistently and while a weekend of margaritas while boating with friends is really fun, it doesn’t make me feel all that great and I really like feeling great. If you’re consistently working out and you miss a day, do you just give up and stop working out altogether? Well I hope not, hopefully you’ll just get back in the gym the next day and pick up where you left off. It’s the same with your diet. Onward!
**Side note on the “hookers and cocaine” comment…it’s not some strange unexplained phenomenon when you eat like crap consecutively (or maybe even just one bite) and then that’s all you crave and want to eat following that meal. This is an example of what a trigger food can do to you, specifically to your brain, and the highly addictive nature of hyper palatable foods. Hyper palatable foods probably fall in line with a trigger food that causes us to overeat (I haven’t known anyone who said that chicken breasts are their trigger food), so steer clear of baking a dozen cookies and having them sit around your house. Go outside, get to know your neighbors, and give away your cookies. They’ll like you better and complain about you less and you won’t go off the deep end by eating a dozen cookies in one evening. Win-win -win.
Now, I want you to think honestly for a second and ask yourself if you’ve uttered the words, “________ (insert Paleo, Keto, Primal, etc.) just didn’t work for me.”
Did you even try?
It sounds easy but it’s not; it’s just simple. Be compliant.
Stick with something for 30 straight days minimum and don’t allow detours. Paleo desserts exist for people that get sick or severely inflamed (digestive issues, joint swelling, etc.) when they eat alternatives like wheat flour or cow’s milk. They’re still desserts. They’ll make you fat just like their alternatives. If you’re trying to do a 30-day compliant Paleo diet, you shouldn’t eat dessert. Consider this a kickstart to get you 30 days of full compliance.
Dial in a high quality diet as your base lifestyle and then once you’re cruising along and go on vacation or the holidays roll around and you feel like eating something that you don’t normally eat, eat it. I hope you enjoy it, and then get back to it at your next meal. When you’re eating for optimal health day in and day out consistently, you’ll find your indulgences even get cleaned up. So maybe it’s not Dunkin Donuts or Dairy Queen, maybe it’s homemade dark chocolate ice cream or homemade 7 layer bars. Either way, they’re still indulgences. Don’t eat them regularly.
**Side note on why I don’t think you should ever schedule or plan your “cheats” (stop calling it that!). If you think about scheduling a food indulgence or meal like you think about other things in your life, it’ll make more sense. Would you schedule a day where you’re angry or rude to your spouse? Would you do a workout with the intention that day to just half-ass it and not work to your potential? That would be a really corrosive thing to do to your relationships and your work ethic.
Life happens and sometimes we aren’t on point. That’s fine. Don’t schedule your lesser moments. Try for consistent finer moments.
The beauty of being compliant for 4-6 weeks is to show you how great you can feel eating this way. Now if you want to re-introduce some foods like cheese for example, you’ll know if it doesn’t make you feel so great (give it three days to be safe). Notice I didn’t say “re-introducing donuts”? You only want to re-introduce foods that fall in line with your healthy way of eating. Donuts are a dessert (even Paleo donuts), not a staple in your diet.
Now that you’ve established a baseline with a clean diet, the fun part can start with experimenting and customizing it further. More on that later.