I had an interesting conversation with two friends at work today. My coworker asked me how often I believe in treating myself? I asked him to clarify because I wasn’t exactly sure what he was asking me. He proceeds to say that he is wondering how I often I allow myself to have cheat meals. This simple question took me back in time. Back to a time where I was following a strict meal plan that allowed for no variation and was boring and lacked variety; you know the kind where you get to eat egg whites, spinach, and half a grapefruit or celery and salsa for a snack (the thought of that “snack” still makes me cringe).
I remember these days vividly because I literally hated some of the things I was eating. However, it’s what my meal plan called for so I had to eat it. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Not only were my meals plans mundane and monotonous, they were extremely restrictive. A funny thing (or not so funny actually) always happened to me when I started a new diet, particularly one of the restrictive nature. Literally as soon as I started the diet, all of the sudden I was craving everything I couldn’t have. Suddenly, I couldn’t get by mind off of doughnuts, pizza, burgers, chocolate, ice cream, etc. The list could go on and on. Prior to the “diet”, these things didn’t even cross my mind that much. Now they were almost an obsession.
Insert the concept of a cheat meal. If you can just make it through the week and white knuckle all your cravings, you can “reward” yourself with a cheat meal. You get to eat a meal and possibly a dessert that you have really been craving. Sounds cool right? Except that for some people, this “cheat” meal can turn into an all-out binge or cheat weekend as you indulge in everything that has been labeled “off limits.”
Cheat: to violate rules or regulations; to practice fraud or deceit
That my friend is the definition of the word cheat. Not sure about you but I don’t have a desire to be practicing fraud because I decide to eat a burger. I personally think that the whole concept around restrictive eating and cheat meals is a psychological mind fuck. There has even been research done about the negatives of restrictive eating. However, I’m no scientist so I took this paragraph from an article published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
A review of the literature and research on food restriction indicates that inhibiting food intake has consequences that may not have been anticipated by those attempting such restriction. Starvation and self-imposed dieting appear to result in eating binges once food is available and in psychological manifestations such as preoccupation with food and eating, increased emotional responsiveness and dysphoria, and distractibility. Caution is thus advisable in counseling clients to restrict their eating and diet to lose weight, as the negative sequelae may outweigh the benefits of restraining one's eating. Instead, healthful, balanced eating without specific food restrictions should be recommended as a long-term strategy to avoid the perils of restrictive dieting.
Science for the win! So if I’m saying that I’m not a fan of restrictive diets, what do I think people should do in terms of their nutrition?
Here’s my motto for nutrition: KISS (Keep it Super Simple). Eat moderately and be mindful of your hunger throughout the day. Eat your protein, prioritize your vegetables, get a couple servings of fruit a day, and most importantly listen to your body. If you have a craving, have a small square of chocolate or drink a glass of wine after dinner. The point is to indulge your craving (to avoid an all-out binge) but not until the entire bag of chocolate is gone. Normally, a couple of bites will do the trick. The key word is moderation; there is no such thing as “off limit” foods.
I’ll be honest with you. Practicing moderation takes time. You may still have times where you intend to have a small square of chocolate but you end up eating the entire King sized bar. Learning self-trust and moderation with food takes time. But the more your practice it, the better you get. In the long run, it’s worth it because you get to the point where can eat a couple of fries and feel satisfied without feeling the need to binge on the whole plate. That’s the goal of moderation eating.
So what’s the moral of the story? I don’t believe in cheating. For that reason, I never allow myself “cheat” meals. However, I also do not label any foods “off limits” so I would never have a reason to “cheat”. And so to answer my friend’s question, “Sorry Sir….I don’t believe in cheating.” I listen to my body, I eat according to my personal preferences, and I always do it in moderation.
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