As a trainer, people often ask me a lot about “cheat days/meals/foods”. And here is my honest answer: I HATE them. I HATE the idea that foods like birthday cake, grandma’s fried chicken, homemade apple pie, and even grilled cheese like Mom used to make, get labeled so negatively. These are all immensely pleasurable and positive parts of our lives, people! How messed up is it, that we refer to them as “cheat” foods? As if we are going to lose half our stuff and have to move into a lonely studio apartment off the highway just for eating them?!? Why should we associate shame, guilt, and self-loathing with eating a delicious family recipe?!? This kind of thinking can lead to some seriously messed up mental relationships with food.
My number one goal as a trainer is to help people enjoy the complete benefits of a healthy lifestyle as effortlessly as possible. Yes, broccoli, chicken breasts, and oats should be a part of that, but so too should the foods you enjoy eating, just for the sake of eating them. I often refer to items like Birthday Cake as “mental health” or “indulgence” foods, because after eating kale for a week, sometimes you need to be able to enjoy a 2×2 inch square of birthday cake to keep from googling the “most painful ways to die, other than kale”. Your life should include indulgent foods too, but the focus should be on the frequency and amount we eat these foods, not on getting rid of them forever.
So, to help my clients stay motivated and disciplined, I came up with the “Indulgence Challenge”. Check it out below, and maybe give it a try if you are struggling in your relationship with food.
Here are the rules:
- Plan for an indulgence meal at the end of your week on Friday or Saturday
- Make this a full meal: Drink, Appetizer, Entrée, Dessert
- Now, for every day you hit your nutrition goals and workouts you get to have one of those portions of an indulgence meal. For every day you miss your workouts or don’t hit your nutrition goals, you take away one item.
- Complete a “challenging-for-you workout” during the day prior to your indulgence meal. By depleting your body’s carb reserves, most of what you eat will either wind up back in your muscles as stored glycogen, or as poop, but either way that means it isn’t stored as fat.
- No leftovers. Don’t save anything, don’t take home a doggy bag from the restaurant. Don’t tell yourself it’s for your kids. It’s not. It’s just a temptation for you. You’ll just eat it and you know it. Whatever you can eat in that one sitting is what you get to enjoy.
You crush the week, eat veggies and protein at every meal. You nail your macros and hit every workout Monday through Thursday. Most disciplined 4 days of your life. Start off the same way Friday, but for dinner have a glass of Merlot, some Mozzarella sticks, a Filet Mignon with loaded Baked Potato, and split that Brownie Sundae with your significant other.
The week got kind of hectic, you missed 2 workouts but completed 3. Your nutrition was spot on for 3 straight days, but you caved and got a greasy pepperoni pizza for lunch once. Maybe do a 12-minute TABATA style workout, shower, and then enjoy a Mountain Dew, Single Bacon Cheeseburger, and Fries. Skip the dessert, and don’t make any item extra large.
You really only ate right one day, only did one workout, didn’t do any walking or other activity. Maybe just have a can of your favorite Beer/Soda. Make sure it fits into your daily carb count so you don’t go over on that Saturday. Probably should go walk a couple of miles afterward too so you can log some physical activity. You indulged throughout the week anyway, so just eating more of those foods really isn’t an indulgence any longer.
Hopefully reframing your week like this can help you to gain some extra motivation to have discipline, as well as enjoy the richer things in life a little more. As a bonus, you may actually find that you wind up enjoying so-called “cheat” foods a lot more because eating them less frequently, as a reward, can make them more pleasurable. There is an extra level of satisfaction with knowing you earned a delicious reward, rather than mindlessly binging on Oreos and Netflix on the couch. Get rid of the guilt and shame associated with foods that on a very real chemical as well as emotional level make you feel good.
Having the self-discipline and motivation to stick to healthy nutritious lifestyle choices the majority of the time, is really the key to effortlessly enjoying your body, your food, and your life. Free yourself from an unhealthy mental relationship to food. Make ALL FOODS a healthy and enjoyable part of your life.