There’s nothing wrong with a little cheating on your diet, right? In fact, why not have a full-on cheat-day every once in a while. What harm can it do?
I get so frustrated when this reasoning is used to justify a splurge. More so, when it’s actually used within the context of a structured nutrition program.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect anyone to be 100% on-the-money every single day. In fact, I genuinely believe we need a little latitude and the ability to relax our eating habits when it suits.
Okay, I appreciate how contradictory that sounds. But it’s all about context.
Allow me to explain………………..
The difference a word makes:
And the word I really have a problem with, is Cheat!
I think it’s a natural part of human nature that we all like to be a bit naughty from time to time. Hell, I’m the world’s worst for not doing what I’m told. It’s like I’ve got an inbuilt compulsion to be contrary.
That little word, cheat, is practically synonymous with dieting; whether the goal is fat loss or building muscle. It’s so closely associated, that it genuinely feels inevitable that we’re all going to fall off the proverbial wagon eventually.
Never Fall, Always Jump:
So, if we’re never going to be perfect, and cheating isn’t an option: what the hell am I talking about?
I’m talking about CHOICE & ACCOUNTABILITY.
Which also means: You never have to cheat on a diet, ever again!
Cheating implies weakness; an inability to go the distance. On the other hand, making a conscious choice to eat something, having a reason for doing so, and being accountable (to yourself and/or your coach) builds confidence and clarity around the subject of nutrition.
Is my diet always perfect? Hell no. But if I eat something that’s not an ideal choice, I’ll own my decision and have a damn good reason for doing so.
In my experience, there is never a genuinely good reason for eating highly processed sugar-laden crap. There is always a reason. You just have to be prepared to acknowledge it for what it is.
So, if I wanted a Lindt Chocolate with my Coffee (which, at one point, was something of a habit), I had to own the fact that I was opting to enjoy the taste and accept that there was a certain amount of sugar and carbs involved.
By applying rational thought and making myself aware of the nutritional content (or lack thereof), I soon found that I never wanted more than one chocolate. In fact, it’s pretty rare that I indulge these days at all, as I no longer have the same compulsion when that jar of candy attempts to ambush my better judgement by the cash register.
Knowledge Influences Choice:
This is so true. Before I knew how much sugar and redundant calories were in each innocent looking ball of chocolate: I could snarf down at least 3 or 4. And dammit when I was in the coffee shop that had the Lindt store right next to it.
However, once I had to justify my choices – which involved knowing the nutritional content of everything I swallowed – it became a no-brainer and I simply didn’t want to waste a whole week’s worth of healthy eating on a blow-out that was partly based on habit.
Hunger Leads to Cheating:
Regardless of the goal, all effective nutrition plans revolve around the fundamental concept of eating wholesome food and avoiding junk. Yet it’s the junk that most people are drawn to when they think about easing a diet.
It’s this whole perception of restriction!
Believe me, you are in no way restricting your body by limiting the amount of junk you put inside it. On the contrary, you are setting it free.
This is why a well-constructed nutrition plan, even one that involves the use of a caloric deficit, should never lead to extended feelings of hunger.
I always tell my clients to respond to hunger with a good quality meal full of nutrient-dense elements.
This has several benefits:·
- Gets rid of hunger straight away·
- Reduces likelihood of making poor choices·
- Maintains energy levels·
- Banishes obsessive thought patterns·
- Contributes to healthy gut-biology·
- Reinforces positive habits·
- Takes the fear out of any diet·
- Takes the mind off food for ages!
The Strategic Way to Break a Diet:
When it comes to fat-loss in particular – where a calorie-deficit is usually employed – it ought to be a part of any plan to include regular intervals of increased calorie intake.
You simply cannot live in a constant deficit and expect to continue with fat-loss.
The body is a marvellous machine and will quickly adapt to stress. Restricting calories is a stressor, and the body will react by slowing down the metabolism to cope – there’s a whole chain of events that occurs within the body, but let’s keep it simple here.
The best way to avoid hitting a plateau is to incorporate re-feed days into your plan. This would be a period where you ate up-to or even above your maintenance number of calories. Obviously, we’re going to factor-in weekly averages, but again, let’s not get too technical right now.
You see how the concept of a Re-feed is so much more positive than the thought of cheating?
This is because it’s a choice. We’ve introduced control into the equation and empowered ourselves to relax and allow variety into the mix.
What’s more, because we’re not a slave to cravings and this is strategic, it becomes much easier to make decent choices about what to include in our re-feeds.
The Best Ways to Maximise a Re-feed:
1. Eat something you wouldn’t normally include in your diet. For me it’s crispy duck with hoisin sauce. Ok, so the sauce isn’t going to be 100% on-point. But it’s a small amount of the meal, and the little wraps are so miniscule that they’re barely relevant. This tactic is so rewarding because you get variety without the guilt that’s usually associated with breaking a diet.
2. Do a Re-feed on a heavy training-day. When it’s time for my re-feed, I know it’s going to include a huge quantity of protein and fat (carbs just don’t do it for me anymore). What better way to make the most of this influx of nutrients than to have a big workout on the same day. It’s very common for me to train twice on re-feed days.
3. Fast beforehand. If long-term restriction isn’t an issue, and there’s no stress involved, it’s a lot easier to skip a meal when you know a re-feed is on the agenda. If I’m going out to a restaurant and I’m looking forward to a big feed, it’s common for me to skip a meal beforehand. Hell, if I’m going to my favourite Brazilian Restaurant: I’ll only eat once during the entire day! Be assured, that one meal is nothing short of epic!
4. Set limits. A re-feed could be simply one meal. Or, it could involve a whole day, a week, or longer. Again, there will be a reason for every time period, which is usually tied into your current goals and the nature of your fitness regime. Either way, the goal isn’t to consume as much as possible within a given time period. Going crazy will simply sabotage all your efforts and set you back.
5. Find healthy compromises. If you really can’t live without pizza for another day. Then instead of having a complete blowout on a thick cheese-stuffed mega-crust. Go for a thin base. Better still, learn how to make an alternative base and do it yourself. You get all the taste and maintain control.
The whole point of a sustainable approach to nutrition and exercise is that it allows you to enjoy food, without having to stress over every morsel.
The tactical use of re-feeds and the controlled relaxation of diets and nutrition plans allows us to achieve our goals and maintain our hard earned gains…..or losses.
Once we’ve taken a break from a caloric-deficit and the body has relaxed, healed and gotten back to optimal functionality; it is far more likely to respond favourably if we re-introduce a deficit once more.
It’s essential to remember that one cannot permanently live in a caloric deficit. At least not without consequences.
Taking a break from any nutrition or fitness plan not only gives the body a chance to recover. It refreshes your mind, your focus and your drive to succeed.
Plus, any sustainable lifestyle choice must be flexible enough to accommodate life’s unexpected events.