The title of this blog post should really read:
Stop Feeling Guilty About Indulging
Because that's how we all torture ourselves, right? If you're a pleasure seeker like me, you feel so alive and free when you treat yourself to a drool-worthy meal...and then spend the next 72 hours berating yourself for "cheating" on your diet. That's no fun. And that's not going to help you with your fat loss goals either. Let's give you another way of looking at things.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I recently spent a week in Banff National Park in Canada (if you don’t know about this place – Google it. If it’s not on your bucket list already – add it.). Normally when I go on vacation, I go all-out-balls-to-the-wall and throw caution to the wind in terms of my diet. But this time was a little different. I had to restrain myself just a bit since I need to keep my body primed athletically & aesthetically for some performances coming up mid-September.
So, this is what I had for breakfast one morning: Avocado, poached eggs, salad greens, feta cheese
At this point, you're thinking: Wait, I thought this blog was going to be about cheat meals?
Righto. I had that salad for breakfast because this is what I ate for dinner the night before:
- *Garlic Parmesan fries and s'mores cheesecake (*sorry, no picture…I scarfed them down as soon as they came to the table!)
- And I washed all that down with a champagne cocktail (well, 2 cocktails actually)
Why am I telling you this?
- A. To show you that I am not one of these people who only eats raw organic seasonal veggies grown in my backyard from soil fertilized by unicorn dung and washed in hand-bottled water from a trickling spring in the Swiss Alps. I am human and get cravings just like you.
- B. To illustrate the importance of cheat meals. Even when you are on a path of self-optimization…cheat meals have their place. In fact, if done right, they can actually help you achieve your fat loss goals.
First of all, I hate using the words “cheat meal.” That sounds too negative. I prefer calling them treats. So, let’s start there.
Now, obviously I’m not recommending you indulge in fries and cheesecake the night before a photo shoot or big performance. Timing is everything here – and not only when but how often. You neither want to indulge too frequently where your treats lose their specialness or too infrequently where you resist, resist, resist and then find yourself face down in a gallon of ice cream after feeling deprived for so long.
In the Elite Coaching I do with dancers, we talk about this concept of “strategic planning” when it comes to treats. This gives you a sense of awareness and control over your indulges so that you don’t go overboard but use the experiences to fuel your motivation to stay on course.
Because here’s what inevitably happens when I indulge in a treat meal like the one above. I enjoy the sh*t out of it in the moment. I feel alive and free, and a little bit like Cartman from South Park in his #idowhatiwant phase. But when I wake up the next day, I feel sluggish, groggy, and not-so-healthy-or-vibrant. But instead of beating myself up for giving into my junk food cravings, I say: Hmm, thanks for the reminder body – turns out I don’t actually like the way I feel after eating crap.
And this is exactly why you need to indulge in your cravings every once and a while. You need this dose of reality as a reminder of why you choose to eat healthy most of the time; it re-inspires your drive to stay on course. Otherwise, your projection of the temptation gets built up in your head, and you start to believe that the forbidden food you’ve been dreaming about is the answer to all your unhappiness. You forget about the negative side effects and how gross it makes you feel afterwards. And that’s when the danger of going overboard occurs – that’s when “treats” turn into self-sabotage.
The actual experience of eating the treat is never as good as the fantasy you obsess over in your head, precisely because it comes with these consequences of feeling less-than-vibrant in your body. You need to establish this connection. The more you recognize these treats associated with their negative side effects, the better you’ll be able to evaluate your cravings.
The key is knowing when indulging is worth the discomfort afterwards. My nutrition philosophy builds an awareness around treats to help decide when to give in and when to employ tricks to resist your temptations. In those instances when you decide the treat is worth it, you better not guilt & torture yourself for “cheating” on your diet. Instead, appreciate the momentary pleasure while you’re indulging in your treat and then recognize how it makes you feel afterwards (nine times out of ten you’ll feel like crap). Evaluate if the treat was worth the sacrifice of your health and power. Then use those feelings to renew your drive to eat healthy in the days ahead…without beating yourself up for straying off course in the first place. You made a choice – now use that choice to make yourself better. That is a successful treat meal that can lead you closer to your goals instead of sabotaging them.
Instead of evaluating the choices you make from a harsh, perfectionist standard (I cheated on my diet now all is lost and I’m a terrible irredeemable person!), try this point of view - I made this choice and this is how it made me feel…the next time this situation comes around I will use this information to adjust course. This mindset shift can make all the difference in whether you truly allow yourself to indulge in the pleasures of life or spend your time cheating and torturing yourself for your “mistakes.”
Treats are a necessary part of life. Let yourself indulge and then appreciate the dose of reality that gives you! Guilt not included.
Cravings are hard. It's not easy to know when to give in and when to restrain. It takes practice and self-reflection. If you want help deciphering what your body, mind, and demons are telling you when it comes to food, cravings, and fat loss, contact me and we'll see what we can do together!