Please say “yes” if you can relate to any of the following:
You planned to have your cheat meal on the weekend, but you end up eating something mid-week instead and now you feel guilty, but you still want your cheat meal on Saturday
You planned to have your cheat meal out with friends / family or your partner at a restaurant, but there was chocolate / chips / wine / beer in the house and you had some of that. Now you’re not sure if that counts as a cheat meal or not.
Your schedule this week involves numerous business lunches, parties, dinners and other social outings and you’re not sure which of these meals you’re going to use for your “cheat” meal
You had a meal out of the house and chose the healthiest you could, it had lots of veggies and lean protein, but you didn’t realise it would have so much dressing / oil / carbs / fats in it so you’re not sure if this qualifies as your “cheat” meal
You wait all week to have your cheat meal and you restrict so badly that when it comes around you gorge yourself and eat far too much, or
What should have been one cheat meal ended up being about three or four over the weekend, because the taste of the meal you had made you want to go back for more.
At one time in my life I could say yes to EVERY one of these statements. But not anymore.
And that’s because I don’t eat cheat meals. They don’t work for me.
They’re a minefield of confusion, restriction, obsession and anxiety and many of my clients have the same problems.
You have an option, and that’s to get rid of them entirely and adopt a more flexible approach which allows you to make multiple decisions on what you would like to eat, how it will affect you and why.
When I realised cheat meals were creating more problems than they solved, when I started extending my “one” cheat meal to three or four, or using “it’s my cheat meal” as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and then I’d then bargain with myself to make it OK – I realised my diet was WORSE, not better for it.
I’d tell myself things like;
“It doesn’t matter, I just want it now. I’ll deal with the consequences.”
Thing is, I NEVER dealt with the consequences. It just made me anxious because it was a tool I used to justify making continually poor choices.
These continually poor choices left me getting nowhere with my goals, seeing no changes and being in a state of constant shame and guilt because it meant I ended up overeating on multiple occasions and having multiple, almost daily “cheat meals” instead of just the one I’d planned that week.
And you know what people who are ashamed of themselves, guilty, anxious and perfectionist do?
…..we usually deal with it by eating and self-sabotaging.
So if I don’t have cheat meals, what do I do?
There are multiple things you can decide to change with your approach to nutrition that can help you to arrive at a way of eating which is far, far easier, more satisfying and more consistent.
You can make a series of mental and physical changes which can ensure not in a few months from now, only will you not be able to remember the last time you overate so much on your cheat meal you felt sick or the last time you told yourself off for eating something “you shouldn’t have.”
Here’s just a couple of the things you have the power to change;
Nutrition-wise learn to love the taste of healthy foods! Cook meals which are satisfying, exciting and supportive of your training by linking these foods to your performance and your energy levels.
We all know how shit we feel physically after a giant cheat meal, and how good we feel physically and mentally after we hit a PB, reach a goal or simply get adequate rest, nutrition and energy from our food.
If you can link healthy choices with the pleasure of achievement, you will enjoy your “everyday” foods so much that a cheat meal isn’t even necessary. Over time, on the odd occasion you do end up eating a burger, pizza or other junk food – you likely won’t enjoy it as much as you used to and therefore are highly unlikely to go back for more or overeat.
Restriction-wise have NO limits upon what kinds of foods you can eat, when or why. Remove the taboo from food and look at all foods as something you can eat if you want to. But if you enjoy the feeling of eating good food and the energy it gives you, you’re unlikely to choose something junky.
My clients enjoy cheese, chocolate, wine or beer, bread, fruit and other typically “off limits” food daily if they so wish to eat it. Nothing makes a cheat meal less exciting than the fact that it contains foods you eat already, anyway! Unless you have a specific dietary restriction, ailment or intolerance that you need to manage – keep as much variety in your diet as possible.
By making all foods a viable option and unrestricted, you choose not to eat it. You never say to yourself that “you can’t have it.” This small distinction is critical to your enjoyment of healthy food and reduces our innate human tendency to want what we can’t have.
Mindset-wise change your self-identity. By loving the taste of healthy foods and by making no food tabboo, you can learn to see yourself differently.
Your are no longer someone who “cannot say no” to your trigger food, but you’re now someone who “chooses healthy foods most of the time.”
Your are no longer someone who “has no willpower,” but you’re now someone who “makes healthy decisions because I like the way I feel when I do.”
Over time, I’ve learned to see myself as someone who is a conscious eater, does not overeat, does not eat food just because it’s there and am mindful of my choices. A treat for me now, is a healthy dish that looks good, tastes good and makes me feel good. On the occasion that I do feel like eating something, I will and I don’t beat myself up about it.
My self identity, my habits, my perception about myself and my relationship with food is so strongly built that I know that at least 80-90% of my diet is whole food based, and in significant and consistent enough quantities to get me where I want to be. The last 10-20% is there for me to enjoy guilt free if I see fit.
Training-wise look to your energy and performance to see and feel the consequences of your choices in action. If your energy levels are down, if your strength is dropping or if you are not performing as you believe you are capable – nutrition, programming, self-care and recovery are the tools you can use to bring yourself back up again.
Socially if you have friends, family or colleagues who love outings involving food – do not avoid them, enjoy them. All of the work you have done on having a healthy, balanced and flexible approach to nutrition will mean that you are more likely to be motivated to choose the healthy option. But even if you do choose to have a few beers, or wines, snacks or other indulgences – you’re far less likely to overdo it or keep it going for days on end.
If you go by how you feel, you realise that you feel ill when these things are too frequent. Take note of the impact poor choices have on the quality of your life, and you’ll be motivated to choose the right foods most of the time and act in your own best interests.
This is something I’ve started calling a “success orobouros.” It’s where the positive choices you make lead to positive outcomes, which lead to success and then reinforce your ability to make more positive choices.
It’s the exact same thing that happens when we make poor choices. It’s a cyclical process in which what we do, how we feel and how we act creates momentum for what we do, how we feel and how we act.
A flexible, sustainable nutrition strategy has to give you the option of the occasional treat, event, indulgence or relaxation of “rules,” because if it doesn’t, failure is inevitable.
We are not capable of making the right decision or being perfect EVERY TIME. But if you are conscious of how your choices affect you – you’re more likely to make better ones, and these can and will add up to big results long term.