Those who follow eating plans or a “diet” may be familiar with the term “cheat days”. Before I go any further, at NRG 4 Life Fitness, we don’t use the word “diet’ except to describe a personal healthy eating plan, not the typical “diet” that people go on, and inevitably, off of. In fact, we believe that the word “diet” is a bad four letter word! It can lead to years of yo yo’ing weight (which will in turn contribute to slower metabolism – the last thing anyone wants because is the rate in which our body burns calories), poor eating habits and a whole host of serious physical and mental imbalances.
Following a healthy meal plan on the other hand is a lifestyle change. While it’s normal to derail from this plan on occasion, you just need to get back to eating healthier again the very next meal (don’t over think it, just do it!) rather than committing to a “diet” which has a start and a finish.
So getting back to “cheat days”…some diets suggest following their specific meal plan for six days and choosing one day per week to give yourself permission to eat and drink whatever you want! This is ok for some, but for most people this is an open invitation to binge and end up feeling sick and bloated. What’s worse is the mental anguish this can create. As sugar is addictive too, it’s not easy weening yourself off a bowl or two of ice cream or frozen yogurt once you’ve started. This happens to so many people, so why go there?? It can be a very, very slippery slope!
Now granted, as I said, some people are fine with diets that include “cheat days”. They may indeed lose weight, and not feel “deprived” because of the cheat day—and that leads to them sticking to it longer term. Having a justification (really an excuse) for eating whatever you want one day and eating well the other days can be empowering for some. Be forewarned, however, this is not the norm. You have to know your personality. If stopping at one serving of junk food is do-able for you, then you probably won’t have a problem with this sort of plan. You are the exception!
On the other hand, know that it’s not healthy on your “cheat day” if you end up eating copious servings of burgers and fries or pop or alcohol, sweets and cookies etc…one or two is fine but some people can really take advantage of “cheating”. Also, what I have a hard time with it is sending a mixed message to the mind: to reward “good” food and behavior six days with “bad” food (on the “cheat day”). Your body is playing “catch up” for several days after the cheat because of the bloating and post-cheat-day inflammation. You look unhealthy and feel it too. Is this worth it??
Again, if you have over-indulged on your “cheat day”, for the next six days, you go back to eating lots of veggies, fruit, healthy protein and fats and your body will end up wreaking havoc on your digestive tract and you end up not being able to properly digest these healthy foods, the result being excess gas again, leaving you with a defeated “why bother” “this healthy food just isn’t agreeing with me”, attitude. Eventually, people often realize they are “hacking” their body instead of actually listening to it. Learn from it, and decide for yourself what course to take.
I recommend instead of taking “cheat days” and following diets to following the 80/20% rule. That is eating sensibly most of the time and then feeling good about participating in special occasions and celebrations with food (instead of hoarding those moments for yourself) any day of the week – about 15-20% of the time.
I think “giving in” to splurging then feeling guilty about what you’ve done is taxing. It affects the enjoyment you signed up for in the first place. The experience is tainted if you feel bad about it afterward.
What should the plan be then if you’re going on holiday for example? You can keep things (including any potential splurge weekend) more balanced and avoid falling off the deep end by being in control. Try eating healthier and working out a little more before you go. Then when on vacation, eat well to start the day (opt for eggs over waffles). Make an effort ie. don’t eat a burger just because you’re hungry and it’s there on the menu. Follow through on returning to your normal meaning not your wine with dinner routine or fries with your burgers you may have enjoyed while away.
I believe you need to do what’s good for you—and sometimes that means going a little off the rails. As long as you plan it that way, embrace it. Then get back on the rails when you’re home.
This isn’t easy. It’s hard, however, it’s so worth it. Our health is a privilege, not a given and one we must take charge of. Question what you’re eating. Is your next snack or meal going to contribute to your health or is it a fraud?
You can bet that 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago, powerful food and beverage giants and fast-food chains didn’t try to coerce us with their tempting high sugar, high salt, foods or use marketing and labels all with the intension of making more profit and getting more sales. Seek out wholesome foods that come from the earth with one or only a few ingredients that are not processed, are full of nutrients, void of chemicals.
Generally I know which foods are healthy and I enjoy challenging workouts, I like to rely on my body—and taste buds—as my guide, instead of counting calories or strapping on a heart-rate monitor.
Honestly, the thought of converting exercise and eating patterns into statistics, percentages, and pie charts can be a little intimidating. There’s no wiggle room with numbers. They don’t sugarcoat facts or justify decisions, like your brain tends to do with a handful of nuts or cheese tossed on a salad (or an order of fries or a third glass of wine). And while several studies show that food journaling can be an effective way to lose weight, other research finds it can be inaccurate and too much effort to sustain in the long run.
Despite these reservations, activity trackers can be very helpful. You can use them to track what you eat, how much you move, and see how well you sleep. People are often surprised by the additional insight they gain from wearing an activity tracker and are using it to track their food also.
Here’s a breakdown of the insight you can gather from activity trackers and how this can be helpful:
On the first day of wearing an activity tracker for example, you may reach your calorie goal as you finish your afternoon snack (whoops!). It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s ever kept a food diary, but you will quickly learn that you are consuming more calories, carbs, and fats—and less protein—than you should be.
When you track it all, you might be shocked to see how quickly all the “healthy” toppings on your salad add up! The “good” fats and nutrient-dense “superfoods” you’ve been including in your diet—from the almond butter spread on whole-grain toast, to the olive oil, half an avocado, and pumpkin seeds on your salad at lunch and to your salmon at dinner—start to quickly add up… way up. These “healthy” foods alone can equal more than 800 calories and 67.5 grams of fat—more than half a woman’s daily calorie goal and past the limit of your daily fat intake. No more than one third of our calories should come from fat, so if you’re eating 1,500 calories per day, that’s 58 grams of fat, max.
This isn’t to say that mono- and polyunsaturated fats aren’t good for you; they benefit your heart and brain and can help lower cholesterol. But an excess of anything can contribute to weight gain. You may feel virtuous about healthier choices (those salad toppings sure beat cheddar cheese and bacon), but you likely don’t take into account the amount of calories they contain.
Within a week of tracking, people start to reevaluate their choices, increasing intake of lean proteins (chicken, fish and beans), veggies, and whole grains to even out your macronutrient balance. This isn’t easy, but is eye-opening to realize that even the healthiest foods can pack (a lot) of calories.
An activity tracker makes us more intentional about fitting in movement especially if you want to hit a goal of 10,000-steps per day. Fortunately, it is a pretty fun challenge—and the “celebration” Fitbit throws every time you reach your goal is extra incentive. It can motivate you to start to run errands by foot, walk an extra 15 minutes around the park, and just move more in general.
This may have been the biggest surprise of all. Most nights let’s say you get in bed at 10 p.m., fall asleep by 10:30 or so, and wake up around 7 a.m. That should add up to at least eight hours of sleep, right? Not exactly. Since the Fitbit monitors your heart rate, it can tell which stage of sleep you’re in—light, deep, or REM—as well as how often you wake up during the night. It may turn out to be that you didn’t actually fall asleep until 11 p.m and woke up several times during the night, so by the time the alarm goes off at 7 a.m., you may have only accumulated six hours of restorative sleep. We need 7-8 hrs.
Start making an effort to put down your phone by 9:30pm to ensure you get a solid eight hours. The difference in your energy levels without even checking your Fitbit data is going to be noticeable.
You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. In other words, what you eat matters way more in the big picture (of maintaining a healthy weight) than how many calories you burn or steps you take. Plus, research shows people often overestimate how many calories they burn when working out, so we may eat more than we really need to after a workout.
Tracking daily stats can help people finally accept this fact. You may notice on days you work out intensely, you definitely eat more and often will go over your calorie (and carb) intake for the day. But on rest days, or when you just went to a gentle yoga class, it was much more manageable to keep meals in line with your calorie and macronutrient goals, which is the surest way to shed pounds. It’s still important for overall health to work out regularly, however, tracking food intake will make you think twice about treating yourself to a big bowl of pasta post-workout.
Over the last couple years, there’s been a lot of backlash to the self-tracking movement. And I see why. Distilling everything you eat and do into numbers can be exhausting, disheartening, and borderline obsessive. So when you go on vacation it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you leave your tracking devise at home.
Spending a week without your activity tracker can actually be a nice break. And the hike, kayaking and walking still count—even if you didn’t track it! You can simply enjoy the fresh outdoors and let the work you feel in your legs for example be all the data you need for the week. You can eat whatever your body feels like eating, fit in lean protein at every meal, stop when you feel full—not when you hit your calorie goal for the day. While it can be freeing to stop tracking for a week, I do think that 30 days’ worth of data can help you find that delicate balance between eating and doing what you want versus what’s actually healthy for your body. It helps you realize that you don’t need to overdo it—either fitness- or food-wise—to feel good, and to get plenty of sleep! But after a week off, I do think activity trackers are a wise investment to help get us back on track.