I will preface this by saying; this blurb is based on my personal experience as a trainer and a 41 year old mother who has struggled with food, weight, body image and addiction my entire adult life. The opinions expressed here are my own and not of CFR as a whole. There are those for whom this article will not apply. For those whom it does, know that you are not alone and we are here to help you.
Most trainers and “diet programs” strongly advocate the cheat meal, and some even suggest an entire cheat day. They tout numerous benefits like preventing you from feeling deprived, boosting your metabolism and increasing your chances of success with and adherence to a diet. That all sounds quite logical but sometimes logic only works in theory.
It’s important to differentiate between consuming one meal consisting of a few more calories or carbs than usual from time to time vs. all-out gluttony centered on sugar laden, processed junk food and/or crispy, carcinogenic rich fried foods that are best featured at a state fair. (FYI, I fully support a cyclic increase in calories and healthy carbs to keep your body from adapting to a lowered intake, keep your energy levels up and help prevent homicide resulting from a reduction in carbs!) For some, possibly many, the cheat meal concept works. If it does, YAY! (You can stop reading now if you like, or continue so you can feel grateful for being blessed with a level of sanity that some people have to work incredibly hard for.)
For myself, and a number of clients I have worked with, planned cheat meals just don’t work. All too often, that one “cheat meal” eventually turns into a cheat day, then progresses to a cheat marathon or an all out binge; followed by feelings of remorse and failure, then a resolve to try even HARDER. Over the course of time, the cycle continues to progress until the feelings of failure and defeat, extinguish all willpower and motivation; unhealthy foods filter back in more regularly and the weight begins to creep back up to where it started…or even worse, exceed it. This is a cycle I know very well.
I have an addictive personality. I know this about myself now, but it has taken me years to become fully aware of just how prone I am to addictions. The thing about addiction is, for those in the throws of it, they simply cannot see it. When you remove an addictive behavior, pattern or substance from someone in the throws of addiction, when they have no awareness of said addiction and no plan to overcome it; they will undoubtedly substitute it with the next best thing. It happens ALL the time. Anyone who has quit smoking probably knows this first hand. Hence the dreaded smoking-cessation induced weight gain.
One of the most frequently called upon substitutes for any addiction is FOOD! And it’s not broccoli that we use as our vice…it’s what we call “comfort food”. But that “comfort” that you get from carb rich, sugary, processed and fatty foods, is euphoria that is produced by a symphony of chemicals flooding your brain. Endorphins and dopamine are our body’s natural opiates and whether we are aware of it or not, we LOVE them. Our brain is like an internal drug store and what we do to it and put into it determines the administered dose.
The concept of, “everything in moderation” just isn’t a reality for everyone. Dopamine is highly addictive. Junk food is addictive! The more highly processed it is, the higher the dopamine response will be. People who struggle with cravings and binge eating need to avoid the foods that they crave the most. When you eliminate these foods from your diet, your cravings will diminish over time. When you are exposed to them again, it triggers the addiction and the cravings return.
It’s the merry-go-round of addiction. The more you succumb to your cravings, the stronger the cravings become. Regardless of what your addiction is, total abstinence is the only thing that works.
The more you try to challenge this simple fact, the closer you are to getting burned. While no one ever got a DWI for driving while intoxicated on Krispy Kreme doughnuts, an addiction is an addiction. An alcoholic who is in recovery knows very well, they can never again have a “cheat drink”. You never overcome an addiction; you simply learn how to live without the very thing that triggers that physical and mental obsession. For me, those triggers are in the form of Doritos, McDonald’s French Fries, chocolate peanut butter ice cream, dark chocolate, popcorn, pizza, cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies…as well as anything served in a wine glass.
You’re NOT weak! Fighting an addiction with willpower is like fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun! If you have repeatedly failed at your attempts to lose weight and keep it off, please do not feel like you are weak. Sometimes it is about trying different as opposed to trying harder. What may work for the masses, doesn’t always work for everyone.
The question to consider is, will cheat meals work for you?
If you are uncertain if you struggle with food addiction, here are a few indications:
- You have frequent food cravings
- You want to eat shortly after finishing a meal
- You get agitated, anxious, angry and annoyed if you can’t eat what or when you want to eat
- You mentally obsess over certain foods
- When certain foods aren’t available, you go out of your way to obtain them
- You end up eating more than you planned when you start eating certain foods
- You keep eating certain foods even if you’re no longer hungry
- You eat past the point of feeling full
- You continue to eat foods that contribute to or exacerbate existing health problems
- If your physician, trainer or nutritionist has told you to cut down or eliminate certain types of foods; you refuse, get defensive, annoyed at the suggestions or obsess about not having it
- You avoid professional or social situations where certain foods are available because of fear of overeating
- You feel remorseful after eating certain foods, resolve to swear them off, then eat them again
- You go 100%ish on a food plan, make some progress, then gain it all back
For those of you whom this does not apply, congratulations! Be thankful and enjoy your cheat meals!
For those of you whom identify with 3 or more, you may want to rethink your approach to food, weight loss and the like. If you identify with all of these, then we are kindred spirits and I hold a very special place in my heart for your kind because I know your pain.
So now what? Am I destined to a life of chicken breast and broccoli? HELL NO!
People tend to perceive someone eating healthy food as being deprived. I’ve gotten looks of empathy far more convincing when I tell people I have been gluten-free since 2001 than I ever have at funeral. I am not a victim! Not to celiac disease, addiction or circumstance. I have a choice. You ALWAYS have a choice! Every choice you make has a consequence. Do you want to white-knuckle it through food cravings for the next month because you ate a trigger food, or do you want to make a choice that will take your closer to your goals with less angst?
A perfectly ripe strawberry is absolutely orgasmic! A buttery, melt-in-your-mouth slab of raw, fresh caught salmon is AMAZING! And as I discovered this Valentine’s Day, a slice of perfectly prepared pork belly is TO-DIE-FOR! All of these foods are far more amazing than a bag of Doritos. There is pleasure to be found in healthy food. Sadly, we opt for horrible choices because of convenience, distraction, low self-esteem, and peer pressure.
In my opinion, the most damaging mindset in regards to food is to view it as a reward or cheat; or we are depriving ourselves because we chose A over B. The only person you are cheating when you scarf down a “cheat meal” is yourself. The words you use to label things are very powerful! PLEASE choose wisely. The concept of food being a reward, cheat, indulgence or evil is not healthy. And most people have a tenancy to want something even more when they are told they cannot have it. It’s like we are hardwired with this twisted defiant, self-defeating behavior. And once you are told it’s “bad” you immediately want it.
Food is fuel. It’s that simple. If you drove a Bentley that required premium gasoline, would you choose to fuel it with diesel? If you had a momentary lapse of reason and grabbed the wrong nozzle, it wouldn’t make you a “bad person”, it would make you a human who made a bad choice. And I imagine the next thing you would do is stop putting the diesel in the tank once you had a moment of clarity, and go right back to premium gasoline. You are far more precious than any car, and the vehicle you have been issued is the only vessel you will be riding in this lifetime. Take care of it.
Now let me be clear, I’m not suggesting you NEVER eat a single bite of junk food again in your life. You’re human, not a machine. What I am saying is; if you struggle with food addiction, yo-yo dieting and the like, know that before you take that first bite, make sure you have your power soaker at hand to put out that forest fire. Once you break your seal, all bets are off. That being said, you still have a choice. You can choose to make matters worse by wallowing in self-pity and remorse, beat yourself up with negative self-talk, and/or punish yourself in the gym in an effort at “damage control”; or you can choose to put out the fire and move on.
If you are still reading even though this phenomenon doesn’t apply to you, I have some good news for you! Because of my ongoing struggles and my many years of experience putting out forest fires with my squirt gun, I have a LOT of skill at defying temptation and recovering from dietary train wrecks.
I have devised a number of ways to make a come back, some of which have been successful. And my many failures along the way have also helped me learn what is a waste of time. The most valuable thing that has come from my struggles is my experience, which has helped me to help others overcome similar struggles with far less angst. Helping an addict overcome an addiction is as much of a pleasure and a blessing as it is a challenge. Helping someone who simply needs knowledge, guidance, support and tools for success is a cakewalk in comparison. Helping both is what I live for. Regardless what your obstacles are, we are here to help you reach your goals! Let us show you how…
Complete Fitness Results is ALL about finding the right solution for you. It’s not a perfect world. A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. Just because some people can have a cheat day without losing their mind, doesn’t mean YOU fall into that same category. If you’re anything like me and you’ve struggled to get and KEEP sustainable results, our Results+ package is just what you’re looking for. Results+ was designed to help individualize your experience, teach you the tools necessary for success, and provide you with the support needed to make your dreams a reality. Don’t suffer alone and try to beat this yourself. If you’d like more information on how Results+ can help you achieve your goals, I’d love to connect and see how the program may help. Feel free to email me at [email protected]