HOW WE ALL DEFINE FOOD
One of the most common things we here about in modern food culture is the idea of cheat meals; or, rewarding your body with shitty food for eating “healthy” all week. Normally, these are planned, large meals where you can pig out and “love” food again before heading back to the hum drum boring life of real, healthy food.
If you couldn’t tell, I have a problem with cheat meals… especially planning them out.
Eating well is a behavior you will practice for the rest of your life, not a game you’ll play for short, incremental periods of time. What this means is, eating real food shouldn’t be a means to an end: eating well today only to binge / splurge / go overboard tomorrow.
Eating well should become part of your everyday life because it makes you feel good, keeps you healthy and your body operating in tip-top shape. It also includes learning how to build and balance a lifestyle where you can indulge in the foods you like when you want (in moderation) versus planning these meals ahead of time when you might not even want it or be hungry.
Building and balancing this type of lifestyle takes practice because change is a slow process and for good reasons! You need to figure out what you like and how it’s going to fit in your schedule versus going to extremes and trying to completely overhaul what you’ve been doing. Like any other habit, eating a well-balanced diet not only takes practice (it’s not about perfection) but also a certain mindset about how you look and feel about food.
Depending on your mindset, your perception of food – what it is, how it helps your body (or doesn’t), how much you need, and which kinds are best – will vary and impact how you look and feel. This is especially true if you have specific goals like fat loss, building definition or getting toned, getting stronger or becoming healthier.
As a society, you, me and everyone else are conditioned to categorize food into two buckets: Healthy + Not Healthy. From there, we start compartmentalizing foods accordingly and by default, tend to put foods that taste really good into “Not Healthy” and the boring, tasteless rabbit food into “Healthy”.
Think about it….unless you’re a veggie eating die-hard, the foods you crave and want Friday or Saturday nights fall under which bucket?
You got it! The “Not Healthy” bucket.
Now, see what we just did there? We aligned “Healthy” with less desirable foods. Because who thinks eating veg and protein is “fun”? Comparatively, everything you genuinely look forward to eating probably fell into the “Not Healthy” bucket.
So what happens next? We tend to plan out a “cheat” meal, where we get to have fun and enjoy our food for once! “Oh thank heavens its Friday, Pizza Day!” Which turns into “It’s Saturday, lets go out for brunch. Shit, while we are at it, lets just order dinner out because, hey, CHEAT WEEKEND!”. Sound familiar?
When we feel unexcited and disengaged about our Monday – Friday meals but super stoked about weekend splurges, food takes on a different meaning. No longer is it a vital source of energy and nourishment. Instead, food becomes a reward system. This changes everything including your success in achieving your goals and more importantly, creating sustainability.
THE PROBLEM WITH CHEAT MEALS
The problem with cheat meals is they’ve manifested into becoming a punishment or reward system, like so:
1) I did really well this week! I am going to reward myself by ordering and manhandling a large pizza on Friday! Yay weight loss goals!
2) I was bad this week, so I don’t deserve to have food that I enjoy, I must eat “healthy” now. blahhhh
3) I was bad this week, I am going to continue this downward spiral into a dark pit of despair in which there is no return. Back at it on Monday, though! #NewWeekNewMe!
See how this relies on a system of good/bad choices? Now some people do have success with planning a cheat meal in advance because they can maintain control without over doing it. However, for most of us, rewarding ourselves with food is a dangerous gateway for making excuses, justifying our behaviors – what we ate and how much – and eventually losing control and excessively binging.
(Sidebar! Ever notice how the “fun” of cheat meals is all about the planning? Sitting at work on a Friday, getting giddy about which foods you are going to devour, how much you’re going to eat, how awesome this is going to be and then actually going through with it is.. kind of… lackluster. You might even feel shame or guilt during or after. “Man, I don’t feel as good actually eating my cheat meal as I did planning it out.” What gives? Come chat with me, Coach Matty B, and lets figure that out)
As humans, we’re programmed to want what we can’t have, and food is no exception. If you decide to participate in a total elimination diet for purposes of fat or weight loss, there’s an excessive list of foods that are totally off limits. Can’t have, can’t eat, can’t touch – OFF LIMITS! For example, think about Adkins or Keto diets. If you’re familiar or have done Adkins, then you know you cannot eat any carbs. Commonly, here’s what happens:
• Week 1 – No big deal you’re feeling super fantastic and focused on your goals.
• Week 2 – Little tired and sometimes hungry but you’re on a mission to weight loss glory!
• Week 3 – Starting to feel bogged down, foggy and lack energy. Not to mention, you’re growing tired of all the bacon you’ve been eating (who thought that possible?!).
• Week 4– You’ve hit rock bottom. You finally take matters into your own hands by going on a carb-spree marathon, stuffing your face until you’re physically ill.
Think about this: What would have happened had you continued eating carbs but scaled it down to the right portions and the right types of carbs because yes, your body needs carbohydrates to properly function?
Answer: You wouldn’t have felt the urge to binge. You wouldn’t have felt deprived and you wouldn’t fall into a pit of guilt and remorse after you finished binging.
This, by definition, is taking drastic measures. From the extreme dieting and deprivation to the uncontrollable urge to binge. Unless you need an elimination diet to identify a food intolerance, these types of diets force you to equate certain types of food as good and others as bad so when you finally do eat a piece of fruit or bread on the Adkins diet, you feel like you’re committing a crime. Or alternatively, you reward yourself with a splurge of unlimited fries at Red Robin because welp, you’ve been without and deserve the treat!
Rewarding yourself with food or punishing yourself with lack thereof doesn’t equate to progress or results. It equates to a vicious cycle of highs and lows only to leave you feeling frustrated, guilty and self-loathing. With this mindset, you will never be truly happy with your progress, won’t find joy in creating better nutrition habits and will eventually crash and burn. Then, all your efforts to exercise, eat better and be healthy become another yo-yo diet moment that failed you.
But what if there was a way to replace your cheat meals with something else you found equally as satisfying?
SWAP YOUR CHEAT MEALS FOR THIS!
If you have a cheat meal mentally and aren’t seeing success with weight / fat loss or other goals, your cheat meals may be failing you. It’s time to try an alternative solution! Here’s 3 things you can start doing immediately!
Modify how you look, think and feel about food by turning to a growth mindset. A growth mindset is believing your most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work instead of feeling negative towards food or behaviors. To get started on adopting a growth mindset, here are 3 things you can start practicing immediately:
1. Eliminate the phrase cheat meals from your vocabulary.
Mentally, this will help you overcome the barrier of having to earn or be rewarded with food.
2. Try 1 new recipe every Friday or Saturday night with a friend or significant other.
If Friday night is your pizza night, create a new normal by creating a different and equally fun ritual. This will help you find new recipes that are both healthy and delicious while simultaneously spending quality time with people you enjoy being around. To find new recipes, visit Skinnytaste.com or fitmencook.com There is something for everyone and they don’t overcomplicate things.
3. Allow, yes allow, yourself to have some food you deem “unhealthy” from time to time in moderation.
Embracing growth means embracing the fact aren’t perfect, and food tastes f*cking good, man. Growth means being okay with a slice or two of pizza and moving on. Embrace the fact you’re normal for wanting to devour it in the first place.
Remember, change is a process so be kind to yourself and give this time! Look for opportunities to learn from mishaps, consistently practice, and train your mind to make better food choices. Realize that you are probably sabotaging yourself by being in the “good or bad” mindset, don’t use food as a reward or punishment, and your progress will become much more linear.
If you’ve tried everything, feel stuck or want more accountability, click HERE to learn about Nutrition Coaching.