I am a big believer of eating a balanced diet but balanced does not mean eating healthy 100% of the time. It always amuses me when some people think I exercise 7 days a week and just eat salads. Sorry but that isn’t realistic. In order to gain lean muscle and burn fat you need to fuel your body. I follow what I like to call an 80/20 diet. I eat healthy 80% of the time during the week and will treat myself 20% of the time during the week. I believe food is there for us to ENJOY! I am not going to deprive myself of a slice of chocolate cake just because it ‘isn’t healthy’ or it isn’t ‘cheat day’. Remember: take everything in moderation. I love rewarding myself to the occasional few slices of pizza. Saying this, I do have an issue with one thing- cheat days.
Now you may think… so Mel just talked about how she cheats every once in a while and now she is going to contradict that? Not exactly. My issue with cheat days stem from the name itself. The phrase ‘cheat day’ insinuates that you are planning on enjoying a meal that is somewhat forbidden. By doing this, you are putting food into categories (good and bad) which allows you to associate eating certain things with guilt and shame. Therefore, instead of enjoying food in general, if we eat something classified as ‘bad’ we tend to feel ashamed of ourselves. This creates a downward spiral of negativity. Anyone who has ever dieted knows that when certain foods are off-limits, it develops an emotional charge. The same applies to cheat days. Mentally you begin to over obsess, fantasize and look forward to that ‘cheat day’ all week. When that time finally arrives you automatically overeat.
By restricting ourselves throughout the week and then overloading our body with sugars and fats on cheat day, this can have a massive impact on your blood sugar and insulin levels. Mostly, instead of feeling satisfied the next day, you will wake up craving more simple carbs and more sugar. If you repeatedly put yourself in a caloric surplus, you may negligently gain more weight over time. According to Experts, cravings tend to develop from overly restricting your food intake or over exercising.
Starting out on my fitness journey I really struggled to find that balance of eating healthy and also treating myself to yummy things. I tried having a set day for cheat days and I found myself feeling really guilty after them. This was not a sustainable lifestyle for me. It’s funny because a simple alteration in terminology makes a big difference. I decided to substitute the name ‘treat’ in place of the word ‘cheat’. We should never put ourself in the mindset of deprivation because it will only make us want what we can’t have even more.
Secondly, I decided to eliminate cheat days and adopt the 80/20 diet approach where I could incorporate several ‘treats’ in my diet throughout the week. Now if I feel like eating a cupcake after dinner then I will. I am not going to wait for a set day to enjoy treats that I want. If I feel like having a slice of pie for lunch the day after; then I will. This is such a flexible approach and has helped me maintain a positive mindset. Obviously, I am not going to eat treats every single day in the week but on particular days if I feel like treating myself then I will.
One meal does not dictate the rest of the week. It is so important not to fall into this mindset. Just because you have treated yourself does not mean that your eating habits will go off track for the rest of the week and you will eat unhealthy. It is all about creating a balanced lifestyle that is enjoyable and maintainable. What I like to do after a treat meal is get right back on the bandwagon. I drink lots of water , I continue with my normal routine i.e. go to the gym etc. and I eat my meals as planned.
A big issue that women have is that they try to ‘run off the calories’. Some people will have a cheat day and then overexercise the next day, as a way of trying to burn all of the excess calories. You are not a failure if you have slipped up or eaten something out of your diet plan. Guilt and food do not go together and can cause some women to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
Instead of trying to do too much cardio and over work yourself at the gym to burn more calories, start a new day fresh. Go outside for a brisk walk, drink water and continue your day as you would. There is no need to ponder on things you can’t change. The main theory behind having treats is that they should be savored and enjoyed-no room for guilt here.
It is so important to remember that just because you are having a treat does not mean you should go crazy and binge eat everything in sight (aka that whole box of pizza in the corner). This will cause you to put your digestive system under immense stress and can cause you to feel ill. It also creates this ‘restrict and binge eat cycle’. Instead, try to alter your portion sizes and aim to keep them the same as your usual meals.
Being fit and healthy is all about finding a balance in life. If you have a treat meal then enjoy it, but get back into your normal routine straight after.
Love Mel x
*Photos used in this post were taken by S.RLewis photography