I am not a fan of ‘cheat days’, ‘cheat meals’ or anything with the word cheat in it. I do not like the attitude that such an idea supports. If you are making changes to your diet for whatever reason (usually health or weight loss), then what purpose can any cheating provide?
Cheating suggests that the plan is less than desirable and ‘cheats’ that contradict the plan are worthy rewards. That is completely opposite to what your goal is. Taking an entire day to undo all the positive changes of your week is the worst idea I have ever heard. Cheat meals are also a bad idea but in a smaller package. With this attitude you forever set yourself up for failure. You have set the tone that your ‘positive’ changes for healthy eating are somehow bad and ‘cheating’ or eating items you know sabotage your goals are rewards and should be valued. What is the point of your goal if you make plans to undermine it?
Now I am not saying you can never indulge in items that are not on your ‘healthy only’ list of foods. I am saying that you need to treat your changes with the seriousness it deserves. It’s a worthy plan or goal and you need to give it the respect and proper attitude necessary for success. I prefer that people look at their diet as an 80/20 plan. Eighty percent of all foods will be in your ideal plan. For some that is all plant based, for others, no processed foods or fast food. Others, maybe its following a paleo diet or vegan diet. So 80% of the time the diet is dead on, then the other 20% is for your food choices that are not typically in the diet you chose.
An 80/20 rule allows for life. If you know that you have dinner plans with friends or a big work lunch, wrap up the week with all meals on point. Then that meal with friends or co-workers can endure your slips due to options available. Also, don’t allow that situation to be a ticket to go hog-wild (pun intended). If you gave up soda, then don’t use dining out as a chance to splurge. If you gave up meat and dairy, then pizza night needs to be at a location that serves other dishes so you can make another food choice. If you chose Paleo as your path to fitness, then you know that when ordering your sandwich or burger, tell them to leave the bread behind. When you chose to consume something that is not in your plan, keep them to a minimum as they will fall in your 20%. You are making a lifestyle change at your own doing for your own good. Honor it.
Take ‘cheats’ out of your vocabulary and out of your diet. Cheating doesn’t work in marriages, taxes, or when taking tests, so why would this work in health, wellness or diets?
If the item is bad for you but tastes good, does the ‘tasting good’ have weight in deciding if it’s truly bad or only partially bad? I’m starting to think that is the case. I have even heard people state that eating ‘bad’ food is OK every now and then. Unfortunately, that typically means regularly. Because if you rarely eat bad food, when you do eat it, you will feel ill. It takes regular consumption for your body to process bad food without disruption of your system.
How about when we take a good item and processing makes it bad but tastes better than the original good item. Now we are all in trouble because yes oats are healthy, but oatmeal cereals are very unhealthy. Oranges are great for you but orange juice is the worst thing you can drink. Grapes are great but grape jelly is not. Potatoes are good but French fries are bad. Based on what takes up more space on grocery store shelves I can tell you which forms are sold in greater quantity.
Healthy looking packaging, farm scenes and use of those words make items appear healthier. Looking at the processed meat aisle I was shocked at how many farm scenes, craft paper-like wrappers and the use of the actual words ‘farm’, ‘fresh’ and ‘natural’ were used in the name of the product. I can tell you that processed meat will never be healthy no matter how pretty they wrap it up and suggest that it is. The same can go for the cereal aisle.
Commercials that proudly announce the health benefits of their products. This is often on those once ‘good’ food items that have been processed and no longer good for you. Boxed cereal is the biggest culprit in this scam. Wheat, sugar and lots of chemicals make up most boxed cereals and they should not be considered a healthy breakfast choice. But they will tote that a breakfast with whole grains support a healthy meal and therefore healthy for you. Sadly, anything good was is lost when items such as whole grains are heavily processed and added to the sugar and chemicals also found in those boxed cereals.
We live in a world where fast and cheap win over quality and health. It will never be easy, fast or super cheap to eat healthy. You will have to work for health and it’s not always cheap. But health is always worth working for.
I don’t typically count calories. I do have one exception: if the container provides them. I primarily dine on plant based foods and there are no calories printed on broccoli, spinach or tomatoes. I buy bulk and those items don’t have labels once I get them home; such as quinoa, beans, nut butters, nuts, oat grouts, etc. The items that have labels include eggs, cheese, coconut oil and avocado oil which I know to consume in smaller quantities.
I base my food portions for what I am eating. If I am eating a healthy item (read plant based and not processed) I give myself a healthy portion. If it is a more processed version, then smaller portions of it. If it is a known caloric item such as nuts, nut butters, cheeses and oils; then I use sparingly or know that my general caloric intake will be higher for that meal or day.
I am not a fan of counting calories, I think that if we eat healthy we shouldn’t have to count our calories. We as a society are stuck on counting calories and I understand why with the horrifying rise of obesity in our nation. But often what we choose to eat and the number of calories we allow ourselves put us in problematic cycles of starvation and depletion of nutrients. You also cannot expect to get all your nutrients if you pick processed foods with high calorie counts and limit your intake of total calories. But that is another topic for another time.
This may sound like a simple idea, but I understand that it is not. We want easy, fast and healthy. Sadly, we cannot have all three. It can be easy and fast but it won’t be healthy. And healthy takes time to prep so it’s not always fast and easy is often up for debate. My suggestion is take all the energy you put into counting calories and put into creating meals that are made from fresh ingredients. You just might stop stressing over what can you eat and start getting excited at what you get to eat!
When it comes to cheats, I fully employ the rule of moderation. I love wine, but enjoy in moderation. Love craft beer and enjoy in moderation. I love dark chocolate, guacamole and nut butters, but I know to enjoy them in moderation. But let me tell you where I am incapable of moderation. Its coffee. I love coffee. It’s the first thing I make when I get up then drink until the pot is drained. I could hang out in coffee shops just sipping away on local brews. I would even take a coffee after dinner if it wouldn’t keep me up all night. And like most people I can justify my sins. First off, I drink it black with a dash of cinnamon. That makes it ok, right?
According to research coffee helps protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and liver cancer. Also researchers found that ‘moderate’ coffee protects against heart failure. If that wasn’t enough, they say coffee makes you smarter. I personally love the energy boost and fat burning it provides. But let’s add in nutrients like riboflavin (vitamin B2), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), manganese, potassium, magnesium and niacin (vitamin B3) to make it even better. I have read the negatives and gloss over them as inconsequential and insignificant. I mean, I did say that I don’t have coffee after dinner. Sleeplessness is no joke! So, we all have them. Little cheats that we are sure will not break the bank so to speak. This is mine.
Everyone has their thing, that one thing they believe is critical to reaching their health goals. Some people are serious calorie counters, some are all about the cheats, while others are about how much cardio they get. Oddly, my thing is food quality. I worry about chemicals added to foods, used in processing and sprayed during growth. I get upset when the grocery store has no organic apples or oranges and condemn them as bad (sorry Publix, you are equal to Winn Dixie in my book. Shame on you). I read books like the China Study and Wheat Belly and watch documentaries like Fed Up and Hungry for Change and gladly walk away from entire food groups. Some call this extreme but honestly, I think I need to be my own champion for my health. The food industry does not provide me with clean foods so I need to be my own guardian angel in this area since it is so important to me.
It may sound extreme, but this is my ultimate health goal. I want to be healthy, truly healthy for as long as possible. I am not looking to weigh a certain amount or have ripped abs. I want to be drug free with healthy organs, bones, joints for as long as possible. I do not want to be on cholesterol medication, blood pressure medication or insulin for any level of Type II Diabetes. I want to be healthy because I made healthy choices not on any drug that supposedly will make me healthy. You trade one symptom for another in that game and I refuse to play that game. According to a number of reporting agencies, 70% of all adults are on one or more prescribed medications. That average cost is $1000 per year. So 7 out of 10 people spend approximately $12,000 on medications per year. That is insane to me! And what is more insane is often these health problems can be completely avoided by making and maintaining healthy lifestyle choices.
So, yes, I fully believe in organics and natural whole foods as my path to health. I do not eat meat and extremely limited on fish I will consume. I do not drink milk, eat bread or processed foods. I especially stay away from sugar. I prefer hard beans that you have to soak overnight and cook for hours in the crockpot over canned. Seeds and nuts in their raw form vs processed for easy cooking are what I choose over ‘quick’ or canned. I will not eat fast food and get really picky about what restaurants I will visit. I drink black organic coffee with cinnamon and buy natural spices. It’s not easy but it’s a small price to pay for true health. I am not a purist, but I make strong efforts to be clean 80-90% of the time.
Don’t worry I still care about fitness and maintaining healthy weight but I believe that clean eating and regular exercise will take care of that. So although I don’t count calories, I do count chemicals…. it’s my thing.