If you haven't read yesterday's Part I post yet, do that now. You really do need the background to understand where the below recommendations are coming from. If you're all caught up, let's continue with The Byers Guide to Eating Dirty.
1. Eat cheat meals or snacks throughout the week, instead of having a full cheat day. For one, it’s more practical and sustainable in real life. Opportunities for good food and socializing come up at different times. So allow yourself to have a drink on Tuesday night, a slice of cake on Friday afternoon and French toast with Nutella on Saturday morning. Think about this… if you eat/snack 4-5 times a day, and incorporate four cheat “meals” or “snacks” a week, you’re eating clean almost 90% of the time. Good lord, I’ll take that. In addition, your insulin sensitivity, GI tract and mental health and wellness will take far less of a hit if you eat clean, slip in a bowl of ice cream and then go back to eating clean… versus an entire day of Carb-a-Palooza. You’ll recover from your cheat faster, and you’ll feel better about yourself if you surround your cheat with good, clean eats.
2. Eat something because you want it, and because it's special... not just because it’s there. Say someone brings donuts in to the office. I look at the plate and think, donuts are here. I could eat a donut. But I can have donuts any time I want. So if I really want one in an hour, or a day, or next week… I’ll just go get one. The fact that it's sitting there does not make it special enough for me to go off-diet. But if my Mum (or anyone else, for that matter) shows up with freshly made snickerdoodles, I’m eating one. Or three. Those are SPECIAL, and I will really WANT one. So the next time you mindlessly pop a bagel, slice of pizza or piece of candy in your mouth just because it’s there... Pause. Think, do I really WANT this? If the answer is no, pass it up. If the answer is yes, proceed to numbers 3 and 4.
3 (to be performed in conjunction with 4). Eat only as much as you must to satisfy your craving. If you are dreaming about chips and salsa, break out the blue corn chips and get some. But now go back to #2, because you don't have to eat the whole bag just because it is there. In addition, if you are also properly working step #4, you should have plenty of notice that your mental fix has been achieved. When it has, stop eating. Maybe that's four peanut M&Ms. Or maybe that's an entire pint of Chubby Hubby. Both are okay, as long as you are mindful of the process.
4. When you do go off-diet, SAVOR IT. There’s nothing worse than filling up a bowl with Blue Bell chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and then hoovering it mindlessly in front of the TV. That is a shameful waste of a cheat. So when you finally get that drool-inspiring forbidden food in front of you, spend some time with it. Take small bites. Enjoy the flavor. Make it last. Since we cheat as a means of providing mental satisfaction, squeeze as much satisfaction as possible out of what you are eating.
5. Finally, a more complicated recommendation - cheat smart. There are off-diet foods you can eat with little perceived negative physical effect, and there are others that will absolutely wreck you if you eat even the tiniest amount. The catch is, these things are different for everyone. For me, French toast (grains) and syrup (sugar) in reasonable amounts (one good sized piece) are 100% okay. Last weekend, I ate my Nutella French toast, and immediately hit the gym and pulled a 10# clean PR. But had I eaten just a few bites of goat cheese (dairy) in an omelette, I would have had a stomachache for hours. Mathieu Lalonde tells a similar story. “After eating strict Paleo for two months, I cheated with a pizza for dinner. I woke up the next morning with a huge headache, blurry vision, and lethargy. I wondered if the insulin spike from the white bread and cheese was the problem or if there was something else involved. The next time I cheated, I ate a banana split and a pint of ice cream. I woke up feeling a little bit fuzzy the next day, but nothing compared to the gluten hangover from the pizza.” So, cheat smart. Figure out what foods are okay, and what are not. You will eventually figure out that the not okay foods are simply never, ever going to be worth it. Stay away from those cheats, and find other foods to satisfy those cravings.
How do you figure out what foods are okay for you, and what foods are not? I’ll tell you exactly how to do that... next week. I’ll give you an easy to follow, step-by-step plan to cleaning out your dietary closet and cheating smart. But be prepared… this helpful advice comes with a healthy dose of Tough Love. You’ve been warned.
So there you have it – my official and decidedly opinionated Guide to Eating Dirty. Post questions, responses or controversies to comments. I’m off to cover something in syrup.
My Nutella-fueled 115# clean PR, at Guerrilla Fitness CrossFit Montclair. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Arsenuk.)