I remember when I first got into fitness, training, and paying very close attention to what I was eating. At least I thought I was eating clean. I remember the first couple of years, I had cheat days. Those days were packed with an incredible amount of food. After I got sick of feeling sick on my cheat days, I switched to cheat meals. I had two cheat meals per week and goodness did I look forward to them. I scheduled them ahead of time, and knew exactly where I was going to go and what I was going to eat. Over time, those two meals made it easier for me to have cheat meals leak into the week. Next thing I knew, I was "cheating" every day. Towards the end of this timeline, I only had one cheat meal per week. Something I could look forward to each week. Something that would keep me "in check" so I could reward myself for behaving throughout the week. Towards the end of all this, I realized that I hated nutrition, and I got close to hating fitness because it made me so concerned about what I was consuming each day. And, I looked like this:
So anyway, I grew tired of getting nowhere, feeling restricted 6 days/week, and making extremely slow process on my fitness and body composition goals. During this period of time playing around with cheat days and cheat meals, I noticed the following more than ever:
1. I didn't enjoy eating. And I'm a fat kid on the inside, what's that about? I saw food as fuel, which is only good when it's not obsessive.
2. It kept me from enjoying dinners with my family, time out with friends, etc.
3. I'm EXTREMELY critical of myself. This didn't help when I had a cookie outside of my cheat meal and felt nothing but guilt and shame.
I'd like to go through all of these so you have something to relate to, or scare you away before you decide to start planning some cheat meals for yourself.
I Didn't Enjoy Eating
Back in the day, I thought that there was really a thing called "clean eating". Therefore, I ate things like chicken, rice, broccoli, sweet potatoes, lean beef, turkey, oats, and that's about it. Oh and protein powder of course. That's literally all I ate. I'm one of those people that can eat the same thing every day and not care, but that's mostly because I was convinced that eating that way was really going to help me reach my goals. I didn't have any other types of food during those six "non cheat" days, and then I went to town on the cheat meal for that week. As a result of eating so "clean", I felt sick after the meal and I didn't feel like I had rewarded myself. I felt like I was just resetting my mind to be motivated to eat nothing but bland chicken and rice again. Whoopdie doo. Eating became a burden. I also became overly obsessed and extremely critical of myself whenever I ate anything even if I was eating meat and veggies and wanted more, I felt like I couldn't allow myself to do such a thing. Not only did this have an effect on my personal relationship with food, but it began to affect my friends and family as well.
"Adam Can't Have That"
My brothers and I are all grown and have been out of the house for years now. So every once in a while, my parents will cook an absolutely amazing meal and have us all over for some quality family time. Back when I was a "clean eater" and "strict" with my diet, making meals seemed like a burden for my parents. Before they went to the grocery store, they would call and ask if I could eat x,y, and z. "Is it ok if I put butter on the asparagus?", my dad would ask. "Adam are you going to eat some of these cookies I made from scratch?" my mom would ask. My response: "No, sorry, my cheat meal isn't today." Looking back on it, I wish I could time travel and give myself a good punch in the face. The funny thing is, my dad did some bodybuilding shows when he was in his 20s, and he'd still look at me like I was from outer space when I said I wasn't going to have milk because of the sugar or something stupid like that.
It took too long, but eventually I realized that creating memories and enjoying a home-cooked meal with my family was much more important than my "clean eating."
Criticism can be a good thing on some occasions. But a few years ago the criticism I was receiving was very unhealthy. This criticism came from myself. Every time I had a "cheat" whether it was a freaking fun-size snickers, or a double cheeseburger with large fries, I felt an unbelievable amount of guilt and shame. I hardly enjoyed the "cheat" while I was eating it. The guilt and shame came almost immediately but I had those "cheats" anyway because well, I had to right? That's what everyone was doing in the fitness industry anyway. Or were they?
The Solution to the Problem
I'm not the only one who went or is going through this. In fact, a lot of my clients have had an unhealthy relationship with food. Guilt, shame, diet after diet, rollercoaster after rollercoaster. So many people have this going on in their lives right now.
So what did I change? How and why did I stop eating "clean"? Aren't we supposed to be eating "clean" and healthy all the time in order to reach our goals? Well, not really. Do me a favor quick. Try to define "clean eating" in your own words. Seriously, sit there and define "clean eating". Post your definition in a comment at the bottom of this article. I'm not trying to set you up at all. I'm not saying there is a right or wrong answer. Here's my point: I believe that every idea of clean eating involves some sort of restriction from certain foods. And restriction is the WORST. Restriction is what made me feel miserable during the few steps in my fitness journey. It's what keeps most people from making change with their nutrition, and funny enough it's also what makes people put even more weight back on after they start a diet. Thankfully I found flexible dieting and no longer feel a need to restrict myself from any foods.
Flexible dieting is what I teach all of my clients. It enables them to enjoy their lifestyle and still crush their fitness goals. Flexible dieting can sound complicated, but it's actually quite simple. In fact, it's as simple as treating your macronutrients like a monetary budget, and fitting a wide variety of foods in that budget. Hit your protein, carbohydrate, and fat goals for the day make sure you get enough fiber, and eat what you'd like! Does that mean I'm telling you to reach your macro goals from 80% Oreos and 20% protein shakes? Heck no. You'll feel like crap. But what I am saying is this: A majority of your calories and macronutrients should come from whole food sources. And if you have room in your macronutrients for some Ben and Jerry's at the end of the day, then have some! That's actually exactly what I did last night. I had room for about one cup of Ben and Jerry's in my macros, so I ate some Cherry Garcia while watching John Wick. I know, I know, what a wild Saturday night. The point is, I eat the things I like when I want to and if I have room in my macros. And no, you don't have to be "a man in his 20s with a crazy metabolism" to do that.
After doing this for a while, I did some math on my macros and calories comparing my old cheat meals with flexible dieting. Turns out I'm actually eating less "junk" and calories throughout the week than when I had even one cheat meal per week. And, I'm happier.
I'll be honest, it takes a while to get the hang of tracking your macros, and eating mindfully, but I dare you to try it. I dare you to let yourself live.
LIVE. That's the takeaway today. Track your macronutrients and calories (which isn't hard), avoid restricting yourself, and allow yourself to live guilt free.
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