Stop Cheating On Your Diet Through Strategic Indulgences

Indulging is actually beneficial for your body when you earn it through compliant behavior to your nutrition strategy.

Have you ever watched a NASCAR race? The supercharged cars, driven by the best in the world, zoom around the track at lightning speeds. Of course, the cars can’t go forever—they have to take a break and idle so the pit crew can do their job. Cars can’t run on an empty gas tank, nor can they race on tires without any tread. Stopping momentarily to regroup is crucial to their success.

Have you ever watched a NASCAR race? The supercharged cars, driven by the best in the world, zoom around the track at lightning speeds. Of course, the cars can’t go forever—they have to take a break and idle so the pit crew can do their job. Cars can’t run on an empty gas tank, nor can they race on tires without any tread. Stopping momentarily to regroup is crucial to their success.

This is the exact same perspective you need to have about your body when dieting, or seeking to restrict calories to release body fat.

Many people like to call breaks from their typical nutritional intake “cheat meals.” May I steer you away from calling them by this name, and direct you to call them “indulgence meals?”

The verb “cheat” means “to act dishonestly or unfairly to gain an advantage.”

I’m going to teach you how indulging is actually beneficial for your body when you earn it through compliant behavior to your nutrition strategy. A nutrition strategy is whatever effort you are making to manage your food intake—there are over 100 styles of eating out there, including the newest one on the market that I happened to create: The Power Foods Lifestyle. In the rest of this article, I wish to share with you just one element of the Power Foods Lifestyle (PFL) that may help you in your journey to achieve your health and aesthetic goals not only now, but for a lifetime.

Indulgences should be planned and earned. Indulgence meals are important both physiologically and psychologically. With this in mind, let’s dive into talking about indulgence meals and how you might approach them.

Be sure to plan so you can anticipate your meal of foods you really look forward to, but don’t eat all the time. [Source: Kristy Jo Hunt]

Eliminate the Fear

When one is disciplined in their eating and are staying committed, it is natural for a small percentage of people to develop a fear of indulging or eating outside the plan. In fact, there is a new eating disorder that has rapidly been gaining attention in “clean eating” trends called Orthorexia Nervosa. This disorder is when a person has an “unhealthy obsession” with wholesome eating and becomes fixated on food quality and purity.

This is understandable when you gain insight into how the food supply works from production to processing and delivery. It can be quite frightening to learn these procedures, then expect yourself to be good, eat perfectly, and make no mistakes in your eating through extremely rigid guidelines. Lack of doing so might result in over-exercising as a compensatory effort, or increased stringency in eating behaviors. My goal is to help you find the balance for yourself, keeping in mind the role of foods in your body, and never use punishment as motivation for eating and training wisely.

You may have read that last paragraph with wide eyes because you are someone who absolutely loves your indulgence meals—eating anything and everything outside of what you know aids your body can be a real joy. If this is you, great! Attitude is everything in this effort to discipline your mind and body, and food is to be enjoyed yet respected as the fuel source for your body.

Here are some very important principles that have to do with your indulgence meals:

  • Food should not be feared.
  • Food should not become an obsession or something about which you fantasize.

Food is a wonderful part of our lives that can bring us much happiness and satisfaction, on top of fueling our bodies so we can live. Instead of allowing fear to reside in your mind, work to better understand food and its nutritional properties. Seek to understand what macronutrients are, the roles of protein, carbs, and fats in your body, and how calories in and calories out are only one of the variables that matter in body composition shifts. This is what I enjoy teaching people all day long in my webinars and one-on-one online coaching.

With new knowledge, you will find your concerns dissipating as you replace irrational thoughts or fears with science-based logic. Knowledge is empowering when it comes to deciding to live your life free from the constant torment of worry and fear over food. It gives yourself the opportunity to choose logic over emotion.

Logic and education are the primary methods I used to train my brain and re-program my emotions to have a healthy relationship with food after 20 years of disordered eating and thinking. I feel so happy now that I do not face the love/hate relationship I once had with food. I used to wish I wasn’t human so I didn’t have to eat—I despised food. It was the enemy because it made me hate myself, as I couldn’t control myself around it. I grew weary of the hours in the gym punishing myself for “bad behavior” when I couldn’t follow through on my diet.

But you know what? I now love and respect food. We have a great relationship. I love the strategic foods, and I love the non-strategic foods. (Strategic and non-strategic foods can only be defined by your goals and objectives with your body and health). I know when and how to use them to best help my body be at its best.

You can overcome anything you’re working through as well! I don’t believe we ever heal completely from prior behavior or disorders; instead, we learn to manage our inclinations and triggers. We gain confidence from day-by-day choices to live a different way. This gives us momentum to continue onward and create a new life for ourselves. This gives you courage to tip-toe around any triggers as we become aware of them. You can do this!

Psychologically Destructive Practices

It’s easy to get sucked into the “food porn” industry where you feast their eyes on ultra-tempting and savory dishes. Social media has become the greatest way to distribute this destructive fad. Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram are rife with pictures of food that trigger your mind to begin a process that leads to cravings and desire for those foods. I also see thousands of Facebook ‘shares’ on videos and posts that teach the public how to make confectionary desserts and goodies—they are applauded and worshipped. When you find yourself idolizing food in this way (yes, even on healthy foods), you are doing something I call “fixating.”

I urge you to pull back from the habit of drooling over these types of pictures. Do not create an environment in your mind where you long for what you are “not allowed” to have. There is nothing positive that results from this practice. All it does is drive home the fact that you are being “deprived,” although you are not. Is the practice of keeping foods that may lead your body to being overweight or fraught with disease truly depriving yourself? Or is it liberating yourself?

Perspective is the greatest friend you can keep with you on your journey of adopting a true lifestyle change. It’s not about deprivation at all, but enjoyment and respect. As you discipline yourself and keep those indulgence meals and treats out of your typical intake, you will more fully enjoy them at an appropriate time. This is the meaning of indulgence—it’s not all the time.

Remember that you are not kicking any foods out of your life forever. Heavens no—that’s just torture. Instead, you’re choosing to put premium fuel into your body 90-95% of the time (5-6 meals per day multiplied by 7 days in a week), and allowing yourself to splurge the other 5-10%.

You will only damage your willpower and ability to apply what you are learning if you solely focus on everything you should not have (non-strategic foods). Instead shift to focus more on the wonderful the foods you should have (strategic foods). I often remind my clients to reflect back on history, and compare themselves to those who are less fortunate due to war, poverty, or famine.

Who are we to complain? Are we starving? Are we sick due to too little food? No. Sometimes we need a very real attitude adjustment when we find ourselves feeling sorry for ourselves.

Indulging Frequency

Many people in the nutrition and diet world promote a cheat, or indulgence day, but I would like to encourage you to stick with one to two indulgence meals per week. When allowed an entire day of indulgence, most people’s mentalities of freedom overtake them and they end up completely gorging themselves to the point of being sick. Not only that, but their blood sugar is thrown off so much that the biochemical ability to get back to feeling good takes several days.

If your goal is to lose a significant amount of body fat, I recommend you only plan for one indulgence meal per week. Otherwise, go ahead and plan two indulgence meals. Be sure to plan so you can anticipate your meal of foods you really look forward to, but don’t eat all the time.

Planning your indulgence meal will help you stay focused as you adapt to your new lifestyle. When you have something to look forward to, you can often use that as a motivating factor to adhere to what you know is best for your body until then. Many people enjoy planning an indulgence meal for the weekend—either on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. It helps you focus and be disciplined during the weekdays.

Some people feel they are doing so well with their new lifestyle and getting in the habit of making wise food choices that they wish to skip their indulgence meal. This can be fine sometimes, though keep in mind we are trying to develop a lifestyle mentality.

There can be a psychological backswing if you push yourself too long without indulging; when you finally allow yourself those foods, you might find it nearly impossible to stop eating. Be wise and choose to indulge once weekly so as to temper the overconsumption that can easily occur through granting yourself “freedom.”

chocolate cake

Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram are rife with pictures that trigger your mind to begin a process that leads to cravings. [Source: Kristy Jo Hunt]

Tempering Your Indulgences

Treat your indulgence meal with respect—not a time to go bonkers. Any sort of indulgence meal may feel like a desperate attempt to cram every ounce of food within reach into your mouth, drive to every restaurant, and gorge yourself to capacity and beyond. Please guard yourself against these behaviors. You are better than that and can control yourself from a black-or-white, eat-right-or-go-crazy binge. You will feel miserable both physically and mentally. You will feel as though all of your hard work has been undone, and ridicule yourself for being so uncontrolled.

I know this because I’ve been there, and dealt with these behaviors for many years of my own life. The best piece of advice I can give you is to plan your indulgence meals. Eat them slowly, and put your foot down when you feel the signals in your body that you’re full. The thought will usually cross your mind: I really should stop eating now.

It takes great mental strength to not just keep going, but you can do it. The point that made me realize I must change my behavior was when I realized I could keep repeating this cycle forever, and get nowhere. I was tired of getting nowhere. I decided to push through the “pain” of keeping junk and sweets out of my body except for small portions at infrequent times. My body does not need those things, and neither does yours.

You can become the master of yourself as you work to understand the reasons why you feel so desperate for those foods outside of your power foods. You can find the answers and work to form new mental patterns.

Physiological and Psychological Need

As I mentioned previously, there is both a physiological and psychological need for the indulgence meal. Let’s discuss some of these reasons a bit further:

1. Replenish glycogen stores for energy.

Your metabolism needs to be built up and glycogen stores replenished in order to be effective in your next wave of fat loss efforts. Due to lower glycogen levels from consistent controlled carbohydrate intake, (hopefully your nutrition methods help you do this), your indulgence meal will not cause you to store fat.

The extra nutrients may cause your body to hold excess water for a day or two, resulting in a higher scale weight, but this will dissipate quickly. Due to this temporary increase, please never weigh yourself within 24 hours of your indulgence meal. If you indulge Saturday night, weigh on Monday or Tuesday morning (always in the morning before having food or water; there are too many metabolic variables that can impact your scale weight—don’t give yourself false emotional ammo that “it’s not working”).

2. Prevent body fat loss plateaus through raising leptin levels.

After restricting your caloric intake consistently for some time, leptin levels in your body begin to lower. Leptin is a hormone that works like a gatekeeper of fat metabolism. When levels are low, we tend to eat more ravenously. When leptin levels are high, we eat with normal signals of hunger and satisfaction. We want to keep leptin levels high if we plan on keeping ourselves and our appetites in control.

Several studies find that leptin levels drop by approximately 50% after about 7 days of restrictive eating—restrictive meaning a minimum of a 400-600 caloric deficit. That means that an indulgence meal one to two times per week is perfect timing to reset your leptin levels. One meal if you’re taking more of a moderate approach, and two if you’re taking more of a rigid and disciplined approach. Resetting your leptin levels is done with excess calories, most particularly carbohydrates.

Please keep in mind that everyone’s leptin levels don’t work the same way. The higher the body fat you have, the less quickly your leptin levels drop, making the indulgence meal less of a physiological need, but more of a psychological need and motivating factor to keep you going. The physiological need comes in high demand when you have achieved a lean or less than average body weight; you will need the reset to continue pushing your leanness to new levels as your body naturally fights the lower body fat state.

3. Provide a little bit of “I’m a normal human being” sanity relief.

If you have worked for it the remainder of the week and put aside the temptation for your favorite, but non-strategic foods for that time period, you have earned it. It’s quite important for your sanity and making this way of eating a true lifestyle to remove the disciplined mindset for a short time. After all, it is a rare person who is over-consumed enough to put their nose to the grindstone for their whole life. Food can be a very fun and rewarding part of life—the key is that we temper ourselves and respect the body we have.

Many people find it difficult to indulge as they torture themselves afterward. They think, “Now I’ve done it—I’ve gone and ruined all of my good progress.” They consider themselves weak and feel horrible. They may then take their next dieting to the extreme by either skipping meals, cutting portions, or engaging in excess cardio exercise. These are all the wrong approaches and I caution you to fortify yourself against these thoughts and feelings. You can only do this by further educating yourself on the body mechanisms of glycogen replenishment and hormone resetting. You might also look at several other items:

  • Did you earn the meal by adhering to your disciplined approach during the week? If you found yourself cutting corners, taking snitches of non-strategic foods, or not sticking perfectly to your own standard of eating, then you might do better not to take the indulgence meal as you didn’t truly earn it.
  • Did you stop eating when your body signaled that you were full? If you continued eating past those satisfaction cues, you might examine whether or not you put strategies in place to help you stop. Things like placing a serving in a dish—not eating from an open bag, asking the waiter or waitress for a to-go box before the meal started, etc. help you better put on the eating brakes. You know yourself better than anyone else, so work to put in place the strategies that will help you not fall victim to yourself. We are each fallible, so do your best to learn from your errors, getting right back in the ball game. Refuse to let any less-than-stellar performance hold you back from making noble efforts in the future.
  • Did you plan your indulgence meal? I have had former clients who became very upset when they had to “use” their indulgence meal for an outing or food that wasn’t in their forecast. This can happen when you attend banquets, conferences, or attend outings with family or friends. Make it count by planning and knowing your strategy well enough to incorporate it with unexpected food outings.

4. Enjoy It!

You’re not hurting yourself by having an indulgence meal, so be sure to enjoy it. Incorporate your favorite foods—there is no food you are ever saying ‘goodbye’ to forever. I definitely look forward to having my maple donuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Reese’s Pieces with popcorn, and whole grain pancakes swimming in syrup with bacon and full eggs and cheese. Disciplined eating the majority of the time makes our favorite indulgence meals taste even more incredible than ever.

Indulgences are earned, not deserved, and are to be respected.

More on making beneficial health choices:

Changing Your Life is Not a 45-Day Challenge

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