I suck at cheat days. Well, actually, if I’m being honest, I’m really, really good at cheat days, which is the problem. I’m so good at cheat days that one day leads into another day, which then becomes a cheat week. And before you know it, it’s a cheat month. It’s a vicious downward spiral, wherein I then being to punish myself for eating foods I shouldn’t. This vicious cycle is why cheat days need to be stricken from the record, removed from our vocabulary as athletes. We need to start thinking about food differently in order to get away from the mindset that we’re doing something WRONG when we eat the foods we enjoy.
If you’ve read the wisdom of Paul Nobles of Eat to Perform, you’ll know he says “all sorts of foods serve a purpose.”
While it’s true that tackling fat loss does require eventually working your way into a calorie deficit, following The Wave Method allows athletes to manipulate energy homeostasis, as well as macros, to achieve their goals. Simply stated, the traditional way of “dieting”—the do more/eat less method—isn’t an efficient way of accomplishing fat loss, and over time it will stall, leave you hungry, and have you looking forward to the day you can stuff your face with all the forbidden foods you’ve deprived yourself of while on a diet.
There’s a better way! The Wave Method teaches athletes how to cycle through periods of calorie deficit and maintenance for extended periods of time until they reach their body composition goals, and the best part is they can do it without feeling overly hungry and without compromising performance. And there are no cheat days. Food is fuel, and all sorts of foods serve a purpose.
The Love/Hate Relationship With Food
Just like any relationship, if your relationship with food is strained or unhealthy, it’s easy to find ways to perpetuate negative behavior. And it’s not entirely our fault. We are surrounded by marketing that tells us to eat “low fat” and “low carb” and “diet” all the time. Packaging and labels are loaded with ways we can cut calories, eat less, and shed weight, so there’s not really a lot in the mainstream marketplace that’s telling us that food is good.
We’ve probably all participated in some sort of plan that allows for a “cheat day,” and if you have the willpower of a superhero, you might be able to keep up with a plan like that. But let me tell you what happens to me:
Days 1 through 6 – ½ cup cottage cheese for breakfast. Eat mainly lettuce with a light vinaigrette, topped with carrot shavings. Munch on healthy portions of things I HATE (like celery and yard clippings). Have a sensible dinner of one previously-frozen, 3-oz., microwaved leatherette chicken breast accompanied by precisely ¼ cup steamed broccoli.
Day 7 – CHEAT DAY! Begin by eating two slices of leftover pizza that I couldn’t have during the week because I was eating lettuce, followed by a large bowl of cereal. Take nap (also known as food coma). Eat giant burger with fries for lunch, followed by some sort of sugary dessert. (Yes, I’m full, but I remind myself CHEAT DAY only comes around every so often.) Plan for dinner. Order Taco Bell burrito while determining what actual dinner will be. Order bowl of pasta from Noodles & Co. and eat the WHOLE thing. (CHEAT DAY is almost over…must cram it in.) Digestive problems begin to set in, however, there are a few hours left in the day…time for hummus and pita chips and a little Netflix (ok, and maybe a cookie).
Day 8 – REGRET SETS IN. This is the Oh-My-God-What-Have-I-Done day. It’s sort of like waking up after a really, really raucous party, only to HALF remember what you’ve done and be left to wonder in horror if you can ever face your friends again. Day 8 should be the day I restart my diet of lettuce and carrot shavings, but I’m torn. On one hand, I know my cheat day was over the top and I really, really need to cut my calories. But then again, on the other hand, my cheat day was so OVER THE TOP that I feel like I’ve already blown it…so why bother?
And this is how cheat days turn into cheat months. This is also why we should get rid of cheat days completely and focus on our overall nutrition and the way we are fueling our bodies EVERY DAY.
The 8-day pattern above is an example of what happens when we deprive ourselves on a regular basis and follow a reward and punishment system using food as either the reward or as tool for punishing ourselves. It’s an easy trap to fall into—and a very difficult pattern to break.
No more cupcakes as rewards for losing 5 pounds. And no more celery sticks as punishment for not making it to the gym. (If you like celery, you should totally eat celery, by the way!)
It’s time to start rewarding ourselves in different ways; and it’s time to stop punishing ourselves when it comes to diet and nutrition. Let’s take a stand regarding food and simply look forward to fueling our activity, getting healthy, and learning about the various functions and purposes different foods serve. When we change our outlook regarding what our food can do for us, our behaviors and how we treat food will change, too.