Decriminalising "Cheat" Days
You’d be amazed at the amount of otherwise disciplined, well-intentioned clients I have that completely lose it around this time of year. Observe Q4 of any calendar year data-wise and you'll see a steady slide of weight gain, inhibition loss around food and alcohol, and a strong increase in "f*ck it" attitudes (ha) around maintaining healthy habits.
I don’t know if it’s the change of weather (not so much for Singapore-based folks, since we live in a place with zero seasons), the festive decorations hung all over town, or the general increase in parties and celebratory events, but somehow most of us get the memo that the last few months of the year are a free pass to skip workouts, eat until you’re pleasantly plump, and drink to unreasonable excess.
I’m not trying to sound like a Scrooge here – but let it be said:
Rosh Hashanah is one day. Deepavali is one day. Christmas is one day. Thanksgiving is one day. There are literally 97 days between now and the end of the year, so even if you totally write off, say, ten of them - you can still manage 89% adherence to your regular program!
So what do I consider a "total write off" of a day?
The folks at Precision Nutrition hit the nail on the head by calling these days “eat what you want (EWYW) days.” I’ve never like the term “cheat days” (sure, you can love your food, but jeez, you’re not married to it – you can have an order of fries and still be a good “partner” to your diet), and nor do they. The EWYW days simply mean that you don’t have to meal prep, count a calorie, log a gram of protein, or stress over a sip or two.
You just eat like a normal human being, then go on living.
The point here is, any EWYW day is just a day. For some of us, it could even just be one meal (like the very ample Thanksgiving dinner I am looking forward to when I finally celebrate with my family in the USA this November after nearly a decade!). It’s not an entire weekend, it’s not a whole season, and God forbid it turns into a year or two (no one needs to wake up in 2024 with an extra couple of inches around the middle….but trust me, I’ve seen it happen).
Here are some easy dos and dont's for your EWYW day:
DO enjoy an adequate serving (or two!) of the foods you truly enjoy - bonus points if these are homemade by someone you love, no matter how indulgent
DON’T load up on crappy, low-quality processed foods (think plastic jars of crispy treats with red lids that you see in stacks every CNY, or those ubiquitous round tins of buttery biscuits that somehow make it into every home around Christmastime)
DO eat slowly – the food will still be there, so take a few breaths between forkfuls to actually savour the EWYW foods you love so much
DON’T count, log, track, or otherwise think about your food as any more than what it is – a delicious way to celebrate with family, fill your tummy, and make you happy
DO have a tipple if you choose to celebrate with alcohol, but DON’T swallow a bunch of booze on top of a bunch of calorie-rich food unless you’re really looking for a double-whammy hangover-and-food-coma the next day
DON’T leave any room for guilt – on a true EWYW day, it’s a non-issue!
DO make time for exercise on EWYW day (Turkey Trot, anyone?) or the day after for better digestion and to put some of those extra calories to good work
Again, guys – the latter part of the year is indeed a time for celebration, reflection and togetherness – but it doesn’t have to be only about coming together over food. Get out for a long walk to catch up with family, volunteer your time at a place or for a cause that needs extra help this time of year, or spend time writing cards or letters to loved ones far away.
That kind of nourishment is always served up low-carb and with unlimited helpings. ;)