When I was fitness-modeling and dieting, (back in the late 1990’s), I would live for my cheat day. It was the only thing that kept me going and, sadly, the only thing I found joy in. I would do everything to make the day last, and I dreaded my last bite of that day’s food, knowing I would suffer in calorie deprivation and carbohydrate restriction for six straight days afterward. I would get depressed for three days after my cheat day. Then, by the time I made it to my fourth day, I would feel closer to my next cheat day, so I would be pulled out of my depressed state, ignited by my obsession with the food I was going to eat. I would go to the grocery store and walk down each aisle, dreaming about the different foods, lifting up my favorite foods just to smell them. The most special time I spent was in the bakery section. I love baked goods, especially doughnuts, and the smell of all the fresh bakery items would get my mouth watering! Looking back at those times, I can only laugh at myself and be thankful that I am years beyond that food prison I was living in.
Now I still love food, and I love a great “off plan” meal; it’s just that this meal is no longer my be-all and end-all. This is why you must enjoy your daily meal plans and expand your food preferences. You do not want the example I shared to become you. Your weekly “off plan” meal should, of course, be something you look forward to—just not so enticing that you feel you are escaping from your normal meal plans.
One quick thing, the standard term that people use when they have an “off plan” meal is cheat meal. Cheating makes it sound like you are doing something wrong. When living the Venice Nutrition program, this is not the case. This is why I do not call any meals cheat meals. You should have a once-a-week “off plan” meal. This just means you are eating a meal outside your nutrition parameters. Since this weekly “off plan” meal is part of your program, there is no cheating involved.
Finding the proper balance between your “on plan” meals and your weekly “off plan” meal will determine the level of consistency with your eating, which will determine the pace at which your goals are achieved.
Here are four guidelines that will help you find this balance and make the most of your “off plan” meal with minimal damage (fat gain):
1. Eating in 3s throughout the day before your “off plan” meal.
The dieting mind-set is to starve yourself before your “off plan” meal. This leads to saving your calories and using them all up at the “off plan” meal. This mind-set only makes you burn muscle and store fat. Your “off plan” meal is just another meal “in your day. Keep eating at normal meal intervals (every three to four hours) up until your “off plan” meal. This meal frequency will keep your metabolism going, which will allow your body to burn more of the excess calories from your “off plan” meal after you eat it.
2. Make the most of your “off plan” meal. My “off plan” meal needs to be an experience.
I used to try eating only pizza or ice cream. The problem was that I always felt it was incomplete.
My wife Abbi is the type of person who can have one slice of pizza or a piece of chocolate and feel content. I am not that kind of person. When I eat “off plan,” I want to enjoy my food and make the experience last. My suggestion is to go for it. Get the appetizer, the salad, the main course, and the dessert. Enjoy your favorite foods, and make sure you feel content after the meal, because if you don’t, you may still crave an “off plan” meal. Use your weekly “off plan” meal to get it all out of your system; this approach will make it much easier to jump right back “on plan” afterward.
3. Eat a 1/2 meal within four hours after your “off plan” meal.
I consistently share how your metabolism burns more energy the more meals you eat. This also applies to eating after an “off plan” meal. By eating a half meal four hours afterward, your body will work at a faster pace to metabolize your “off plan” meal, minimizing any possible fat storage. An example would be 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt and 5 almonds, or 1 scoop of protein powder with ½ tablespoon of peanut butter—basically, any of your meal plans but with the protein and fat amounts cut in half and the carbohydrates completely removed.
4. Stay guilt free after your “off plan” meal.
Guilt is a feeling associated with diets. We feel guilty because the action (an “off plan” meal) was something we were not supposed to do or something that we felt we should not have done in the first place. If you eat five meals a day, that means you are eating thirty-five meals per week. If one of those meals is “off plan,” you are eating thirty-four out of thirty-five “on plan” meals per week. That is 97 percent compliance! Ninety-seven percent is fantastic in my book. My point is, you need to give yourself some slack.
My main goal with this blog as December is here and the holidays are in full gear is to enjoy your “off plan” meal, and get back on track afterward. If for some reason you have a couple of “off plan” meals in a week, just let it go; guilt will get you nowhere. Becoming an expert on your nutrition means accepting that you may fall off, and remembering that you have the education to jump right back on.
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