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Avoid any diet that discourages the use of hot fudge.  ~Don Kardong

That picture above represents a typical dinner order I’ll place at a restaurant when we go out. Yes, that’s two meals. One guy, two meals – that’s an equation that makes sense.

Listen, it didn’t always used to be that way. In fact, I used to be the polar opposite of a guy downing huge portion sizes and making restaurants pay for offering all-you-can-eat anything.

Most people probably don’t know (because I’ve never written or told many people) but I used to have a pretty bad eating disorder. I have no problem admitting it because now people would argue that I have the opposite of an eating disorder. I can pack away the groceries. [Full confession: Once, for a Moe’s burrito eating contest, I packed away three burritos in two minutes. Sorry, couldn’t find the video.]

Back in the day, I would put myself through extreme calorie restriction in order to obtain a certain appearance that I thought would make me a better runner. What really happened is that I developed an extremely terrible association with food.

I explicitly remember being at the beach with my folks. I had gone for an 8 mile run that morning. It was around 3pm in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten a single thing all day.

I know – I missed the anabolic window after my run. Refueling wasn’t exactly something I was concerned with.

I remember my first meal was onion rings. I remember that because I felt guilty chowing down on a greasy pile of fried onions. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but somehow, it was hard to break the habit.

Here I was on vacation after having burned 800 calories earlier that morning and I felt guilty chowing down on some fried onions. If anything, I should have been dipping them in ranch before sliding them down my gullet.

It took me awhile to break that association.

Listen, I don’t tell you any of this so you’ll put in a secret nomination for me to make a guest appearance on Dr. Phil or plan an intervention group full of my closest friends. As I said, I’ve been able to grow out of those problems. Rather, it’s an example of the negative association most people have with food.

Move to the present day.

I’m a sucker for good beer. It’s a really good thing that I live in the mecca of beer because my large affinity for a good brew isn’t all that uncommon. In fact, it’s practically the norm around these parts. Alongside a good beer, I also love pasta, bread, and carrot cake. Oh, and I, like most people, enjoy having a social life that allows me to go out and consume these things freely, especially on the weekends.

On top of all that, I’d prefer not to have a beer gut hanging over my belt and a body that resembles a memorable character off Austin Powers.

Look, I’ve done the whole strict dieting thing in an effort to get pretty darn lean for a photo shoot. For twelve weeks, I religiously used an app to log everything I ate and drank. I cycled carbohydrates throughout the week and lived for days when Charlotte and I would take our carbohydrate binges to Genghis Grill and I would load up on rice, pasta, and as much meat as I could get my greasy hands on.

I’ve done it once. I probably won’t ever do it again.

Was the transformation cool? Absolutely. Especially during the latter phases, when you play with water consumption, the ability to literally change how you look overnight is extremely exciting. But, I don’t care to repeat the effort.

The thing is, I like freedom and sanity.

The real issue isn’t the dieting and counting. It’s the negative association that all of that dieting and counting creates.

Throughout the media, food is constantly demonized as something that immediately raises your cholesterol, adds fat to your waistline, and erases those last three miles you ran on the treadmill.

As a result, far too many people view food as a punishment. They force themselves to eat certain foods because they’re “healthy” and avoid others like the plague because they’re viewed as “bad”.

Let me  reiterate – there’s no such thing as bad and good food.

Those are terms that we created. In fact, you would be better off if you eliminated the words “bad” and “good” from your nutrition vocabulary. Cake isn’t “bad” for you. That’s a very important point that nearly everyone misses when they talk about nutrition.

Instead, think of how “helpful” a certain food is in obtaining a goal you want to reach.

To reframe your entire mindset of food is extremely challenging but necessary for an optimal life. Regardless of whether your goal is to gain weight, lose weight, get cut, or run faster, food is a means to helping you achieve whatever goal it is you have in mind.

Listen, I’m all for eating healthy. The problem is when people can create moods with their nutritional decisions. A great day can turn terrible when you punish yourself for taking that bite of cake. That’s not a positive relationship.

dinner

To give you some insight, here’s what I eat on an almost daily basis:

Breakfast: 5 egg omelette with bacon, some spinach, tomato, and cheese

Lunch: A source of protein (chicken) with some extra veggies and carbs

Snack: Protein shake

Dinner: A source of protein with some extra veggies and carbs, a few glasses of wine, and some kind of chocolate

This dietary program is pretty standard whether it’s a weekday or weekend. On Fridays, the afternoon protein shake is moved around a bit and a beer (or a few) is substituted in its place. Similarly, Saturday nights are usually our time to head to a restaurant that may or may not include dessert and a few glasses of wine plus several beers. On Saturdays, I also tend to head to a coffee shop early in the morning to get some work done before everyone wakes up. That trip typically includes a scone of some sort or a cheese danish.

I guess you could call Saturdays my cheat day in the fact that I indulge in more treats than usual.

Do I go overboard and eat an entire cake? Not usually although one year during Thanksgiving, I attempted to eat an entire pumpkin pie on a dare. (I would have succeeded if I hadn’t left the crust for last. For future reference, eat the crust first. It’s dry as hell.)

The point is I allow myself to make good decisions in a relaxed atmosphere. The result? I’m much happier for it.

I’ve said this before, but I don’t believe in dieting. It has an extremely negative connotation to many. When the majority of Americans say they’re going on a diet, I’d put $20 that they’ll be off of it in a matter of weeks.

Want better success? Spend time planning your cheat days. It’ll give you something to look forward to. Forget eliminating all of your favorite treats from your diet. That’s a recipe for failure. Instead, allow yourself to indulge. Form a positive relationship with food and recognize that it has the power to either help or hinder you on your road to whatever fitness goal you have set.

If I could have it all back now, I would down more than my fair share of onion rings on that day although by eating two meals at a time on Saturday nights, I think I’ve made up the deficit.

Alright, lay it on me. Shout out what works for you nutritionally or your own nutrition struggles. Also, let me know your favorite cheat meal so I can add it to my binge days.

Leave a Thought

11 Comments

  1. Good points, Jeremy. I sometimes do the counting of calories thing to view my dietary needs- but it’s almost a compulsive thing because I like numbers and analysis… However, for everyone else- I like the idea of planning for cheat days and will be incorporating that advice for my clients. BTW- My cheat meal is in the form of Apple Pie. I ask for it on my Birthday instead of cake and the Crumbled Apple pie at Bob Evans is amazing. At 500 Kcal a slice (LOL), I try to limit myself to only 3 or 4…. 🙂

  2. Man, I don’t even know where to start on this because it rings so true. I’ve battled an eating disorder since I was 15 and can relate to many of your sentiments. I’m working to de-identify myself with the eating disorder moniker now though–I no longer want it to be part of who I am. While I’m not quite as a point of ordering 2 dinners (while mentally I know I would be ok if I did), I am working hard. I still fight that “it will make me fat”. I train hard so maybe i just need to throw caution to the wind and try it, right? What’s the worst that could happen–I actually build more muscle? Lol. I’ll be in LA Sunday after a triathlon and am planning on a getting a real burger and fries.

    Thanks for sharing Jeremey, this was an awesome post

    • Thanks for sharing Chuck. I completely understand the “it will make me fat” mentality. It’s something that I’ve struggled with for a long time and continue to struggle with although infrequently. It can be very tough to break that mindset. Indulge in that burger and fries man. It will be worth it!

      • Thanks for the reply man–it helps to hear from someone who has worked hard to overcome the struggle. Keep inspiring bro!

  3. Very interesting article. I know this is not a deep dive into the science of the body or nutrition but I’m wondering about other dietary concerns apart from calories. For example, I have high blood pressure and everyone and their mother says to cut sodium from your diet. That’s a difficult task for someone who enjoys eating chips and salty snacks. Would you incorporate those types of concerns into your cheat day planning, essentially just swapping calories for sodium in your considerations? Or would this attitude not necessarily be 100% applicable?

    • Hey Cooper, thanks for the comment. Health concerns are always an issue whether it’s cheat day or not in my opinion. While I allow myself to indulge in a few treats, I wouldn’t advice diving into plates of sodium in your situation. But, I would say you can loosen your constraints just a bit one day a week provided you’re on top of your nutrition the other 6 days. In my opinion, it really helps with sanity.

  4. Love the article JD. Being upfront and honest about your relationship with food is inspirational. As you know, I watch people (almost daily) struggle with their relationship with food. It’s always good to hear someone talk about it openly. To think of the time I spent counting calories when I could have spent that brain power learning. And now, I don’t even believe that a calorie is a decent measuring tool for food consumption. Anyway I’ll leave nutrigenomics for another rant. I love the earth and I love my food to come from a sustainable source yet I live in this world. Fast food happens, eating packaged tasteless crap happens. Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for the thoughts Darcie. I think it’s beneficial for individuals to hear about the food struggles of others. You bring up a good point that we live in a world where fast food and packaged stuff is going to happen. Proper mindset is key!

  5. Referring to a relaxed day of meals as a binge day implies you may still have an eating disorder (probably not) but the term most cerainly is not of positive thought, mindset or practice.

    • Hey Ben,

      Thanks for the comments. I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I spoke with someone the other day about the wording of a “cheat” day and how it has a negative notion because it implies that you’re cheating yourself. Very interesting thoughts. Will perhaps rephrase!