Rest Day Rant: To Cheat or Not to Cheat

Posted: October 27, 2012 by Jim in Random Thoughts

To cheat or not to cheat, that is the question when it comes to a lifestyle of healthy eating. This is a very hot-button issue and one that has personally caused me much joy and anguish.

Near the end of 2011, I read Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour Body in which he made a compelling argument for choosing one day out of your week as a “caloric spike” day: a day in which you purposely not only cheat, but literally splurge with as many calories as possible. The main argument was this kept the brain from habituating to a seven-day per week healthy diet and, thus, causing a plateau.

After reading Ferris’ references, and doing some additional research, I decided to experiment on my own. I can vividly remember the first splurge day I had in January of this year:  donuts at the crack of dawn (mmmmmm….warm), Shoney’s breakfast buffet (the waitress asked “how can someone who looks like you eat like that?” after my sixth trip to the buffet), lunch at CiCi’s pizza (more buffet), ice cream in the afternoon (with brownie chunks), Chinese buffet for supper (and more ice cream), and then a Sonic blast and a candy bar before bed. I woke up the next morning and the last thing on my mind was eating. 

Four months later, I tested myself in the BodPod and had put on a significant amount of muscle and achieved my lowest body fat percentage to date. In my mind, the splurge worked; this was the silver bullet.

From April to September, my splurges grew in both volume and intensity. Unbeknownst to me, I had unlocked the cage that held the beast of my food addiction. He was content to let me believe that I was still in control. By July, I noticed that I didn’t look as lean as I was in April. Instead of backing off my splurge days some, and instead of getting back into the BodPod to understand fully what was going on with my body, I made a critical error: I began cutting back on my intake during the week.. The dreaded metabolic killer known as caloric restriction had returned.

My addiction had tricked me, and once again I was on a downhill slide with my eating. The splurge days got only worse and, thanks to my caloric restriction during the week, my nighttime cheating re-emerged. As I sit here typing this rant, I stand at the entrance of yet another reset with my nutrition plan…and it begins with a woodshedding of the splurge day.

When you struggle with food, as I do, splurging is a terrible idea. I should have known this, but I had once again gotten to a point of frustration with my nutrition. You see, I have and will always struggle with my eating. I am a food addict and I will be until the day I die. Now I realize that I simply cannot handle letting the beast out to that extent. My splurging grew so out of control that my body simply could not handle the caloric excess and started storing fat.

So, does this mean I’m wallowing in despair? Perhaps I’m moping around having a pity party? Nope. Frustration with food has become a constant struggle in my life to the point that I am now accustomed to this….and, luckily, I know the solution – a return to what has given me documented success – a strict Paleo diet without a day of excessive splurging.

You may be wondering, “so you’re going to eat clean ALL THE TIME?” No. Once a week, I will allow myself one, carefully planned, completely accounted-for treat moment. This moment will be managed in my overall caloric and macronutrient goals for the day. Why would I do this? For me, psychologically, staying rigid 24/7, 365 days a year is a one-way ticket to the asylum. I simply cannot manage the increasingly loud voices to give up my healthy lifestyle to return to my previous ways of eating without restraint. By giving myself one predictable “off” moment, I can calm these voices and stay on plan the rest of the time. When the temptation hits, I can simply remind myself that I will have one moment of food bliss on Saturday.

Also, I must return to the full volume of food I was eating prior to my unjustified restriction. My body is made up of a huge, thriving lean body mass that simply must be fed during the week. When I restrict my intake, and allow myself to become hungry, I arm my inner beast with the weapons that will make me crumble and then cheat when I should remain strict.

Some of you Unbreakable Athletes may be wondering why I am writing this. The answer is simple: despite the fact that I never formally announced my splurge days, talk of them spread through Infragilis like a virus. Many of you have started your own version of a splurge day. Unless you are currently at your desired body fat percentage and successfully maintaining that with a splurge, I strongly urge you to stop devoting an entire day to cheating immediately. In my personal and professional opinion, you are undermining your program.

Should you never cheat? Well, I didn’t say that, but I would cheat only if you have the discipline to let it stop with one cheat moment per week, preferably an item you’ve denied yourself rather than an entire feast.

According to Joel Marion in The Cheat to Lose Diet, leptin is an “anti-starvation hormone and increasing calories in a planned fashion actually helps keep your body from thinking it is starving. When the extra calories are provided from a cheat meal, your body recognizes you aren’t starving. Your leptin levels are increased with the cheat meals, causing your body to increase leptin to your body’s unique level. Leptin keeps your body from hanging onto fat and excessive body weight when you are starving, as a means of protecting itself. When leptin levels increase, your body feels fed and allows you to lose more weight.”

Still, some of us may need professional assistance to help plan these cheat moments effectively. Within Anatomies, we have nutrition consultants who can help you build an effective plan to help manage these moments of cheating while still promoting optimal results.

When it comes to struggling with food, no one feels your pain more than I do. This week, when reading about Rich Froning’s diet of peanut butter and chocolate milk, I immediately began resenting the world’s fittest man. Alas, I’m just not wired like Froning, so I must continue to fight the struggle and battle against food. Please don’t let the weekends undermine all the hard work you put in during the week in the gym. Remember, you can’t outwork a bad diet.

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