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Why Cheat Days Hold You Back

Greatist logo Greatist 18/10/2017 Derek Flanzraich

I did Tim Ferriss's slow-carb diet from The 4-Hour Bodyfor a while. Long story short, it involves eating low-calorie, high-protein, and beans (!) six days per week, with one all-out, no-holds-barred, "hide all the cereal!" cheat day. (To be fair, Tim never said you can eat whatever and however much you want—but I think that's the way most people took it. Or maybe just the way I did.)

It's a relatively clever "hack," in the sense you're at a caloric deficit for six days straight, and the net effect of an unhinged seventh day is likely still negative. Props to Tim.

What's Good Weekly © Provided by Greatist, Inc. What's Good Weekly On most Sundays (my cheat day), I would go cray and eat everything I wanted until I was sick to my stomach. I'd end the day feeling terrible and super bloated. That would wear off by Wednesday or Thursday, then I'd repeat the cycle again. It was silly. And I loved it. Most people who try the slow-carb diet lose weight and don't feel "deprived" because of the cheat day—and that leads to people sticking to it longer term. I did it for at least six months (a lifetime in diet world).

And I learned a lot: the importance of setting rules for myself about what I should eat and what I shouldn't most of the time. That certain foods (legumes, protein, fat) kept me fuller than others (carbs, sugar, Sour Patch Kids). That having a justification (really an excuse) for eating whatever you want one day and eating well the other days was empowering.

Looking back now, I realize how "unhealthy" that diet really was. I learned a lot on that front too: to reward "good" with "bad." About what it means to prioritize how I looked (at least Thursday through Saturday once the post-cheat-day inflammation died down) over how I felt (terrible). That lots of legumes + protein + fat will wreak havoc on your digestive tract (and your friends will hate you because, well, farts).

Eventually, I realized I was kidding myself about the crazy cheat day being "good" for me. Eventually, I realized I'd much rather participate in special occasions and celebrations with food (instead of hoarding those moments for myself) any day of the week. Eventually, I realized I was "hacking" my body instead of listening to it, learning from it, and deciding for myself what course to take.

This is on my mind because I'm returning from a trip to Disney World today (a longer story for another time). I love Disney. And when I go, I'm always striving for the right balance of saying, "yassssss, everything in my belly now," and, "let's be circumspect about what pleasantries I expose my palate to." It isn't easy. But I learned from the slow-carb diet that going cray isn't great—and neither is depriving yourself when the occasion calls for it.

(For what it's worth, over the past few days, I saw the lengths Disney has gone to recently to provide healthier options.)

I'm convinced when you go to Disney World, you should relax and eat as many Mickey's Premium ice cream bars as you want. But that's tied up in some psychological trickiness. I think "giving in" to splurging, then feeling guilty about what you've done is taxing. It affects the enjoyment you signed up for in the first place. The experience is tainted if you feel bad about it afterward.

So what should the plan be? You can keep things (including any potential splurge weekend) healthyish by being in control. Know what you're signing up for (eat healthier, maybe work out a little more before you go). Eat well to start the day (eggs for breakfast, not tons of Mickey-shaped waffles, OK?). Make an effort (don't eat a burger just because you're hungry and it's there). Follow through on returning to your normal (meaning not your "one-caramel-apple-a-day") routine. This isn't easy. It's hard.

I did an OK job this weekend. But I didn't worry about it too much and don't regret anything I ate (or didn't eat). And that matters most of all to me.

I believe you need to do what's good for you—and sometimes that means going a little off the rails at Disney. As long as you plan it that way, embrace it. Then get back on the rails (is this metaphor still working?) and take the first Walt Disney World Railroad train to healthy-town (OK, now it's over).

Here's my puppy of the week:
Puppy of the Week © Provided by Greatist, Inc. Puppy of the Week

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