How’s That Cheat Day Thing Working For You?

Way back at the end of 2012 when I hit my heaviest weight, I had stepped on the scale and got slapped with the max weight it would register, which was 300 lbs. I was shocked.  I know for certain I was OVER 300 lbs because as time moved forward and I know I had lost a fair amount the scale STILL registered 300 lbs.  By my estimate, I probably was about 330 lbs, but maybe is was JUST 315 lbs?  Who knows …

So… I took action. I didn’t go low carb or anything but I did what the typical human knows to do and that was to improve my eating and get my body moving.  More sensible meals, portions, etc. and get that bike out and get peddling!  For me, that was a huge shift in what I was doing.

Time went forward and I got in a groove and I was looking for something to improve upon what I was already doing.  Advocare and I found each other.  Super!  In addition to a 10-day body reset at the beginning, their approach followed up with a continuous 14-day cycle which gives you the tools needed to continue progressing.  It certainly works, if you allow it to.

After the initial 24 days, in which I was locked in like with any new shiny thing, I decided that to “keep on track” I was going to incorporate a “cheat day”.  My plan was to stay strict during the week, but on Sunday I’d do what I want.  That’s where my mind was, like many others.  Though at the beginning, when I first stepped on that poor scale, I was punched in the gut by the shock of the reality of how far out of shape I had allowed myself to get, I had yet to exercise the muscle of discipline to a point where I didn’t have to have one out of seven days be free from the responsibility of improving my health.  Going from ignoring it all to a sustainable, longer-term effort to change my ways was too big of a leap, apparently.

I started my cheat day strategy.  On the first of these cheat days, my mood was very bright.  It was glorious!  And since I had blown the day I indulged that evening as well.  Even better!  Then Monday morning I was prepared to face another week, knowing that next Sunday I could go nuts again! I would speak of this strategy with others, and it seems this concept of “cheat day” was not uncommon.  They agreed it was a great idea and they had done similar. It was DESERVED! We had DONE GOOD FOR SIX DAYS IN A ROW! How WONDERFUL!  Give ourselves a participation trophy just for not abusing ourselves the previous six days!

The thing is, for someone who had slowly allowed themselves to get to the point where they had to adjust and hold their breath to tie their shoes, doing well for six days and then becoming unglued on the seventh was a massive improvement.  It WAS wonderful.

But it wasn’t.

I found, after about a month, that it would take me until Wednesday, sometimes Thursday, to get back to where I was on Sunday morning. And this was a time where I had gotten back on my bike and was hitting it as hard as my body and current fitness would allow, which means calories were being burned for sure.

The results of having a whole day of cheating meant that I was actually only progressing, as far as body fat % was concerned, about three days out of the seven. The remaining days were either having that cheat day or recovering from the same. Once I figured that out I had a chat with myself.

During this conversation, I admitted to myself that the reason I was doing the cheat day was that I had succumbed to all the temptations that living in this fine nation presents to us.  We are a weak willed country when it comes to our health, and I’m right there with the majority.  I need to HTFU and get the job done.  This conversation went rather well, and I decided that having a cheat day wasn’t worth it.  What to do then?  How would I give myself a mental reset so that I didn’t snap in the middle of the night and break into Jim’s Donut Shop and dump enough cherry filling over my head to look like Carrie standing on the stage after being crowned Prom Queen?  Hmm…. cheat day is a terrible idea but how can I …. wait … how about just a cheat MEAL?  HAHA!  Yes!  I am a GENIUS!

Cheat meal it was.  But… and you know this is coming…. that just meant that it took me less time to get back to zero, which means it takes longer to get to where you need to be, which means increased frustration, and … And what it really means is that it isn’t sustainable.  How many people do you know that are in the boat we (you, I) are in and have sustained a “cheat day/meal” approach for healthy living?  This assumes that the “cheat day/meal” is what I was doing, which means “Revert to being a damn pig for a while.”  While enjoyable (oh yes) for the timeframe you are shoving that half pan of lasagna in your face, it quickly leads to longer-term failure.

So what to do?  As someone who has struggled with their weight since parenthood stated in my mid-20’s, I THINK I’ve found my happy place with all this.  I believe that a person has to be strong enough to fail, get back up, fail again, get back up and repeat that cycle until they are convinced that what they are doing isn’t working.  I/we can be TOLD it doesn’t work, and I/we can CLEARLY see that it doesn’t work, but we are weak creatures.  We want that food!  We miss over-eating!  We actually MISS eating as an enjoyable activity.  In my happy place, I’ve found that what I have do is redefine what a cheat meal is.

First thing, it’s not a “cheat meal.”  It’s a meal that I’m deciding to have because of whatever reason.  Maybe call it “off plan.”  It could be that I’ve been cranking along for three weeks and I’d like to enjoy some pizza and a few beers with the wife while watching a football game.  It could be my birthday, or a camping outing, or whatever the whatever is.  The key here is two-fold… first, it’s not a cheat meal.  If it’s a cheat meal then it means it’s not what I want to do and I’ve broken down mentally and I need an artificial reset to continue forward.  Second, it can’t be to often.  If my occasional off-plan meal is about every three weeks or month and then it becomes every two weeks and then once a week and then what the hell I’ve blown it so let’s go out to Chinese again and before you know it my scale has sent itself to an orphanage to avoid the abuse.

So, that’s it.  That’s how I’m approaching things now.  I’m changing how I view an off-plan meal and the frequency that I do it.  In January of 2017 when I knew I was going to be able to exercise again I planned my off-plan eatings.  Knee surgery weekend I allowed myself some small indiscretions, but not permission to go crazy.  A camping outing went very well, but I ate some Dutch Oven ribs with a bit of sauce on them.  A family tubing outing and did work over a pizza and have two fine beverages.  At the end of February, I have another camping outing, and I’ll have a few more beverages sitting around the fire.  And the end of March we are going with my daughter to play High School Fastpitch in Florida during Spring Break.  That sounds like a fair list of “cheats” but it’s fairly spread out and otherwise, things are going well using this approach.

What do you think?  Sustainable?  A better way of looking at things?

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