In an ideal world we should all be making healthy dietary choices 24/7, but the reality is that a large group of individuals have a very complex relationship with food and don’t find it as simple to make these decisions.
I’ve had a number of my clients tell me that one of the main reasons that prevents them from following a nutrition plan is the idea of feeling restricted and having to give up foods that they loved or were accustomed to. I faced the same difficulty when I was trying to convince my family to make these dietary changes. Somehow the reasoning that made so much sense to me wasn’t reason enough for them to switch to a healthier diet!
That’s when I decided to consider a different approach; which was to get them to eat clean 5 days a week and then allow a more lenient diet over the weekend. This meant that during the week all refined & processed carbs, sugar, jams, juices, biscuits, pickle, fried food & alcohol (except red wine) were off limits. And over the weekend you could indulge a little.
As simple as it may seem, this approach was successful in reducing all the unhealthy regulars in our diet and surprisingly enough the binging over the weekend automatically reduced over time. Initially you might think that you’d want to binge on everything you avoided during the week, (and this might happen at first) but with time you will automatically stop needing these foods as much. The reason being that processed foods and sugar in particular are highly addictive, which means that the more of it you eat the more you will crave and vice versa. Another consequence of clean eating is that your body will respond differently to your binge worthy favourites ; a ‘triple chocolate ice-cream’ might suddenly be too sweet for you to handle, and hence you don’t end up eating as much as you normally would (perhaps an entire tub?)
It might be easy to point out the flaws of an approach like this, but essentially what I was trying to do was to bring about behavioural change at a comfortable pace. Some individuals require small changes to feel comfortable enough to begin and once they start experiencing the benefits (and realise that it’s not too tough) they are inclined to continue of their own accord. Ideally the next step would be to find healthier alternatives for the foods that you find difficult to give up and progress to more advanced nutritional strategies.
Having said this, I think it’s important to stop being so hard on ourselves and to accept that indulging in certain foods from time to time is not such a bad thing! This is also why I avoid calling it a ‘cheat day or cheat meal’ because it is associated with negativity and tends to make you feel like you are doing something wrong. Like I mentioned in my previous post, as human beings we are naturally drawn towards energy dense foods and hence it’s only natural that we crave them.
The aim should be to reach a stage where you are comfortable & happy with making healthy choices on a regular basis, and allow yourself to indulge (in moderation of course) knowing that you can simply get back to eating healthy at the next opportunity. Give this strategy a try to get yourself going but don’t be limited by it, push yourself to make healthy eating a lifestyle choice!
Be mindful of what you are eating and enjoy the experience.