The word “cheat” has become a buzz word in the fitness industry. It defines the way we view a particular meal, snack or food item. When you think of a cheat food, what comes to mind? Ice cream? Pizza? Chocolate? Anything with a bar code? If you can relate to any of these (or if your cheat meal consists of a bottle of wine), it’s time to reconsider your approach. This doesn’t mean eliminating your favorite foods (insert sigh of relief here) or eating an entire bag of chips every Saturday after your outdoor boot camp.
My version of healthy eating is very similar to intuitive eating. I do not count calories, I do not “count macros.” Counting macros is very common among people who practice “If It Fits Your Macros,” IIFYM. The three macros (macronutrients) are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Spend any time on searching #IIFYM on Instagram, and you will likely see photos of Pop Tarts, pizza, donuts and other indulgent foods. The IIFYM approach allows you to eat whatever food you want, as long as you hit your goal grams of carbs, proteins and fats. It’s quite the opposite of clean eating, which, depending on your definition of it, generally encourages whole foods, real foods, unprocessed foods and foods with little to no added sugars.
The following suggestions are based on my experiences and represent my approach to healthy eating. They are meant to provoke an alternative way of thinking, while encouraging moderation and finding the method that works best for YOU.
- Eat when you’re hungry. A lot of times we find ourselves eating breakfast because “we’re supposed to.” Or, if we know we won’t eat for a while, our lunch is bigger because “who knows when I’ll be able to eat next.” At any given moment, I have a Quest Bar in my glove compartment or a packet of protein in my purse. On a hunger scale of 1-10, 10 being stuffed and 1 being weak and light-headed, you should try to begin eating at 3 or 4 and end at 5 or 6.
- Pay attention to portion sizes. Just because a food is considered healthy doesn’t mean you should eat as much of it as you want. Practice mindfulness and, even if you’re a volume eater like I am, avoid eating past the point of comfort. Recently, I began adding more spinach to my dinner. A bowl of pasta is much more satisfying along with a lot of greens that are nutrient dense and low in calories.
- Consider the nutritional content of what you’re eating. Candy, alcohol, cake, potato chips. These foods have “empty” calories, meaning there’s little to no nutritional value in them. Consumer them in moderation and only on occasion. Some of my favorite treats include dark chocolate, red wine, and nuts (the healthy fats help with satiety).
- Shift your perception. What if I told you that your perception of what you’re eating affects how your body metabolizes that food? According to Marc David, “Any guilt about food, shame about the body, or judgment about health are considered stressors by the brain and are immediately transduced into their electrochemical equivalents in the body.” Shocking, right?
- The “treat meal.” So that Saturday ritual of eating a burger and fries, following by a brownie has to end, right? Not necessarily. If you’re restricting calories to lose weight, your body thinks it’s being starved and may elicit a survival response. One of the side effects includes a decrease of the hormone, leptin. Leptin’s primary function is to regulate hunger, food intake and energy output. The increased calories consumed during a treat meal is more technically known as a re-feed. As part of a reduced calorie diet, the additional carbohydrates from a weekly re-feed will help restore your leptin levels and boost your metabolism.
For more of my favorite food recommendations, check out the Fuel Your Fitness Grocery List here (there’s also a discount code for 15% off at Vitamin Shoppe at the bottom of it!). How do you incorporate your favorite treats into your life? Comment below; I’d love to hear from you!