I eat pretty well and take pretty good care of myself. But it's taken quite a while to get here - before 2006, I had a pretty standard American diet. Lots of pizza, junk food, fast food, liquor, soda, sweets, etc. I smoked cigarettes, cigars, sheesha, and other kinds of tobacco.
Since then I've refined my diet and I eat pretty well. I have more energy, feel better, look better, and God willing, I'll live a lot longer as a result. It's a gradual process though, and I'm still improving. There's a few things I use to do it:
First, I'm all about incremental improvement - I think trying to crash change your diet is unlikely to work unless you have immense amounts of willpower and self-discipline. If you do have these Herculean amounts of will and discipline, you know who you are and don't need my advice. If you're more mortal, then you'll want to pick one or two things to be refining in your diet at a time.
Second, there's two ways I quit food or habits I don't like - "hard quitting" (cold turkey) and "soft quitting" (gradually reduce my consumption and eventually eliminate it). I pick which of these routes to go based on how convenient it is to quit something outright and if there's any detox process. If there's detox (like there was with nicotine), I think it's better to just get it over with once instead of constantly feeling deprived as your body re-adjusts to its new biochemical levels. The most successful method for quitting smoking is cold turkey, isn't it? Something like 80% of successful attempts to quit smoking are cold turkey? I don't have the statistics onhand, but that's the general idea. Quitting something like sugar, bad oils, or excess salt might be easier to do incrementally, since you need to replace the consumption with something else.
Which brings us to third point - I actively introduce new good behaviors before and during the time I quit something. Now, I don't know if the following is a good strategy, but it's what I did - when I started cutting down the sweets I ate, I increased my consumption of the kinds of salty foods I already ate: Chips, french fries, nuts, etc. Later I cut the salt content back. I don't know if that's a good habit, but it's worked okay for me. I also try to actively introduce fruits and vegetables before I quit something - it's hard to go from no fiber food that's highly processed to stimulate you immediately to fruits and vegetables. Fruit tastes bland compared to ice cream. So I introduce fruits and vegetables first, get comfortable with them, then increase my consumption of them as I decrease or eliminate bad consumption.
On Imported Blog
Today we dive into my favorite day of the week; cheat day. What is a cheat? Well, it is in essence a free for all, a day in which no food, dessert or drink is off limits. Yup, you heard correctly, only one rule applies to cheat day- eat whatever you want. Now this may sound extreme, crazy and even contradictory. I’ll admit, most people have a hard time accepting I’m super-healthy, predominately follow a "Paleo" diet and avoid processed foods when they see me take down a 4x4, fries and shake from In and Out. Then watch me drink fifteen beers later that night, with a stop at the sushi bar in between and the pizza parlor after. I not only love cheat day, I look forward to it! The main motivators behind my cheat days are due to "Pareto’s 80/20 rule" and "Slow-carb dieting."When we look at Pareto’s rule, we begin to see that 80% of our outcomes come from 20% of the things we do. This also applies to work productivity, business revenue and even happiness. The point being; if we eat well, live well and feel well 80% of the time, we can be a whole lot easier on ourselves in regards to the remaining 20%. For me, it’s pizza, burgers and beer- that’s what gets me going. Every time I get a craving during the week for one of these temptations, I know that if I want it, I only need to wait until Saturday (that’s when I have my cheat days). Now this doesn’t mean that I take down multiple burgers and pizza every Saturday, or never have a drink or step out for tacos during the week. It does mean however that for 80% of my focus on health, I follow this plan. It is important to remember that in regards to food, wellness and habits that we are social creatures and that our lives revolve around eating and socializing; no one likes the guy who brings his own food to the party because he’s on a “diet” (or the girl I was seeing who brought food in tupperware to a date and watched me eat a burrito). Please don’t be this guy/girl and if you are, hopefully you’re still reading. Following a diet plan which includes a cheat day has multiple benefits; some physical, some emotional and some social. I have personally been implementing cheat days into my diet for over two years and hover around 10% body fat (the lowest I’ve been in my life at age 30).
When we follow a clean diet, one that keeps processed foods out and lean proteins, veggies and healthy fats in, our bodies start to respond. They usually respond by burning fat stores, increasing energy levels and running better in general. The benefits received from following a clean, natural diet are more substantial than any exercise program will ever give you. If you’ve never heard the saying “six-packs are made in the kitchen” believe it, it’s the absolute truth. As one begins to eliminate excess calories from the body, a shift begins to happen in where the body adjusts and decreases its metabolic rate. There is less of a need to be constantly burning up energy since less calories (or at least cleaner calories) are being introduced to the system. Overtime, as the body adjusts, one may start to gain weight even though they are on a restricted calorie diet. Here’s where the brilliance of a cheat day comes into play. When Saturday (or whatever day you choose) comes along, your body will be slammed with extra calories; calories it is no longer used to consuming. As a result (providing you have a healthy thyroid function) your body will respond by sending in reserves to digest all of the extra calories it’s taking on. Not only are the weight gaining effects of increased caloric consumption negated, your body receives a much needed increase in its metabolic rate. This usually results in decreased body weight 1-2 days later and a rebalancing of thyroid hormones and insulin-growth factor. Another key concept to understand is that after heavy weight lifting there’s no better time to cheat. That’s right, another caveat of cheating is this; if you go to the gym, slam some weights then eat a burrito from Chipotle, your system is ready to digest and process the extra proteins, fats and carbohydrates it needs to rebuild its muscles. This phenomenon is know as “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption”, during which your body increases its metabolism to return itself to its resting state, which can last for up to 48 hours. The point here is simple; if you’re looking to gain some serious muscle while staying lean, or can’t make it until Saturday to have a cheat meal, hit the gym, get under the barbell then go pig out. It’s not the occasional cheat meal that will give you heart disease or the once a week donut that leads to diabetes, it’s your habits that determine this, which I describe in my previous article "Exercise your will power."
Cheat days not only fire up your metabolism when you’ve decreased your general caloric intake, but they also have the power to keep you focused on your diet and make eating healthfully easier. The emotional benefits of cheat days may be one of the best caveats, as eating well all the time isn’t easy. Let’s be honest, sometimes following a strict diet is the last thing we ever want to do. The emotional weight and sense of deprivation that can accompany clean eating is real and is why many people fail to stay on track with their health goals. Sometimes, just knowing a cheat day is coming is all you need to stay on track. I on occasion make a little mental note to myself about a specific food I crave, and make sure I eat it on Saturday. This way I’m not depriving myself, I’m actually increasing my will power to make sure I earn the specific treat later in the week. Once Saturday comes and I know I’ve earned that double-cheeseburger it tastes even better. It tastes better because I worked for it, it tastes better because I fought off my desires to break my health habits and comes guilt-free because it is a reward for a week of exercise and strong eating habits. The key here is to create healthy habits, to be aware of your food triggers and really earn your cheat day. If you do not put in the work necessary to be healthy by eating clean and exercising daily then you will not have earned your cheat. Only you can be the judge of weather or not you’ve earned your cheat day or if you’re simply cheating yourself.
The final benefit of incorporating a cheat day or at least cheat meals into your healthy lifestyle is social. Again, eating healthy isn’t easy, and can be nearly impossible once you throw social dynamics into the mix. Between holidays, parties, dates and “Taco Tuesday” who has time to eat well all the time? There’s always something to do, there’s always an excuse. Here’s where you can actually plan your cheat days to fit in socially. So if Thanksgiving is coming up in five days, start limiting your caloric intake by removing grains from your diet, make sure you hit the gym a few times and really plan that cheat day. This way, once the big day comes you’re free and clear to eat whatever your heart desires. People may even ask you how the heck you stay so fit and are able to slam down so many plates of turkey. Ever start dating a possible mate and have to tell them at dinner you’re on a diet or don’t eat grains so you can’t go out for pizza? Talk about an immediate red-flag! If you forget to follow the 80/20 rule and are so uptight about your health and eating habits and can’t occasionally lighten up, you’re missing the point. More importantly what does that say to a new love interest? Again, make sure to plan for these meals or at least negate the effects of them by eating clean and exercising prior to indulging. Doing so will make you more flexible, a funner and more engaged guest or date and reduce the stress of having some extra calories. There is a great line in the book The Peaceful Warrior, when the master tells his student Dan “I’ve suggested you become a vegetarian, not a vegetable!” His point, is simple; be in this world, be alive, enjoy yourself!