Time to get serious about not being so serious

June 2, 2016

You wake up motivated, focused, determined. You’re a rock. There is nothing of this world, or any other for that matter, that could possibly dissuade you from conquering your goals today. Then life beats you in the face, Ronda Rousey style, and you’re down on the proverbial mat, lying in the fetal position. Where do you go from here? You find a way to work out, even though you’ve been presented with an obstacle…right?! You resist the pizza and bottle of wine, even though they beckon to you like a comforting Snuggie…right?! Those are certainly the tough decisions that we’re told we should be making when we’re trying to stay on track. Most of the time, I agree. Your healthy lifestyle would be completely out of whack if you weren’t making the tough decisions most of the time. But, whether we’re being influenced by outside forces or by our own inner demons, we often feel like we should be making the tough decisions all of the time. While I admire the inner fortitude of those rock solid fitness fiends that manage to accomplish this, I completely reject the thought that it’s a good idea. Let’s take a moment to examine the benefits of occasionally giving in.

So, while trying desperately to lose that last 5 lbs, you freak out and down a 10 pack of tacos from Taco Bell. You’ve blown the whole thing…or maybe not. Research has shown that the occasional spike in caloric intake while on a calorie restrictive diet can actually be helpful in a several different ways. Here are a couple.

Overcoming Plateaus

When you’re doing the same thing over and over again, the body will adapt and plateau. Most people have some awareness of that relative to their fitness programs. But, very few consider it while dieting. The extra calories that you just took in are going to force your metabolism to ramp up, so that it can do something with the extra food. In turn, your body is out of its routine and has to reset. That just might be enough to get move you off the blocks if you’ve been dieting long term and you haven’t seen positive results in a while.

Making Good Use of Carbohydrates

You’re going to look like the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man if you eat carbs. At least, that’s what we’re made to feel like these days. With so many of today’s popular diets restricting your carb intake, it’s important to know that occasionally consuming a big helping of carbs can be beneficial.

Consuming carbohydrates can boost serotonin levels, which can produce a couple of important effects: 1) Serotonin has a calming effect, 2) “Serotonin is nature’s own appetite suppressant.” Judith J. Wurtman, Ph.D. Considering that we often crave carbohydrates when we’re stressed out, calming down and feeling satiated doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

The word glycogen gets thrown around a lot when discussing nutrition. What’s that all about? Glycogen stores carbohydrates in the liver and in muscle cells. These glycogen stores get depleted during high intensity exercise; exercise intensity will typically diminish as glycogen depletion occurs. If you consume a big helping of carbs once a week, you replenish your glycogen stores and give your body the opportunity to keep working efficiently during those difficult training sessions.

How To Become A Good Cheater

Traditionally, we designate a day to have a cheat meal each week. For some people, that works. There is definitely some incentive to stay focused throughout the week if you know that you’re going to get to pig out on something over the weekend. If that works for you, awesome. Schedule yourself a cheat meal and let ‘er rip.

What happens if you get to Friday night, cheat meal scheduled, and you don’t really have a craving for anything? You actually feel just fine eating something clean and sensible. Is there anything wrong with waiting until you have a massive craving for something before you cheat? No. In fact, I would argue that it makes complete sense. It’s ok to let your body tell you when it’s time. However, if you find yourself going two weeks without a cheat meal and then binging for 3 days, that’s not the approach for you. There is no one size fits all approach to this stuff. You’re unique and your approach to health and fitness should be as well.

I had a recent discussion with a nutritionist over how to recover after you’ve blown up your diet. Her response to me, “So, you ate some food…who the hell cares?”. Um, really? I sat in awe as she continued, “In fact, I hate the idea of a planned cheat meal and I refuse to associate the word cheat with food at all.” There’s a revolutionary concept! For those of you that are simply wanting to maintain your current body composition and live a healthy life, PLEASE ATTEMPT TO IMPLEMENT THIS LINE OF THINKING IMMEDIATELY! Although being structured and disciplined is great, you might just find this approach incredibly liberating. Use your body as a guinea pig. Eat healthy most of the time, take a few liberties, train hard and see how you feel. If you don’t like the outcome, no big deal. Start over and do things differently. If you do like the outcome, you’ve taken a giant step towards becoming a much happier individual.

As I’m finishing this post, my wife says to my 4 year old daughter, “Shh, Daddy’s trying to think…”. To which she whispered softly, “What is Daddy thinking about??”. Pizza and wine, child. Pizza and wine.