Nutrition

Cheat Days: Food Freedom or Binge Eating?

What is a “cheat day” in the health, fitness and nutrition realm?

Cheat Day: a day you take off during the week to consume the types of calories that you’ve been avoiding through the rest of your healthy diet. This will typically occur on a weekend as a reward for staying on point Monday through Friday. What’s the purpose? To enjoy a mostly regimented diet and fitness routine, then eat anything your heart desires on a scheduled day.

This approach is meant to provide balance and allow you the enjoyment of life’s hedonistic pleasures while still maintaining a predominantly healthy nutrition program. I’ve never been the biggest fan of cheat days, but Dr. Josh Axe, a doctor of chiropractic, a certified doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist has definitely made me see things a little differently. Below are some points in favor of and against cheat days – the most important point being that everyone is different and each person’s diet will have to reflect their own relationship with food.

In the article and video found on his website www.draxe.com he, along with writer Kissairis Munoz, shed light on the science and statistical data behind cheat days as we know them.

First of all, pros Dr. Axe provides behind cheat days:

  • Helps in sticking to goals in the long-term
  • Boosts metabolism, avoiding plateau from the same consistent diet
  • Satisfies cravings, to allow for better choices at a given time during the week

Secondly, the cons provided by Dr. Axe’s team:

  • Gorging or overeating because it’s allowed
  • Making food an enemy and developing an unhealthy relationship
  • We’re allowing ourselves a cheat day when we aren’t really that healthy otherwise

One of the problems associated with cheat days from my perspective is viewing our standard, normal diet (the one eaten throughout the week) in a place of lack. A lot of people who have been restricting themselves too heavily only over-consume when they allow this cheating mentality into one day or meal. [It’s like allowing for a Thanksgiving meal every week.] It brings to focus to those things that can’t be eaten more than celebrating all those wonderful foods we can enjoy on a healthful diet. It further puts food into two categories: good versus bad.

By having days in which we’re committing adultery and “cheating” on our typical diets automatically labels foods we feel good about eating and foods we instinctively feel bad about eating. Dr. Axe and company suggest thinking of these as “treat” or “vacation” meals or days by contrast. Even still, by dividing foods up into this camp we’re signaling to our bodies that this green food is healthful, nutritious, and going to, therefore, be well-received; and that cake, cookies, french toast or milkshakes are bad. However, we’re eating them anyway and subconsciously feeding our bodies negative information about the food it’s about to consume.

What can that mean for the body?!

When we experience a sense of guilt or stress with our food, we physiologically experience a heightened nervous system, releasing stress hormones that encourage a desire for unhealthy foods. This can lead to overeating or binging on cheat day items. Ask yourself: do I tend to overconsume calories of certain types of foods during a cheat meal or over the entire cheat day that I shouldn’t?

We tend to binge on items we’ve been purposefully keeping out of our diets, because psychologically that item is prohibited, off limits or taboo. Dr. Axe warns against allowing yourself to binge eat on cheat days and rather enjoy the whole foods-based items that are homemade or responsibly sourced. However, not many people are following those high standards. He relates that this type of dieting is seen used by professional athletes, bodybuilders or models, all those strictly concerned with their bodies for performance or aesthetics above and beyond healthy lifestyle choices for most people. The dialogue we have with our bodies about food is the basis of those relationships and can be just as important as the actual nutritional value of the food being consumed.

A significant concern I have with Cheat Days is the idea of punishment that goes along with them. Based on what took place during your cheat day, what I see happening frequently in language and by fitness professionals is punishing oneself following the day off. That may mean a really grueling workout or restricting calories to “make up” for the delicious food you’ve enjoyed, signaling again that you are bad, your body is bad and it must pay as you exact revenge on it. Dr. Axe also warns against making food the enemy, which this idea of punishment seems to be when we must rectify our wrongs through exercise.

All in all, cheat days are not for everyone. Studies show that they may be positive for some in reaching long-term goals and weight loss overall. However, keep in mind each of us is different and determine why you are motivated to incorporate a cheat day. Read the full article by Dr. Axe’s Team and watch the video for more insight.

Body Love

28 Years Old & I Just Learned to Chew

This year, I turned 28 years of age and just learned how to chew my food.
What?!
Well… let me explain. Do you ever sit down to a meal and wolf the entire thing down in the hole you call your mouth? And then… take a few moments to wonder – where did all that food just go, oh well, what’s next on the agenda?
Only recently did I start taking the time to chew my food. Now, this may not seem like a novel concept to you. However, to me it’s been nothing short of life-changing. What it has done bleeds perspective into the rest of my world. Let me reflect… Being able to take the time, sit down to a full meal and focus solely on my food has brought out an interesting gamut of changes in my life and in my health. Not only has my meal time extended, but the nourishment I feel following is a complete shift.
This may seem like a really easy concept to most people and maybe you’re already doing it – but for me, I never really got to that point of adulthood. I’ve always been health-oriented and always loved food. Even really thought I enjoyed eating food, but for some reason I had this pressing sense of urgency. I always joked that I died of starvation in a previous life because of this need to consume my food quickly. It was like I couldn’t eat fast enough, and I just wanted to get everything down as quickly as possible – like it was a race. Doing so, I never really got to thoroughly appreciate my food. Now when I eat, food has become a sacred practice and eating is a cherished time I take for myself. It’s a time that I value sharing with family and friends.
In the name of science, chewing or mastication, is the first step in the digestive process. Enzymes are released in your saliva that begin breaking down food particles for digestion. Some important reasons your food should be broken down before swallowing are to avoid bacterial overgrowth in the gut, to assist in speed of food movement through your system, and to signal to your body that it’s time to digest. Simply by chewing, we send neurological messages to our organs that food is on the way and exclaim “hey – get ready!!!”
Here are some of the perks I’ve discovered from taking time to chew:
  • Feeling fuller faster: As you chew, your body begins to register you’re consuming food. As you may have heard, it takes longer for your stomach to signal that you’ve had enough to eat. Chewing more diligently, I’ve noticed a spike in my satiety quicker during the meal. Previously, I’ve felt like I can’t get enough food even when consuming around 2500 cal a day diet, I wasn’t feeling satisfied. Being able to chew each and every bite has given me a sense of fullness and satisfaction that I didn’t have before.
  • Not eating as much: Even though my calorie count is still high throughout the day, I’m now in a place where I can reduce the size of the meals. Without being distracted, I am consciously aware of how much I consume and able to have appropriate portion sizes dialed in.
  • Established sense of calm: Being able to chew each bite fully before moving onto the next has given me a new sense of appreciation for time, mental wellness and for my ability to find a sense of calm or peace in everything that I do. I feel this task has radiated into the rest of my life and has enabled me to take each moment with that same calm, that same appreciation and amount of time. No rush, no sense of urgency – simple enjoyment.
  • Improved digestion: From a health perspective, I’ve noticed my digestion has become more smooth. Allowing your body to prepare fully for the food that is to come, it signals all of the chemical responses and physiological functions that need to take place, getting primed for action.
  • More energy throughout the day: Masticating is the first form of digestion in your system. The better you masticate the better your body is at using less energy when digesting and processing your food. One of the major uses of energy is zapped by digestion, taking up 6-11% of your calories available for burning. Freeing up this energy allows your cells to direct power toward other things, such as repairing the body, healthy hormone function and building muscle tissue. What could you do with more energy throughout your day? Keep moving through that afternoon slump? Maintain sharp attention and focus all day? Lift your spirits up in the afternoon?
  • Reduces overeating: As I’ve been able to slow this process down, I don’t end up bloated, too full and having stuffed myself to the brim. Now, I just don’t have the chance. Your body becomes more aware of the food you’re taking in and will signal to put down that fork sooner than you would have previously. As you tap into how your body is responding to food and not just – oh, all that dessert looks delicious nom nom nom – you have the control to decide when you stop as opposed to mindlessly continuing to eat.
So I don’t know about you, and maybe you are 28 and have been chewing your food like your mother told you to your whole life. I commend you, because it’s not that easy. Most of the time we consume our meals on the go – at a restaurant where we’re on a timeframe or the restaurant is pushing us through a rushed meal. You’re eating at your desk, while you’re watching television and when you’re on your phone. Whatever the case may be, we do not take the time with our food that we should.
How to take more time out to chew:
  1. Prepare your meal if possible. The interaction you have with your food will start to prepare you for its full enjoyment. Being a part of the process, knowing where your ingredients are coming from and creating the meal as if it’s a sacred practice will bring you closer to your food, insisting you slow down.
  2. Sit in a comfortable, peaceful location. When I eat now, I dedicate the time to sit in a supportive way and in a peaceful location. Ideally this takes me outside, but if you don’t have that access then find a quiet spot away from your desk or work space. Some place that gives you time for your food only.
  3. Get rid of screens or distractions. Don’t have a phone nearby, and focus on each and every bite as you take it. Set your work down and even set your book down. Allow yourself the chance to savor the flavor, the nutrition provided and take your time enjoying each bite with focus.
  4. View your food as nourishment, not as a commodity. The viewpoint you bring to the table will quite literally change how your food is assimilated in your body and your experience. If you consider your meal to be just another “to do” on the list today, or something you scarf down for simple sustenance, you’re selling yourself short. Your body is primed for the correct digestion and accomodation of the nutrients it needs to thrive if you just let it do its natural thing. When you mentally don’t take the time to register the food you’re ingesting, your body won’t either.
To chew or not to chew? That is the proverbial question. Chew. As much as you can. As slowly as you can. With as much focus and dedication you apply to transitions in your yoga practice. Chew for digestion, chew for mental clarity, and chew for longevity of the body. You will not regret it.
xo Michelle Pualani

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