Monday, February 17, 2014

Having a Cheat Day (The Wrong Way)

Since starting The Whole Life Challenge over five weeks ago, I’ve been feeling pretty freaking awesome: Happier and more energized, productive and comfortable in my own skin (and clothes!). But the past few days things took a nosedive. Not only have I been in a complete brain fog, I’ve been moody (okay, bitchy as hell—sorry, family!) and had a monster headache and upset stomach. I used to feel this way a lot and wasn’t sure why, but this time the reason is pretty obvious.

So, here it is: Over the weekend, the husband and I decided to use some of our copious Whole Life Challenge bonus points for a cheat day. We're both tied for first place, along with a couple other people on our team (or teams—I’m on two different ones), having had almost all perfect days since we started. So we figured, what the heck? Let’s go totally off program—at least the nutrition part of it—for a day. Fact is, a lot of experts say it’s a good idea to have a cheat day every now and then. However, there is a right way and wrong way to do a cheat day and unfortunately we went the latter route. I mean, the alcohol, the dairy, the gluten or the sugar might have been fine if we’d picked one or even two of them. But alas, I had all of the above, and in excess. I guess you could say I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. Clearly that needs to change.

Here’s the really sad part: I didn’t even enjoy most of it. We started mid-afternoon with French bread and brie, which tasted…fine. But it wasn’t like OMG! Yes! I have so missed this! In fact, believe it or not, after a few bites I could already feel a hint of a headache coming on. Did that stop me from indulging, though? Nope. I probably had the equivalent of at least 2 servings. Then, I poured myself a glass of wine. Then another. By dinner, I was on my third glass. At this point, I had pretty much blown through my 5 Whole Life Challenge nutrition points, the most you can lose for the day. So I just kept going!

For dinner, we had steak (compliant) and green beans (also compliant)—but we decided to throw in a baked potato with sour cream. It was delicious but honestly? Once again, I didn’t feel like I necessarily wanted, needed or had really been missing it. I would have been perfectly satisfied with the meat and veg. For dessert, I had a small serving of dark chocolate and some ice cream. Apparently I’m a dessert and wine girl because those are the things I really did enjoy. Why did I have the rest, and in such excessive amounts? Because they were there and this was my “cheat” day? Because I’d completely forgotten to work on being more mindful, especially when it comes to food? Because I have no self-control? All of the above?!

Look, I don’t want to beat myself up over the experience. I’m a firm believer in learning from my mistakes. So here’s what I’m taking from this whole cheat day, and how to handle subsequent ones a bit better:

Plan it wisely. In the future, I won’t go to the store without a plan and proceed to snap up every non-compliant food that looks or sounds good. Instead, I’ll select one or two things that I’m going to allow myself to have in moderation.
Limit yourself to the points available. As noted above, the husband and I decided that since we were going to lose all 5 nutrition points for the day, we could just keep going. Bad idea. If I’d taken off one point per serving of each indulgence and stopped at the five points I had available to blow, I would have had everything in moderation—and probably wouldn’t have been paying with a headache, digestive distress, moodiness and oh so much more. (Are you seeing a moderation theme here?)

See how you feel. When I shared the details of my cheat day with some of my Whole Life Challenge teammates, one of them said it reinforced how she’s been thinking about her choices lately—specifically, instead of saying, “If I can’t have X food, I feel deprived,” she’s now saying, “If I do have X food, I feel deprived of feeling good afterwards.” It may sound hokey but I have to say, I really did feel the repercussions of my unhealthy choices almost immediately, and yet I chose to ignore them. Every choice since has been an attempt to get myself feeling healthy again, and I do feel better with each and every one.

Fortunately, I think these lessons are going to stick. As we recover from our cheat day, the husband and I have both been talking about the fact that we really don’t want or need most of the garbage we used to mindlessly consume—and if there is something we want (and I mean really want) going forward, we’ll have it but in a very small dose. Incidentally, we did still do our exercise, stretching and meditative reading on our cheat day—it was just the diet that was an utter crap-fest! I guess that just goes to show that diet really is one of the biggest factors (if not the biggest factor) in our health, and how we feel.

How about you guys? How often do you have cheat days? Do you even call them cheat days? Do you plan them carefully or have any rules that help to prevent you from falling completely off course (or feeling like crap)?

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