The difference between a healthy lifestyle and a diet is sustainability. ‘Diets’ in the trendy catchphrase sense is a sort term thing you try and stick to in order to achieve a desired outcome. Once that outcome is achieved, or you grow tired of the diet, you go off a diet. This is why I encourage healthy lifestyles, where you eat as healthy as yyou can, as often as you can.
Many people take that advice to mean ‘eat healthy normal meals during the week and any other average day but then you’re free to go as far off the ‘healthy’ reservation as you like on weekends or holidays’. They think by doing this they are following the 80/20 rule of eating great 80% of the time and being able to eat freely 20% of the time. In reality thats not what is actually happening. This is NOT what I mean by eat as healthy as you can as often as you can!
Of course, I’m not advising that you never stray from healthy, but lets be real. It’s almost always someones birthday, a holiday, a special occasion, or a weekend. You know how it is. Have you ever made it through a week at work without some sort of danish, cake or other nutritionally devoid temptress showing up in the break room? It seems to always be time to celebrate and treat yourself ‘just this once’.
Lets look at weekends. Lots of folks eat great all week and then allow themselves the freedom to eat and drink as they like all weekend, because it’s 2 days of unhealthy up against 5 days of healthy. You should come out okay, right? I used to believe this too, and although 5 days of eating great are better than 7 of straight junk food I quickly realized I wasn’t really getting lean or fit like I wanted. In fact, my weight was just gradually climbing (maybe a pound every few months). At the end of year this could easily add up to 5-10 lbs. But why?
Well, lets use this month as an example. In September 2013 there were 9 weekend days and 21 weekdays. So assuming you eat great Monday through Friday and have a free for all Saturday and Sunday this means that roughly 66% of the time you are eating well but a whopping 33% isn’t healthy. Since weekends fly by so quickly is easy to forget that they actually make up a large part of our month. Also keep in mind that for many of us, including me, the weekend starts on Friday. Lunch out with coworker, happy hour, fried foods, dinner out…whatever the case, Fridays usually become a mini celebration to announce the weekends arrival. Assuming you lump Fridays in with the weekend we are talking about 17 ‘weekdays’ of healthy eating and 13 ‘weekends’ of letting loose.
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Now we think were following the 80/20 rule but its really more like the 50/50 rule…Errrr, you begin to seee the problem. We have almost cheated oursleves into eating great only about 50 % of the time. I’m sure once you factor in those coworker birthdays, anniversary dinners and monthly holidays it really is about 50/50. No wonder it’s hard to see results if your trying to improve your wieght or fitness!
It might also be worth mentioning that losing weight and building muscle requires proper nutrition (no suprise there). You may have heard to lose a pound of fat you must create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. (Although it is not just a simple as calories in vs. calories out since all foods are not equally as nutritious but thats a subject for whole other post) The same is also true to gain a pound of fat. It is relatively easy to make an effort to eat better. If you eat clean food instead of processed junk you are likely cutting the target 500 calories from your diet a day automatically. So from Monday through Thursday you have created a deficit of 2,000 so far this week and you are well on your way to losing a pound! Good for you! But Friday rolls around and you go out with friends for drinks and dinner and easily consume an extra 2,000-3,000 calories. Your Friday night outing just offset your weeks worth of progress so far. Depending on what you consume or how many MORE times you go out the rest of the weekend, you are likely back to a calorie surplus and on your way to gaining a pound this week. So sad after all that hard work during the beginning of the week. If this is you (like it was me) then stop the micro-yoyoing right now. Eat great all the time! Going out for dinner? Fine! But make smart choices, and don’t abandon your hard work!
This is why I don’t like diets. Your either on them or off them and that isn’t realistic. Even with the 80/20 rule people end up justifying eating as terrible as they want because its the weekend or whatever fill in the blank even comes along. Thats why I say eat as well as you can as often as you can, but do not take any reason as an excuse to have cheese fries because there are far too many opportunities to eat yourself out of your progress.
Its better to find ways to enjoy holidays and celebrations in a healthier way. For Labor day this year we decided to have a cookout like so many Americans love to do on this day. We fired up the grill and filled it with a feast of grilled portobellos, bell peppers, hatch chilis, onions, roasted corn (my favorite!), smoked tempeh and tasty meatless brats. It was all delicious, consistent with what we wanted to do for the holiday, and also consistent with our health lifestyle. It felt like a feast and it was! But it was made up of all kinds of good-for-us eats.
In the blender I whipped up a mixture of unsweetened cranberry apple juice and fresh strawberries. I added some vodka to make a tasty adult beverage. It was so yummy! Like spiked strawberry lemonade. I also made sure not to skip my workout just because it was a holiday. Keeping on track made for a truly happy holiday! Keep this in mind and try and find ways to create healthy ways to celebrate the endless stream of life’s celebrations! A year from now your waistline will thank you!