Oh the cheat day! Back when I was doing such things (before Intuitive Eating), I used to dream about my cheat days. I’d plan out well in advance what restaurants I wanted to hit, what candy I wanted to inhale and, always, what little amount of time I had to do it in. Ostensibly the idea of a cheat day is supposed to be freeing – all the “bad” food you’d been avoiding for six days you could enjoy guilt-free on the seventh. It never worked for me. First, nothing is ever guilt-free for me and ending my cheat day or cheat meal feeling bloated, over full and yet still oddly deprived often sent me into a shame spiral. Second, it was really hard getting back on the wagon after a day of deli-fueled debauchery. I’d always end up the next day huddled over the tub of ice cream swearing I was only going to “finish up this last tub.” Either that or I’d go back to clean eating but jones for sweets for days afterward.
According to research, however, I’m not the willpower-less freak I’d always assumed I was! Scientists have discovered that not only can bad eating derail you in the moment but it also sets up a chemical chain reaction in your brain that blocks the hormones that signal satiety for up to three days, giving new meaning to a “weekend bender.”
Dr. Clegg, the lead researcher says:
“What we’ve shown in this study is that someone’s entire brain chemistry can change in a very short period of time. Our findings suggest that when you eat something high in fat, your brain gets ‘hit’ with the fatty acids, and you become resistant to insulin and leptin.” She adds, “Since you’re not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat.”
While I find this news depressing, I am actually relieved that someone scientific (and by scientific I mean not just wearing a lab coat in a Hydroxy ad) found this connection because this is the number one reason why I have always had an uneasy relationship with the “cheat day” concept. (I love it when research validates me!) After spending six days clearing the crap out of my system I was basically undoing all my hard work by throwing my hormone levels out of whack for three days. I had a sugar hangover. By the time I finally felt good again, it was time to start the cycle all over! This was especially apparent when I tried out the “Every Other Day Diet” to disastrous results.
So what’s a healthy living girl to do? One thing I learned when I first embraced Intuitive Eating is that I am not one of those people that can just say, “I will never eat sugar, flour or processed foods ever again for the rest of my life.” Therein lies the way to bingeville and angry self-recriminations. And yet eating junk gives me headaches and makes me feel sick. So what works?
I’m still trying to figure that out for myself – I’m really good at finding what doesn’t work for me, not so good at the reverse – but I have noticed a few things about myself:
- I need something sweet every day.
- I can usually limit myself to one sweet.
- If I eat it earlier in the day, it doesn’t seem to affect me as much.
- Tootsie Rolls are vile and should not be considered “chocolate.”
Knowing that about myself, I eat dessert after lunch. Every day. Most often it’s some dark chocolate. Sometimes dunked in peanut butter. Or it will be ice cream. Or Extreme Sour Patch Kids. But whatever it is I enjoy it and don’t feel bad about it. But I also know my limits (see? Intuitive!) and eating anything sugary at night is likely to send me on the 3-day round trip to the Isle of Insulin Hell. Which isn’t to say I never go there, I’m just not buying lakefront property is all. It’s a fragile peace but so far it’s working.
What do you think of the “cheat day” method – does it work for you or did it make you nuts too? Does anyone else notice that eating sweets earlier in the day doesn’t bother them but eating sweets at night makes them crazy?