What? Cheat?? Okay, I have eaten a few no-nos during the past three months, but they have been spur-of-the-moment lapses, not planned cheats. My daughter, Melanie, first brought up the subject shortly after I started my new way of life, reminding me that some diets advocate taking a day off periodically to eat your old favorites.
I consulted my two sources of health advice, and neither one mentioned cheating on a planned, regular basis, but I remembered reading about this somewhere, and found what I was looking for in The Abascal Way to Quiet Inflammation, by Kathy Abascal. She calls cheat day a “special occasion” and I love her description of it:
Once or twice a month, we may eat anything we wish. We may have refined grain waffles with maple syrup for breakfast. Even if we are dairy and/or wheat sensitive, we may still have a cappuccino and a croissant. We may have a quiche with a white flour crust, filled with whipped cream, cheese, and ham of dubious quality for lunch. We may have high-mercury tuna and a sugary dessert for dinner. We may choose to have three martinis and we may drink them right before bed.
Of course, then she says, “No doubt we will feel terrible the next day…”, but once in a while our bodies can cope with this.
I googled “diet cheat days” and found many articles and blog posts advocating planned indulgences. Apparently besides giving us a mental boost, eating a higher-calorie meal with more carbs than usual also helps the body avoid going into “starvation mode”. When we restrict calories and carbohydrates, we produce less of the hormone leptin, whose job it is to signal the brain that we’ve had enough to eat. Less leptin can mean more hunger pangs. Caloric restriction can also reduce the level of thyroid hormone T3, causing a reduction in metabolic rate, but an occasional higher-calorie meal can reduce this effect. Two articles that explain this in more detail are 5 Ways Cheat Meals Can Improve Your Body on Bodybuilding and When is it Okay to Cheat? on Dailyburn. Most articles don't recommend going wild with banana splits, but suggest something you wouldn't normally eat, like a cheeseburger with a bun or a few slices of pizza.
I spent some time dreaming about what I would have on a Cheat Day, and I’m surprised to find my desires are pretty moderate.
Note our Vermont maple syrup from Hollister Hill Farm in Marshfield, Vermont. It's a bed and breakfast, and has one of those cute country shops where you help yourself to what you want and leave the money in a jar on your honor. My cousin, Gregory, is their neighbor and I stop by for maple syrup every time I visit.
Mid-morning I’d have a whole milk latte at Tyler’s favorite café, Zoka. (I am a Starbucks fan, but Zoka’s latte is somehow better, maybe because it’s in a big cup with a beautiful design in the foam, and maybe because when I'm there Tyler is with me.) This time Tyler, Alethea and Mira all came to have coffee with me. A latte is not really a "cheat", but I'm going to save it for an occasional treat instead of an every day habit.
For lunch, the “Grilled cheese sandwich just like Mom used to make” at the pub near our 9-hole golf course. That’s exactly how it is described on the menu and you get some options. I’d choose American cheese and rye bread.
I’d have dinner at our favorite wine bar, Vino at the Landing: a glass or two of white wine and either the Tomato Pesto Panini or maybe get Stan to share a house salad of tomato and fresh mozzarella and the macaroni and cheese. I’ve never ordered the mac and cheese, but Stan has had it a few times and it looks awesome! It’s browned on top and the cheese stretches out between the fork and the dish. (P.S. We had it and it is awesome!)
When we get home I'd have some ice cream – Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean or Mint Chocolate Chip. Some green mint chip ice cream might have photographed better, but I'm glad Haagen-Dazs doesn't use food coloring.
Actually, this doesn’t sound all that sinful. Most of my life I thought bread and cheese were good for me. When I think of “cheating” I visualize a hot fudge sundae or a big piece of cake, but at the moment I can do without them. Oooh, or a bear claw pastry from Whole Foods – that sounds appealing, and would go nicely with the latte. Actually I haven’t craved sweets very much, I think due in part to eating healthy food at regular intervals before I get too hungry and in part to having the occasional “legal” treat of a paleo muffin or paleo chocolate chip cookie.
Kathy Abascal recommends one or two “special occasion” days per month, and reminds us we can’t have the special occasion dinner one evening, then the indulgent breakfast a few days later, and a sandwich and a beer for lunch a few days after that. Other sources recommend a cheat meal or single cheat item once per week. I like the idea of one meal at a time rather than a whole day, and for this first try I spread my cheats throughout a period of about two weeks. I’ll have to find out what works best for me and whether I can do it and still maintain my plan the rest of the time.
Btw – A few years ago, Stan and I took a class Kathy teaches on the Abascal Way (also known as the Vashon Island Diet, because many folks on Vashon Island have tried it with good results). The diet is pretty strict, but really seems to work. I lost about 10 pounds in the five weeks of class, but as soon as it was over I reverted to my old habits and gained it all back. That taught me that I need a way of eating that I devise for myself and that works for me on a long-term basis, rather than a “diet” that I go off after some period of time.