As if it wasn’t obvious from the constant bombardment of ads for weight loss products and services, it’s the new year and for millions of men and women it signals the beginning of a new diet. For most, choosing a suitable diet is easy, but sticking to new eating habits is where the real challenge lies and it’s also what leads to long-term success.
A commitment that few look forward to, a new diet usually means having to go without certain foods or even entire food groups for potentially long periods of time. For the most part the forbidden, high calorie foods are totally off-limits and remain so until we reach our goals, but does this have to be so? A more flexible approach to dieting which incorporates planned diet breaks, as outlined below, can lead to better adherence in the long run.
Why Diets Fail
Many diets fail because the dieter totally deprives themselves of the foods they desire which all too often causes the diet to be abandoned prematurely and the dieter to resume previous eating habits. Cravings for particular foods or meals overcome the will power to resist temptation. What starts with a single cookie all to often turns into a pack. The dieter figures the diet is now blown, and returns to their pre-diet eating pattern, undoing any positive results they may have achieved. Sound familiar? Yet a simple, at first unintuitive modification can make any diet easier to stick with, and that is to purposefully make one meal of the week ‘off diet’ – a cheat meal.
The Diet Break
Planing a brief but routine diet break, as opposed to falling into one in a momentary lack of willpower, can drastically change the dieting mindset, allowing the dieter to continue their diet with renewed vigour, confident in the knowledge that they no longer have to abstain from their favourite foods for months (or even years) at a time. Knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel does wonders in maintaining sanity during a diet! It’s worth noting however that some take this approach too liberally, extending the diet break window to an entire day in which they will consume everything in sight.
Taking an entire day’s break from dieting every week will be seriously unproductive for most, undoing much of the hard-fought weight loss effort whilst making the transition back to diet-friendly food much more mentally challenging. Limiting the diet break period to one meal gives the dieter the chance to indulge in whichever cravings need satisfying and move on. Planning the cheat meal for a Friday or Saturday evening meal is the ideal time for many. Bonus tip: during the week, take note of which foods you are craving most, then include them in the week’s cheat meal.
What’s a cheat meal?
What might this meal include? Basically, any item of food that is off-limits during normal dieting. For example, somebody following a low-fat diet might use their free meal to eat a steak with all the trimmings, whilst a person following a low carbohydrate diet might go all out on a large pizza with dessert. Freeing from the constraints of the diet for as little as one meal is unlikely to have a significant effect on weight loss performance, but have a potentially large positive psychological impact on how the dieter sees their diet and their adherence to it.
Taking planned, short breaks from the rigidity of a diet can be particularly suitable for those who need to adhere to their diet for long stretches of time. Smart dieters will schedule the free meal to coincide with any event where sticking to the planned diet might be a problem because the food on offer is somewhat outside of their control e.g. a wedding or dinner party.
Once the free meal is over, returning to the diet will be much easier having dealt which whichever craving was nagging or social event occurring.
Dieting isn’t always fun, but it doesn’t have to be the mental grind many make it out to be. Apply planned diet breaks with a pinch of common sense to your next diet and give your weight loss efforts a better chance of succeeding this year.