The original intent of this post was to give a few tips for people finishing up a 30 day challenge at our gym (Four Barrel CrossFit); however, these principles are applicable to almost anyone. When heading down the path of lifelong, healthy nutrition, we do suggest starting out strict and trying a 30 day challenge. This gives your body a chance to reset, and allows you to see the effects of eating well…
But let’s face it, 99% of us can’t stay 100% strict 100% of the time. So below are some guidelines to keeping your diet on par while still keeping your sanity.
Try with every ounce of your body to do “6 Strict” – Meaning eat as strict as you possibly can 6 days a week, and have a designated cheat day 1 day a week (more on cheat days below).
Be Cautious of “90/10” or “80/20” Paleo
“90/10” or “80/20” Paleo is the concept of eating Paleo 90% of the time and having cheat items 10% of the time. It can also be interpreted as eating 90% Paleo items mixing in 10% non-Paleo items at regular meals. I’m a bigger fan of staying strict during the week and having a designated cheat day. Reason being is that it’s much easier to fall off the wagon if you tell yourself you can have little cheats here and there… It starts with some wine on a Tuesday… Then some bread on Wednesday… next thing you know you’re eating closer to 50/50 Paleo and you haven’t really enjoyed any of those cheat items because they’ve been sprinkled in throughout the week. So if you want to stay on the path to optimum health or performance, stick with “6 Strict.”
Have a Cheat Day
Having a cheat day is an important part of keeping your sanity. It allows you to blow off some steam, and some research suggests that occasionally consuming more calories and more carbohydrate helps boost your metabolism. The cheat day is also your “shield” during the week – You’re much more likely to stay strict all week if you know you have complete freedom on Friday or Saturday night. For instance, it’s a lot easier to skip beers on a Wednesday night if you know you can have absolutely anything you want on Saturday.
Take Note of Your Post-Cheat Hangover
One of the most effective results of a cheat day is how you’ll feel the morning after. If you’ve done well during your 30 day challenge, it’s very likely that your body is not going to like the bad food that you put into it. It’s always an eye opener when someone has a cheat day, feels like crap the next day, and realizes that their post cheat hangover is likely how they felt all the time in the past – You don’t know what feeling bad is, until you’ve felt better! This post cheat hangover is a great motivation to stay on the wagon and to keep eating clean.
Remind yourself that you didn’t put in all that hard work during your 30 day challenge to turn around and reverse all of the positive benefits. Get your family and friends on board for motivation and as a support system. Introducing someone new to healthy eating can help you stay dedicated as well. Also, find what works for you. Some people write their goals in places where they’ll be reminded everyday. Some folks sign-up for events (e.g. a CrossFit competition, a 5k, a triathlon, etc) as a way to stay motivated. Whatever it is, try to find some external motivation that helps you stick with your nutrition goals.
Go for Quality Ingredients
Part of eating clean is NOT putting weird processed crap in your body. So while we encourage a cheat day/evening, try your best to go with places who you know use good ingredients. Your local burger joint who uses fresh meat and produce on their burgers is probably a better cheat option than McDonalds or Burger King.
Revisit a 30 Day Challenge
I like to revisit a 30 day challenge 2-3 times a year. Over time, almost everyone begins to drift back into bad habits. If you find yourself falling off the wagon, retry a 30 day challenge. A good dose of complete dedication is often the best medicine. Also, we often have athletes who do much better their second or third time around on a 30 day challenge because the first time was more about learning the basics.
When it comes to your health and fitness nutrition is more than half the equation. No matter how hard you try you cannot out train a bad diet. The hours your devote in the kitchen are even more important than the hours you devote in the gym. To reach your performance, health, and body composition goals, keep eating clean, balanced, and save those cheat items for one day a week. Continue to take time to shop and prep food on your off days, and stick with “6 Strict.”
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