Sometimes It’s Best to Sacrifice a Goal on a Recovery Day for a Greater Cause… And a New Look at Why People Fail Their Diet and Exercise: The Flaw is in “Cheat Days”.
I used to be extremely rigid and unoriginal when it came to my mileage and speed workouts. There are a few more descriptive words that come to mind, none of them good.
There was a reason, of course… How often have we seen someone’s dreams of being fit and fantastic derailed because a day off or a “cheat day” turned into a week off, turned into a month off, turned into depression, turned into 20 pounds, turned into 40 pounds, turned into diabetes? Happens every day. Well, there was no way it was going to happen to me and rigidity served me well for a time. The politically correct term for that rigidity is “discipline” – not to be mistaken for “willpower”, of which I have about as much as a gnat or mosquito…
I got to a point where I didn’t need to go for a ride, I wanted to ride. Every day. I went from having to stay fit to control my weight and aid in my recovery to fitness becoming a way of life, just like recovery from addiction did… This made all of the difference in the world.
Today I have the desire, the need, and the support of more than a dozen like-minded friends that a day or two, devoted to a better cause (alternatively “for the right reasons”), can be a good thing. This wasn’t always the case. See, I have to be willing to “give it away to keep it” – a central tenet of recovery, applied to fitness. Meaning, I have to be willing to bring new people in, and help them achieve what I have and greater, to maintain the excitement needed for my own fitness… If I don’t have anything to give, now that is where we run into trouble.
Last evening, my wife and I took our daughter for her first fourteen mile ride on our sixteen mile route. Normally the sixteen miles, by design, take an hour or slightly less (53-59 minutes usually)… I knew it was going to be slower, probably by a lot, because we had my daughter with us. Before today, this ride would have been out of the question – my fitness always came first, playing around with helping new people out, even my own daughter, was reserved for after I got my miles in. Is it selfish? Sure it is, to an extent, but only if you’re obtuse about it… See, all too often people look for excuses to lame out. To take it easy, to go the easy road. There once was a time even I may have used that as a springboard to let up. All of the excuses come out then, “At least I’m getting out”, or “I’ll make up for it tomorrow” but tomorrow never gets there…
A part of maintaining fitness, or sobriety (or both), is the ability to know oneself and “to thine own self be true” – and we’re talking about rigorous honesty here, not the “how can I manipulate myself into believing that what I want at the moment is ‘true'” honesty.
The Flaw in “Cheat Days”
This all ties in to diet, exercise and fitness with an epiphany I had this morning (well, this posts on Friday, so technically I had the epiphany yesterday morning, but whatever). I’ve always had a problem with “cheat days” within diets and it took me a while to figure out why. This all started percolating last Tuesday when I was invited to the bar/BBQ restaurant with a lot of the hammers from the Tuesday night group. I had to decline, as much as I wanted to go, because I just wasn’t in a good space to put myself in that environment. I had a lot of stressful stuff going on at work, I was trying to get a bunch done before my hunting trip, we were having part of our house fixed and I was a little worried about costs getting out of control (as they normally do with our house), and worst of all, my spiritual connection with my Higher Power was a little off (all my fault of course). See, given the right circumstances (or maybe the wrong circumstances) and a lack of attentiveness on my part, I am capable of getting drunk again. I would use the word “drink” instead of “getting drunk”, but I’m not into kidding myself. If I’m going to blow 22 years of sobriety, I’m gonna do it right. Again, rigorous honesty… If I sit in a barber shop long enough, you can be certain that eventually daddy’s getting his hair cut. You know what I’m saying? So there are no cheat days in recovery, right? I can’t drink or I am assured of going back to that old, drunkards life…
Ah, but there are cheat days for recovering alcoholics.
There are days when I am capable of handling a drinking environment without even a thought of partaking myself. We actually have a test for this. First, “Do I have a legitimate reason to be at the establishment in question?” Second, “Am I on a Spiritually sound footing?” And third, if the first two are met, I must have my own quick exit plan that doesn’t rely on anyone else (meaning I have to drive my car and not have ties to anything or anyone that would keep me from leaving on a second’s notice if I began to struggle). Now on that night last Tuesday, I could meet two of the three, but not the good Spiritual footing… That meant I was in no shape to handle the environment, so I declined. Even when one of the members offered, “Oh, it’s okay, you can drink water with me”. That sounds good, to the uninitiated outsider, but I don’t drink water in misery at a liquor joint. I have to be on firm Spiritual ground with my Higher Power so that I’m happy to be drinking a Coke with my friends, rather than kicking the cat in the corner with a water in my hand because I can’t drink like them.
And therein lies my rub with dietary and exercise “Cheat Days”. I don’t “cheat” just because it’s Sunday and it’s “Cheat Day”. I go through a whole list of preparations before I will put myself in a position that could potentially end in disaster. The only difference between drinking and eating/fitness “Cheat Days” is the severity of the consequences for a relapse. I’m not going to jail or be asked for a divorce if I eat too much pizza or miss a bike ride, but you can bet that’s a real possibility if I choose to place an alcoholic drink to my lips. Those are only the physical consequences though. The mental consequences are just as severe, either way, whether for getting drunk or relapsing on my diet. Let’s look at this in context…
If I’m on poor footing for a dietary cheat day, that single day can turn into a second simply because I choose to eat leftovers – or worse, because it’s a cheat day, I decide to not leave leftovers. The next morning I wake up, feeling bloated and gnarly for the binge the night before and instead of doing the right thing, I reach for the kid’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Lucky Charms instead of my banana. Then, for lunch, I pound down a burger for lunch instead of my Subway Sub… By the time it’s time for my ride that evening, I’m feeling like crap so I may as well skip that too and take a nap. I’ll feel better after dinner. Pizza. I’m off on a food bender for another three years, I gain all of the weight back and I’m wondering where I went wrong… I resolve to do better, pick myself up by the boot straps, and start over. And the next thing I do is plan out what day will be my “Cheat Day”.
My problem with “Cheat Days” is that they’re based on a day on the calendar and not the mental and Spiritual fitness necessary to keep from fully relapsing into a dietary/fitness puddle of goo and indecision. Oh you could take the low road and go with the, “Well you don’t understand because you don’t have the same problems I do”. You could go there, but I would simply reply, “Yes, funny that, isn’t it? The reason is that I don’t set myself up to fail in the first place.” Just a thought.
The point, of course, is that “Cheat Days” – or better yet, a cheat meal, should be based not on what day happens to appear on the calendar but how we’re doing with the maintenance of our diet (and I would argue that Spiritual footing here is just as important). Better yet, wouldn’t it be wiser to schedule a cheat meal based on a goal attained? I lost “X” pounds in three weeks so I get to have four pieces of pizza for dinner (not the whole freaking thing, ladies and gentlemen). In fact, once you start ticking off those goals, my bet is that you’ll be hard pressed to take that cheat meal and undo some of the good you did in the first place.
In fact, this is exactly how I handle my “diet” (if you can call it that). Once I hit my goal weight, I could have a burger for lunch… Funny thing was, first thing I thought of on the way to the burger joint was, “Why would I want to do this, I’d rather stay on the path I’m on because I feel better this way”. I turned the car around and headed for Subway.