Weight Loss Support - occasional indulgences v. sabotaging lifestyle change

05-16-2005, 03:39 PM
Hi there! I'm a newbie and I have a question.

When do I know that I am eating a special treat in moderation, versus when I am eating something that will sabotage my attempt to have a healthier lifestyle?

Background: I believe the key to long-term success with weight loss is to be realistic and not entirely cut out junk food. For example, instead of eating at a restaurant 7 days a week, just going out once or twice. But my problem is that sometimes I don't know whether I am enjoying the occasional treat, or whether I am just plain eating too much junk.

Today I had a craving for pizza, so I went out and got a pizza. Other people have said that if you really want something, you should have some of it, because otherwise you will end up eating more food that you don't want in an attempt to satisfy the craving. But maybe I should not have eaten that pizza. Maybe eating it wasn't a healthy indulgence, but rather it was me giving in to a craving and failing at an attempt to change my eating habits.

Does anybody have any suggestions? My main vices are soda and restaurants. What do you do -- make up certain rules for yourself? If you have rules, what are they? Something like "only one _____ (insert junk food) per _____ (insert time period)?"

Any help is appreciated. :)

05-16-2005, 04:06 PM
That's an interesting, but tough question. I think the answer is probably going to vary from person to person.

When you are in the beginning of a program (as it seems you are?) then it's going to be harder to evaluate than it is for someone who's been on a program for months or years. It also depends on whether you can (a) find an acceptable, healthier substitute and choose to have that instead, (b) have a truly small portion of the desired food, (c) have that food and then not throw in the towel for the day/week because you feel you've "blown it."

I have a compulsive personality, so when I started my program I decided to cut out junk altogether and stick 100% to my program. I had to do this in order to starve off those cravings. Sure, it was painful, and there were days I nearly went nuts for wanting an old favorite, or larger quantities. But, the longer I stuck to my guns, the easier it got. I was probably on my program 100% for about six months, then started GRADUALLY testing the waters with an occasional restaurant meal. I still did my best to make healthy choices. It was probably about 2 years before I started eating "junk" with anything like frequency. Now, even though I DO allow myself treats once in a while, I find that many of the things I used to crave or simply eat out of habit no longer appeal to me. I'm glad to have gone through that "detox" period to come out the other side with different tastes and desires.

Again, because I'm a compulsive, I DO have to monitor myself closely. Nearly 4 years after starting my program, I can wake up at the end of the week to discover that I've had a few too many treats. So, I can't say I have strict guidelines. There are simply times where the junk calls louder than other times, or weeks where there seems to be a lot more social activity and it's just harder to be strict. So, IN GENERAL, if it's a normal week, I MIGHT eat out one lunch that colors outside the lines of my usual allowances, and maybe one dinner. But again, I don't order a medium pizza from Pizza Hut and eat half of it like I used to. I am really choosy about what I eat, I want the calories to be WORTH IT, either something I really really crave in a serious way, or something that's only a little indulgent -- a glass of wine or half of an excellent dessert with a meal that's basically on program, or some potato salad with a sandwich, that makes the meal more starchy/fatty than I normally would, etc.

So, I've made a short answer really long. LOL I guess what I'm trying to say is, a healthy lifestyle CAN include junk occasionally, but when you're first starting I'd highly recommend going without it for a while. You need to teach yourself that just because you crave something doesn't mean you HAVE to have it. Face it, you're used to having what you want when you want it, and you can't live like that any more if you want to reach your goal. At first, Lean Cuisine pizza is NOT as satisfying as your favorite carryout! But, if you resolve to use the LC when you have a pizza craving, and learn to live with it, you're better off in the long run. It can take weeks or months for those old habits to start to fade, and you want to give them every chance to, while learning to appreciate healthier foods more. Then, once you feel really secure in those new habits, you can choose to indulge now and then. If you find you can't control the portion to something reasonable, or if you find that eating the junk just sets you up to want MORE, then that's a sign you may not be ready yet to test yourself like that. For some people, that day never comes -- for them, eating junk is like a recovering alcoholic having a drink. For others, it comes pretty quickly and they have no problem with working in treats early on.

So, it just depends on you and your disposition and personality. If saying you can't have something only makes you want to rebel and eat 10 of them, then find a way to work it in. If making rules helps you, then do that. You just have to find what works for you, based on what makes you tick.

05-16-2005, 04:40 PM
Hmmm, that's a tough one! Like funniegrrl said, it's important to be able to eat a substitute to satisfy your craving or a small portion. If I have an ice cream craving, I can eat a skinny cow ice cream sandwich to take care of it, rather than digging in to a pint of Ben & Jerry's like I used to.

I do set some limits for myself. The first is that I do not go out to eat (or order delivery) during the week. Sunday dinner through Friday lunch must be healthy food at home. During the weekend, I allow a maximum of one restaurant meal and one fast food-type meal (if the fast food-type meal is something like Boston Market or Subway -- McD's counts for both my meals out!). This usually means that on Saturday my bf and I will go out in the morning, get a sandwich for lunch, and stop at a restaurant for dinner before coming home. I grew up eating out at LEAST five times a week, so it has been really hard for me to cut it down even this much.

Another thing I do that may be a bad idea for a lot of people (and for me!) is to make my indulgence all at once. If I bake an apple pie or something that doesn't lend itself to small portions (not like cookies, where I can have just one), and I eat a slice per day, I actually feel worse about it than if my bf and I each eat a quarter of the pie one day and a quarter of it the next. If I eat it all at once, this gives me two positive things: the first is that I can say "Okay, I screwed up, I will eat well for two weeks starting tomorrow" without having to look at pie tempting me in the fridge all the time. The second is that if I overindulge, I feel really guilty about it afterwards and I am more motivated to eat right. Usually one day of indulgence for me is followed by at least two weeks with no indulgences because I feel like I am making up for the last time. And the more I eat healthy, the more something like eating a candy bar, which would have been just a typical snack a year ago, feels like a huge indulgence that I will have to make up for.

Anyway, I'm rambling off the topic now. I think in general if you are adding in a food that you crave every day, it's probably too much.

05-16-2005, 05:18 PM
It has been my experience that the difference between a moderate treat and one that could sabotage my plan is my mentality. I've never threatened my progress by indulging while in complete control and am able to drop the fork anytime I want. But, if I'm eating because I am bored or feeling deprived, or stressed, etc. then you can bet that I am overdoing it. It isn't much of a leap between eating emotionally and convincing myself that I'm indulging in a "treat" because I really, really want it. The problem is, of course, that in a such a state of mind someone would actually have to pry the fork out of my hand.

So, pizza or any other junk is fine every now and then as long as I can eat a reasonable portion, count it towards my calories for the day, and move along. It isn't okay if I sit down to more than 1 serving, scarf it down, and then wallow in guilt (and more eating) for the rest of the day.

Two more gauges that you might consider are your level of fullness and your actual weight loss progress. When you treated yourself to pizza today did you walk away from the table feeling SATISFIED or FULL? If you felt stuffed you may have crossed the line. Also, are you losing weight at a reasonable rate? If not, you've probably crossed the line. If you feel as though you've gone too far step back, reassess, and make any necessary changes. Funniegrrl is absolutely right that if you are just starting out and these "occasional" indulgences are hindering your progress you may be better off avoiding them all together. At least until you reach a point that you feel more confident in your food choices.

Good luck to you!

05-17-2005, 10:53 AM
Thank you all!

I must have messed up rather than indulged yesterday. I didn't stop eating that pizza when I was full. Instead, I ate more than I needed to just because I liked how it tasted. And then I felt guilty all day, and ate more junk. I have no idea how many points I consumed.

One idea is having a "day off." I've heard other people say that they can stay OP for six days straight so long as they have one day where they don't worry about how much they eat. (Within reason... not like eating six pints of ice cream.) Is that method a healthy way to indulge, or is it just a psychological trap like emotional eating?

For now I am going to limit myself to a specific number of restaurant meals and sodas per week. I'm new to my program, so I will monitor my weight loss and see what happens.

05-17-2005, 11:46 AM
I tend to disagree with what most people consider a "cheat" day. But only because I KNOW it wouldn't work for ME. We are all different and whether or not that actually works will depend on the individual. Lots of people swear by them but I've seen plenty who can't figure out why they aren't losing weight even though they follow their plan faithfully for 6 days out of the week. It really still all boils down to calories in/calories out. As you said, a cheat day shouldn't be an all out scarf-fest. It should really be a little more of the same, healthier foods that are already a part of the plan. The point isn't to cheat as much as it is to help keep your body from becoming complacent with the same old calorie level thereby keeping your metablolism at its optimum.

I've found that staggering my calories throughout the week is a better alternative for me. In my opinion, it creates flexibilty in the same way that a "cheat" day would but is in line with my overall goals and helps address my attitude towards eating (if I am still wanting and giving in to outrageous eating habits on a regular basis have I really changed enough to keep the weight off long term?). It seems to me that incorporating the word cheat implies that I am on a diet that I will eventually end. Whereas staggering my calories is a better reflection of how I will live my life from here on out.

Basically, I AVERAGE 1500 calories per day each WEEK. I'll have a couple of 1200 calories days and 1800-2000 here and there, 1400- 1500 a couple of times. This allows me to incorporate the indulgences we are talking about guilt free. Plus, it helps be better plan for things like parties, dinners out, and the like. I know that there are going to be situations when I am not able to micro-manage my caloric intake the way that I typically do. So, having a couple of REASONABLY high calorie days built in I at least have a flexible enough plan to incorporate them. I don't ALWAYS eat something "sinful" on my higher calorie days. In fact, it is usually just MORE of the SAME. But, if I find myself at a birthday party and really, really, want a small piece of cake I can have one, without guilt. And for me that is a big deal. Eating should be pleasurable not associated with feelings of failure, guilt, or gluttony.

05-17-2005, 12:10 PM
I tend to have times when I will indulge to the point where I'm stuffed. I think the key is to use the guilt from overeating like that as motivation to eat better, rather than thinking "well, today is shot, I might as well eat ten hershey bars." I guess I think it is okay to feel "stuffed" every so often - nowadays when I eat that much it makes me think "that was tasty, but I won't do it again for a long time. I can't believe I used to do that every day!"

OTOH, if you are an all-or-nothing person, this won't work. I guess it all depends on personality type.

05-17-2005, 12:57 PM
I have given myself a few rules and so far for the past 3 months I have never crossed the line.
I have all of my food planned out for the week. I plan my dinners out (for the most part) and limit eating out to no more than twice a week..usually only once, but life happens and things do come up, so I have made guidelines for myself.

One of the most important things I do when I eat out is eat a large helping of salad...no croutons or cheese! and get my dressing on the side...ff if they have it! And do my best to "get full" on that. I do order what I am craving even pizza! But I split it with my husband....how much I take depends on what size portion they bring out. Pizza, I would normally have only 1 slice depending on how big the slice is of course. And I never stuff myself. As soon as I feel comfortable I stop, whether or not I still have food on my plate. I do have treats planned into my menu ;) and I never eat more than planned! :nono:

The other thing and I know this is painful because at one point and time in my life all I drank was soda (pepsi or coke).....but I now drink water almost exclusively. I do occasionally have a diet soda or light lemonade, ice tea with nutrasweet and lemon, no more than a 4oz glass of oj as the sugar can pack on the pounds, but this is not the rule, I drink mostly water. The way I figure it, I would rather "eat" my calories than drink them!
I also have (2) 8 oz servings of milk per day (skim) (or ff yogurt)

Hope everything works out for you! :goodluck:

05-17-2005, 01:25 PM
I don't look at it as cheating in the first place. I look at it like it's a treat. You eat normal healthy food reguarly, and then you have a treat. Like desert after dinner or a slice of pizza. If I don't wait around until I'm craving pizza to have it, I won't be tempted to overstuff myself with it when it comes. I will eat a salad first and foremost and then have a slice of the pizza rather than half the pizza as my whole meal. It's like not eating ice cream everyday. Ice cream is supposed to be a treat, not a staple food that should be on our menus. And if you've ate healthy all day, you should be too full to binge on it. And if you look at it like a treat and have it rather than avoid it, you're more likely to have it in moderation.

05-17-2005, 03:17 PM
I think that the best way to know if you've crossed the line from occasional indulgence to sabotaging lifestyle change is to keep track of all your calories in vrs your energy expended. You can do this fairly easily and for free by using Fitday (http://www.fitday.com/WebFit/Index.html) . It's a bit of a pain in the neck at first, but it gets easier as you enter more and more of the foods you commenly eat as custom foods.

If at the end of a week or two, you see that your calories intake is greater than your calories expended, they yeah, you've probably crossed the line. Note: some people feel that the in the free version of Fitday, the basal metabolic calculations are too high. Enter that you are at the lowest level of activity, bed-bound, to get the most accurate idea of your energy expended.

05-17-2005, 06:51 PM
my philosophy is: If you want it, have it. But you must be accountable for it. Like if you count points, or calories or whatever you still have to log it and everything .. no food is free to me, even on "cheat days" I am accountable for every spoonful of ice cream that passes through my lips each day :D