Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The idea of a Free Day

I have to tell you that I used to think the idea of a Free Day in an eating plan was not a good one.  First of all, if you're trying to improve your healthy, why take one day a week to bail on those goals that could help your body heal and improve?  Why give yourself the idea that you're in jail with your eating plan and can't wait to break out?  Secondly, if you're like me and have dieted for too many years with the black/white mentality, the free day can be dangerous because you are trying to (okay, just insert "I am trying to") eat all the sugar I can on that free day because I won't be able to have it tomorrow!  And third, if you take a free day and veer too far off course, you may never come back.  That's happened to me more times than I care to remember.

Let's look at these one at a time:

  • If you truly are seeking better health, then no, you don't want to do something unhealthy to your body once a week.  However, there may be benefits to letting loose of a few goals every once in awhile.  With exercise, it's actually better for your body to have one rest day a week.  Some may need more if they are have been training vigorously or are just starting out.  You don't want to overtrain.  You'll end up with a weaker immune system, you might get sick, and then you won't be able to exercise at all.  Your body needs the rest to rebuild and recover.  
  • With the eating, you don't have to completely let loose of your goals.  You're better off if you don't, actually. Because I've always had a sugar addiction, I used to work on not eating sugar at all when I was in college.  I would go without it for a whole month and would give myself one day at the end when I could eat sugar.  If someone would bake cookies, I'd put a few in the freezer for that day.  If a friend would bring me frozen yogurt, I'd put it in the freezer for that day.  By that day, you can guess it. I had a stockpile of sugary goods.  And I'd eat them all.  I'd end up with horrible indigestion and realized this wasn't the best way to go about it.  Your body will let you know when you've done something wrong once you've gotten away from the unhealthy food.  
  • You can, however, use the free day to take the pressure off for occasions like holidays or eating out when you might not be able to find as many whole grains, enough vegetables, or whatever is a part of your eating plan.  I know sometimes I've panicked if I'm eating really well and see a BBQ or luncheon coming up later that week.  I don't think I can do it.  I don't even want to go.  I wonder if I should just give up on my goals if they don't fit in with life.  But with a free day, if you attend a luncheon and there are foods there that aren't on your regular plan, you can have that sandwich or hors d'oeuvres and not fret about it.  If you think you just have to have a slice of the wedding cake, take 1/2 a slice and savor it.  I personally do better without the sugar.  But if you can handle a little and that will keep you going the next week, do that for now.  Maybe in a few weeks, you'll realize that you are just fine without the cake and will opt for a more nutrient dense food that will be equally as satisfying. 
  • We have many non-food/non-exercise goals in the Healthy Habits challenge that you may like to ease up on instead for just that day just to get a mental relief from keeping track of everything.  I do love journal writing, but that is one goal that I often skip on my free day.  Same with eating after 8:00.  I don't eat anything heavy, but I may go eat some fruit or something just because I can (yes, there's a little rebel in us all).  
  • What about the black/white mentality?  Do you have that "I need to eat it now because I won't get to later" mind-set?  If you do, then try relaxing a bit in that thought and tell yourself that you really can have it later.  There are free days every week.  You can have it the next week if you want to.  And you can have it on a regular day if you can live with having less points.  But the true mindset reversal will help if you start thinking during the week as you may crave this or that and think that you're deprived somehow (which is absurd that any of us in our affluent society can think we're deprived when we never go hungry and have an ample supply of clean water to drink), that there will always be another day that you can have it.  It's just not in your plans for now.  
  • Better yet, start celebrating the foods that are nutritious for your body, learn to want THEM and to appreciate their flavors, textures, and smells.  I've experienced as much joy and satiation with whole foods as I have with all the foods in our modern diet that aren't good for us.  But my brain has been patterned to think that the unhealthy foods are the most desirable.  Whether it's the addictive nature of the foods or just what we've told ourselves in our society, I'm not sure.  You can, however, get as much pleasure from healthy foods and that is the aim if we want to reach our optimum health.
  • When I did the last challenge, I did use my first few free days to eat sugar as I wished.  I found it extremely difficult (well, maybe not extremely, but difficult enough) to be happy with healthy eating again the next few days.  Once I get sugar in my system, that's all I can think about.  I guess that's the definition of a craving.  I realized it was not worth it to make 1/2 of my week difficult for that one free day. So I treated my free days differently after that.  I used them as a time to pause and reflect and possibly eat a few things I wouldn't eat during the week, but I didn't use it to dive into my addictions and make the rest of the week a trial.
Hope this helps you as you continue with your challenge.  Even if you're not joining the challenge (it's not too late if you just want to jump in and follow along -- let me know if you do), I hope you can see that resting or regrouping once a week can be healthy too.   If anything, the idea of a free day helps me during the week to know that I'm not locked in forever with anything.  I can choose as I wish that one day and more often than not, I continue to make healthy choices, which is wonderful. TTFN!

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