I’m sure most of you have heard of this concept before, free food days. It’s a dieting or lifestyle concept that some people find very helpful in maintaining or losing weight. You eat a strict diet and macronutrient ratio that is planned all week long and insert a free food day once every 7-10 days. This allows some people to never feel deprived and thus stay on track all week long with their food intake. It’s a good plan for some people. I say its “good” because there are people who have lost tons of weight or who maintain their perfect weight doing this. I’m here to talk about the dark side of free food days.
Yesterday, I had a big garage sale so I was up at 2am and working hard all morning. I had friends coming over to assist me and that meant I needed something easy and quick to feed them all day. I made a healthier version of pigs in a blanket the night before so all I had to do was warm everything in the morning. This would set the stage for a FREE FOOD DAY for me. Here’s how it went:
I started the day with low quality carbs (biscuits as the “blanket”) which sent my blood sugar into high gear. The buzz was almost immediate. I ran around like a frantic rabbit! Soon my energy crashed and because the garage sale was well under way, I grabbed more pigs in a blanket. My normally low hunger levels became monstrous! With every hour I felt hungrier, more frantic, more light-headed. I had no time to sit and eat a salad or even blend a high quality protein shake. Then I started on the diet sodas (which I have not had in months) and after 6 hours of this eating/crashing/eating/crashing pattern I was exhausted. The garage sale ended and someone said PIZZA (and more diet soda)! I immediately started craving pizza, so off we went. After eating 5-6 pieces of pizza I was well beyond “Thanksgiving meal” full.
I was so sleepy I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I sat in the recliner watching a movie and was soon fast asleep. 60 minutes later I awoke, groggy, feeling sick to my stomach, with a terrible hangover type headache. The hormonal hot flashes started and I was literally sweating while in a non-moving vegetative state. This lasted several hours until I gave up on feeling like a normal person and went to bed. I woke up 7 hours later to greet the new day only to find my body feeling like lead. I felt like I had been slipped a drug yesterday, and of course I had been slipped a drug, a white flour and low protein drug which is one that had no traces of my usual abundant vegetables and high quality proteins and whole grains. I was experiencing the dark side of a free food day.
This was not a new experience for me. Years ago I actually lived by the free food day concept. I stayed with it for 2 years before realizing that every time I had a free food day I was re-awakening the monster. White flours, sugars and low quality foods in general are a drug. That’s why people can’t live without them. They are addictive and dangerous in large quantities. For me and many of my clients, eating more than a tiny bit of this drug sets off not only days of binges but also many hours (up to 36) where you feel hung-over, you lack any energy and your mood is dark. This happens for almost everyone to some extent, they just don’t make the connection.
Obviously I no longer follow or advise my clients to follow the free food day theory. Some could handle it I’m sure but most could not. For many yo-yo dieters this is exactly the problem. Their bodies simply cannot handle a healthy eating plan with inserted days of the drug, the monster, the low quality foods. It sets us up for cycles where we feel horrid, make poor decisions and simply cannot work up the energy to exercise the next day. Does this mean we are all doomed to a life of never eating a favorite food or meal? Absolutely not, but we must have some rules.
Remember your trigger foods and steer clear of them. My trigger food is white flour. So if I want to have something “white” it must be in extremely low doses and I must immediately move away from the source. This way I won’t sneak additional portions.
Have a plan for the coming cravings. If you have your free food that is known to trigger the irrational part of your brain, the binge center, then make darn sure there isn’t a boat load of it available! This might mean buying small cups of ice cream instead of a half gallon or making 1 dozen pigs in a blanket instead of 3 dozen! Get a plan before the low quality free food takes over your brain center!
Drink extra large quantities of water. This not only helps flush out some of the drug but it also prevents you from adding to the problem! Diet sodas, regular sodas and anything with manmade ingredients is just more of the same drug but in a different form. Don’t add insult to injury here! Limit your free food to what you actually want, what you planned for. The rest just isn’t going to happen.
Re-think what FREE really means here. Is it “FREE” to feel like you are a food addict? Is it FREE to have your energy taken away from you so you can’t enjoy the next 2-3 days of your life? Is it FREE to feel so angry at yourself for losing control? What price are you willing to pay for FREE FOOD? Sometimes FREE means a slice of your own birthday cake or a romantic dinner out with your favorite person. Sometimes FREE means having that glass of wine in the evening. Whatever FREE is to you, look at it. Really look at it and then decide, before you have consumed the drug, what is the price of FREE for this? Am I willing to pay that price? Is it going to be worth it? Sometime it will be worth it, GO FOR IT. Sometimes you’ll simply say pass.
These days I am more likely to stay clear of FREE food choices unless I’m in a controlled environment. For me it’s an act of self love. I much prefer zig zag calorie days where every 3-4 days I get more calories from my favorite healthy food choices. These days leave me feeling very satisfied, full of energy and a positive, upbeat outlook on life. These days never take me further away from my goals but take me closer to them. These types of days leave me feeling proud of myself and in control of my body.
As for today, I’ll just have to get through it. I have another 24 hours of “detox” ahead. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be fun but it will serve as a reminder that I have done a great job at cleaning up my lifestyle. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t feel so awful because of my free food day yesterday.