Ever get stressed about sticking with a diet while going to events and cookouts? Feel guilty and want to know what to do if you blow your diet over the weekend? Let’s reduce the stress of the perceived incompatibility between eating healthy and enjoying cookouts. These are two of my favorite things and they can coexist without issue – if you do it right. Here’s a typical question I receive that illustrates the issue: “Mike- I really screwed up this weekend. I had pizza, some beer, and a hot dog at this event I went to Sunday. How do I get back on track? What should I eat at these things in the future?” This happens all of the time. There are multiple approaches to deal with this situation from a prevention view, and also from a “so I screwed up now what do I do?” view.
The Simple Solution
The first approach is based on the answer to the following questions:
- How often does this scenario happen? If this is a regular issue because you run charity events for a living or you entertain clients for a living, or you have a boat load of cookouts coming up?
- Do you have addictive or binge tendencies?
- Are you just starting a fat loss plan (i.e. fragile dieting stage)?
If you answered no to these questions, then the solution is simple: don’t worry and move on. It’s a blip on the radar, and rare event that in the big picture, won’t really affect anything. Forget it, move on with your healthy eating plan, and off you go. I would do a food log for a while to confirm that this truly is a rare event, versus a regular occurrence, or to see if it does spark an eating frenzy.
The Don’t. B. S. Plan
If you answered yes, you will certainly need a strategy to deal with this. I call it the Don’t. B. S. Plan (yes the acronym is a bit of a reach) Here’s what I commonly advise:
- Don’t go hungry. Eat as soon as possible prior to leaving for or arriving at the event. Something with a high amount of protein will be best, as this tends to keep hunger at bay.
- Bring food. This can be easier than it sounds. For a cookout, we all are supposed to bring something – right? Well, bring something that you like and is healthy. That way you can guarantee you’ll have some good and healthy chow. One of my favorites is one of my wife’s great salad creations (mixed greens, cilantro, walnuts, green apples, chicken, mozzarella, and a olive oil garlic and herb dressing – good stuff) or chicken satay on a stick. If it’s a charity event or something, then bring some almonds, a large mouth water bottle with only protein powder, and some fruit. You can always grab some water and fill up your bottle to make a shake whenever. One way to avoid the uncomfortable “so what are you drinking?” questions that inevitably follows from seeing your cloudy protein concoction is to use a non-transparent water bottle. But you will need to get over the head trash about the “pain” of prepping food or “I don’t want to look like a weirdo” issue because you brought a snack to a charity event.
- Set a limit: this can be dicey – especially with true food addicts, but it does allow some control over the deprivation mindset. Sometimes it seems worse to abstain from having any sweets or alcohol – it can over run your head. Yet I know others can’t control themselves – having a little just opens the flood gates for binging, so tread lightly with this approach. The strategy here is to specifically define before you arrive what you are going to “allow” yourself to indulge in. It is easier to pick from one of three options, for example:
a.) I will have 3 beers, that’s it. b.) I will have one sweet – like a big cookie or a brownie, but that is it! or c.) I will have one bowl of potato chips/pasta salad/small bowl of bean-dip and chips – no more. But that isn’t it for this strategy. The next thing you must do is share your limit with at least one friend. Depending on the relationship, this could be your spouse/partner. But this will backfire if you are the dominant personality and they are less confrontational. A good friend at the party is almost always a great option. Specifically tell them what your plan is, and sincerely ask them to help you. This form of social accountability, if they follow through, is proven to work very well. In fact, it is a huge part of our very effective CARES system (http://onpoint.project-sites.com/spectrum/?p=1661). So you screwed up, now what do you do? So you didn’t apply the above strategy, you feel like crap, and are wondering what to do. Try this:
- Get rid of the self defeatist head trash: So you screwed up. You’ve confirmed you are human. All is not lost, just move on. You know you can do better next time armed with the above strategies. Stop the “I’m lazy, unmotivated, undisciplined” negative self talk now. It probably isn’t true, and won’t help you. Plus nobody truthfully wants to hear it anyways. You’ll get back at it and do better – so let’s get to work.
- Log it. Yes – I know you screwed up, and don’t need your nose rubbed in it like a dog that peed on the carpet. But the effectiveness of logging can’t be ignored. It will be a stopgap. 100% of the time someone goes on a food binge after going off of their diet, they stop logging after the first “infraction”. The next time they log, it is always a good day of eating. The best way to keep one bad meal from evolving into a three day catastrophe is to start logging again. Not doing so is like handing your accountant financial statements only reflective of wise purchases and investments.
- Try significantly cutting your calories for the rest of the day and the next. This is not always easy to do for the less informed or those dieting on their own, but it can work. Some recent research suggests that controlling weekly caloric intake is as effective as monitoring daily caloric intake for fat loss. This means that if you reduce calories the next day, you could technically stay on track with your fat loss plan. Some words of caution, however, are that you could suffer from hunger and some studies suggest that those who severely under eat one day tend to overcompensate the next. But if done right, it can work. Here’s an example of what I would suggest:
Let’s say the whole morning and afternoon was shot. So later that evening, eat only a moderate amount of lean protein and some veggies. The next day, the focus will be almost exclusively on lean protein, feverous veggies, and a little bit of fruit and fat for taste. Omega 3 supp will take care of minimal fatty acid needs, veggies will give you micronutrients and fiber, and protein will control your appetite and give you the essential amino acids. This way you will get all the essentials, nothing more – so it’s healthy and hunger won’t be too bad for most, and caloric balance will be returned so you aren’t off track. I should also mention another caveat with this approach: if you have a lot of psychological problems associated with eating – this approach probably isn’t best. This is a very scientific and literally problem solving approach. It is not punishment and can easily be misconstrued as a yo-yo or binge and purge solution for those with such tendencies. It those cases, I would just get back into the optimal diet for them and take the hit to the caloric balance that week.
- What about exercise? Assuming the above scenario with blowing the morning and afternoon, an evening high intensity circuit (not machine based) or interval workout would be best. This could start depleting glycogen, which is one of the most critical steps in fat loss, and shift the body from storing excess calories to facilitate substrate oxidization, especially given that their is likely and abundance flowing in the blood stream. Think of it as a little damage control, and recalibrating into a better frame of mind. I would recommend a slightly less intense but longer version of intervals or circuits, as some have a ton of GI issue working out intensely after large feedings earlier in the day.
The next day, I would recommend frequent walks, or maybe a low volume strength training session – or in those significantly overweight, both. The reason against doing a huge amount of working out then is that you will be eating so few calories – following the nutrition advice above, that doing too much will wear you down for the rest of the day, and you probably won’t have the energy to do an intense workout anyways. Plus, we want to spare muscle catabolism. One final comment is that it seems that cookouts and parties tend to come in clusters, especially around the 4th of July or Graduation/Father’s day in June. One very effective strategy we’ve used in the wildly successfully Body Balance Challenge is to designate these times for diet breaks. Essentially, clients will have pre-planned times when the go on a break from their diet and go into maintenance mode. It is essentially a “picking your battles” strategy. You aren’t trying to win – just trying to hold your ground. This is best for those without binge addiction issues or those who have been successfully dieting for at least 8-12 weeks. Of course there are exceptions to this. Well now you have a plan that deals with common issues which tend to sabotage results. As you can see from the above, there are many successful ways to work with this, so you can enjoy these events, and still forge on to achieve your health and fitness goals. Please share this with friend and family, and have a great July 4th holiday!