Ah, the question everyone asks when they first start making healthier choices with food: Is it best to have a treat meal/treat day, or should I just eat tiny treats throughout the week?
If you look in any magazine or do a Google search you’ll probably find loads of contradicting answers. There’s a reason for that – the truth is that it depends on many factors:
What are your goals?
How strong is your willpower?
What is your idea of a SMALL treat?
What do you feel would work best for YOU?
First of all, let’s look from the angle of what your goals are…
If your goal is fat loss then it’s likely that you’ll need to be more strict with yourself than if your goal is simply to live a healthy life – #wellness style.
If you just want to adopt a generally healthier diet (with no particular fat loss goals, etc) then I would say to primarily listen to your body and just make generally healthier choices with everything in moderation.
For quite some time my main goal has been to simply look after my body, so I don’t tend to monitor exactly what I eat. But this is mostly because I’ve learnt over the years what works best for me. After a lot of trial and error.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat whatever I want whenever I want, because the things I usually fancy are not exactly the most nutritious options – I have a majorly sweet tooth! I do obviously try my best to make healthy choices with food most of the time, BUT I strongly believe that everything in moderation is the best way.
I know how my body and brain works, and if I severely restrict myself I will basically devour every chocolate bar within a five mile radius as soon as I get the chance. So I find the 80/20 approach works best for me to keep my sweet cravings at bay. In fact, that approach seems to work for a lot of the people I know in the health and fitness industry.
The 80/20 approach is when around 80% of your diet is healthy nutritious food, and 20% of your diet is whatever you fancy.
Ok, moving on to willpower and your personality type in general, as well as what your idea of a small treat is…
Are you the kind of person who can happily have just a few small spoonfuls of ice cream and then leave the rest in the freezer to have another couple of spoonfuls later in the week?
Or do you think that last sentence was absolutely ridiculous and would easily eat the whole tub in one go?
Would you feel happy to take a small handful of chocolate buttons out of one of those ‘sharer packs’ and then put the rest back in the cupboard for another day?
Or would you eat the whole pack and question why it was ever labelled as a ‘sharer pack’? I’m with you on this one by the way. 😉
For me, it changes all the time. Some weeks I will happily go for the whole week eating pretty much just healthy nutritious food and have barely any cravings for sugary treats. But other weeks I feel like I’ll go crazy if I don’t at least have a few pieces of chocolate or a handful of Haribo every day.
What I’m saying is that you basically need to test things out to figure out what works best for you. There’s absolutely no point in having a little bit of what you fancy every now and then throughout the week if you deep down know you’re going to struggle to stop at a little bit. In which case, a treat meal/treat day might be best for you.
However, if you’ve chosen to have a treat meal/day but find yourself having nibbles of chocolate whenever you walk through the kitchen as well, then it might be best to just have small treats throughout the week (with some way to limit them so you don’t devour the contents of your kitchen every evening).
I’ve found over the years that my willpower with certain things is much weaker. So if I am having something like sweets then I’ll put a handful in a bowl and put the rest away in the cupboard, and that way I’ll only have the sweets that I put into the bowl. Most of the time that works anyway. 😉
If you have found that you have no control either way, so you basically end up devouring everything whether you follow the small treats throughout the week option or the treat meal/day option, then try finding some healthy replacements for the things you enjoy most so you have that as a kind of interim until your treat meal/treat day.
For example, I LOVE ice cream! But I’ve found that my old favourite of Greek yoghurt with frozen berries and a little honey usually hits the spot. So most of the time I’ll have that. But there are obviously times when I will actually have ice cream because we only live once and I couldn’t imagine my life without ice cream!
I tend to eat pretty healthy food for my main meals anyway as I don’t actually like most fried foods or thick sauce-based meals, so I’m pretty fortunate in that I only have to ‘ration’ (as it were) my sweet treats. But if you like both sweet treats and deep fried foods, etc then just take some time to figure out what works best for you most weeks.
By the way, if your goal is fat loss then you might be tempted to completely remove ALL foods that are not 100% nutritious from your diet, but I want to make it clear that severe restriction never works! Not in the long-term anyway.
If you decide you are going to ignore the 80/20 approach and just eat completely healthy nutritious foods 100% of the time it’s highly likely you’ll end up majorly craving something else to the point that you’ll eventually go all-out and indulge every craving you’ve ever had.
Instead, try doing what I do and look for some healthier alternatives to enjoy within moderation, such as yoghurt and berries with honey, energy balls, chocolate avocado mousse, etc. Then enjoy the real thing when you do have your actual treats.
The important thing is that whichever method you choose (treat meal/day or occasional small treats) make sure it suits you and you ideally stick to eating around 80% healthy nutritious food and 20% whatever you fancy. Health first, always.
Oh, and don’t forget that it’s important to develop a healthy relationship with food. Many of us, myself included, have at some point ended up with a very unhealthy approach to food. But food isn’t the devil. It’s totally ok to enjoy it!