Weight loss: The pros and cons of “splurge days”
Yesterday I ate too much, and today I can still feel it. I don’t think I really enjoyed what I felt after we had our large pizza and the cheesecake dessert we brought back from our “foraging” trip later in the afternoon. And this brings up an interesting topic — the idea of giving yourself a “splurge day” every week as part of your weight loss plan. There are pros and cons to doing this.
Pros of having a splurge day
The basic idea is that if you are working on a diet plan as part of a weight loss effort, that you may sometimes find it easier to maintain your plan if it doesn’t mean you’ve got to give up your favorite foods for the rest of your life. You like chocolate cake, you miss chocolate cake, you don’t think you can possibly do without chocolate cake forever… so you tell yourself that you’ll have it, if you can only hold out until Sunday.
There are some good scientific theories behind “splurge days.”
- Limits of self-control. Some psychological researchers suggest that there are limits to our abilities to deprive ourselves. Their research suggests that self-control seems to operate like the batteries in your laptop or cell phone: eventually you need to recharge them. The thinking is that if we try too hard to deprive ourselves or control our behavior in too many areas, or sacrifice for too long, we may actually weaken our ability to control ourselves. So the theory goes that if once a week you splurge, it’s like a much-needed rest period.
- Avoids “starvation mode.” This is based on the medical research suggesting that our bodies have built-in “famine detector” systems that react to prolonged caloric reduction by going into an energy-saving mode. In other words, if you cut back your calories constantly, you find that you’re less able to burn off fat. The bod says “no. Un uh. I need this fat.” So a day of splurging is a way of keeping the body’s famine detection system off guard…. so you can keep losing weight. You eat a few extra cookies on Sunday and on Wednesday you may find you’ve lost more weight than you would have if you’d skipped the cookies. (This only works occasionally, of course — cookies every day doesn’t have the same effect.)
Cons of having a splurge day
- How it feels. Sometimes your splurges may just not feel all that good. When you generally eat a lot of heavy foods, sugary foods or whatnot, you may feel less good than you might feel if you ate healthier instead of splurging. And the more you are used to healthier eating, the more you’ll notice the effects of your once-weekly splurge. I think this was part of my feeling yesterday: despite looking forward to a pig-out meal and a great dessert, the fact is I didn’t feel all that great after I ate. I used to eat like that daily; now I seldom do. So I felt stuffed and frankly, got kind of sick of eating the pizza and dessert we’d bought. Ick.
- Health effects. Being diabetic, I have to plan carefully and adjust my meds if I am to eat a lot of carbs or sweet desserts or the like. High blood sugar means having that “sleepy stupid” feeling that other folks mainly associate with the after-Thanksgiving feast. It’s not healthy, though. And even if your health is generally great, a pig-out meal stresses your bod anyway.
- Psychology. I mean, here we are, working not just to “get thin” for a few weeks, but trying to modify our general sense of ourselves. Part of your sense of “self” is the stuff you do, the stuff you say, the stuff you think. As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “you are who you pretend to be.” So if I want to be a thin, healthy, athletic guy (my mantra), what is that guy doing eating like that?
What to do?
I think the upshot of this is that like most weight-related issues, there are complex, one-size-fits-one answers here. My current thinking, for me, works like this:
- Having a splurge day is fine, but I’ll try to have a balanced, more reasonable approach to it. It’s fine, for instance, to make that a “splurge meal” instead of a whole day. A big brunch or nice dinner should suffice, instead of following an “anything goes and eat like you’ll never see food again” strategy.
- Even at that, using some portion control and picking healthier treats is generally better, though I won’t lose sleep over it if I am not “perfect.”
- Trying to get some exercise on splurge day is probably a good idea. It happened that I also was on my “no gym” day (which is usually Sunday). But a walk in the woods would have been good to have had.
- Getting single-servings of things would be better than buying larger quantities. Neither my wife nor I really want big slabs of pizza and slices of cheesecake during the week, but we bought a large pizza and a couple of cheesecake desserts that are now sitting in the fridge. (Actually, we didn’t realize we’d have as much left over as we do.) It’s hard not to eat that stuff later in the week, ya know?