How to get back on track after your cheat day
Tis the season to be merry...tis also the season to indulge – turkey with all the trimmings, roast potatoes, mulled wine and mince pies; it can be hard to resist temptation at Christmas. Everyone is allowed a cheat day or two, and it's not the cheating that matters, it's how you deal with it! It can be easy to overeat and lose sight of your healthy eating goals, whether you're caught chowing down on leftover turkey or digging deep in that tin of Quality Street.
But it isn't just Christmas when we over-indulge; temptation is all around us throughout the year. You'll feel differently after a food binge. You might think, “Well, I've had one burger, might as well carry on eating,” and go for broke, or you might feel regretful and start obsessing about calorie counting and detoxing. Maybe you feel guilty at the damage you've done and beat yourself up mentally for hours or even days? None of these attitudes to food are healthy, and as if that wasn't bad enough, you might also feel nauseous, bloated and sluggish as your body isn't use to huge quantities of foods or additives since you began healthy eating.
We're here to tell you to take action – so here's how to get back on track after a cheat day (or two).
Assess your emotions
Don't sit around beating yourself up mentally for everything you've eaten. Calling yourself 'lazy' or 'fat' doesn't help. Neither does starving yourself or forcing yourself to run five miles when the closest you've come to running before was for the bus!
Instead, take a step back and think about the situation from a different perspective. Imagine you are looking after a naughty child who you have caught eating sweets. You probably wouldn't yell names at them or force them to run for miles as a punishment! So remember that the next time you feel tempted to be harsh on yourself. Treat yourself kindly and try 'self distancing', where you pull back from a situation and view yourself rationally, from a distance. This helps avoid self-punishing behaviour.
The physical symptoms
If you've crammed in a whole turkey dinner, dessert, wine and maybe a cheeky mince pie, chances are you feel like flumping on the sofa and watching the Queen's speech. Lying down after eating can actually cause gastrointestinal problems and heartburn (1). Instead, try some light exercise to help ward off symptoms before they occur. This isn't the time to try sprinting or jogging. Take the dog for a walk or walk around the block to aid your digestion. Gentle yoga can also help with digestive health (2).
Drink some water or herbal/green tea, which can help to aid digestion and battle the bloat – it will also prevent constipation later. Try peppermint or ginger tea; both are known to settle the stomach. Don't drink coffee or alcohol, as these do nothing for your digestion, and alcohol can actually slow down the digestive process (3).
Getting back on track
So, how do you move ahead after you've cheated on your healthy eating regime? It's all about planning in advance and recognising that it's not that big a deal. Whilst you're still feeling (a bit) guilty, here are a few things you can do:
Plan a workout
Plan a healthy meal
Starving yourself after a cheat day only makes it more likely that you'll give into your cravings, and there's no need to calorie count either. Instead, plan delicious healthy meals and enjoy shopping for ingredients such as fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, wholegrains and spices. Taking care of yourself and avoiding skipping meals means you're less likely to let cravings take hold again.
Get some support
If you're feeling lonely or depressed, this can often trigger the urge for 'comfort eating', and sadly we usually choose sweet, salty or fatty foods to make ourselves feel better. Look at why you felt the need to binge, and if there is an emotional hunger behind your appetite, get in touch with friends and family for some company and support.
In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that you ate a McDonalds (and maybe a couple of chocolate bars)? It's just a blip. Get back to occupying yourself with things other than your eating habits – watch some TV, read a good book, or relieve stress by writing, meditating or taking a yoga class.
Remember, “You are not defined by your mistakes, but by your reaction” - you are able to make the choice as to how you respond after a cheat day. So instead of reaching for another doughnut, take positive steps to get back on track! By doing this regularly, you will start to notice that not only do your feelings of guilt lessen after you cheat, but you'll also want to cheat less often and become more focused on your healthy diet and maintaining it – win!
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