Current Approach to Flexible Dieting
Since I first started to take my diet more seriously, my first step was cutting out every single thing that can be regarded as unhealthy. Chocolate, pizza, white bread, biscuits- all of it was off the table with no exceptions. If I was going out with my friends or taking trips around the country, I would bring my own food or plan what I was going to eat ahead of time. Even when I was offered small treats here and there, I would politely accept before giving it to someone else when the first person wasn't looking.
I had entered myself into an extremely strict and unforgiving idea of nutrition; I wanted to up my game and start seeing results. For the first couple of months, I was actually rather content. Of course, I was still consuming sufficient calories, so it's not like I was under-eating or getting hungry. I felt satisfied that every time I said no to a certain food, I was one step closer toward my goal. Every strict decision that I made felt like a step in the right direction. After a lifetime of eating carelessly, it was refreshing- exciting, almost- to start putting in rules. I heard complaints from fellow fitness enthusiasts about cravings and cheat meals but I could not relate: I assumed that there was something different about myself that made me immune to such impulses. I felt no need to break the rules that I had put in place, and I could not understand why other people found it so difficult to eat this way. I was frequently criticised, too, regarding how restrictive my nutrition was. I remember how awkward I felt, trying to explain that I was perfectly happy with what I was eating, and seeing the doubt and concern in the other person's face. Yet, as I saw my waist getting slimmer, I was reassured that everything was being done right.
Then came Valentine's Day. My boyfriend had convinced me that, just for once, I should indulge a little to celebrate the day with him. I must admit, at this point, cravings had started to kick in. But I was too stubborn to do anything about them; I just ignored them day after day. Today though, after much debate, I grudgingly excepted. He generously ordered me a pizza (12" pepperoni with onions) and persuaded me that this was good for me. Though I was adamant to break the rules I had put in place, I was so incredibly happy when it arrived. I should thank my boyfriend more for ordering me that pizza because it reminded me how to truly enjoy food. I was smiling so much as I ate it- he had even remembered to include my favourite pizza dipping sauce in the order, mayonnaise (don't judge me, it's good and you know it). For the first time in months, I felt fully satiated. Prior to this, I only ate enough to keep me just satisfied, and I often found myself fantasising over ice cream and burgers. I decided that this would become a monthly ritual.
Sure enough, when it came to March 14th, I ordered another pizza (with cake too!) and loved it! I wasn't quite happy though, for the pizza was rather small, so I treated myself to a few snacks in the cupboard that I normally stayed well away from. Though this was a good progression to establishing a more harmonious balance in my diet, the cravings kept coming back. I felt guilty about increasing the frequency of these meals; I perceived them as a step backwards in my journey. But I knew that I wanted to find a sustainable balance that would keep me happy. After all, a fitness journey is all about making yourself the best person you can be, and being happy with the choices you make. Since then, I have been making adjustments, practising trial and error to find what works best.
These days, I am treating myself every two weeks, with a smaller treat in between. As well as this, if I have had a particularity rough day then I won't hold back from a little self-care. I find that this is a suitable balance: it keeps the cravings happy and the frequency isn't high enough to make a significant impact on my body fat reduction goals. Obviously, the less of these meals I have, the faster I will reach these goals, but an excessively strict diet is almost certain to lead to an avalanche of binge eating, followed by guilt and shame. Besides, it takes consistency over a long period of time to make any changes in the body: I would need to consistently eat at a surplus in order to see any changes, and once every week or so is not enough to do this (as long as I get right back to the usual nutrition). At least with my structure, I can take control and make it my decision to eat this way. Don't get me wrong, I love food. I always have. So any decisions that I make in regards to what I eat is solely to serve my own happiness.
So, if you're trying to find a balance in your diet, I strongly suggest playing around with different structures and meal frequencies to find what would be most sustainable for you. Pay little attention to what extreme diet organisations tell you to do, they're only in it for the money! Just eat what makes you satisfied (physically and mentally), whether it be a pizza every week, or an ice cream every few days. As long as you stick to the majority of your nutrition goals for a long enough period of time, you will see results. Trust the process!