Love your weekly cheat meal? Got picky eaters in your family? Or maybe you’re high-tailing it to get the perennial favorite, the PSL as we speak. This week, PHCI coaching director, Erin Power is here to answer the pressing question: how bad is it really? And you might be surprised at the answers. Remember, you can ask your questions over in the MDA Facebook Group or below this post in the comments section.
“I can’t resist those pumpkin spice lattes. Tell me they’re not as bad for me as I think they are.”
Who doesn’t look forward to a good ol’ PSL? The cinnamon, the nutmeg, the whopping 50 grams of sugar. While it’s true that sugar is linked to so many things you don’t want, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity1 to say the least, it’s not actually a hill worth dying over. At least not for me.
A lot of my clients have been trained to panic when they see the sugar grams start to creep up. They ask me how many grams they should aim for per day. Or they want a suggestion to replace the sugar in their favorite *treats* with a more natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup or a non-caloric one like monk fruit.
But here’s the deal, sugar is sugar. And assuming you’re not sucking down seasonal drinks like this every single day, the calories you ingest aren’t going to make-or-break the metabolic bank. That’s what’s so great about our bodies. We can train them to freak out when we eat something that we think we’re not supposed to even look at, just as easily as we can have a knowing trust that our bodies have the metabolic flexibility to handle it.
If you haven’t heard me say it before, our bodies are miraculous organisms. We are designed to constantly respond and adapt to changes in our environments, thriving in some instances and effortlessly course-correcting in others.
I’m not saying that sugar isn’t highly addictive. It absolutely can be.2But there’s a difference between having a few squirts of PSL syrup in your every-so-often latte and regularly consuming overly processed frankenfoods that are not only loaded with multiple types of sugar, but also industrialized oils and preservatives that your body doesn’t even recognize.
Plain and simple, I just can’t get too worked up over sugar. And my *official* recommendation is that you shouldn’t either. Especially around something that will be gone (at least temporarily) before Thanksgiving rolls around.
“I know cheat meals are supposed to keep you on track, but I’m always massively hungry the next day. Any advice?”
Honestly, I cringe when I hear the phrase cheat day. It’s a term that’s rooted in diet culture and reinforces the labeling of “good foods” versus “bad foods.” But for the purpose of answering your question, I’ll move past my own issues.
For those who don’t know, a cheat meal is one that’s typically higher in calories and carbohydrates than you’re used to eating. Basically, it’s a meal where you can eat whatever you want without worrying about it falling into your macro split or fitting inside the Primal Blueprint food pyramid.
And yes, scheduled cheat meals can have benefits. They can help you replenish your will to stay the course, breaking up a potentially monotonous protein-and-veg-rich diet. There’s even some proof that they can kickstart your metabolism and keep your weight loss going by increasing leptin levels and restore thyroid function – two things that often get compromised during a prolonged caloric restriction.3
So, there are definitely pluses.
However, the negative aspects of a refeed might outweigh the benefits, and it looks like you’re noticing some of those negatives right now.
A lot of people view the way they eat as a diet, which to me, implies a temporary lifestyle change. If that’s the case with you, you might be using your cheat meal to reward yourself for making good choices. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can backfire, leading to overeating, bloating, and a host of other detrimental consequences. And that’s just during the cheat meal itself.
While some people find that a cheat meal reduces their hunger the next day, it sounds like your body is getting a different message. Your body might not recognize that your refeed is over, so it sends you the signal to keep eating all the carbs. That’s what makes a cheat meal turn into a cheat day or even a whole cheat weekend.
My goal as a health coach is to help my clients develop an effortless relationship with food. One where there’s no “good” or “bad” foods, no need to refeed, no yo-yo-ing, and no feelings of guilt, shame, or days spent white-knuckling it through cravings.
If cheat meals work for you, more power to you. But (and this is just a hunch here), I don’t think they do. I think they cause more challenges than they’re worth. You might be better off to adopt an 80/20 split where you focus on the foods that make your body feel good 80% of the time and let life happen the other 20%.
“I feel pretty awful about some of the things I feed my kids, but they’re picky eaters. Any tips or tricks for making the transition to a primal diet with young children or is it better to wait ‘til they’re older and have a more mature palette?”
I don’t have kids, so I can’t personally comment on that from a parental perspective. But most of my clients are moms and dads, so I’ll ask you the same question I ask them when this topic comes up.
Who does the grocery shopping in your house? Is it your kids? Or is it you and/or your partner? I realize I’m being a bit sarcastic here, however I’m trying to prove a point.
Assuming your kids aren’t buying their own food, you actually have a say in what goes in their mouths. If you want them to eat cauliflower rice instead of white rice, don’t buy white rice. If you want them to choose fresh fruit over junk-filled fruit leathers, don’t put them in your cart.
I already know what you’re thinking. What if they don’t eat? Won’t they starve? How will they get enough nutrients?
I will gladly answer that with: How many nutrients do you think they’re getting from their grape drink and cheese puffs? Not many. Not only that, you’re slowly setting them up to be part of a growing epidemic of young people who have to manage obesity-related diseases, like type 2 diabetes, before they even move out of the house.4
Here’s the good news though. It’s possible to change your kids’ preferences for certain foods. Studies doneat the University of Alberta showed that children who were involved in the preparation of foods were actually more likely the make a healthier choice at mealtime.5 Here are a few strategies to make the transition easier:
Don’t force it. No one likes to be pressured into trying new things — especially when those things are green and leafy and totally foreign to them.
Keep it simple. Sometimes kids aren’t being picky with flavors as much as they prefer their food to be less fussy. So, leave the complex sauces and seasonings off the plate for now.
Get them involved. Looking through recipes or chopping veggies together helps kids feel like they have a say in the process, giving them a sense of control, which in turn, makes them feel good about choosing healthier options.
Walk the talk. Make sure your behaviors match your language. If you want them to eat more Primally, yet you’re stocking up on junk food, it sends mixed messages. Stock your house with foods you want them to eat and leave the other stuff at the store.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Share your experiences in the comments.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.