Last week I cheated on my diet four times and my body barely noticed.
Ok, that's not entirely true. I'm not on a 'diet'. I eat food. I choose the right foods for my body at the right times. And I don't limit my foods to 'clean' meals I can make at home. Sure, that's the majority of my eating. But I plan to eat outside of the plan.
Here's one of my many, delicious and different meals at the moment. I estimate that it's about 500 of my 2900 (ish) calories that day.
I also ate a beef burrito for dinner on Wednesday night at a reunion with friends.
And a hearty Polish beef soup accompanied by fresh bread for lunch on Friday. If I'm out for lunch, I choose things that I don't usually eat. I stumbled across an authentic Polish bakery that makes the most delicious meals I could never make at home.
I ate a slice of decadent chocolate mud cake on Friday night to celebrate a birthday. I stopped after a moderate slice.
And then on Sunday night, I ate half a honey BBQ pizza. I hadn't planned that, it just happened to coincide in the same week as the additional meals out.
I don't normally eat out quite so frequently. I usually enjoy one or maybe a couple of meals each week that's something different. Sometimes it's calorie dense, other times it's a modest change.
At the moment, I'd say that I eat around 2600 to 3000 calories daily. I don't track my foods each day, instead I'll do an audit of my daily nutrition one to three times a month, depending on whether I've adjusted things. I have the experience and I'm at a phase in my training and goals to do that. The foods that I ate this week didn't necessarily add more calories to my diet, but I'd estimate that they did bump things up a little.
So, how did this affect my body composition and health?
Barely at all.
I didn't put on any weight. I tend to weigh from 64.1 kg to 64.4 kg at the moment. On Monday morning (post pizza), I weighed 63.9 kg. That said, weight fluctuation alone isn't necessarily a 'problem' at all. A healthy body is designed to store weight after eating more of certain foods, particularly carbohydrates. Seeing as I already eat quite a lot of carbohydrates at the moment, I didn't expect a big difference in weight related to glycogen storage from substituting another carbohydrate based meal. And also, I've found that my body has settled at around 64 kg, my body composition is changing at this set point and I can be quite flexible in my calories and still hold here.
It didn't affect my digestion at all. I didn't bloat. I didn't have tummy troubles. I didn't feel full, like the food sat in my stomach. My morning digestive patterns continued normally.
It didn't affect my energy. My body handled and used the nutrients in these foods effectively. I didn't feel amped or crash.
I didn't have cravings later on.
I ate gluten (shock horror) on all four occasions. I don't normally eat gluten, but did my intestinal villi freak out and punish me for it? No. My body is healthy enough to handle it. There's been times that I did have a stronger response to gluten, but I've recalibrated. My body has adapted. The body does that. In fact, it's excellent at doing that.
A healthy body should be resilient. It should be able to cope with some change across a week here and there. You might not quite have reached this place yet, but you can build things to move into that position. I've been on both sides, and building resilience has so many benefits. You can be more social, eat more freely and enjoy holidays because your system isn't vastly affected. Your body doesn't mount a huge retaliation to a sudden change in foods - think bloating, indigestion, energy slumps, mood changes and constipation or diarrhoea. It can handle it.
There's many things you can do to support a resilient body. For example, I try to eat the same number of meals and at about the same times, and I maintain a consistent bed time and up time. There's lots of little things at play here, and it takes time and patience.
Am I advocating for flexible dieting, IIFYM or a calories in, calories out approach? No. The nutrition and diet industry is dominated by absolute positions - you're either for a diet, or you're not. You either think that it's all about calories, or you don't. You're either pro macros and tracking, or you're anti diet. I don't subscribe to any camp. I don't think it's as simple as calories alone, and I don't think that all foods are created equally. I do believe that it's useful to be able to substitute meals for different foods so that you can maintain some normality and sanity in your life. Food isn't just about fuel, and it's a shame to treat it in that limited manner. And if you set up your body properly, you don't need to.