You've arrived at day 10 of your Kenzai Shift program! If you've been working on cleaning up your diet, it's around the 10 day mark when most people start to feel distractingly strong cravings for their favorite off-diet treats. This is a critical period if you want to make better eating not just a two week kick but a part of a new lifestyle.
If you've researched or participated in other nutrition or fitness training programs, you might have been exposed to the idea of a "cheat meal" or a "cheat day." The idea is that you're staying on diet and eating clean for the entire week, except for one day when you have permission to eat whatever you like.
This approach has some serious flaws, which leads us to today's myth:
A CHEAT DAY RELIEVES THE PRESSURE OF DIETING AND HELPS YOU STICK TO YOUR PLAN.
CHEAT DAYS ONLY MAKE CRAVINGS STRONGER, AND DECREASE YOUR CHANCES OF SUCCESS.
The thinking behind the cheat day is that a clean diet can absorb a few off-diet meals a week. There's even some evidence that a day of caloric surplus will boost metabolic burn for 24 hours (in reality this boost is so small that it amounts to a rounding error). So, on a cheat day you can let off some steam and reward yourself without compromising your progress, right? You could have your cheat day on Sunday, enjoy your favorite foods, rest and recharge, and then wake up Monday ready to get back on diet and have a clean, lean week.
This is a nice idea, but it ignores the realities of both human psychology and biological reward systems.
When you feel a craving, what you're actually feeling is a broken circle. You've established a pattern in the past, and your system is trying to repeat that pattern. If you always have a cigarette on your lunch break, when 12:30 pm rolls around your hormonal system will start expecting a dose of nicotine to fill millions of pleasure activation sites in the brain. If you don't have the cigarette, your brain can't complete the hormonal transaction (nicotine in, dopamine out) and you start to feel uncomfortable. If hours pass and you still haven't resupplied the system with nicotine you're going to be feeling quite antsy and irritable as your brain works with a sub-optimal hormonal balance. Your brain will compel you to complete that circle of craving: —> input —> satisfaction —> craving —> input, and on and on.
Your cravings for a cigarette will get more and more intense for days or weeks following your last nicotine input. But at some point, your brain will realize that those activation sites are no longer going to be filled with nicotine, and it'll move on to another source to fill the gap, hopefully a less harmful one, like the dopamine release from exercise or a favorite hobby.
If, however, you choose to have a cigarette in the craving period, the brain will breathe a sigh of relief and lock down the habit circle stronger than ever. Activation sites will light back up, hormone levels will snap back to their smoking ratios, and you'll be exactly where you were before you attempted to quit.
No one who tries to quit smoking has just one cigarette and says "Ah, now that I've scratched that itch it'll be easier than ever to quit." Getting off of rich, processed food and drinks works in exactly the same way. Let's say you're on a cheat day system and really craving pizza. All week long you stay strong and don't indulge. But on your cheat day you do.