I’ve talked about how trying to be 100% perfect on your nutrition and exercise plan is a great way to set yourself up for failure. Which makes sense, right? You need to accept that sometimes you are going to make little mistakes or life is just going to toss something unexpected at you, and you need to be flexible enough to not have that one cookie derail your whole plan forever.
There tend to be two main camps in the fitness nutrition world, the clean eating bros and the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) people. At at both extremes, they’re kinda nutjobs.
The clean eating bros live on chicken and broccoli and brown rice and say that you absolutely cannot get lean if you ever eat anything that is even slightly processed or “unnatural.” Of course, try to get them to define natural and you’ll find that it’s like pornography – they can’t define it, but they know it when they see it. Usually in advertisements at Whole Foods. Don’t ask them if the steroids they are injecting are natural though, they tend to get bent out of shape about that.
The hardcore IIFYM people say that food quality literally does not matter in the slightest, and that you can eat whatever you want so long as it fits your macronutrient requirements – the common criticism is that it is a “pop-tart” diet.
Of course, the reasonable and maintainable path is probably somewhere in the middle. I personally believe that food quality is a somewhat important factor in the design and implementation of nutritional plans, but that trying to be 100% clean and rigid all the time is just absurd. Whole foods tend to be more satiating, which is important when you are trying to lose weight. They also tend on the whole to have a higher proportion of more bioavailable nutrients in them. These are all Really Good Things.
But if you have your calorie intake set correctly, and are getting the right amounts of protein, carbs, and fats, there is no reason that you can’t get some of your calories from a bowl of ice cream the end of the day, or a bit of chocolate, or some pop tarts, or whatever your guilty pleasure of choice is. Especially if that treat allows you to maintain your diet and not go insane and quit.
Alan Aragon suggests that you get 80% to 90% of your calories for the week from whole nutritious foods, and the rest can (and probably should) be allocated however you want. You can choose to split those up however you want. Some people want to have a small treat daily, while others prefer to have a meal or two during the week or even a whole day of being able to eat whatever they want. I personally prefer the one day per week approach.
Please note, a couple of meals or a whole day where you can eat whatever you want does not mean that you should go to the nearest all you can eat buffet and try to make the owner regret letting you in the door. You still need to take care to hit your calorie and macronutrient targets. And hit doesn’t mean smash – they’re not a suggested minimum, like speed limits. It just means that you can choose to get those calories from a ribs and pasta dinner instead of chicken and broccoli. It is the whole-week calorie balance that is really important, and so long as you hit that, you are going to still be making progress.
It is certainly possible to absolutely destroy an entire week’s progress on a fat loss diet with one crazy day. I’ve done it, and I know lots of other people who have as well. Don’t be stupid.
Please do be aware that especially if you have been cutting carbs, you may see a pretty significant jump in scale weight the following morning after a big meal that is outside your usual diet plan. This is almost entirely due to water balance shenanigans and possibly exacerbated by an increase in straight food mass in your body. It will disappear again in a day or two. Here is where a good weight tracking app that shows you a trendline is really useful, as it smooths out those big aberrations and tells you if you are still on track.