You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

How many of you have ever been on a diet?  How many of you have ever started out like gangbusters and you do great for the first week or so?  Then the cravings start setting in and you don’t know if you’re going to make it.  If your program is based on following very strict guidelines with little room for variation, you may be in trouble.


So you find yourself out to lunch with friends and you give in and order something not on your diet program.  Two bites into the meal and emotionally you feel like you’ve blown it.  So then illogically you think that if you’ve blown it, you might as well blow it big time!  You then proceed to order one of each of the desserts on the menu.

Does this sound familiar?  Or have you experienced something similar?  This little scenario makes as much sense as having a flat tire on your car and then in frustration, slashing the other three tires.  I know this sounds crazy but this is the mentality that so many people exhibit when they go “off” their diets.

Want a simple solution for staying on track that gives you flexibility and keeps you emotionally stable?  I first learned about the value of having a weekly “treat meal” from my long time nutritionist, Keith Klein the Founder & CEO of the Institute of Eating Management in Houston, TX.  We met shortly after I graduated from college back in the summer of 1991 and this one lesson gave me a totally new perspective on how I felt about food.

The challenge with overly strict diet plans is that they manifest a condition Keith describes as the “psychology of deprivation”.  When you deprive yourself of your favorite foods for an extended period of time, you’re setting yourself up for a fall.  The urge to eat your favorite “missing” foods can often be triggered by a stressful situation…thus the term “comfort food”.

The phrase “comfort food” is thrown around casually in our society and yet to “self-medicate” by turning to food for emotional relief is a disordered eating behavior.  In time, this pattern of deprivation followed by stress eating can create a vicious cycle and a full blown eating disorder.

Keith taught me not to label foods as “good” or “bad”.  Foods are more or less nutritious and they can all play a part in a balanced and healthy diet.  Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” easily transitions into labeling yourself as “good” or “bad” and this is a negative trait that can again lead to disordered eating behavior.


How often you can deviate from your basic program will be determined by where you are in terms of reaching your goals.  If you’re trying to lose 50lbs over the next year, which is totally doable, having ice cream three times a week is probably not a good idea.

The following are some great guidelines for how to schedule a “treat meal”:

  • Plan the event in advance whether eating at home or out at a restaurant
  • Give yourself the latitude of enjoying whatever type of food you want
  • Stick to normal portion sizes
  • Enjoy your time and when the meal is over…it’s over.  A “treat meal” should not become a “treat day”.  This can potentially wreck or derail you completely from moving forward.
  • Walk away from the table with zero guilt for the “treat”
  • Go back to your program with positive feelings of expectation for all the benefits you’re gaining from clean eating.
  • Maintain a long term perspective. People will often trip themselves up for short term satisfaction verses long term gain.

John Berardi, PhD CSCS and Co-founder of Precision Nutrition, offers a little different twist on the weekly “treat meal” concept.  I’ve used this with many clients with great success.  John calls it the “90/10” plan.  Let’s say your daily plan is based on 3 primary meals with 2 healthy snacks.  That’s 5 meals a day for 7 days or 35 meals per week.


John’s 90/10 plan says you can have a 10% “fudge” factor.  At 35 meals, this equates to 3.5 that don’t have to be perfectly on your plan.  Round up or down and you have 3-4 meals a week to work with.

The flip side is that with 90% compliance, you’re eating 41-42 clean meals a week.  This level of commitment will keep you on track making progress with your health & fitness goals.  The 10% treat meals will keep you mentally on track and help you avoid any sense of deprivation.

Life is too short to live on steamed chicken and broccoli…how boring!  Healthy meals can taste amazing if you know how to cook.  John’s book, Gourmet Nutrition: The Cookbook for the Fit Food Lover teaches the concept of creating amazing meals full of flavor but minus the bad fats and excess processed carbs that so many people consume in the typical American diet.

You have every reason to enjoy the occasional treat.  Just be smart and stay within your weekly guidelines and you can be successful in reaching your health and fitness goals.

Questions for my readers:

What strategies have you developed for maintaining a healthy diet?

What are your biggest struggles in maintaining a healthy diet?

Looking forward to your feedback.


Photos compliments of iStock

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