Happy Mardi Gras! In case you weren’t aware, “Mardi Gras” means “Fat Tuesday” in French. And for most of the world, the holiday (actually a religious one, called Shrove Tuesday) serves as an excuse to indulge (or overindulge) in rich foods. After all, once Wednesday rolls around, Lent has begun. And then we all have to “give up” something. How many of us give up an unhealthy food or behavior we shouldn’t be indulging in to begin with? Mardi Gras is such a party because it’s seen as one last hurrah to enjoy your candy before you have to spend a month and a half without.
The religious beliefs underlying Mardi Gras aside, I think this tradition represents the overarching problem we as a species have with dieting. We think, “Hey, I’d like to lose some weight.” Then we see the cake on the counter and think, “I’ll start tomorrow.” There’s always that one last day of bingeing, so like the Mardi Gras we celebrate today. One last night out. One last martini. “Diet starts Monday, so I’m going to enjoy the weekend!” How many times have we all fallen victim to this seemingly inescapable refrain?
Don’t even get me started on the notion of the “cheat day.” You’re trying to train your body and mind to crave healthier foods in healthier ways. Reprogramming all of that is no easy feat. When you’re dieting, the dangling carrot of a day where you can do whatever you want may seem appealing. But a cheat day really isn’t anything other than the binge-purge cycle. Follow your diet all week; go crazy on Saturday. Then, back to the 5am gym treks and carrot sticks for lunch. Do you really intend to keep having cheat days once you’ve reached your goal weight? Probably not. For most of us, in the long run, it just won’t work to feel like we have to torture ourselves most of the time, if only to enjoy life a little bit of the time. It’s far, far healthier to train ourselves to incorporate healthy indulgences into our daily lives. That’s what normal eating should be like, and that’s really the only sustainable way to maintain a weight loss or behavior change for the long haul. Go to the gym at 5am, but let yourself have a healthy snack after dinner if you’re hungry. Bring carrot sticks for a snack, but pack a delicious protein-filled lunch. If you push too hard for too long, you’re setting yourself up for failure, no matter how committed you are to your diet. And an entire day filled with any indulgence you please will likely not only derail your diet in the short term, but keep you onboard the unhealthy behavior wagon for the foreseeable future. Balance is key.
Am I a dietitian? No. I just know what works and what doesn’t for myself and the people around me. It’s slower to lose weight while also training yourself to have healthier attitudes about food. But in the long run, it’s worth it.
All that being said, I do think you should enjoy some Cajun food or a beignet tonight. But don’t beat yourself up over it, and don’t promise to start on the juice cleanse first thing tomorrow. Love yourself. Diets aren’t the most enjoyable thing in the world; they're hard. To lose weight, you basically have to get used to feeling hungry. But that’s okay. You can do it. And try to view it not as a quick fix but rather as a lifestyle change. Your mind and body will thank you.
Happy Mardi Gras!