Get high and eat a lot: A casual take on calorie cycling

Croquettas. Papri Chat (chickpeas, sauce, and veggies on a bed of crispy wafers). Octopus Salad. Mumbai fish curry (the fish was fried, btw).

This was my dinner from a few nights ago. Despite the click-baity title of this post, I was not in fact stoned, but there was a fair amount of alcohol in my belly. Did I overdo it? Yeah, a little. Do I care? Nope. It’s not often that I get to eat all of my favorite things in one meal. So, you know, whatever.

Sometimes indulges are small–two squares of dark chocolate, a glass of wine. And sometimes they’re fucking behemoth, like the beast I just mentioned. Moderation is a buzz word in the fitness world right now, and coaches would be weary to classify my aforementioned dinner as “moderate.” Usually moderation looks more like enjoying frequent treats so long as you eat like a bird. It’s a good idea in theory, but realistically it’s not always going to happen. However, it is possible to balance indulgences (both big and small) so that we can still enjoy life and maintain our weight. We just need to figure out our eating equation.

Let’s apply cardio terminology to the eating realm: are you a steady eater or an interval eater?
Someone who is a steady eater prefers to eat mostly the same amount/same types of food every day. This is someone who would have little treats sprinkled in daily along with their regular healthy meals. When the weekend comes they still make healthyish choices and keep portion sizes reasonable. They eat close to the same amount of calories every day. That’s the type of moderation most coaches promote, and it really is a great way to live. However, it’s not the ONLY way to live.

Sometimes, you just want to throw down on a big, juicy meal and not have to worry about following rules. This is where interval eaters’ ears perk up. An interval eater cycles between high and low days, which allows them to enjoy a variation in the size of their indulgences.

High Days:
-Higher calorie total
-Regular meals + 1 heavy meal

Low Days:
-Slightly below maintenance calories
-Regular meals
-Can still enjoy treats so long as they are small

This is basically calorie cycling. How many high/low days you have will vary from person to person, but for example, I am able to maintain with about 2-3 high days a week. For maintenance, I wouldn’t recommend going over 3 high days a week. For fat loss, you would probably have to drop it down to 1 high day week, and even that might have to go if your progress stalls.

HOW HIGH IS TOO HIGH?
For maintenance, one free meal where you pretty much eat whatever you want is usually safe. Mind you, the free meal doesn’t mean binging or eating to the point where you make yourself sick. Just enjoy yourself. The other high meals are flexible, so long as you eat to 80% full. So fries, fried chicken, burgers–or ice cream, pie, or cookies if you have a sweet tooth–are all on the table. Have at it, just don’t stuff yourself.

Once again I want to clarify that interval eating is NOT the binge/restrict cycle. It is indulge/stabilize. What makes this style of eating work is the mentality that no food is forbidden and trusting that you can rebound from the big meal in a healthy, guilt-free way. That means picking up where you left off and resuming normal habits.

It is possible to get negative effects from having a large meal, like indigestion, fatigue, and bloating. In these cases, it’s probably a better idea to adopt the steady eating style. I’ve gotten to the point where I can stop before I feel uncomfortable, but, not gonna lie–it still happens to me every now and then. But considering that humans have been in a gorge/famine cycle for most of our existence, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal if you get stuffed once in a blue moon. But nevertheless, don’t think of interval style eating as a gorge-fest. Aim for 80% full.

And let it be said that you can even oscillate between being steady and intervaled on a week-to-week basis. Sometimes I’m a good little girl who eats reasonable portions all week, and some weeks I’m savage AF with a couple of meals and eat lighter on the other days. Moderation doesn’t just look different for everyone, it can even look different for the same person from week to week.

There are lots of different ways to maintain or lose weight. What matters the most is what your energy balance looks like at the end of the week and your level of satisfaction. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a big, hearty meal (or two…or three), just make sure to balance it with appropriately lighter/healthier meals through the week.

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