I’ve often thought of my body like a bank account: If I just keep saving up money (or calories), I can finally go on that shopping spree (or eating spree) that I’m really craving (more like fiending for).
And it makes sense: We’ve been force-fed the idea that adopting a diet mentality is the way to achieve happiness by way of thinness. Just be good — no, be perfect — and then you can enjoy your life (and your meals) one day a week.
First of all, a certain body size doesn’t equal a certain level of happiness. Please trust me on this. I’ve been every size and shape known to woman over the past fifteen years! I’ve had moments of bliss and weeks of confusion, frustration, and self-destruction regardless of my weight.
Second of all, not feeding your body enough all week — and then draining your food bank account on Saturday — feels just as crappy for your body, as it does for your mind, when you do the same with your actual bank account.
But unlike money, which we technically can stow away until we’re ready to splurge, our bodies need fuel on a daily basis.
Calories Are Not Coins
Our bodies are not bank accounts. Calories are not coins that we can stash away until a Friday night: “I barely ate Monday through Thursday, so now I can have whatever I want!”
This shouldn’t excite us. This shouldn’t be the goal or the reward. But I’m not going to lie: I loved that feeling. I’d my earned treat. Enter: Black-and-white thinking. Reward system training. Giving in to societal “shoulds.”
We depend on the glorious promise of cheat days to push us through our unhealthy dieting behaviors: We restrict our wants, ignore our physiological must-haves, and then we’re ready to cash in on our “much deserved” prize.
We’ve done the hard work all week — “accomplished” what we were “supposed” to. Don’t we deserve a reward at the end of it all? Who doesn’t love a trophy — or better yet, a cookie?!
But the outcome isn’t a “guilt-free treat.” It’s an unhealthy relationship with food — one that is very likely followed by emotional or binge eating. After depriving our bodies of essential nutrients and abundant energy for days, we’re neurobiologically desperate to take in as many high-fat, high-carb, high-cal foods as possible to make up for the deprivation. Our bodies are literally screaming, “Feed me!”
And so we do — or better yet, we overdo.
And then comes the shame, guilt, sadness, confusion — a smorgasbord of negative emotions.
But there’s actually an easy solution to this cycle. “Easy?” Yes, I hate that word, too. When it comes to food, nothing has ever felt like a two on the difficulty scale. It’s always ranked at least a 23 (out of ten). But this time, there really is just one step:
We’ve got to stop waiting for the weekend — and feed our needs now.
Waiting for the Weekend = A Setup for Binge Eating
As I binged, I used to put my existence on hold — breath abated, “saving” up those calories as if my entire week’s worth of happiness depended on that Friday night binge.
I’d wake up in the morning with a glistening smile on my face: Today is the day.
From that moment, through the rest of the day, the anticipation and excitement would build — along with the grocery list or takeout order I was creating in my head.
After my responsibilities were taken care of, I’d make a beeline for the store or back home to pick up a menu and dial 1–800-FOODNOW. My fingers shaky, my heart racing, my need growing with every passing minute.
Spaghetti. Large cheese. Chicken parm. Cookies. Chips. Chocolate. All of it. Everything I haven’t tasted in a week. As the ridiculously spoiled Veruca Salt once sang, “Don’t care how — I want it now!”
By the time the heating up of food was done or the goodies delivered, I was literally frothing at the mouth. And then the world would go darker with each bite — as I barely chewed, swallowed, rewarded, and numbed.
Even though I knew that I’d spend the next six days frustrated and confused by my decision, wondering why I was putting my body, mind, and heart through this, it wasn’t stronger than my desire to binge.
I’d lose a week’s worth of my life after, drowning in guilt. In fact, I lost a full two of my short 28 years doing just that — over and over and over again.
But after a long journey of self-exploration, which included my stay at Green Mountain at Fox Run, I’ve found that food is not the answer to self-love or happiness.The act of eating is not the answer. And being scared of those calories — oh, girl — that is so not the answer.
The only question that food answers is hunger!
I mean, we know this deep down. Right? But bingeing or emotional overeating is actually about physical hunger. It’s emotional. It’s that feeling I’m after — that high of looking forward to the binge. The lack sensation and thought during the binge. That floating feeling. Weightless. First, the ecstasy; then, the peace that seems unachievable through any other means.
But ignoring my needs for five or six days a week to reach that feeling? You guessed it: also not the answer I was looking for.
But why did I think this “strategy” would work in the first place?
Cheat Days Are Ridiculous
If you’ve hopped from one diet train to another like I have, you’ve come to know the term “cheat days” very well. Essentially, these are days we reserve for eating all of the things we wouldn’t (or “shouldn’t”) eat every other day of the week while we’re following our diets like “good girls.” It’s our reward for making it through the week hungry.
So what do we do? We celebrate not eating the things we love in healthy quantities — by giving ourselves permission to eat them in unhealthy quantities within an allowed timeframe.
It sounds kind of ridiculous when you think about it, huh?
So why is the idea of a cheat day so embedded in our cultural consciousness that we all immediately recognize and understand the experience and its implications?
These types of diet strategies actually encourage the binge cycle, triggering the very thing that we’re trying to avoid: eating more food than our bodies need in one sitting. For many of us, when we restrict, we binge. It’s simple as that. And not only can we not save up for a “cheat day,” we can’t carry over calories either: Eating a lot on Sunday doesn’t mean we suddenly need to eat less on Monday. It’s simply not a sustainable way to live. Our bodies need love and nourishment seven days a week!
If you’ve experienced this vicious cycle like I have, you know the drill well. You can’t concentrate on work because, by Wednesday, you’re fantasizing about your weekend “treats.” You don’t have the stamina to exercise (or practice movement) — if you try, you start seeing feeling faint or seeing cartoon stars from exerting too much energy. And you certainly don’t have the patience — I’m hangry! — to deal with the 500 other things life is getting ready to throw at you.
By the time you get to the weekend, your everything is out of whack. Your body is exhausted, your mind is disoriented, and you have one goal: to eat it up and numb it out.
But you’re sending the wrong message to yourself: You can’t have what you want.
This Is No Way to Live Your Life
I know, because I’ve been there. And I was barely living at all. I was merely going through the motions, waiting for Thursday to come and go. My entire life revolved around food — whether I was eating it or not eating it.
The kind of negative energy and suppression that I was forcing into my life only fueled the fire of self-hatred that was burning inside me — it never encouraged me to care for myself. The more I restricted my desires and malnourished my body, the brighter, hotter, and more fierce those flames grew.
And there was only one thing I thought would make it better: getting my reward — by waiting for the weekend.
But I could never actually enjoy — or, hell, even be present during — that reward anyway. The anticipation was simultaneously glorious and infuriating. But during the act, I wasn’t really there.
You see, food and the act of eating (in these cases, the bingeing) are two very different things. In fact, a lot of the time, the quote-unquote “reward” that we’re after isn’t even about the food. It’s about trying to create a process that is dissociative and soothing.
So I’ve restructured my understanding of “reward.” And it continues to be my mission to find other things that give me the same euphoric feeling that I used to get while bingeing.
Because here’s the truth: Our bodies depend on us to make decisions that give us strength, not deplete us.
Restricting Calories Deplete Us
Looking forward to eating something you love or being excited about a plan that revolves around a meal is not a bad thing. It’s not wrong. It’s actually perfectly normal and natural. Eating should be just as enjoyable as it is necessary.
It’s when we stop taking care of our bodies while we wait for those events that things can get a bit sticky. For example, if we neglect our needs today, while we wait for the weekend, we’re forgetting about the here and now. We’re not being present. We’re missing moments, hours, days, weeks (or my case, years) of our lives.
We require food seven days a week, whether we break it up into three big meals, six small meals, four medium meals, and a few snacks, or whatever. That part is up to us. Trial and error, baby! There is no generic, foolproof formula to what works for everyone’s bodies.
But what is true for each and every one of us is that our bodies are an investment. They count on us to listen and take action accordingly. You can only get out what you put in. Literally.
Weekends aren’t going anywhere — and we don’t have to put our lives on hold while we wait for their arrival.
You can live for today. You can enjoy today. And you can eat what tastes and feels incredible to this body — this body that doesn’t wait for the weekend to give you what you need, this body that works so hard for you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And you can do the same for your beautiful, extraordinary body. Give it the energy it needs to be able to do this. How? Try to stop thinking about your body the same way you think about money. Spend those calories on the daily, girl. Eat them up, enjoy them, feed yourself with the things you know your body needs and the things your taste buds love.
But what about the fear of constantly overindulging if you let “those foods” into your life on a regular basis? If I’m eating a healthy portion of something I love and start to go back for more — even though I know I’m satiated — I tell myself this: “You can eat that again tomorrow, darling!”
And then I do.