Happy Meal

Happy Meals - No, Not the Ones from McDonald's.......

Monday, March 10, 2014

So I mentioned the importance of happy meals last Thursday.  Did you know what I meant?

A happy meal is a free meal where you can choose whatever you want to eat for - one meal only.  Your choice can be high calorie, high fat, high sugar, or even fried.  Whatever you want.

So, if a happy meal is so calorically dense and basically horrible for you, why would I ever encourage you to indulge?  Why, I'm glad you asked (you DID ask, right?)!  A happy meal is incredibly important, both physiologically and psychologically.

Let's talk about the physiological effects first, shall we?

Whenever you cut calories or just generally eat a caloric deficit, your body does what it always does under stress:  it adapts.  Let's say you do cut calories in an effort to lose weight.  The deficit will be effective at first.  The pounds begin to fall off.  Then suddenly, you hit a plateau.  You clean up your diet; you're tighter with control.  But does that jumpstart the weightloss again?  Sometimes, but usually only if the problem was your diet to begin with.  What if you were already strict with your diet?  What recourse do you have?  Restrict your calories even further?  Not necessarily a good idea due to the myriad effects of the dreaded "starvation mode."

Enter the happy meal.  The happy meal functions as a means to "confuse" your system.  The happy meal is a one-time alleviation of the stress on your system, which then tells your system that it does not have to adapt.  So instead of the previous illustration, this becomes the continual cycle:

So now let's talk about the psychological effects of a happy meal.

What is one thing that guarantees failure when trying to successfully and permanently lose weight?  Treating your diet/eating plan like it has an expiration date.  What's that mean?  It means, for example, telling yourself that you will cut out entire food groups (Atkins, I'm looking at YOU!) for a set period of time, and that, once you reach that goal, you can go back to the foods you *truly* enjoy.  Guess what?  It doesn't work that way!  In order to have LASTING results, you have to keep up the habits you create for the REST.  OF.  YOUR.  LIFE.

OK, so how discouraged do you feel right now?

Enter the happy meal, once again.  By allowing for - and planning for - calorically dense meals, you still get to enjoy those foods you typically wouldn't allow yourself.  And that means, you won't feel deprived.  You always have the happy meal on the horizon.  Let's say - in my case - I really want sushi.  The rolls and fish that I prefer are not exactly diet-friendly.  However, by scheduling sushi in for my happy meal (which usually falls on Fridays or Saturday nights for me), I only have to delay the gratification, not eliminate it.  It's much easier to wait for something that you know is coming than to despair because you can never have it again, right?

Yet another psychological impact of happy meals is the social impact.  Often, when someone restricts their intake, going out with friends or a significant other becomes a chore.  However, with a bit of planning, you can have your happy meal coincide with your outings.  Suddenly, your social life doesn't have to take as big of a hit because you are trying to take care of yourself!

Happy Meals - The Rules

You knew there had to be rules, right?

The first and most important rule:  NO GUILT.  This meal is free.  You have planned for it.  You have been strong the rest of the week.  You are NOT to feel guilty for indulging in one meal. 

That brings me to another tangential point:  you may know happy meals by the term of "cheat meals."  I choose not to use that term simply because of its connotation.  Which sounds more positive:  a happy meal or a cheat meal?  Cheating is negative; it's outside the boundaries of what you're "supposed" to do.  Rule #1 is no guilt, so I do not call my happy meals cheat meals.

Rules #2 and 3 go together.  This meal is meant to be savored.  It's meant to be an experience.  So, EXPERIENCE IT!  Don't take your food and plop down in front of the television.  Don't mindlessly grab some junk food and call it your cheat meal.  How satisfying is that?  And to add to it, make your happy meal worth it.  Now, I don't mean to eat everything in sight.  What I mean is, eat the good stuff!  The filet mignon or specialty sushi roll.  Make it count!

Rules #4 and 5 also go together.  Make your happy meal special.  Schedule it into your week, but only schedule it once or twice (at the most!) per week.  You don't want to wreck all the progress you've made!  A happy meal should be part of your plan.  Again, this makes it more satisfying. 

So there you have it.  Who is adding a happy meal to their plan this week?  I know I am!

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