“If you had three wishes, what would they be?”
That time-tested, go-to inquiry for populating an awkward silence is a good one. Amongst the plethora of potential answers, one finds a yearning for an excess of the usual human desires—money, an expensive car, traveling to an exotic locale. And of course, you always have the smart-ass who asks for three more wishes… but who am I kidding? That smart-ass is usually me.
However, one of the answers I hear most is one that I think we’d all happily add to our arsenal of wishes; and that is the ability to eat—anything, any amount, for a day or forever. It’s no secret that human culture is largely founded upon cuisine, and with the constant inundation of foodie wet-dreams delivered by way of tantalizing internet videos, it’s no wonder that the we now have grander appetites than ever. Cheeseburgers sandwiched between donuts, lava-like gobs of melty-cheesy masterpieces, sky-high ice cream sundaes with a candy factory unloaded atop—the potential for these artery-clogging pieces of ecstasy is limited only by the extent of our imagination.
While the mouth-watering culinary temptations are ever-present, so is the social and internal pressure to maintain a certain degree of physical aesthetic. For every mad scientist concocting a fatty piece of heaven of YouTube, there’s a fitness guru selling us the obligation of a perfectly-sculpted rear and a set of abs that could grate cheese. And this is where we find the conflux for one of our greatest paradoxes; “Do I eat what makes me happy? Or do I sacrifice for a body that makes me happy?”
As I could think of no better context in which to use this turn of phrase, here you go—I’m writing to let you know that you can have your cake and eat it too.
Being a former chubby kid myself, I’ve always had a monstrous appetite. And being a former bullied kid, I’ve also always had the desire for a physique that I could draw confidence from—and now, at 27 years old, I’m pleased to say I’ve struck the perfect balance, like a miner hitting gold. Mind you, I don’t have any naturally rocket-like metabolism (my brother does, and it’s always been a point of contention) but I have crafted a lifestyle that allows for the consumption of pizza, ice cream, and donuts without the evidence accruing around my body.
So, without further delay, here are 5 strategies you can implement to go-to town on that decadent dinner this weekend.
1. Count Your Calories
I know this first point sort of plays contrary to this picture of unbridled excess I’ve painted above, but hear me out. Keeping track of your calories throughout the day and making smarter decisions during uneventful stretches of time will allow you to further indulge when you go out for dinner with friends over the weekend, or when you want a sugary treat to accompany your Sunday Netflix binge.
I’m not saying to go full-throttle by boiling your chicken and eating nothing but brown rice and kale, but be mindful of the spots in your diet where hidden calories add up quickly. Some common culprits include salad dressings, oils, coffee creamer, candies in the office common area—items that we pop into our mouths and inhale so mindlessly that their calories go virtually unnoticed until they show up in the mirror. Using an app such as MyFitnessPal, you can better log these forgotten calories to maintain a better sense of how many calories you can spare later in the day and after a while, it almost becomes something of a game. Do this for a few weeks, and you’ll be amazed at the liberation of thousands of calories that can then be consumed at your leisure.
2. Fall In Love With Endurance
There’s a reason you don’t see many overweight endurance athletes—activities like distance running burn massive amounts of calories. I’ve been a runner myself for many years now, and that’s played a major role in my affinity for eating. Why? Because running, even at a moderate pace, burns over 100 calories per mile. Run three miles, and you’ve earned yourself another slice of pizza. Run five miles, and you can splurge for that extra scoop of ice cream after dinner. Run ten miles … and the culinary world is free for your stomach to conquer.
But maybe running isn’t an option for you. Whether you have lower body issues or you simply loathe the repetition of a distance running regimen, fear not, as there is more than one way to zap a calorie.
Rowing, for example, is a fantastic, low impact, full body workout that you can easily implement into your daily routine. Use your gym’s machine, or invest in the convenience of having your own (nothing beats being able to exercise in your underwear). And if rowing’s not for you, there’s a litany of alternatives to choose from; try stationary biking, an elliptical machine, or an inclined-treadmill, to name a few. To make the needed time investment more worthwhile, try killing two birds which one stone by putting on an eBook or learning a new language. Building your physique is good—building your knowledge-base at the same time is better.
3. Sprinkle Small Amounts of Activity Throughout Your Day
If an extraterrestrial being happened upon earth, particularly the United States, one of their first of assumptions would be that humans are allergic to any sizable amount of exercise. We have drive-through restaurants and will circumnavigate a parking lot for ten minutes in search of a spot that would save a five minute walk. It’s no wonder calories cling to us like a spider to its web. If you want to burn additional calories without much effort, simply find points throughout your average day where you can incorporate light aerobic activity.
Maybe this means parking 15 minutes away from work and walking the rest of the way, and if you work in a tall building, take the stairs. Trying doing to some calf-raises while waiting for the microwave during lunch and don’t be afraid to do some mid-afternoon push-ups. Not only will this build calorie-burning muscle, but it’s sure to get you through that mid-afternoon slump better than an extra jolt of espresso ever could.
4. Hit The HIIT Workouts
I know I’m not the only blogger on the internet ranting and raving about High Intensity Interval Training, but there’s good reason for the praise it receives. Not only are these workouts short and fast, thus perfect for fitting into a busy schedule, they’ll also kickstart your metabolism and initiate an “after-burn” effect that will allow your body to keep burning calories long after your workout has ended.
This is another workout regimen that can be done in your underwear. I recommend getting it out of the way either first thing in the morning when you wake up, or at the end of the day, two hours or so after dinner. The trick is choosing varied movements that work your full body to activate as many muscles as possible. There are a plethora of resources you can turn to in order to find workouts, but a few good examples are burpees, jumping lunges, air squats, push-ups (fast), planking, and wall walks. All of these can be done with your body-weight and do not require any special equipment. If you’re looking to be a gym class hero, I recommend purchasing a kettlebell. This simple weight will add an entirely new repertoire of calorie-blasting movements to your workout.
Lastly, you’ll need a training paradigm through which you can consistently push yourself to the max while incorporating small pockets of rest. To achieve this, try Tabata, a method that is built on 20 seconds of high-intensity work and 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds. It’s a great way to track your workout (one 4-minute Tabata session will burn about 60 calories depending on your weight) and the rest periods provide convenient segways for you to switch things up.
In example, try: Air Squats > Burpees > Jumping Lunges > Push Ups (x2).
If you can squeeze 8 – 16 minutes of Tabata into your schedule, that’s an easy 120 – 240 calories in the books, plus the additional after-burn, thus making the workout perfect for even the busiest of us.
5. Get Your Nutrients
“Eat your green vegetables if you want to grow up big and strong.”
We all heard this home-spun phrase from our parents and grandparents growing up, and in all likelihood, it was met with an audible sigh of derision on our parts. But hidden in that semi-automated parental gem lay the truth. If you’re looking to have a good deal of caloric real-estate when indulging, you need to be getting your key nutrients the rest of the time.
For example, after tearing your muscles during a workout, they’ll be lusting after the healing properties of protein so that they can come back bigger and consume more calories. This isn’t to say you need to be slamming protein shakes twice of day, but opting for roasted chickpeas over potato chips, or whole wheat bread to white, will sneak that much-need protein into your diet and will make the most of each precious calorie.
While protein gets the most publicity, it’s not the only star of the show. Nutrients like Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, a vitamins A, B, C, D, and E will aid in muscle recovery, while also providing numerous other benefits to your general well-being. Make sure to incorporate healthy “power-foods” into your daily diet to maintain a constant nutrient supply. Spinach, sweet potatoes, quinoa, broccoli, bananas, and olive oil are all examples of foods that you should become accustomed to throwing on your plate.
This is not to say that these foods should monopolize your diet; after all, the goal here is to allow the consumption of those cupcakes and chocolates—the consumption of these health foods simply ensures that your body has the infrastructure to make up for an evening of indulgence.
6. Roller Coaster Dieting
That label may sound hazardous to your health, but it’s actually a much better way to view your relationship with food. It’s a common misconception that our bodies somehow “download” excess calories at the end of each day and store them as fat, but that’s simply not true.
As creatures who long for structure and organization, it’s us who devised the “calories-per-day” paradigm. However, the body is not so regimented like a computer or a train. In fact, a better way to view calorie consumption is on a rolling basis. While the name of the game is still “fewer calories in than calories out”, you can absolutely have a 2,000 calorie dinner & dessert, and just adapt by having a lighter breakfast and lunch the following day.
Our fear is that an indulgent meal is going to result in accrued body fat the next day, but the body doesn’t work that fast. Simply treat your diet as a system of checks and balances and don’t be afraid to “treat yo’self”.
7. Drink! Drink! Drink! (Water)
This is simple, but is also commonly neglected by the majority of us. At a minimum, you should be gulping down half your bodyweight in ounces of water. For example, a person who weighs 140 pounds should be drinking at least 70 ounces of water per day, plus any water that gets lost through perspiration due to exercise or heat.
I recommend investing in a good reusable water bottle, and one of significant size so that you don’t have to be filling it up multiple times per day. Two fills of a 32-oz bottle will just about get us to our 140-pound person’s goal, and to coordinate with point #3 of this post, feel free to lunge your way to that water fountain for your mid-day refill to burn a few extra LB’s.
As a bonus, water occupies space in your stomach, thus making you feel “fuller” and saving you from wasting calories on vending machine junk. The moral of this point: Drink as much water as you can during the day so you can enjoy that wine come night.
8. Find Hobbies That Keep You Active
Sadly, lounging back and watching The Office for the 20th time is not an avocation or hobby. It may spark conversation as part of your Tinder bio, but won’t do much for freeing up additional calories.
Try and find a fun activity you can do on the weekends that also keeps you active. As I live by the water, my weekend hobby is kayaking. It lets me get some sunshine, levels my head, and a three-hour excursion of constant paddling burns over 1,000 calories (or half a pizza).
Not everybody lives near the water, but every location has its own opportunity for active hobby. Hiking, climbing, skating, tennis, and trail running all have the benefit of providing exercise and entertainment simultaneously. Find something that you enjoy, and the calories will seemingly burn themselves.
So there you have it; that’s my “eat what I want” strategy. Pick and choose items from this list that will work best for your lifestyle, and by all means, order that pizza, open that wine, and scoop that ice cream. Life’s for living, so Bon Appetit!