special occasion

It’s a Special Occasion

It’s a special occasion… Just like yesterday.

Last night for dinner my girlfriend and I had Thai lettuce wraps. Grass-fed beef, shredded carrots, red cabbage and peanut sauce cooked in coconut oil and wrapped in lettuce. Lunch was a spinach salad with chicken, almonds, walnut oil and balsamic vinegar and a sliced avocado on the side.

Generally, I do pretty well with nutrition. My bodyfat stays in the single digits without the need to “diet” because what most people consider dieting is just how I eat anyway.

That said, if I let my guard down I’m susceptible to a “special occasions” mentality that sidelines my nutritional goals. I’ve been slipping into this periodically over the past few months and have had to consciously make myself aware of it in order to control it.

This summer I’ve been traveling and spending time with friends I don’t get to see too often. A week or so in New York, one in California, another week on vacation with my family road tripping through Montana and Wyoming and suddenly I’m finding myself gorging on pizza, deciding which six pack of beer looks tasty and ordering meals consisting entirely of things that are brown. I rationalize this with the passing thought that this is ok because I’m on vacation.

It’s entirely acceptable to have occasional meals that fall outside of your normal nutritional plan and there is nothing inherently wrong with having wine with your girlfriend or a beer or two with your buddies. As John Berardi, founder of Precision Nutrition, puts it, if 90% of the meals you eat fit within your nutritional plan, the remaining 10% aren’t going to matter.

When it comes to alcohol, I follow Nate Green’s advice, which is to stick to five drinks per week. It doesn’t matter whether they’re stretched out over the week or all in one night but below that level you’re really not going to negatively affect your physique. In fact, there are studies showing better health with those who consume occasional alcohol than those who abstain completely.

This “Well screw it, I’m on vacation” rationale gets tricky though, when it extends beyond one or two meals or a few days. Once you’ve allowed the special occasion excuse to slip in it becomes increasingly easy to call it up whenever the mood fits.

One must be able to truly separate the occasional outlier meals from day to day routine. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve come to realize that one’s health and physique quality depends on the ability to maintain one’s normal nutritional and workout habits throughout varying circumstances, not just when you’re at home and in your usual routine.

What would happen if you won the lottery and you could spend the rest of your life “on vacation?” Would you eat the way many people do during holidays for years on end? Probably not, because you’d quickly see the downfall to this and realize that the good things in life are most fully enjoyed with a strong, healthy body. You’d likely find a way to maintain that body regardless of your location or activities.

A few months ago in Rhode Island I sat down to lunch with a group of friends, including Dr. John Berardi. Everyone at the table was involved in some aspect of the fitness industry and had more than enough knowledge to find the few healthy Easter eggs on the menu but as the waiter went around the table everyone ordered some variation of a burger. About half of us switched the fries out for a salad, but for the most part, we all had plates of brown stuff.

When the food came, we all tore into our burgers as the waiter set down John’s meal. His was a giant salad of real vegetables (not just lettuce) covered in strips of seared Ahi tuna. Not only did it look better than our stuff, it was in almost every way a positive nutritional value whereas the food the rest of us were eating was in some way setting our health and body comp levels back a notch.

John was in the same place, with the same resources, having the same experience as the rest of us, and yet he was able to stick close to his usual eating habits without making a sacrifice and having to rationalize it as a special occasion.

Stretch this out over time. Someone with Berardi’s level of competence has spent weeks on the road, ate at countless restaurants and had occasional beers with friends all over North America and still stuck easily within his 10% constraint for non-compliant meals.

Sure, if John is at a friends wedding he’s not going to skip out on the cake and switch his champagne for water. He still enjoys himself without worrying about nutrition at events that are truly special. But he doesn’t toss his knowledge and discipline aside simply because he’s not eating at home.

As for me? I met up with Scot Prohaska, an incredible strength coach in Huntington Beach, a few weeks later for a workout. It was after about a week of well-rationalized “special occasion” meals, skipped workouts and generally acting like a fat bastard.

We worked out together at his facility and I was expecting to feel a little slow but was shocked by how hard the workout hit me. Just a few weeks of screwing off had wrecked my strength and stamina and I found myself gasping on the floor trying to decide the shortest path to the door if I had to throw up while Scot busted out sets of pullups and dips. The workout shouldn’t have been that hard but somehow I had become one of them. One of the mediocre people who made mediocre choices, easily rationalized them, and never reached physique or performance levels above good ol’ comfy mediocrity. I felt awful.

There on the floor of Scot’s gym, thinking about the diverging paths that stem from mindsets like Dr. Berardi’s versus the mediocre “well, it’s a special occasion…just like yesterday” rationale, I decided that I was done with lazy decisions and rationalization.

Now when I travel I maintain the same approach to training and nutrition as I do at home. If I decide to toss normal nutritional habits aside, it still fits within the ten percent rule, and it’s going to be because it’s a situation that truly warrants it.

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