In the words of the immortal Kanye West, “that right there could drive a sane man berserk.” Today’s article is all about why you should never expect to follow a diet perfectly and how you can use the 10% meal rule to stay more consistent, motivated, and happy when “dieting.”
WHAT IS GOOD NUTRITION?
There seems to be a lot of nutrition rules out there. Am I right or what?
You’re not allowed to eat this or that. You’re not supposed to eat after 7pm or it turns to fat. Too much fruit is bad for you. You have to eat a certain amount of calories, make sure you’re macros are on point, and lets not forget about breakfast being the most important meal of the day.
Some of these “rules” get it right, some don’t, and some are just bat shit crazy. But one thing is for sure, all these rules make trying to figure out what makes for good nutrition impossible. Or annoying. I’ll let you decide.
Good nutrition is simple. It’s an approach to eating that includes better quality foods that help you feel good, look great, and perform well. For some of you this may mean eating vegetarian, for others it may mean including more starchy carbs or grain (oh my god! a Paleo guy says grains), and still for others it may mean being Paleo.
But good nutrition extends beyond those things. It also has to do with your relationship to food. I use to be the type of person that would beat myself up if I did not follow my nutrition plan 100%. A fourth of a chocolate chip cookie, a sip of a beer, or if I slipped and somehow my mouth landed on a cheesecake – complete failure, diet is ruined, fuck it I’m eating everything in sight.
Good nutrition isn’t about being perfect. It’s about applying good nutrition habits “most of the time.” For some people this may mean 70%, for others 80%, and yet for some 90%. We’re all different and you’ll have to figure out how consistently you’ll need to practice them for you to succeed.
A few “good” rules that seem to work for the majority of people:
- Protein with every meal
- Veggies with every meal
- Earn your carbs and swap most grains with greens
- Include a serving of healthy fats with each meal
- Drink mostly zero calorie beverages (super shakes are an exception)
But today I want to talk about one “good” nutrition rule that most people are ignoring and it may be one of the most important. The “fuck it up 10% of the time rule.”
For the sake of not offending anyone for the rest of the article I’ll just be referring to it as the 10% rule.
WHAT IS THE 10% RULE?
This is how I like to define the 10% rule. 90% of the time you’re eating real, whole food, with 1-ingredient (there are some exceptions) and 10% of the time you’re not.
For you engineers, math elites, and those that just like numbers (I’m raising my hand) this is what that may look like over the course of a week.
Lets say you normally eat 4 meals or 3 meals and 1 snack a day. Over 7 days that’s a total of 28 meals. 10% of that is roughly 3. This means that if you’re following the 10% rule, 3 meals per week can be whatever you’d like within reason.
- 4 meals per day x 7 days per week = 28 meals a week
- 28 meals x 10% = 2.8 (lets just round that up so you’re not eating .2 of a slice of pizza)
- Kaboom! Three 10% meals per week
I actually used this to track my 10% meals a few weeks ok. You’ll see that I ate awesome meals 90% of the time and 3 times that week I had a 10% meal. If you must know it typically included wine 🙂
Ok, I’m starting to sense that you have some questions. I’ll do my best and pretend that I have ESP.
Q: What does a 10% meal actually look like?
This is a tough one to answer. It’s probably going to be a little bit different for everyone but I’ll do my best to explain. One thing to keep in mind is to not go CRAZY! A 10% meal is not an entire pizza. It’s not an entire gallon of ice cream and it’s not an entire cheesecake (yes, I have done this before and I’m not ashamed… ok maybe a little.)
You don’t need to weigh and measure a cheat meal. You just need to use common sense and take a rational approach. 2 slices of pizza, a couple scoops of ice cream, and a piece of cheesecake the size of your palm are examples of 10% meals. If you’re grabbing some fast food a burger and small fires is a 10% meal.
Big tip: I like to apply the “how can I make this 10% meal better rule. For example, if I’m out to dinner and was thinking about grabbing a burger and fries I might opt for a smaller serving of fries instead of the large version or maybe even choose the bacon cheeseburger and just have half the bun instead of the entire thing. This is up to you.
Q: Should I plan my 10% meals?
At first I suggest that you do. Figure out how many meals you usually eat per week and then multiply that by 10%. That will give you your number of 10% meals. Lets say you get 3 of these each week. Based on your schedule decide when you’d like to use these.
If you know you enjoy heading out with the boys or ladies for a Thursday night happy hour, schedule that in as one of your 10% meals. Are you usually running around Saturdays? Maybe that’s a good day to schedule a 10% meal for lunch. Do you like to order a pizza for the family mid week? 2 slices Wednesday night could be a 10% meal.
Big tip: When it comes to alcohol 6 beers, 3 shots, and a Margarita is not a 10% meal. That’s called a hangover waiting to happen. Be reasonable here. 1 to 3 beers, a mixed drink or 2, or a glass of wine or 2 is the way to go.
Big tip: Try taking a look at your schedule a month in advance. If you know you have some business trips coming up, a wedding, a vacation, or other events where choosing more nutritious foods will be difficult, those would be a great chance to schedule in 10% meals.
For those of you that prefer to not schedule your 10% meals you can use this 10% cheat sheet that I created to keep track. I like to go with the flow when it comes to 10% meals. For the most part I know that weekends are usually when I enjoy a glass of wine or a 10% meal. I keep track of how I’m doing by using the sheet above. If I find that I’ve been dialed in all week long and have some 10% meals I’ll take one or 2 on a Saturday.
Big tip: 10% meals are not like minutes. They do not roll over. They expire at the weeks end.
Q: I’m still having trouble. My 10% meals are turing in 20%, 30%, and 40% meals.
This stuff isn’t easy so have a little self compassion. You’ll get better with this. Are there ways you can turn some of you favorite 10% meals into more nutritious options. Here are a couple of my favorite food bloggers, cookbooks, and resources that may help.
Q: I’m using the 10% rule but I’m still not losing weight/body fat.
Make sure to take various measures of progress before starting to use the 10% method. Hop on the scale once per week. Take girth measurements bi-weekly. Use before and after photos each month and maybe even get a body fat test done. This way you’ll have some evidence as to what’s really working and what’s not.
Also, make sure that you’re really following the 10% rule. It’s easy to sneak a little bit here and there. Spend a week or 2 logging all your food or using the 10% cheat sheet to really assess how consistent you are. If you’re still not making any progress you may just be consuming too many calories with your 10% meals. Try cutting the servings back a little or maybe even going to a 5% meal rule for a little.
Q: Any other tips for these 10% meals?
You betcha! I’ll leave you with 4 awesome strategies for getting the most out of your 10% meals. In fact, you can use these regardless of whether it’s a 10% meal or not.
- Slow down: It takes roughly 20 minutes for your gut to signal to your brain when you’re full. Take at least 20 minutes to eat your 10% meals (or any meal for that matter).
- Eat to 80% full: If you’re eating slowly it makes this tip easier to apply. Every 5 to 10 minutes assess how full you feel? Or try leaving a little food on your plate instead of eating it all.
- On or after 10% meals try an Intermittent fasting protocol: I wrote 2 extensive articles for the Ultimate Paleo Guide about intermittent fasting. You can check those out here and here. I like to use these strategies after 10% meals (or if I some how accidentally go over a 10% meal).
- Do your best with who, what, and where you are. That’s it.
Q: Any quick tips for getting the most out of the 10% meal?
Aside from the intermittent fasting articles linked to above here are a few 10% meal hacks you can use to keep body fat accumulation to a minimum.
- Mix the juice of 3 to 4 lemons or limes into water and drink before 10% meals. This will help keep blood sugar down when eating.
- Exercise before you have your 10% meal. A quick 12 minute HIIT workout will improve insulin sensitivity and increase the chances that your 10% meal is used for recovery and not stored as fat.
- If you’re really struggling with cravings use a notepad to record what you’re craving every day for a week. At the end of the week give yourself permission to eat whatever is on that list. I’m willing to bet there’s a good chance you won’t want most of it.
- A little caffeine from coffee or espresso will help to decrease the speed of gastric emptying or absorption through calories.
Q: This 10% rule sounds dumb.
Cool. You’re a grown up. Eat what you want then.
Do you have some specific question about the 10% rule? Send me an email and ask away or simply post a comment at the end of this article and I will be more than happy to answer it.
HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT THAN HAVING A CHEAT DAY OR CHEAT MEAL?
What are cheat days? Other known aliases: Free day, reward meal, the weekend (that was a joke).
They’re often defined in the following ways.
- A specific time, day, or meal to eat anything that you want
- A conscious decision to eat specific foods that you would normally avoid, consider bad, or “shouldn’t” be eating.
- A natural part of nutrition. It’s hard to be perfect all the time, right?
And on the 7th day they binged! That to me is what cheat days have become. An opportunity to stuff yourself with anything and everything that you’ve deprived yourself for the past week.
Deprivation is what I want you to get away from by using the 10% meal rule. Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle should never leave you feeling deprived.
Googling the webs you’ll come across a few different theories as to why cheat days are good for you.
- They give your calorie restricted body a metabolism boost
- They up your leptin production
- They keep you from going insane on your diet
While there are some studies supporting these claims the metabolism boost you may get from a cheat day after eating a low calorie or carbohydrate diet is not as significant as you think. However, if you have thyroid issues and are following a calorie restricted diet a bump up in calories or starchy carbs may help your T3 and T4, which are important for metabolic rate. If you’re interested in learning more about thyroid and T3 and T4 check out these articles from Chris Kresser.
If you restrict yourself too much and calories get too low your leptin levels will get low as well. Leptin is a hormone partially responsible for weight loss, energy balance, and regulating hunger. While cheat days may help improve leptin production most people are not leptin depleted in the first place and it’s difficult to tell if you are. Also, it’s common for those that are overweight to develop leptin resistance, which is similar to insulin resistance in that they share the same signaling pathways.
Forgetting all the physiology for a second and focusing on the psychology, the one theory I do agree with is that they help you from going complete bonkers. A beer with your boys, a dog at the game with your kids, some ice cream while on a date with your sweetie. These are just fun, relaxing, and enjoyable experiences that can easily fall into the 10% rule.
SHOULD I FOLLOW THE 10% RULE
Yes! Unless of course you don’t like beer, a good glass of wine, chocolate, ice cream, cheesecake, Chicago deep dish, 5 Guys, pizza, or a cup of coffee with a chocolate (or cheese) croissant while strolling the street of Paris.
If that’s you please email me. I’d like to interview you. You’re an anomaly.
The only reason you should not follow the 10% rule is if you feel you are addicted to a food or if you feel enjoying them once or twice a week would perpetuate any sort of addiction. If that’s the case then it may be best to speak with someone far more advanced than me.
Diets are short term solutions for long term problems and most of them don’t address the behavior changes that are necessary for building healthy habits that stick. In my personal opinion striving for perfection or expecting yourself to follow a diet 100% is setting yourself up for extreme frustration. As neuroscientist and author Darya Rose says in this wonderful article, have a little self compassion for yourself. And in the case of todays post, at least 10% of the time.
Question of the day: Do you have some specific question about the 10% rule? Send me an email and ask away or simply post a comment at the end of this article and I will be more than happy to answer it.
Photo credit: Cheesecake
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