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How Often Should You “Treat” Yourself?

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How often can and should you indulge in your favorite treats? How Often Should You “Treat” Yourself? www.runnerclick.com

There is no denying that running, and exercise in general, burns some serious calories. And after all that we put our bodies through with our training, difficult workouts, foregoing special events and occasions to make sure we are appropriately rested, and sticking to a clean diet for the most part, it only makes sense that we would want to indulge occasionally and “cheat” on our clean eating habits with a favorite treat.

But if you have ever tried to lose or maintain your weight through exercise and diet, you know that what you eat has a far more drastic impact on your body size and composition than exercise does. This means that, before you know it, those seemingly minor treats can add up big time, and you end up undoing all the hard work you put in. But you also can’t be 100 percent clean eating all the time, every day. It’s just not practical, and definitely not fun!

So what is the balance? How often can and should you treat yourself?

For the Pros

First off, what are your goals? This needs to be the very first question you ask yourself, because this is what will help you narrow your focus and figure out how often you can incorporate treats into your diet. For professional and elite athletes who are focused on nutrition from a strictly functional standpoint, your treats are likely to happen fewer and farther between. This is especially true during the height and peak of your training season, when you are cranking out hard workouts each week, and grinding day in and day out. In order to fuel that much intensity, you really need to focus on getting in the right nutrients into your diet – and ENOUGH, too. So while this definitely means you are eating a lot to sustain your training, it is going to look like a lot of protein-packed, vitamin and mineral heavy foods with plenty of whole grains and omega-3 sources of fat. AKA, not a whole lot of the “treats” and “cheats” that you might be hoping for.

But if you are in the off season, and living a much more balanced life between your training and personal life, you can (and should!) probably treat yourself far more often than others because your body has to regain some fat to get you to a healthy weight that functions properly. Our bodies weren’t meant to stay at race-weight for long.

For the Rest of Us

For the majority of people though, (non-elite athletes) who make exercise a priority when it can be but who are also juggling what can seem like hundreds of balls in the air, treating yourself and cheating on your diet probably can’t be as common of a thing. You have to really break it down and consider your own diet, exercise, and lifestyle but not forget to face the facts: typically, what we burn through running, lifting weights, swimming, or other forms of cardio and exercise pale in comparison with how easy it can be to eat all of those calories back!

Take for example an evening out with your friends. You start off with a cocktail and apps at the bar before being seated for dinner. It is pizza night, so everyone orders a couple pies to split and you have slices from each… along with a couple glasses of wine to wash it down. Then it is a pit stop for ice cream before hitting the dance floor for more drinks (erm, tequila shots). And at the end of the night, all that dancing has left you hungry yet again, so everyone heads next door to get cheesy eggs, hashbrowns, and chocolate chip waffles before calling it a night. This kind of “treat” might seem a little over the top, but it’s just an example of how the thousands of calories can add up and not compare anywhere near to what you burned in your 45 minute spin class earlier that day.

But if you are not concerned with weight gain, and as long as your doctor says you are in good health with strong vital signs, then honestly, you can treat yourself a couple times a week and still be content. It actually takes quite a bit of excessive weight gain to have negative impacts on your health (i.e. blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc.) so if being in the healthy range in all areas when you go to the doctor is your definition of success, then you can enjoy your treats on a pretty regular basis without seeing detrimental effects – especially if you’re regularly exercising.

So What Is the Verdict?

On average, most people claim that the 80/20 rule works for them; meaning, eating 80 percent of your meals and snacks “clean,” and indulging or being more lax the other 20 percent of the time. When you break it down, that is about one meal and one snack per week.

But beware– the term “treat” itself can be misleading, and somewhat annoying because what one person considers a treat might just be a lunchtime staple for another. If you have a history of disordered eating, or are trying to repair a broken relationship with food or exercise, then we advise you to avoid labeling foods as “treats” altogether.

To live your best life, you can’t be carrying around tons of guilt and shame all the time and if you find yourself feeling that kind of guilty burden whenever you enjoy a slice of birthday cake, maybe take a step back and re-evaluate your approach to food. Especially if you are trying to regain your health and rebuild strength to get you back to running, try incorporating one treat into your day everyday. This will eventually take away the fear you have of them which can be difficult. But think of it this way– you don’t fear what soon just becomes familiar and routine.  This will help you to get back to a more balanced approach to food overall.


  1. Teresa Boyce, The 80:20 rule, Body and Soul Article

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