Day Ninety-seven (R, 110407) — Free Meals v Free Day

As one of my three variable tweaks this week, I have decided to switch from having one, concentrated Cheat Day Free Day to 2-3 moderate Cheat Meals Free Meals.*

So yesterday was my first Free Meal and I gotta say I think this may be a really good idea.  I hope I’ll see some proof of that come Saturday but psychologically, I think this is a winner.

Why?  Well, the big difference was the self-control I had was much easier to exert.

Up until now, when Cheat Free Day had arrived, I pretty much went crazy.  Eating 4000-5000 calories of utter crap. And, while Free Days are a planned part of the 4HB program, that doesn’t mean you have to be stoopid about how you do it.

Yesterday, I had my first Free Meal at Denny’s: Grand Slam with four eggs over medium, four bacon, two sausage, and two pancakes.  I also ate one of those nuclear orange cheese cracker things the kids like so much.

By taking a free meal sooner than once a week, the cravings are nowhere near as strong as they are when I “am good” for a week and then go nuts on Saturday.

This meal was mostly SCD friendly.  Only the pancakes (and the nuclear crackers) were “free” items.

Additionally, by making it a single, planned meal, I was able to time my 4HB Damage Control easily and avoid the all-day snacking I tend to do on a Free Day.

In my opinion, snacking really diminishes the effectiveness of the Damage Control hacks.  Since they are all predicated on ingesting or doing things in and around meals, eating an extra PopTart (or two) or orange roll (or four) between meals, with no associated Cissus or exercise or grapefruit juice, etc., makes that bit of cheating truly costly.

So . . . the proof will be measured on Saturday, but so far, I like this idea a lot.

Anybody else out there have any experience with switching from Free Days to Free Meals?


Breakfast: whey protein shake in water before my run and workout, same thing after, kombucha, AGG

Lunch: leftover half of a Freebirds burrito bowl with double steak, refried beans, black beans, pinto beans, lettuce, salsa, pico, and veggies. Cissus and AGG.

Dinner: sausage and sauerkraut

Other food throughout the day: black coffee, three tablespoons of natural peanut butter


* Based on a comment made by a friend of mine (Drew Baye, noted fitness instructor and he of the  rock-hard abs seen on p. 13 of The Four Hour Body), I now use the term “Free” rather than “Cheat” for those meals or days when I eat things not normally eaten on whatever program you are following.
The term is important because “cheat” implies you’re breaking the diet, and encourages people to eat crap. A “free” meal is a planned, momentary calorie increase (or sometimes carb increase depending on the diet). It’s still part of the diet. If you eat a food you normally wouldn’t eat, that’s fine, but you don’t go nuts with it. If you eat more in general than you would on the more restricted days, that’s fine, as long as it isn’t excessive.
If a person thinks “cheat” they tend to think “a whole pizza washed down with coke followed by a quart of ice cream”, but if they think “free” or “maintenance” or some similar term, they tend to think “I can have A piece or two of pizza and a 1/2 cup of ice cream, because I can consume X calories today and still not go over estimated maintenance intake”.
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8 responses to “Day Ninety-seven (R, 110407) — Free Meals v Free Day

  1. Hey John,

    I do this too. My cheat meals are usually unplanned based on circumstances. Recently I try to do 5-10 minutes of interval training before and/or after instead of the simple air squats and mall presses which are boring for me.

    My cheat meals are usually rice, potatoes, and chocolate. And never more than 2 a week.

    Weekends are tough but my weekday routine is pretty solid.

    I also follow up any over eating with a bit of extra fasting too.

    • Glad to hear from you, Justin.

      Have you seen success with this approach? Some folks (e.g. my 4HB friend Sue from a comment two days ago) are worried that spreading out Free meals won’t allow for your body to hit its weight-loss stride, so to speak. What has your experience been like?

      I hope that my weekend won’t be too bad. We’ll see what happened this Saturday when I don’t get to pig out.

      Besides the Damage Control exercise, I am only going to allow myself Free Meals on days when I go running at least 3 miles. Most of the time, this will mean days when I one of my Occam’s Protocol workouts and run about 6 miles.

      It also means that most weeks will see only two Free Meals but every once in a while I might have a third.

      For example, I’m participating in a mud run this Sunday after which, in conjunction with visiting some friends, I plan to indulge in a Free Meal. If I also get up and run to my workouts on next Tuesday and Friday, I’ll likely end up with three Free Meals in that seven day period.

      As an added bonus, I am hoping that the promise of a Free Meal will help motivate me to get up at 4 AM and get my butt out there on the road. 😉

      Cheers and thanks for commenting!

      New John

  2. As always, a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I like it. I sure hope your body works with you on this – I can see the energy and motivation that this modification brings to your approach this week. THAT is what matters…

    I went a bit crazy last “free” day (I really like this mind set) and aside from CQ at each meal did none of the damage control stuff. I snacked all day with the kids, and we had a ball – I still won’t eat those nuclear crackers though. Not worth the calories when I can substitute a chocolate chip waffle or some such atrocity. I had been holding back on free days the last month or so – frustrated by the yo-yo pattern and trying to figure out how to lose more in a week than a pound or so. Well, it is Thursday and I am back to my lowest weight yet (which I have not seen in about a month) with two days to go before free day. I took to heart the Daily Burn post “go big, lose big” and gave it a try, and it definitely works for me. That is what I was doing in Jan and Feb when I lost the most, and what I stopped doing in March when I lost nothing – no inches or pounds (although I did continue to see improvements in body fat %).

    Another thought about free day – it lets me eat a ridiculous breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes, butter, syrup and coffee with milk with the kids. Lunch is invariably at the local brew pub (yes, I have no qualms about a good double IPA at noon – Mom raised me right). Snack time is fruit and girl scout cookies with the kids and dinner (if I plan it right) is out with my dear hubby having cocktails and appetizers and pasta or noodles and desert. The psychological freedom for me is worth it to save it up – that is just how MY brain works. You can hear the enthusiasm as I type this…

    You are an inspiration – and you keep me motivated. I am glad you did not take my post the other day as snarky, I really am dying to see how your experiment this week works out – as it could be immensely helpful when I travel when dinner is out at some ridiculous restaurant and the food is incredible and saying “no thank you” just seems like a huge waste. I’d love to follow the John plan that week and still get great results.


    • Thanks for the compliment. And no, I didn’t take your previous comment as snarky at all. You’ll always get the benefit of the doubt here, Sue, but it wasn’t even necessary in this case; it never occurred to me to take it as anything but honest interest.

      I really understand the delight in having a full Free Day. I do. For the past six weeks or so, each Free Day I’ve gotten up and taken the kids out to breakfast at Denny’s, Waffle House, or IHOP. It’s been a wonderful bit of tradition.*

      I won’t change the time together with my family as it is one of those things which is really special to me; I will just eat a 4HB/SCD friendly breakfast, which is easy enough to do at any breakfast place.

      (BTW — did you know that you can sometimes get refried beans at these breakfast restaurants? It makes for a nice option to just getting to eat eggs, bacon, and sausage. Watch out for restaurant salsa, however, it often has extra sugar in it.)

      If you do end up taking Free Meals during a week, you might consider skipping the upcoming Free Day just to see what happens. If you go out for some special thing or a work dinner or something, have at and do your Damage Control. Then plan one (or maybe two) more Free Meals for the week (maybe putting one on your normal Free Day?) but avoid an all-out Free Day.

      Just a thought on how I think I would approach it.

      YMMV (and that’s a good thing**)

      Good luck and work strong!

      New John

      We will either find a way, or make one. — Hannibal


      * My wife’s an Aggie. Anything that ever happens twice on A&M’s campus is automatically a revered tradition which cannot be changed or eliminated. 😉

      ** Why? Ever hear the old saying, “If two people agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary”? The simple fact that we’re all different is one of the best things about life, IMO. 😉

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