Have you ever seen someone on social media post about how excited they were for "cheat day"? Usually donuts, pizza, french fries, or other unhealthy items are piled onto their plate as a reward for sticking to their extreme diet for the entire rest of the week. A fair majority of athletes or dieters have "cheat days" because they are something to look forward to and are scheduled. Routines are such an important part of accomplishing health goals and sometimes those cheat days just make health goals feasible for dieters.
When it comes to sticking to a diet, my goals are fairly obtainable, butonly when I stick to routine. It is when my routine is thrown off that I struggle to meet my health goals. I aspire to live a consistent [boring] life and balance a good diet with a great night's rest. No matter if it is the weekend or a weekday I like to eat a plant based, dairy free diet and sleep 8-10 hours. Again, it doesn't matter if it is a weekday or on the weekend, I will eat my weird vegan cheeses in veggie wraps and vegan mushroom stroganoff and then be in my bed no later than 9 pm. We joke that I'm a hippy, amish granny, but I know my body and its needs!
There are those dreaded nights when my needs are just not met and I don't sleep. Maybe I broke a fever in my sleep, had a nightmare, or heard my roommates coming in late and couldn't fall back asleep. Whatever the cause, the consequences can be severe and start a vicious cycle.
I've learned over the past 25 of 26 years of living with these autoimmune diseases that the root cause of every single one of my flare ups is lack of sleep (this excludes medicine reactions, which we'll get into at a later time).
When I don't sleep I will pay for that lack of sleep for up to three weeks time. My body will try to muster up heaps of high energy waves, but I'll always have a hugecrash. During this crash day my body's immune system begins to attack itself. When I tell you I can feel it pulsing throughout my body, I truly mean that I can start to feel my body attack itself, weaving its way throughout my organs and muscles, starting with the ears and finishing with the fingers.
It always starts in the left ear and a few sneezes within a half hour. The aches and throbbing works its way down my throat, but only one side to start. My glands swell and then my eyes become dry and swollen. My face starts to ache I usually end up using a hot compress to relax the muscles and loosen the mucus building up. Before you know it, my arms ache and I lose the ability to walk on my feet. The feet part is the worse, as they become hypersensitive to temperatures and anything touching them, even a sheet. The sneezing continues and my eyes water. The last part of this crash is when my hands are so achy and burning that I have to place them in one position and not move them-- not even one finger. Once the sickness hits the hands, forget it-- I'm out for the count.
It is times like these that the sickness, usually a cold, escalates so quickly that I run out of energy and can't take care of myself, especially when it comes to preparing food. Now, do you see now why I'm petrified of losing sleep?!
I'm also scared of going to bed hungry, because it only leads to waking up and needing to fuel my body. After the gym sometimes, I have no idea how I'm going to prepare dinner and get myself to bed with such low energy. All I know is that I have to get to bed, but I also need to eat to recover from my workout. If I don't fuel my body, I will also get sick. So, how does one maintain the balance of a healthy diet and adequate sleep?
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to "Autoimmune Cheat Meals"!
"Cheat meals" have a totally different meaning than indulging in sweets or junk food on a specific day of the week. Autoimmune Cheat Mealscan be any day, unscheduled, and act as a wild card that you can pull when you just don't have enough energy to help you reach that health goal, in my case maintaining a healthy diet and a good night's rest.
There are a few of these cheat meals that I have up my sleeve, but let's start with the easy one-- Ramen Noodles for adults.
Frankly, we were never allowed to eat Ramen noodles until we got to college and though I am not on a college budget, I actually like the taste of Ramen. I LOVE salty things and Ramen is the perfect fix for my salt cravings. Since the sodium is so high in Ramen noodles, it's necessary to balance that unhealthy trait with some good, vital nutrients. Here's how!
Autoimmune Cheat Day
20 Ingredients that make Ramen Noodles Healthier
- Zoodles (added or as a noodle substitute)
- Green onion
- Hard boiled or sunny side up eggs
- Frozen pot stickers/ dumplings
- Ginger (fresh or pickled)
- Water chestnuts
- Left over broccoli, cabbage, carrot slaw mix
- Fresh basil leaves
- A handful of spinach
- A few tablespoons of Kimchi
- Frozen vegetables of any kind
- Fresh mushrooms (sliced or whole)
- Sesame oil (and seeds!)
- Bok choy
- Fresh snap peas
At some point in the past two years, I've tried out any combination of the above added ingredients for my ramen bowl. I've never not liked a combo. I will say, that I am partial to the oriental flavor and the chicken is too. Ramen is so cheap and lasts a bit too long for comfort. So, reach for it when you need a cheat meal, but remember to keep it healthy.
No one is perfect. Even though I maintain a healthy diet, with lots of food group restrictions, that does not mean that I do not have cheat days. I just do my best to make sure that on those cheat days, no matter what salty junk I'm putting into my body, that there is also something to balance out the bad stuff.
It's ok to have days where you can't do it all. Having an autoimmune disease means that you need to work a bit harder with maintaining your energy levels, being aware of your body, listening to its needs, and then responding by acting on your needs. My needs may be different from other patients', but I hope this post inspires you to find your wild card.
Post below or DM me on Instagram or Facebook with your wild cards! I'd love to give them a try when I really need an Autoimmune Cheat Day!