This holiday season, while you pad your body with figgy pudding and take shots of eggnog off a sugarplum fairy, thou shalt feel no guilt. And, Jeff Wilser suggests in his new book The Good News About What’s Bad For You/The Bad News About What’s Good For You, thou shall not necessarily gain weight.
For 30 days Wilser gave his body up to a junk food “cleanse,” eating only food you can find in a gas station. Even burgers were too nutritious; on Day 14 Wilser ends up on a date at Shake Shack, where he sadly watches his date eat a cheeseburger, an experience that was “not at all emasculating.” The twist is that unlike the guy in "Super Size Me," who decidedly did not lose weight from his McDonald’s diet, Wilser reduced his calorie intake to a net 1,800 calories a day. (So, if he ate 2,200 calories, he'd run to burn 400 calories.) Even though he’d replaced everything remotely healthy with fatty, salty crap “with a garnish of Nerds,” after 30 days he’d lost weight. His cholesterol was fine. He felt fine.
Moderation is not just key, Wilser suggests. Moderation is everything.
A junk food cleanse is a pretty drastic way to prove the importance of moderation, and to cover ourselves, Wilser himself and you yourself: Don’t try this at home. “The last thing I’m suggesting for anyone is ‘Junk food is good for you; eat more of it; follow this diet; eat junk food, not vegetables,’” Wilser says, “If I employed the same tactics with good food like vegetables and chicken, I’d be far healthier.”
(To further discourage you from attempting your own junk food cleanse, Wilser’s barber told him 26 days in that his hair had noticeably thinned.)
Like many healthy haters Wilser encounters in his book, I was skeptical of Wilser’s “eat whatever you want” heresy. I eat my greens (like my mama taught me!), and sometimes I even buy the lowfat peanut butter that tastes like poison— these things make me feel healthy. I didn’t necessarily revise my whole theory of wellness after reading The Good News About What’s Bad for You and speaking with Wilser, but I did come away some useful tips for guilt-free holiday noshing.
Track your calories
I get punchy when svelte celebrities say in a singsong voice, “Everything in moderation.” Eating in moderation is hard and it sucks; if tethering your lust for that second piece of pie were easy, everyone would look amazing all the time. Wilser suggests that those not inclined to moderation (humans) try tracking their calories. “As unsexy as it sounds, that’s the way to give you a subconscious baseline,” Wilser says, “When you do force yourself to track this stuff, for better or for worse it makes you realize oh, geez, that extra sauce I got just added an extra 250 calories to my lunch. Even if you don’t have a specific plan, just tracking alone will nudge your behavior.”
Ask yourself 2 questions about the latest health studies
My family’s Thanksgiving was monopolized by discussion of a recent study suggesting that bacon and other processed meats increase your risk of cancer. Wilser suggests we stop and think before we revise our behaviors in response to whatever new study has the health community’s panties in a twist that week. Wilser recommends you ask yourself two questions before jumping to conclusions: What is the absolute risk in the first place? And by how much does that risk actually increase for you?
For example, if your absolute risk is already very low, Wilser explains, eating processed meats only raises your risk 20 percent relative to your baseline. “If that amount of risk bothers you, then don’t eat bacon,” Wilser says, “I respect that, but I think that most people, when they just see the headlines, have the takeaway that it’s a much more serious risk factor than it might really be.”
Go all out over the holidays, but then cease and desist
If Wilser can come back from eating Cheez-Its for 30 days straight, you can come back from a few days of gluttony with your family. “I think weights tend to change when we have long-term habits, not when we do something for two days or five days,” Wilser says, “If you extrapolate those five days to the rest of the year, that’s a real problem. Assuming it’s just the holidays, put things in perspective and give yourself a pass. Have a cheat week or two.”
Enjoy your food
“Even moderation should be in moderation,” Wilser says, “I’m someone who definitely loves to binge at times and be an ascetic at times. Some people have their three squares a day, never more and never less— that’s really boring. Some of life’s great pleasures are indulging and throwing caution to the wind.” Preach.