Sean McCawley, Fit for Life in Napa Valley: Managing treat-to-healthy food ratios

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“If I’m going out, I’m going out riding a dragon.”

This is one of my favorite quotes regarding dedicating a day of treating myself to my favorite “guilty pleasure”: decadent food. After a week’s worth of clean eating, practicing healthy lifestyle habits, playing competitive pickleball three times per week, and participating in meticulously designed exercise routines, I feel some delectable meals from Napa’s finest pastry shops offer me the reward of sending my love of eating through a phantasmagoria of treat food heaven.

Perhaps I could venture down the street to Model Bakery to order one of their world-renowned English muffins toasted to perfection and layered with fruit compote.

Or, maybe I should head to Sweetie Pies to enjoy a cinnamon roll and a masterfully designed scone while overlooking the Napa River. Finally, Winston’s is my favorite indulgence of all that is pure and sacred in the breakfast food world.

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I always have Winson’s stowed away in my back pocket when I know I need to escape to the land of tantalizingly delicious donuts. Oh, Winson’s, how I love your donuts. I could die a happy man while taking a bath in your vanilla glazed donuts, maple twists, and sour cream citrus rolls.

Napa is a culinary mecca supplying our community housing the finest food on the planet. However, it should come as no surprise that my favorite breakfast joints aren’t always the most beneficial to the health of the human body. If we abuse these food choices, the body can endure suboptimal side effects, potentially compromising our long-term health.

The masterfully designed recipes of white flour, sugars and fats comprising my favorite breakfast treat foods present a cornucopia of reactions within the body that can pose harmful metabolic effects when consumed without any sense of caution. Gluten, high concentrations of fat and insulin-producing sugars can slow down digestion, accumulate unhealthy amounts of lipids in blood vessels, subcutaneous fat and even pose the threat of developing diabetes.

Similar to a person going back and forth to Hawaii on vacation every other week, the luster of the palm trees, breathtaking sunsets, and crashing waves on sapphire waters could become mundane if the trip is taken too many times. Furthermore, indulging oneself in treat foods, such as the donut bender described earlier in this article, can make the concept of treat food not feel like a treat at all.

Instead, these delectable treat foods can become another cog in a vicious cycle to “fill a hole” of hunger. Once a sacred experience of enjoying this fantastic food is indulged too regularly, it doesn’t become special anymore. Furthermore, if treat foods are consumed too often, our appreciation for healthy food choices might become obsolete because we only identify treat foods as our primary food source.

Understanding the word “treat” is an important concept we teach our personal training clients during their nutritional consultations. We all have foods we look forward to and fantasize about eating. For me, it’s Winston’s donuts. Identifying these foods as “treats” helps us distinguish between everyday, healthy food and what foods should be consumed sparingly.

Additionally, suppose we live by the principles of making healthy decisions three times more often than “treat” decisions in our dietary habits. In that case, it’s more obtainable to make healthy food choices.

For example, if Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are days focused on consuming bread-free meals and inputting a vegetable to every meal and Thursday is a date night in which we allow ourselves a few drinks at the bar and a decadent meal, we would be making three times the number of healthy choices to one treat choice.

Another method that proves helpful in managing treat-to-healthy food ratios is to allow oneself only three nights per week of consuming alcohol. By laying a path for making healthy decisions, we can redefine how our body processes the substance we put into it.

For example, if we put three day’s worth of Winston’s donuts, 18 beers and 10 lattes in our bodies every week, our bodies will reflect those choices. I’m sure you can use your imagination to envision the detrimental side effects that beer, donuts, and sugary Starbucks beverages yield to our digestive tract, metabolism, and appearance.

However, suppose we have three days of eating lean proteins, two-to-three servings of vegetables, and maintaining adequate hydration throughout the day. In that case, our bodies will reflect those healthier habits by experiencing increased energy, the ability to stave off illness, and feeling spry and ready to seize the day.

By identifying what a treat is versus what are optimal food choices, we can redefine the way our body processes food. Sure, we can enjoy Napa’s fantastic food and wine. However, let’s not remove the critically important term “enjoy” from this equation of making healthy dietary decisions.

To truly enjoy a treat, putting forth diligence and effort into managing optimal food choices must be done first. So, reward yourself with your favorite mind-blowing treat food after making a series of healthy choices so we can truly take in the gift treat foods offer while maintaining a productive path in our health and fitness journey.


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Sean McCawley, the founder and owner of Napa Tenacious Fitness in Napa,  welcomes questions and comments. Reach him at 707-287-2727, [email protected], or visit the website napatenaciousfitness.com.