Stop Cheating!

Just so you know, this article is probably not what you think it’s going to be. I’m not going to talk about why you shouldn’t cheat on your diet, or give you advice on how not to cheat on your diet. What I really want to address is the fact that you can’t cheat on your diet. You just can’t. It’s impossible. People have been trying for as long as people have been dieting, and no one has figured it out. If you do, please let the rest us know your secret. We’ll pay you whatever you want.

Now, I know what you’re saying to yourself. “Of course you can cheat on your diet. Everyone cheats on their diet. I’ve cheated on my diet.” But have you? I mean, really; have you?

First, what do we mean, when we say that we’re cheating on our diet. We’re talking about eating things we shouldn’t eat, right? Usually exceeding the allowances of what we’re supposed to be eating. We’re talking about sneaking that large extra value meal from McDonald’s, or devouring an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s. That’s cheating, right? Well, is it?

Let’s talk about cheating. What does it mean to “cheat”? The Oxford English dictionary defines the word cheat as “1. act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination”. Let’s break that down a little.

If I’m on a diet, and I succumb to temptation, go to Five Guys, and get myself a quad stack cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate peanut butter milkshake (“that’s awful specific coach” – no one asked you), who am I being dishonest or unfair with? I’m only being dishonest if I turn around and lie to someone about my compliance with my diet. If I’ve promised a loved one or my doctor that I would follow a specific diet, whether for weight loss or some other health related reason, I may be cheating on them, but have I cheated on my diet? What advantage have I gained? Therein lies the rub.

You can’t cheat on your diet, because the entire concept of cheating is built around the notion of breaking the rules in an effort to achieve a more favorable result. Unless you’ve discovered some ingenious method to circumvent the laws of physics, this simply can’t be done. It’s impossible to eat that 2000+ calorie “cheat meal”, but still get the same results as if you’d maintained perfect adherence to your diet plan. For that reason, we need learn to let go of this concept of “cheating”.

One of the biggest problems with the idea of cheating, and one of the main reasons we need to let go of it, is the guilt associated with cheating. How many times have you been on a diet, “cheated”, then used that excuse to go on a weekend long junk food bender, or even quit your diet altogether? This notion of cheating opens the door for us to use a single slip up or mistake as an excuse to go completely off the rails.

If you lose your self control, and eat an entire large pizza, there’s nothing you can do to prevent those calories from impacting your progress. There’s no amount of apologies or denial that will make them go away. They happened. They exist. We need be able to accept this reality, and move on.

Something I try to make very clear to everyone I help with their nutrition is that I don’t expect perfection; I only ask for consistency. I’m not perfect; you’re not perfect. Perfection is an abstract concept. Striving for perfection is an exercise in futility. Instead, just work on being consistent.

Consistency can’t be ruined by one bad day. It’s about prolonged adherence over time. Consistency is about getting it right on most days, not necessarily everyday. If you fall off the horse, you just have to get right back on, as the saying goes. That being said, if you find yourself struggling, there are ways you can become more consistent.

If you know that you can’t enjoy your life to it’s fullest without the occasional cheeseburger or pint of ice cream, don’t deny yourself these things until you reach a breaking point, and gorge yourself in a mad feeding frenzy.

Instead of “cheating”, allow yourself an occasional splurge. Plan them in advance, so you can use them as an excuse to be good. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to avoid temptation today, if you know you have a special treat waiting for you on the weekend. When the planned day comes, make sure you do your best to work it into whatever the limitations of your diet are that day.

In my house, Sunday is ice cream night. I pick out my ice cream ahead of time, and it’s the first thing I enter into MyFitnessPal that morning. That way, those macros and calories are already allowed for, and I fill in the rest as best I can, over the course of the day, still trying to get as close as I can to my prescribed macros. This doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s only one day a week, and I try to limit the damage as much as possible.

This strategy can be used for lots of situations. Going out with friends, for dinner? Check out he menu ahead of time, and figure out what you plan to order. Allow for a few adult beverages, if you enjoy those, and program everything into your tracking app, before you start eating anything else. Now, you know what you have leftover for the rest of your day, and you can reduce the impact of your planned splurge.

If this seems like a lot of effort, think about the last vacation you took or large purchase you made. Is this really that different than the way you planned around the financial impact of those decisions? If you can put that kind of thought into a trip to the beach or a new car, why can’t you put the same effort into something as fundamental to your general wellbeing as your nutrition? It may seem like a big task, the first time you do it, but as with all things, repetition brings ease. Make it a habit, and eventually you’ll do it without thinking.

So, there you have it. Stop cheating, and start splurging…within reason.

by Coach Chris Woods

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