Saturday, May 24, 2008

Diet Tip: Cheaters Sometimes Prosper

Here's a little something I picked up from the Body For Life program. As you adjust your diet to a healthier lifestyle, it's common to develop cravings for foods that you enjoy but no longer allow yourself to eat. It's also common to obsess over the foods you're craving until you finally break and go on an eating binge, gorging yourself on all that good stuff you've been denying yourself. Then you feel guilty about going off your diet, decide that it's too hard and you can't do it, and you give up and go back to your old eating habits. I've done it myself on several occasions.

Give yourself a cheat day. One day a week you are allowed to eat anything you want, diet be damned. When you find yourself craving something, make a mental note to have it on your next cheat day. When your cheat day rolls around, have that greasy burger or pizza or big bowl of ice cream and don't feel guilty about it. Since you're not denying yourself anything, just putting it off until your cheat day, you don't have to obsess over food and it becomes much easier to stick to a healthy eating plan. But there are a few caveats.

  • Don't overdo it. Keep meals reasonably sized. Don't go crazy and pig out. If you sit down to a burger and fries with a large pizza on the side washed down by a 2-liter Coke and a gallon of ice cream for dessert you may be getting a little carried away.
  • Just because it's a cheat day doesn't mean you have to cheat. If you haven't been craving bad food, why eat it?
  • Designate one day a week to be your cheat day and stick with that day. Don't move your cheat day around and, most especially, don't decide that instead of having a cheat day you'll have three cheat meals instead. If you do you'll get used to thinking you can eat whatever you want whenever you want, you'll lose track of when your last cheat day was or how many cheat meals you've had in a week and before you know it you'll be back to your old habits. You know, the ones responsible for you needing to lose weight in the first place.

My cheat day is Sunday. I chose Sunday because I almost always have lunch with my parents on Sundays and making it my cheat day means we're not limited to restaurants where I can eat healthy food. Just because I need to lose weight is no reason to punish them. I do allow myself a little flexibility on cheat days though that flexibility is tightly defined and based on a condition not entirely under my control. I occasionally have dinner with friends on Saturday and on those occasions I allow my cheat day to start with Saturday dinner and end with Sunday lunch so if my friends want to order a pizza I don't have to be a stick in the mud. Sometimes being a stick in the mud is unavoidable though. This weekend I may be having dinner with friends on both Saturday and Sunday in which case I'm going to have to insist that we eat healthy one evening.

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