Let me start off by acknowledging that some people hate the term, “cheat.”  Cheat meal, cheat food, cheat day, cheat week, blah blah blah.  Some people hate it because it carries a guilty or bad connotation. 

Some people prefer “treat” because they feel like they “earned it” while others hate that term because it carries with it the idea that you can out-exercise a poor diet or if you eat a cookie, all you have to do it extra cardio to “burn it off.” 

Some people use “off-plan” because they are eating something they don’t normally eat, while others don’t like that term because it feels too rigid and structured; they think you should just eat well most of the time and be done with it.

Never allowing yourself to indulge is not a good thing.

Never allowing yourself to indulge is not a good thing.

 

All of these thoughts and opinions carry some validity and I can somewhat understand why they get people’s panties in a wad.  Food is an extremely emotional and sensitive topic. It can make us feel loved, happy, guilty, energetic, sick, exhausted, excited, or ashamed.  It is so powerful! 

 

One whiff of a particular food can take you back decades to wonderful memories of sitting at your Grandma’s kitchen table talking to her while she made her famous apple pie or it can take you back to hiding in your car in the parking lot of your favorite fast food restaurant while you wolf down 3 cheeseburgers and then cry because you hate yourself for what you’ve done. 

 

Food can be so emotional for us...

Food can be so emotional for us…

 

I acknowledge that it’s emotional and trick,y and for some people, it’s a huge part of their life (I am one of those people).  

I have spent almost a decade paying close attention to what I eat and trying to keep a good balance between healthy and unhealthy foods.  I am a junk-food junkie at heart and there is not much that excites me more than a big plate of yummy food! 

 

I think Homer and I share the same brain sometimes :::sigh::::

I think Homer and I share the same brain sometimes :::sigh::::

 

 

Over the last 8 years I have had times where I only ate healthy food for weeks at a time and felt guilty if I ever gave into a craving.  I have also had times where I have eaten something unhealthy only to spiral out of control for a week or two afterward.

Finding that balance between eating well and enjoying yourself is difficult.  If you’re like me, you’re constantly faced with situations where unhealthy food is available.  This may be at your office, out to lunch with a client, over at your Mom’s house for family dinner, or just the ice cream that’s sitting in your freezer taunting you.  So what should you do? 

Over the last several years I have recognized some of the best and worst tactics, in my opinion, for dealing with these situations.  I hope that by sharing these with you, that you too will find a balance between eating for optimal health and body composition andenjoying yourself occasionally.

 

Finding balance can be hard, but it’s so important!

 

1.  The absolute best-case scenario:  turn the food down and feel OK about it. 

Tell yourself, “That food is not good for me; it doesn’t make me feel good, it doesn’t help me reach my goals, and heck… it’s not even something that I am craving right now!  I am not going to eat it and I am proud of my decision and fine with it.

In this case I also like to remind myself over and over again that I could have it if I wanted to, and I am choosing not to.  This makes the food less desirable as it is no longer forbidden.  This is the best case because you are not eating the unhealthy food and you feel good about it.

 

2. The next best scenario: eat the food and don’t worry about it. 

You would tell yourself, “I am choosing to have this food as part of the off-plan/treat/cheat meals that I eat occasionally as part of a balanced diet.  I am having it because I want it, it’s delicious, it’s fine to indulge occasionally and I will be right back on my plan after I have it and it won’t negatively affect me at all.  I am glad I decided to have it because I really enjoyed it.” 

Obviously not eating the food would be slightly better for your body in most cases, but at least you really enjoyed it and felt good and confident about your decision.

 

3. The undesirable scenario:  you don’t eat it and you are upset about it. 

The reason you are not eating it is because you are beating yourself up about wanting it and you are talking negatively to yourself.  You may saying things like, “You are too fat!  You shouldn’t be eating that!  Why don’t you have any willpower?  You are disgusting!  Only a pig would eat that!  What is wrong with you?” 

This leaves you feeling deprived, miserable, and guilt that you even wanted the food in the first place and that’s never fun.  You are also more likely to binge later if you are feeling deprived and emotionally ‘down.’

 

4. The absolute worst case scenario (and yet it’s probably what most of us do most often): eat the food and then beat ourselves up about it. 

At this point, we can’t resist it, we eat it (possibly a lot of it) and then we start guilt-tripping ourselves about eating it using phrases similar to the ones mentioned above, such as, “You are disgusting!  I can’t believe you ate that!  You are so weak!  What is wrong with you?  You aren’t going to fit in your clothes now!  You’re such a pig!  Who eats that much food anyway?” 

As you can imagine this is an awful place to be.  You may have even started a vicious cycle of binging, followed by guilt and shame, followed by more binging to temporarily relieve the pain, followed by more guilt and shame, followed by, well… you get the picture.  It’s not pretty.

 

As you can see, the common denominator in the good choices is positive self-talk and being kind to yourself regardless of your decision.  The common denominator in the bad choices is negative self-talk and hatred towards yourself and your body. 

Positivity breeds positivity and negativity breeds negativity.  You are in your own head 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and many of us would never let someone else speak to us the way we speak to ourselves.  Be kind to yourself and treat your body right.  Exercise and eat well 90% of the time because you love your body not because you hate your body!  It’s the only one you have to work with, so treat it right and become the best version of yourself while allowing yourself to indulge and enjoy life every once in a while.

 

Do you have other strategies when it comes to finding balance?  How do you deal when confronted with less-than-healthy choices?  Let me know below! I would love to hear from you!

 

30 Responses to Should You Cheat?

  1. What a great topic Molly! Totally agree with your scenarios. We are all human and balance is what it’s all about. A life without a little sweetness isn’t any fun!

  2. Billy says:

    This is tough. Making a choice, not giving in to impulses and either way not beating myself up. Considering the need is more psychological than it is chemical, I have tried to consider a point of view. When presented with an off-plan choice, I choose to try something new. I have not done much restraint. I’m not sure what it tastes like. But lets see how it tastes and it’s effects on my health and body. Nine times o ut of ten I have tasted that unhealthy or off-plan choice of food. I know what it tastes like. That salty, sugary, crispy, crunchy, yummy, gooey thing. And oh boy it tastes good! I am very familiar with it. I like it! Yet, my body has an allergic reaction to it and my my mind becomes “addicted” to it. I bloat, gain fat, become dehydrated and mindlessly overeat. That does not really taste so good when I think about it. So I remind myself that good-yummy-crunchy-breaded-off-plan food is not going anywhere. Nachos are not going out of style. There is no law against chocolate. French toast has not been labeled as a weapon of mass destruction. So I will just wait and try out this restraint while still enjoying some healthy yummy food and enjoying the results of a lower(ing) body fat.

  3. Michelle says:

    So much truth to your article:). I never deprive myself unless it’s getting out of hand like it can after the holidays. I always give myself 3 free meals a week which can be snacks or regular meals. I feel completely satisfied when I stick to this. I have in the past ( and lately) went beyond this plan and ate just cuz it was there and then my body starts craving junk daily. The only way for me personally to get out of this rut is to be more strict with no junk for a few weeks. Right now I have goal to compete and qualify for the Women’s USAPL Nationals. So I take my mind off the food and on to the healthy goal it seems easier… And then when I do want to indulge I can control myself because my body is use to healthy food:) these three free meals a week can be used in one day or split up during the week.

  4. Jen Ball says:

    I go to the gym 4 times a week – I have picked exercises that work all body parts and that I truly enjoy. I eat extremely healthy – I have picked healthy foods that I really enjoy with lots of flavour and are satisfying. But once a week I don’t and I love it. I pick something that is not healthly or good for me and enjoy every bite of it. I don’t feel guilty because it is part of my plan and because of that, the next day I pick up right were I left off

    Since the start of November 2011 I have successfully lost 40 pounds (and many, many inches), and still going strong and enjoying the process.

  5. Kyle says:

    It’s such a tough battle. At a point, it really feels similar to how I felt when I quit smoking. It stops being a desire and starts to become a craving.

    My issue is, I’m 6’3 and well into 200 lbs. It takes a lot of food to fill me up. So when I have a cheat meal, it’s not a hamburger, or a piece of pizza…it’s a large pizza. Dipped in ranch. Or 25 boneless wings with a jumbo side of fries. Dipped in ranch. Or 3 sleeves of cookies. Dipped in ranch. Okay, not dipped in ranch, but you get my point.

    What I always encourage people to do is find what works for them. After awhile, as the result start showing up, you will associate that happy, healthy feeling you have with that healthy food you’re eating and your cravings will subside. Ease your way into it, don’t be one of those 0-60 dieters that fail every time.

  6. Bernie Allen says:

    As someone that went from being really overweight to underweight, and eating everything I wanted to extreme healthy eating, finding a balance is something I’m always striving for and nowadays almost achieving. At 26 I’m now aware that having treats won’t make me automatically fat again because I am now a complete gym bunny that I wasn’t before when I was heavy, and I now love exercise and its something that I do without question everyday. When I didn’t allow myself treats I reached a stage where I no longer craved them and just automatically avoided them. But there came a point where I had the flu and started eating chocolate to get myself over it and it was like I just got a part of my old self back. Whilst I still remain a UK size 8 people keep commenting about what a glow I have. Nowadays if I want chocolate I have it, and am smug in the fact that I have a weapon that allows me to have my cake and eat it – exercise. When I cut out everything bad from my diet I lost my menstrual cycle and looking back now I realise I was deeply unhappy, underweight and in many ways as unhealthy as I was when I was bigger. Its not easy as some days I still look at myself and worry that if I have a treat I’m automatically going to become fat again but then I remember that life is to short to constantly worry you just have to get on with it – identify what your treat is whether it be chocolate, alcohol, chips etc (as you cant have them all or you will put on weight. I don’t drink alcohol but have a very sweet tooth) and incorporate them into your otherwise healthy diet and you will be fine because you exercise.Its also important to remember that you look your best when you are happy and I’ve definitely worked out that constant denial of something isn’t going to make you happy in the long run.

  7. erin says:

    I have the largest sweet tooth on the planet…and i will eat until it’s gone…not until i’m full, until it’s gone, and i’m sick. I don’t feel guilty because somewhere a long the way i convinced myself i NEEDED that (non)food. I realized this was a huge barrier holding me back, and i addressed it – finding the root of those “out of control” binges was so helpful; for me, it stemmed from anxiety. So now? When i start to feel those out of control anxious feelings, i stop and make some hot tea (i started keeping a huge stash at work because that’s when things were the worst). There is something methodical about tea making and it gives me a chance to regain control of my anxiety. Since i identified the problem and have found a solution that works for me, i’m having many many more instances of #1 and #2 rather than #4! I’m much more able and willing to stop after one bite – i don’t feel the “restriction” and i haven’t jeopardized my goals.

    Thanks Molly!

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  19. malita says:

    I usually pick and choose – eat the foods that I most want as an indulgence and leave what is less than wonderful in my opinion – I follow that by some hard training later and maybe some green tea and lots of water – you know all those indulging foods generally leave me feeling less than great – so glad that’s not my daily life anymore – no wonder I used to not have any energy!!!

  20. Jim says:

    This is a great post on an interesting and sometimes challenging topic. We all fight through some thoughts about cheating, what’s ok to cheat with and when and how often.. Nice job covering all the angles.

  21. Mia Anabel says:

    What a great article! Sometimes I crave food. Sometimes I don’t. It’s hard. Often, I will see a banana, but I know that I have had too many calories already. It’s often that third of fourth banana that does it. It makes me sad. It can be so emotional!

    But then, I tell myself it’s ok. Was that the best case? I’m not sure. Time will tell.

  22. Michelle says:

    I love this article. I always tell myself before a party that there will always be another cookie/chocolate/pizza/whatever, and I do not have to eat this one as if it will be my last. It really decreases the desire for such food, as most of the time when i eat them they arent really worth it anyways. It allows a person to come to terms with the junk food they have been avoiding and save cheating for when it is really worth it (like a big slice of cheesecake after date night with my hubby)

  23. Sylvia says:

    The best thing is the 1st part, but most of the times it’s the 4th one.
    The more I feel deprived of food (carbohydrates!!!) the more I want eat, the more I eat without being able to control myself (like binging! so true), loneliness, TV, no activity, tninking I musn’t eat all these kink of feelings or inactivity are the worst.

    So stop facebook, stop tv at night to go to bed earlier, more sleeping, less time to think about crispy food at night! It’s the best key for me!
    The sun and the heat are factos which contribute to help me to have salads, water, the season is helping me (except when I went on all inclusive in june!)!

  24. Krista says:

    I love you, Molly!!! Everything you’ve been writing lately really resonates with me. Things are finally clicking for me, I think.

    Thanks for posting this:)

  25. Rae says:

    I am still struggling to find the right balance between treats and not. I have an all or nothing personality, and I find that if I give in to a cheat or treat, even if its a small bite, I spiral downward into bad eating. Getting back on the wagon after eating bad is soooo hard, so I feel most satisfied when I make sure I am full off my healthy foods and I don’t have any bad cheats or treats. I have also found that if I need a cheat or treat, I have a healthy treat, (small soy-fro-yo, protein powder cake, protein bar,extra scoop of pb on oatmeal ect.) once a week, and I have it at bedtime, after a training session. I am enjoying learning about what works for myself and my body, and I love your honest posts Molly, as well as everyone’s comments!

  26. Cameo says:

    Excellent advice and the last bit is golden: Positivity breeds positivity and negativity breeds negativity. AMEN! I have spent years being all over on the spectrum of eating “issues”…from emotional eating to uber dieting, to disordered training/eating cycles to “f* it I don’t care anymore” to…you name it. And now – finally -I am in a really good place. And the only difference is my mindset. I still eat the same healthy stuff. I still give in to temptation from time to time. Sometimes I still overeat (though I try not to and I don’t like that I still do…). But regardless, I always do it as a conscious choice and if I do overeat I immediately forgive myself and put it out of my mind and get right back on track. And if I happen to go a week with zero “off plan” treats then I try to keep it in perspective and not use it as an excuse to binge for a day. Though it’s still a WIP! Thank you for your brilliant honesty. You have a voice that many women benefit from hearing. You are a gift to us lady lifter types! xo

  27. Isabel says:

    Thanks Molly, I love your blog!
    I travel around the world all the time, and sometimes it’s difficult to find the strength to decline junk food, or unhealthy food, not to mention the changes in metabolism caused by flying, different time zones, not finding the time to keep up with my workout plan,etc.
    Sometimes, what I do, and most of times, people try to please me and take me to nice restaurants and want me to try their local food, is to try a little bit not to seem politically incorrect, and try not to worry so much about it.
    All the best

  28. Dina Krohne says:

    I love to cook and eat! Just keep it mainly healthy and delicious foods on a regular basis. Then I do a “detour” for a meal that has nothing to do with healthy about twice a week. A detour doesn’t keep me from reaching my final destination – just lets me explore a side path before getting back to the main road. Lost 70 pounds this way and dont feel deprived. This is a great subject – I sometimes oversnack at night sometimes – those damned munchies like to sneak up on me at that time. Really like the one commenters tip about stopping and making a cup of tea – I can see that working and plan on trying that the next time my sweet tooth starts yelling on a day I can’t afford a detour.

  29. Gunnar Tveiten says:

    I never cheat. Instead I make an actually realistic plan that *includes* all the foods I love in some amount.

    If you love icecream, a plan that says: “no icecream ever again” is both cruel and unrealistic. Much better to say: You can eat ice-cream, but no more than twice a month.

    Even a realistic plan, you’ll find yourself sometimes not managing to live up to though, but that’s not cheating. That’s just a practical consequence of this stuff being hard. If it was easy, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

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