So, you want to cheat? There are a few things you should know before you go speeding down Cheat Street if you don’t want to crash and burn your weight loss goals. There’s no shortage of philosophies about cheat days but I think, at the very core of it all, even the way you think about them can impact your success. I listened to a podcast by actor Steve Burton when he first launched his nutrition company, Burton Nutrition, and someone asked him if he had cheat days or cheat meals. He simply responded, “I don’t like that term. Who are you cheating? Yourself?” His answer has always stuck with me as it seemed to really put the question into perspective.
In my own journey of losing and keeping off 100 pounds, I’ve learned to think about what I eat in terms of choices. When I was faced with virtually losing half of my body weight, I had to come to accept what was true for me, what I could live with and, most importantly, what worked and what didn’t. While everyone loves to say, “Everything in moderation,” I found that, if I wanted to lose weight, “moderation was for maintenance.” The expression, “One is too many and three is not enough” is an apt description for my relationship with certain foods. Recognizing this when I started my weight loss journey helped me to realize that it was easier for me to avoid some foods rather than to try to have just a little.
It’s easy to understand how people get so frustrated with their weight loss efforts. You can choose healthy meal options all week, exercise daily, and maybe the scale goes down a pound or two, but if you splurge on the weekend the scale bumps up four pounds. Sound familiar? Now granted, it still takes 3500 calories to make a pound, but most likely the increased sodium and some water retention from less clean food choices will show up on the scale and can certainly leave a person feeling discouraged.
Of course, it’s unreasonable to think in terms of never having some indulgences, so now that you’ve reframed how you think about cheating and you’ve done some self-awareness checks and balances, here are some tips on how to splurge successfully:
*Consider each meal individually rather than in terms of a full day of cheating. Let’s be honest, you can do a lot of damage in a day. Try to think in terms of choosing a meal, favorite treat, or even an extra helping rather than an entire day of anything goes. I find it is difficult to reel it in and get back to my typical healthier routine the day after a binge. I typically feel bloated, sluggish and crazy as it sounds, hungrier, the following day after a free for all day.
*Avoid thinking in terms of depriving yourself. You aren’t depriving yourself by passing up every treat that comes your way, regardless of what day it is. I like to think that it’s not about never having a cupcake; it’s about not always having a cupcake.
*You truly can’t outrun the fork. Regardless of what you choose to eat, own that choice. Don’t think to yourself, “I’ll do an extra thirty minutes on the treadmill tomorrow and burn it off.” Sadly, the calorie exchange rate for what you eat versus what you burn just doesn’t work in your favor… Ever!
*Pick what’s worth it. When you’re going to have a treat, have a fabulous one of whatever that choice is. Nothing’s worse for someone trying to lose weight than splurging on something that just wasn’t that good. That said, if it’s not all you hoped for, you don’t need to finish it! If I’m choosing to have something special, I want it to be truly worth it. Even if it is all that you hoped for and you pick toast yourself with a glass of prosecco, for example, it doesn’t have to turn into polishing off the bottle!
*Don’t get a case of what I call “the comfortables.” Now that I’m in my goal weight range, I give myself three pounds of wiggle room to have some “worth it treats” when I want them. If I creep out of range, I’ll step on the brakes, because it’s a lot easier to lose three pounds than it is to lose a hundred. If you’re lucky enough to make some progress and work in some decadence here and there, don’t take your eyes off your goal.
Sticking to an overall healthy lifestyle is day-to-day, day-after-day. No single meal will make you overweight, and the occasional day of excessive calories doesn’t need to turn into a full out surrender. There’s no finish line. Give yourself time to make some progress and create healthy habits before trying to dance with temptation! Cheating is a tricky business and first and foremost, you don’t want to cheat yourself!