Cheating On Your Diet

The evidence is in: Extreme diet plans, ones that exclude an entire nutrient category such as fats or carbohydrates, may result in rapid weight loss, but these diets are unhealthy, unsustainable, and the weight will return.

If diets that require you eat nothing but cabbage or grapefruit for weeks on end actually worked, the nation’s obesity problem would be solved and the billion-dollar weight loss industry would go bust. Most dietary supplements that promise rapid weight loss without any lifestyle changes are not effective and, according to the National Institutes of Health, may be dangerous.

The secret to losing weight is no secret: it is a simple formula of fewer calories in and more calories out. The ideal diet plan will include a variety of foods from the My Plate categories: Fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains and proteins. Portions can be adjusted to provide the necessary calories your body needs for energy without adding to your stores of fat.

Dr. Michael LeBlond, Licensed Psychologist, encourages individuals to delete the term “diet” from their vocabularies, and change it to a “Habit Replacement Program” (HRP), because for many they are replacing unhealthy eating habits with healthy eating habits. Where one can’t wait to get off a diet, developing a new healthy habit is a positive and sustainable process.” A realistic diet plan will make allowances for your favorite foods. A diet that leaves you with cravings is bound to eventually fail.

But what if my favorite food is cheesecake?

Obviously, rich desserts, creamy sauces and deep-fried foods do not constitute the core of any healthy diet, but they may not be taboo. It is hard to get enthusiastic about facing a lifetime of deprivation. Many weight-loss gurus, such as Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper, recommend a little “cheating” to keep those cravings under control.

The difference between binge eating and planning a cheat meal

Have you ever done this? After several days of faithfully following your diet of broiled chicken breasts and salads with non-fat dressing you figure a couple cookies wouldn’t hurt. You eat two cookies, and they are good, so you eat a few more. You suddenly realize your calorie-deficit goal for the day has been blown so you chalk it up to a lost day and finish off the entire bag of cookies. That’s called binge eating. It is not rational. A little treat does not have to turn into a calorie fiesta. If you dropped your cell phone and cracked the screen, would you then pick up a hammer and smash it to bits thinking, “I’ve already damaged it. May as well finish the job”? Planning a cheat meal means you take control of your eating. You plan to cheat, thereby making it part of your overall diet plan.

Take control of cheating with these rules

In his book, The Skinny Rules: The Simple, Nonnegotiable Principles for Getting to Thin, Bob Harper made “Plan one splurge meal a week” one of his skinny rules. By planning a cheat meal, you can put an end to the diet/binging cycle. When you are tempted to slip two cookies out of the bag and into your mouth, remind yourself you can save them for your splurge meal. Harper provides several rules to ensure your splurge meal doesn’t get out of control:

  • Wait until you have been on your diet for at least two weeks.
  • Keep it to one meal, not a whole day of splurging. A meal earlier in the day is better, but if you choose your splurge for dinner, schedule your meal before 7 p.m.
  • Don’t waste calories on beverages (with the exception of red wine.) If you have a sweetened soda habit, that is something you must break.
  • Estimate your calorie count before you eat. You want to know what you are doing. If you plan to eat out, check the restaurant menu online and plan what you will order.
  • Choose between large portions of lean foods or smaller portions of rich foods. Harper advises you write down which you choose. This will help you better understand “…what you really want when you feel deprived.”
  • Drink a large glass of water before your meal. If you are dining out, ask the server to hold the bread basket.
  • Harper included this in his rules: “Eat real food (not fast food.)” You want to use your splurge meal for good food.
  • Don’t splurge alone. Make it a social occasion.

By carefully planning when you will stray from your diet, you will take control and avoid the guilt and setback of a full-fledged binge. Working some of your favorite foods into your diet will make it more likely you will stick with it and achieve your weight goal.