5 Things To Do When You Cheat on Your Diet
You’re at work and realize you forgot your lunch, so you decide to make a quick trip to McDonald’s to grab a fruit and yogurt parfait and side salad. Yet, inexplicably, at the drive-through the words, “I’d like the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese combo meal please” come tumbling out of your mouth…
Your friends invite you over for game night, which also happens to include enough snacks that even a vending machine would find itself jealous. You grab a small dessert plate for portion-control purposes, but then realize after the ninth trip to the table maybe the small plate strategy didn’t really work…
It’s been a busy day and you don’t feel like cooking, so you’re relieved to discover Marie Callander has left a chicken pot pie in your freezer. You zap it in the microwave, enjoy every last crumb, and then realize the nutrient information indicates the pie has over 800 calories…for only half of the package.
It happens. No matter how committed you may be to your diet plan, at some point, you’ll likely fall victim to the seductive pull of salty, sweet, and ooey gooey temptations. After all, they’re everywhere. And let’s face it, they’re delicious!
However, for anyone following a diet strategy to obtain or maintain a healthy body weight, these moments of weakness can bring on feelings of guilt, shame, and regret like a bad one-night stand.
But there’s hope. Check out these five tips about what to do the next time you over-indulge. And guess what? Not a single one of them includes the word “cardio.”
1. Stop calling it a “cheat” and consider it “being human” instead.
I admit, I’m guilty of using the “I cheated” phrase. Yet, when I hear someone else utter those words, it makes me cringe. Why? Because the word “cheat” suggests doing something wrong or bad. I mean, when we think of Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and pretty much every politician to ever walk the face of the earth, over-eating just doesn’t seem like it belongs on the same list of terrible transgressions.
While it may be true that you follow a guideline relating to your nutritional goals and going off track feels like a breach of the rules, the fact is that food is more than just a source of fuel for the body. It is a source of pleasure. Of family heritage. Of memories or comfort. None of these things are bad.
They are human.
And so are you. So stop giving yourself such a hard time for doing what humans do from time to time – eat themselves silly.
2. Keep things in perspective.
It takes about 3,500 calories to make a pound of fat. That’s a whole lotta calories people. Now, keep in mind that our bodies need a certain number of calories each day just to live.
For example, Sue may need to eat around 2,000 calories each day to meet her body’s energy requirements and maintain her current body weight. This means if Sue wanted to add a pound of fat to herself (who is this Sue because I hate her already), she’d have to eat 3,500 calories beyond the 2,000 she already needs each day. In other words, she’d have to eat 5,500 calories to gain a pound of body fat.
Let’s put this into a real-life scenario: If Sue went to McDonald’s and ate a Sweet BBQ Bacon Burger with a side of fries and a hot fudge sundae for dessert, she’ll have eaten approximately 1,300 calories (according to the McDonald’s nutrition calculator, which is probably inaccurate at best, but work with me here). Even if this was in addition to her usual 2,000/day calorie load, she’d still not gain a pound of fat despite the splurge.
So if you pulled a Sue, chances are, you won’t gain that much either. The damage may not be as bad as you think.
And even if it is? You’re going to be okay. One pound is not worth stressing about.
Side Note: It would be irresponsible of me not to point out that, while calories-in versus calories-out is a reasonable way of maintaining weight, it is not a 100% mathematical certainty. Factors such as genetics, age, gender, gut bacteria, the types/source/age of food, and a zillion other considerations can influence how calories are processed and absorbed. To make matters even more complicated, these factors can vary from day to day and from person to person. So out of those 1,300 extra calories Sue just ate (enough about Sue!), we can’t be certain how many she actually used, stored, or eliminated.
3. Don’t step on a scale for a few days after being human.
I’m not a huge advocate for the reliability of the scale in the first place, but for the love of all that is well and good, please! Do. Not. Step. On. A. Scale. After. Overindulging.
Why? Because I can almost guarantee that it will tell you that you’ve become a fatty over night. And you will freak out. And you’ll be convinced your love handles are even more severe and you’ve developed a couple new butt dimples and your pants are way tighter than they were yesterday…
And maybe they are, a little bit, but it’s only because your body is retaining a helluva lotta water.
See, carbohydrates are a water-soluble nutrient. This means that the body can only store carbohydrates with the aid of water molecules. In fact, for every 1g of carbohydrate delivered into a cell, 3g of water needs to go with it. (Disclaimer: This is an oversimplified description of the metabolic process for carbohydrates, but the point is, you eat a lot of carbs, you store a lot of water as a result. Check out my article listing seven reasons your body weight fluctuates for a more in-depth explanation.)
Fiber also binds to water in your gut, which slows the process of digestion (one reason why eating fiber is good for appetite control as it makes you feel full longer). Just like with carbohydrates, eating heavier loads of fiber also results in temporary weight gain.
So wait to step on a scale for a few days after a night of food debauchery. This gives your body a chance to process, digest, absorb, and eliminate the various culprits responsible for short-term weight gain.
4. Don’t starve yourself for the next week in an attempt to “undo the damage.”
Listen. Restricting calories sucks, and is not necessary after a day of being human. One day of undergoing a little gluttony is not going to derail weeks or months of effort. If anything, responding to a binge by restricting calories will likely result in significant cravings, leading you to binge all over again. While on the surface the “calorie restriction response” may seem like a good plan, doing so dabbles with establishing unhealthy eating patterns.
If it makes you feel any better, chances are the day after over-indulging you’ll naturally eat less food from the night before anyway (introducing the food hangover – it’s a real thing folks!). And don’t forget tip #2 mentioned earlier (remember our friend Sue?!); the calorie overload may not be as excessive as you think to begin with.
In other words, approach your diet as you normally would the day after a food blowout. No restriction required.
5. If you find yourself being human frequently, maybe you need to consider revising your diet plan.
I hate the term “diet” because it suggests a strict plan of “eat this, not that.” That’s not how I roll or how you should either. If you hope for any “diet” to work, it has to be something you can sustain long-term.
If you find yourself stopping at the drive-through or calling on Little Caesar regularly, then you may be restricting too many foods in your overall lifestyle. Your diet, while it helps maintain a healthy weight, also has to incorporate a sense of pleasure, comfort, satisfaction, and efficiency that we subconsciously require from food as human beings. This might mean relying on a higher-fat /lower-carb diet so you can eat more cheese and bacon. It might mean allowing more carbs in your life by eating fewer fats. It might mean incorporating food-prep into your weekend so you don’t feel the last minute I-don’t-feel-like-cooking crises. The point is, hover around a consistent and realistic calorie goal, but make sure you’re including the foods you love. How you choose to do this – whether following a paleo, keto, vegan, or a customized dietary strategy – must work best for you. This will set you up for a lifetime of success.
Sure, that sounds great Heather, but can I really incorporate chocolate cake into my life without gaining weight? And cheese puffs. What about cheese puffs?
Believe it or not, it can be done. Contact me and we can work together to make it happen.
cover photo from Gettyimages.com