Do Not Cheat Yourself

My oldest son recently took the ACT and unlike when his sisters took it, we had to upload a photo of him so the person checking him into the ACT test site could compare our uploaded photo with the one on his driver’s license.

The reasoning behind this is obvious. The ACT, SAT, and other standardized tests have had incidences of cheating and they are trying their best to make sure that the student presenting him or herself to the test site is actually who he or she says they are.

Although a student may get a better score on the test by cheating, who are they actually cheating? They are cheating themselves.

The same process applies to weight loss.

When you “cheat” on your diet, who are you really cheating?

Woman in the Mirror

Of course you are cheating yourself. We all know it but it can be really hard to stop.

I was the queen of cheating myself when it came to weight loss and dieting. I would join a good program such as Weight Watchers and then “cheat” my way through the week. The day before the meeting I’d eat very little, drink a lot of water, and skip my usual after dinner snack. The next morning, when I went to my meeting, I would wear my lightest weight clothes and “think thin” when I stood on the scale. If I was lucky, I would have lost half a pound. I knew I was cheating on the program but it was very hard to take that a step further and acknowledge that I was really cheating myself.

I was cheating myself of the energy that could be mine if I shed 150 pounds. 

I was cheating myself of the improved self-image that could be mine if I lost half my size.

I was cheating myself of the satisfaction of knowing I was filling my body with healthy food.

I was cheating myself in more ways than I could possibly list in this post.

But still I cheated. For 10 long years of morbid obesity, I cheated on every diet I ever tried from Weight Watchers to Richard Simmons and everything in between. Some of the diets were rather restrictive and some were very open. It did not matter – I strayed from the straight and narrow every single time.

The few times I lost more than a couple of pounds were the times I stuck with the diets more regularly. I still strayed from the diet’s parameters on occasion, but I had some good weeks in there too. Eventually though, the tedium of the diet or the deprivation I felt got to me and I gave in to Breyer’s ice cream or McDonald’s triple cheeseburgers. And then it was all downhill from there.

If you struggle with this, you are not alone. I have coached a lot of people throughout the years and spoken to even more people on an informal basis about why they cheat, how to break this cycle, and how to remove cheating from their vocabulary.

In the end, it comes down to two things for me.

1) You have to take the word “cheating” out of your diet vocabulary.

2) You must be willing to acknowledge that the person you are cheating is yourself. It’s not a plan you are cheating on. It is you.

Once I realized those two things, I was able to stop cheating myself and start making choices that were good for me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I didn’t cheat at all during the 14 months it took me to lose 158 pounds. Did I stray from my eating plan on occasion? Yes. But did I feel as though I was cheating by having a piece of pie? No. Instead, I deliberately made choices that may not have been a “perfect food choice” but it was my choice and I allowed for it without feeling guilty.

How are you with the concept of “cheating” on a diet? Have you ever felt as though you were cheating on the program but later realized that you were cheating yourself? Diane

30 thoughts on “Do Not Cheat Yourself

  1. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for this post Diane! It is hard to realize that I DO cheat myself and I still do not really know why.

  2. Mark says:

    You are right on. Cheating on a diet only hurts us.

    And more importantly – I really think removing cheating from our vocabulary is important like you said because a real life diet is one that doesn’t involve cheating but is about making choices.

  3. LauraAnn says:

    Cheating is never good in life or in weight loss. We not only hurt ourselves but other people too.

    I am very, very, very guilty of the cheating mentality. And once I start it is very, very hard to turn everything around. I appreciate your honesty in this post Diane.

  4. HappinessSavouredHot says:

    I once worked with a girl who was on a very strict diet for meals, but would buy candy bars from the vending machines for snacks. She wondered why she wasn’t losing weight.

    When I eat foods or drinks or in quantities that do not fit my usual guidelines, I don’t call it cheating. I plan it and consciously decide that it does fit my life habits to occasionally have something that is less healthy.

  5. Stephanie says:

    This is SO true!! It took me a long, long time to realize that “cheating” on a diet is ridiculous, because you always “get caught”…your body tracks every single thing you eat, whether you write it down or not!

    And by the way, someone actually DID cheat off me when I took the ACTs! And that was back in 1988. I had to mail in a copy of my transcript to prove I was capable of getting the score I received, because my answers were very similar to those of a person who sat next to me! I found out who it was later…so sad. Cheating really doesn’t pay–in anything!

  6. Contemplative Fitness says:

    I really don’t like the word “cheating” when it comes to this. The issues at hand are much large than the semantics of a word and its application. Ultimately this is about a person being in charge of his or her own desires. Cheating in the small sense isn’t cheating. Cheating in the long-term sense is more about losing control or giving up.

    In the end, this about habit management…

  7. blackhuff says:

    You are right. When cheating on your diet, you are only cheating on yourself. I knew this so well when I was obese, yet I lived in denial then. Sad but luckily now I know better.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Great article and perspective on “cheating.” Back in the day, after a WW meeting I would celebrate by stopping by a fast food restaurant for a cheat meal. I know sad… but true.

  9. Jody - Fit at 55 says:

    It’s funny Diane, I never used that word for me.. I think I may have said I screwed up or something like that.. Now I don’t even say cheat day… I have always said I am having a treat & I am OK with that! 🙂 As you know, I plan for them.. in days past, I just moved on rather than letting it hold me back…

  10. Lonnie Thaler says:

    I agree with you, Dianne. Honestly, I do this all the time. It’s really hard to resist and it keeps on destroying my will to lose weight. My emotions greatly affect my cravings and I gain so much weight when I feel sad or stressed-out. What shall I do to overcome this problem?

  11. Caron says:

    The two years I was above my goal weight, I definitely “cheated” a lot. It wasn’t that I was binging, but I was adding foods that I did not need and eating more than I needed. Yep, I only hurt myself. Nobody else was harmed in my failed eating program. Sigh.

  12. Linda says:

    I agree totally with you Diane! Before when I was trying to lose weight, I cheated on a pretty regular basis as well. I think I was in denial about how much it was really hurting me.

    You know, the taking the word cheating out of the picture makes perfect sense to me. It means allowing myself to make logical choices that occasionally will mean having the odd oatmeal cookie for example (that would be my thing to have as a change), but not going off my healthy plan altogether. Great post! 🙂

  13. Dr. J says:

    It’s all a matter of making those healthier choices. Like the song says, you gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. Knowing when to cheat is not ever in the cards!

  14. Tracy says:

    Hi Diane,
    I’m totally where you came to be. After reading numerous books about how diet plans fail us, I realized that I must simply start to make choices. I wouldn’t even tell people that I’m on a diet now, I eat what I want (what I really want) and I’m learning how to not be afraid of food. I practice on ice cream! Finally, you can buy little teeny tiny cartons of ice cream and not an entire half gallon. Often a few spoonfuls will satisfy me, rather than the entire cup. No, I’m not eating it out of hunger, but rather for pleasure and a little bit goes a long way (similar to the law of diminishing returns…) For me it’s about giving myself permission to eat. I would be miserable in this summer heat if I had to drive by the ice cream shop all the time knowing I couldn’t stop if I wanted to be “good”. I can stop – if I want to and if I make that choice. Thanks for another great post!

  15. Pam says:

    I have often wondered if there is a way to cheat on this “diet” thing. I truly wracked my brain trying to think of a way to cheat that scale after you overeat. I’ve considered trying to make myself vomit even, after I overeat, but I simply could not make myself do that! And I realize that could develop into a whole other problem! Sometimes it frustrates me that this seems to be one area in life where you can’t get by with anything! The scale simply never lies, and can be trusted to always, always tell the truth, however unfortunate that can be at times! I’ve thought about going out and running 10 miles after a binge, but since I don’t run (I’m a walker, at 62, it’s all my arthritic knees can handle), the running thing is probably out too. So I guess my only option is to be self-disciplined 90-95% of the time, because as you state, the only person you’re cheating is YOURSELF!!!

  16. Kyra says:

    I think I’ve deleted cheating from the situation, it’s more about why I’m choosing something not in my best interests now. But it used to be about cheating! I think some of that goes back to seeing my mom on diets and we all thought it was glamorous when someone said “I’m on a diet, I can’t have that” – I don’t know why it seemed that way, but it did. So, cheating, well that was something even more noteworthy when it happened. As an adult, that was not the best viewpoint to have! I’m much more about the healthy foods now, it’s the portions and emotions all muddled up with it that I’m working on.

  17. GiGi Eats Celebrities says:

    I don’t cheat in life so why would I “cheat” when it comes to eating. I don’t even know what cheat means? Does it mean… WHOOPS I ate a few too many ounces of salmon? Uh Oh, I ate the whole spaghetti squash? That is what a “cheat” is for me, and to be honest, that’s not a cheat at all, lol!

  18. sam says:

    Yes I know. I recenlty realized that I need to take “cheat day” out. For me this doesn’t work its basically a day to let go of discipline and lose control.

  19. Kim says:

    Great post!!
    I think this concept applies to so much of our lives – even working out. If we are just phoning it in, the only person that we are really cheating is ourselves!

  20. tanvee says:

    Hi Diane, I think when we cheat we unknowingly get more frustrated, because in your heart you know you are cheating you can’t really enjoy the cheat meal and because we are not fully satisfied with our cheat meal we assume we are still on track to finally realize all the cheating as actually pulled us back..

  21. LovesCatsinCA says:

    I didn’t follow anything specific enough so I would be “cheating” or “not cheating” but over time, my weight crept up because of that deprivation mentality, and probably some perimenopausal hormonal fluctuations and those fun moods. I didn’t regain all the weight, less than half–but I suddenly realized I couldn’t fit any of my fitted pants and I no longer could see my ribcage, and I was getting hippy.

    So it’s not like I don’t deliberately splurge occasionally–just had chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant this weekend… but I also realized that if I eat something like 1600 calories, 1700 calories a day, that WILL mean a heavier me over time and I don’t like how that feels. On the other hand, I’m not willing to eat 1200 calories a day to maintain where I was at, at my lowest… so I’m eating around 1300-1400 a day and exercising a little extra, have lost 4 pounds and another 6 would be nice and allow me to wear my clothes again. I’m petite–I can’t eat like a taller person without being larger.

    So I like how you put it as a choice. What feels best for the now body and the future body, both of us? What level of discipline is liveable?

  22. jeanette says:

    HI Diane, a great post! The word cheat I guess can mean a lot of things to different people but to me cheat means I am cheating if I go over my set limit. Say Ice cream for example. I love to stop when I go buy groceries on Friday and have a cone, but if I were to bring home the carton I would overeat my set limit and that is a cheat for me and you are right I am the one who it is hurting. Not that my ice cream is “bad” food, but too much of course is not good for me or my maintaining.

  23. Natalie says:

    Great post! We all have to “face the music” – there is no putting that off. I started using an app on my phone that REALLY helped me to be accountable with what I eat. It’s called “Lose It”. If I felt too guilty to enter the food into the logs, then I didn’t eat it!

  24. Natalie says:

    Great post! We all have to “face the music” – there is no putting that off. I started using an app on my phone that REALLY helped me to be accountable with what I eat. It’s called “Lose It”. If I felt too guilty to enter the food into the logs, then I didn’t eat it!

  25. PlumPetals says:

    I have definitely cheated on my diet before. I know that it was the lack of immediate consequences (whew I chocolate bar didn’t lead to a weight gain) that kept me in that foolish mindset. I don’t believe in cheat days although I know my diet is not perfect. I do stray but I try to stay on track as much as possible. It’s a balance I’m still trying to work on.

  26. L says:

    I have not thought about my handling of food in terms of “cheating” for a long time. I sincerely think that for me, when the eating goes awry, its because I’ve somehow lost touch with what I’m doing or how risky my behavior used to be and could be again. I don’t mean to excuse mindless eating, but that’s what it feels like to me–mindless. It’s like it’s not me in that moment, making a conscious choice to eat something off plan, but rather, mindless me floating through some airy space that is devoid of thought, if that makes any sense Thankfully, it does not happen often, but a combo of pain, stress, too many withdrawals from my time bank at once, and a houseful of people can create the perfect storm wherein I lose my focus. Thank you for this post, Diane. As always, this is good stuff.

  27. Janette Emerson says:

    It takes a lot of motivation in order to avoid cheating. When I feel like I’m losing the drive, I will definitely cheat myself and have countless excuses for doing it. After years of yoyo diet and useless workouts, I finally realized that I was just making a fool out of myself. Now, I am so motivated that even my closest friends couldn’t destroy my will to resist past favorite foods.

  28. Jessi says:

    Great post, really hits home. It is so easy to just think, i will just have a little extra, or some sweets and tomorrow I will be good and stay focused or it’s the last supper before i start sticking with healthy eating. very tuff not to cheat, I tried to congratulate myself on not cheating with just self praise and maybe a gift to myself (not food).

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