When you’re tempted to swap your carrots and dip for a beautiful, gooey, chocolate chip cookie, do you worry one cookie will turn into one bag? I hear you. In fact, as I reach for one I hear Whoopi Goldberg say, “Krissy, you in danger, girl.”
If this describes you and then some, I’ve got great news: cheating on your diet can actually help weight loss! (Snoopy dance anyone?) Here’s how.
Even though I’ve successfully changed my eating habits over the past year, there are days where I’m utterly miserable with my healthy diet. I start foaming at the mouth for a chocolate bar or cupcake — I even had a dream once where I stole someone’s drive-thru order as the server dangled it out the window. Sigh.
Let’s face it: when we’re not “supposed” to eat something, we want it that much more. This is why experts like Melissa McCreery, Ph.D., psychologist and author of The Emotional Eating Plan for Smart, Busy Women, encourages her clients to incorporate cheating into their diet by reframing the experience. “I encourage them to build ‘indulging’ into their life,” she says. “Indulging is purposeful cheating where you allow yourself to eat something you truly love with full permission to fully enjoy it.”
When you build healthy eating habits, it’s important to create a diet with the right amount of discipline and flexibility. “No one wants to live perpetually in the land of deprivation (‘I can’t eat that!’), and success by willpower alone is just no fun,” says McCreery. When you provide yourself an occasional cheat day — where you eat something that’s typically “forbidden” — it gives you a breather from your diet while keeping your momentum intact.
Of course, cheating can backfire, especially if you’re feeling guilty about it. “This can lead to mindless eating — when we don’t like how we’re feeling, there’s a huge tendency to distract ourselves or numb out,” says McCreery.
On the flipside of the coin, maybe wanting to cheat means the diet you’re on isn’t cutting it. “When people feel they need to cheat, I encourage them to ask themselves, ‘What’s this diet doing for me?'” says Carrie Runde, ND, naturopathic doctor at the Casey Health Institute. “If it’s not positive, perhaps it’s not for them.”
If you feel your diet’s sustainable, but cravings come in giant bursts, how can you add a cheat day to your diet without it turning into a binge day? Glad you asked! Here’s how to make your diet feel like less of a grind:
Define your splurge foods
Make a list of the forbidden foods you’d like to have an affair with. Comb through your list and cross off any “trigger foods” — the ones you’d absolutely, positively binge on — or see if you can find lower calorie alternatives. (Just don’t do what my mom does — she squeals, “Oooh they’re only 100 calories!” and proceeds to eat the entire box.) When you want to schedule a cheat day after reaching a milestone, you’ll already have your options handy.
Make it a special occasion
Consider your food splurge like bringing out the fancy silverware when you have company: sit down and enjoy! Don’t eat it in front of the television, computer or while socializing. Make it a special moment, just for you. After all, you’ve earned it!
Portion off your splurges
If you struggle with self-control (bashfully raises hand), create individually portioned splurges ahead of time so you’re not tempted to forge ahead unarmed.
Know your limits
If you’re like me and have absolutely no self-control whatsoever, have your spouse or loved one hide your splurges and bring them out only when you’ve earned it. Since I’d sniff out the snacks like a police dog, I keep my splurges at my mom’s. (Luckily, we don’t like the same ones.)
Deduct the splurge from your calorie “bank account”
If you can’t help but feel guilty, deduct your splurge from your daily calorie count as a way to incorporate it into your daily diet goals.
Get back on the horse, stat
When I splurge, I do it at the end of the day when I’m less likely to feel guilty and more likely to bask in the glory. With tomorrow just around the corner, it helps you seamlessly pick up where you left off with your diet, sans bingey-binge.