Should you cheat?

The notion of “clean eating” has been a part of my dialect since I was first training for figure shows over ten years ago. I followed the instructions of my coach. There were certain foods and quantities of food I was allowed, and likewise, a much longer list of foods I was not. As long as I stayed with that regimen, I was “good”; I was “clean”. It gave me a sense of discipline, control…and disillusion.

Here’s the deal. I ate according to my diet plan for 10-12 weeks (it usually took me a couple of weeks to mentally and physically make the transition. Ssshh, don’t tell my coach.) I gradually decreased my carbs over that time, dehydrated in the final days before the show….and then promptly ate a burrito before I’d even had a chance to bathe off the body bronzer.

The disillusionment came from the fact that I thought that this 10-week way of eating was supposed to be the way I should eat all the time. I thought there were good foods and bad foods, and that there was an element of self-righteousness that came with adhering to such a ridiculous notion, and feeling demoralized if I strayed. I read the fitness magazines that showed the diets of my favorite competitors. They all ate egg white omelettes for breakfast, dry grilled chicken salads for lunch, and steamed broccoli and fish for dinner. Oh, but they loved to have a ½ sweet potato for a treat!


It’s just not true. These top nationally ranked 7% body fat bikini, figure, and fitness models absolutely eat like this during certain seasons of the year as they are prepping for contest or perhaps for a few days before an important cover shoot. And of course they have a habit of eating more like this than not like this, but we’re not only being naïve, we’re being destructive if we think that this is a way we can or even should be eating 100% of the time.

In 1,000 words are less, there’s a lot more to that magazine article that we don’t get to read. And that’s the fact that many of these competitors really struggle with body issues, not to mention metabolism slow downs, and fast rebounding weight gain in their off-seasons. In fact, it’s a science to get many of these models and competitors back to a normal and healthy weight with a normal and healthy calorie intake and activity level that won’t cause an abnormally fast and dramatic weight re-gain.

Here’s the deal. Eating is not a moral act. Perhaps there are certain circumstances in which eating can be immoral, such as taking candy from a baby or polishing off your husband’s Haagen Daaz without permission. Otherwise, eating any particular food should not be a source of guilt or shame. At the same time, eating events shouldn’t evolve into an all-out orgy either. If you want to have nookie with a cookie, then do it! Go ahead and CHEAT, but not without making it a mindful transgression. Here’s your cheat sheet for when you want to CHEAT.

C – Carb or Calorie depleted? Our willpower is high early in the day. Because of that we often start off very disciplined to our unwitting demise. We have our egg white omelette for breakfast and our dry grilled chicken salad for lunch. Then comes the 3 o’clock witching hour and we wonder why we’re cracking under the pressure of wanting a damn cracker! If you’re noticing that you’re consistently in conflict with cravings mid- to late-afternoon, make sure you’re eating enough earlier in the day.

H – Habit. Many times we have the “cravings” that we do because we’ve created antecedent triggers that the brain associates with food. That’s right. Sometimes we’re no more than slobbering dogs of Pavlov. However, as humans, we can transition from being the subject to the scientist. What could change in our routine or environment that would help foster a new habit that would better serve us? For instance, if you’re always going for a walk (and a dip) by the receptionist’s candy bowl after your 2pm status meeting, could you use that trigger to instead go out for 10 minutes of fresh air? If you’re typically inclined to crash with food and TV trash after the kids go to bed, could you realign that need for relaxation with a cup of chamomile and conversation out on the back porch instead?

E – Emotion. Sometimes we eat because of emotion. We’re lonely, anxious, bored, or even tired. If you suspect that might often be the case, try reaching for a pen versus pie. Take a few moments to write down your feelings and where they might be stemming from. Then try to identify some healthier alternatives that would better serve you. Maybe it’s taking time to call a friend. Maybe it’s clearing your head with 10 minutes of yoga or meditation. Maybe it’s writing a letter that you never send or having a conversation to deal with a relationship issue. And of course, maybe it’s also getting the extra emotional help you need with the help of a professional. Regardless of what you’re going through, self-medicating with food will only compound the issue, and needs to be addressed early on.

A – Alternative. Is there an alternative option that would fill the void, but still make you feel on track? For instance, could part of a protein bar scratch your itch for something sweet and chewy versus the cookies or brownies? Could a protein shake curb your craving for something creamy? Could a handful of almonds bend the yen for some salty crunch? Sometimes an alternative will totally tame the tiger and let you move on with no sense of deprivation. However, sometimes, you really just want the cake! And that’s okay! In those cases, “LET THEM EAT CAKE”! Because you and I both know that if you try and substitute something of lesser value to you, you’re going to end up having the alternative AND the cake at some point or another anyway! You’re laughing because you KNOW this! But alas, I still want you to consider one more tactic…..

T – Twenty minutes. Allow yourself twenty minutes to let the craving pass. Promise yourself that you can have that dish of delish as soon as the timer hits 0:00. At least half the time, you’ll get over it. And what’s really nice, is that you’ll now have decreased your indulgences by 50%, and because of it, you’ll start finding that you have fewer and fewer cravings to begin with, as your intake of salt and sugar diminish. But in those instances, where you are still completely preoccupied with the cookie; when never in your life have you wanted a round, soft sumpin sumpin in all your life….

Then by all means, HAVE THE DAMN COOKIE!  Enjoy it. Savor it. Know that you put some conscience and conscious work in and you REALLY want this cookie. And don’t feel bad about it one bit. Instead, understand that having it without remorse is what’s really going to keep you in this for the long haul. It’s really the dirty emotions behind this notion of “clean eating” that gets us in trouble and makes us feel “out of control”, “off plan”, or “off the wagon”. So take some mindful thought, figure out why you’re wanting this thing, if there’s a learning experience to be had for the future, if there’s a substitute, and if you can wait. If you’ve done all of these things, then I think you’ve courted the cookie enough. Take that cookie to bed. :)



Erin Henry