(yourself, that is)…with limiting words and choices that keep you from success.
Some days the smallest of choices, like eating a coworker’s birthday cake, can feel sinful, even gluttonous—in our minds. How is it we beat ourselves up over something that is not a genuine betrayal? Yet we call ourselves cheaters when we veer from our dietary goals—as if it were literally a sin.
For me, cheating is one of those cringe-worthy words that when I hear it, it is like nails on a chalkboard. (shivers!)
I’m sure you’ve heard the word in reference to a food splurge: Cheat. Cheat meal. Cheat day.
But should cheating and eating be words we associate together?
Disclosure: Back in my pre-dietitian dieting days as a teen and then young woman I succumbed to eating what I thought I shouldn’t eat. I cheated—sometimes a lot. I remember the guilt, the feeling of failure, the ridicule toward my body. It was crazy. Beating myself up—yet again—for not following a prescribed meal plan. (Read more about my story here, here and here.)
I acquired the vocabulary at Weight Watchers meetings. As an early member, long before the point system, I recall conversations at weekly meetings about cheating and foods being legal: “Ms. Group Leader: Is pizza legal?” That cracks me up now. Have members removed cheating from their dictionary? I hope so.
The word cheating, though, stayed with me well beyond Weight Watchers—with every restrictive program, product, or plan I tested.
Some diet programs advocate eating clean (another nails-across-the-board word for me) or stick-to-the-plan-six-days-a-week and eat what you want the seventh. That implies a good food/bad food mentality. It suggests you’re good when you eat clean and bad when you don’t. No. No. No. And why is a diet suggesting you behave badly?
Chuck the cheating mentality!
I banished the word cheating from my lips. I prefer a substitute word. No more cheat meals or cheat days—instead enjoy fun meals and fun days. Food should be enjoyable, not used to punish.
A client confided her good food/bad food mentality during the discovery discussion of one of our calls, early in her 12-week program with me. It’s a label she placed on certain foods—foods she judged herself by.
After listing her bad foods, I asked, “What if your friend eats one of those foods? Or your boyfriend? Do you judge them?”
“No, I don’t.” She never looked at it that way.
“Should they feel guilty for eating said food? What if I told you I eat those foods? Would you think I was behaving imperfectly…your nutrition coach?” I responded.
I heard the smile in her voice. I helped her reframe her thoughts toward fun foods. Approaching food in a non-judgmental way is rewarding.
Commitment issues…with diet plans or programs
I notice those with a good food/bad food mentality are people on or off a diet or program. They’re following their meal plan—following the rules or not. There is rigidity. Structure. Eat this, not that. Do this, not that. Obsessing over every macro morsel. Diets are temporary fixes and might get the weight off. Will it come back? (Do you know anyone who lost weight dieting and gained it back?)
Savor food. Enjoy meals. When you learn to eat what you love in healthful ways and treat your body with compassion, you won’t need cheat meals or cheat days (or at least change the language to fun). When you appreciate freedom with food choices and eating guilt-free—it’s different yet empowering. Not to mention more suitable for making lifelong changes.
I did not fail
From personal experience, I know. After years of considering myself a failure with my dieting, it took going back to school and becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist to figure out I did not fail—the diets, programs, products, and plans failed me.
Fortunately, you don’t need several years of formal education—just a good coach!
If interested in stepping off the merry-go-round of on-again, off-again programs and want to include foods you love without the guilt or self-loathing, let me know or click here to book your 30-minute complimentary strategy session.
And remember, if you’re not savoring and enjoying food, you’re cheating yourself, not your diet or program. Eating and cheating are two words that don’t belong together.
BE FREE™ and be well!
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Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach
Photo credits: dreamstime.com and Neily on Nutrition