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How to Cheat On Your Diet (And Not Get Fat)

cheat-on-diet

Let’s be honest – there’s a way you can still eat food you like and lose weight.

One of the first things I learned when I started coaching clients was that – if it were so simple that I could just give you a meal plan and a bunch of work outs – then nobody would have weight problems, no one would have any financial problems, and no one would be unhappy.

Another interesting thing that I realized was that if you give people a plan, or if you talk to someone and they have the intention of being 100% adherent, “You know what? I’m going to nail it, I’m going to be perfect,” it doesn’t work.

Never have I seen a human being, even a person with insane willpower and discipline, say they were going to avoid 100% of sugar and then do it for a long period of time.

Well, what do you do?

How do you accommodate for the fact that you know you have to eat certain foods to get fit, and you know you can’t really eat certain foods that often?

My theory on cheat days is very simple.

How to Cheat on Your “Diet” And Still Get Results

Three Ways to “Eat the Good Stuff” And Still Get Crazy Results

Let’s address a few basic questions/statements here:

Number 1, if you restrict all the food you want to eat, you’re just going to binge on it.

Number 2, if you do cheat days, are you just going to mess up all your progress from the days before, from the days preceeding it?

Well, the first thing I want you to think of is “cheat days” from a physiological point of view.

If you restrict sugar, what happens?

Binging behavior occurs, right? It’s the text book dieter dilemma.

We’re doing awesome for a couple of days, maybe were even doing awesome for a few weeks, and then what happens?

The calories are low enough, or the temptation is high enough, and we’ve deprived ourselves enough that it’s like, “Oh man, I just need a cupcake or something. I just need one little taste, one slice of cake.”

Then it all unravels.

Then suddenly we reach the point where we don’t feel well or spot the weight gain and think, “All right, you know what? I’m good, I’m going to stop.”

The next week is a living hell, where we see carbs everywhere and sugar everywhere and wonder how on earth we’re going to tough it out.

With such a restriction of the things we want, it’s almost like yin and yang – the farther you pull back, the more you restrict, the more you want to binge.

To avoid this kind of rubber band effect, I’ve come up with a few strategies that work for many of my clients.

Strategy #1: Your Own Personal Diet “Cheat Sheet”

Your own personal diet cheat days

The first strategy I find that works for me and my clients is that I personally setup some food rules over the years.

For example, it is very rare to ever see me eating fried food, including french fries, unless I’m on vacation.

You will never see me eat french fries, and you could follow me around like the paparazzi.

That’s one food rule I developed just over years and years of doing it.

The other thing is that I don’t drink soda.

I literally have not had soda in over ten years.

Not only do I not have it in my daily life, I don’t have it on vacation.

Even if I go to someone’s house (a person I’ve just met), and they offer soda – it’s a no brainer for me to decline it.

I’m a non soda drinker, which at this point feels like calling myself a “non-smoker.”

Also, I wasn’t naturally like this – I made the shift around sixteen or seventeen.

So the first principle that has worked well for me is creating personal “rules” that I stick with.

However, there’s an exception.

Strategy #2: Selective Slacking – Should You Do Cheat Meals on Vacation?

Should you do cheat meals on vacation

An important little “P.S.” here is what to do on vacation – do you make it a living hell and avoid the stuff that makes vacation fun, or do you stay focused?

Personally, on vacation I’m free reign, and I eat whatever I want, minus my food rules.

I’m not going to start binging on soda and sugar magically because I’m on vacation.

For example, during the week I eat sugar, but very little compared to what I might be having on vacation. Once I’m on vacation, it’s all open season.

Want ice cream after lunch every day? Go for it.

The catch here (and important thing) is that I’m not vacation six months of the year.

If you travel full time, or you do lots of business travel, this is not going to work for you. Six months is a lot of time to be just doing whatever you want.

For me, the two weeks or so of vacation that I take each year, I leave totally open to relax my willpower. I sleep. I eat. I have fun.

If I want to get fish and chips, I get fish and chips. If I want to get tiramisu after dinner, I get tiramisu after dinner.

Again, you have to adjust this for yourself — a person that does business trips regularly won’t be able to swing this.

Strategy #3: Choose Your Controls

HOw much sugar in starbucks vanilla frappuccino

The third way I accommodate eating right and eating what I want is by using smart controls, for example, cooking breakfast almost every day.

During the average week, I cook my breakfast every morning.

Generally speaking my breakfasts are set in stone, which I always make at home – which means I can control what I eat, and how much I spend.

So when do I eat what I want?

I reserve those for four primary meals: dinners on Friday night and Saturday night, and lunch on Saturday and on Sunday.

Despite eating “what I want” (which can be beer and pizza on a weekend, for example), I know that I’m still going to reach my fitness and my health goals because I know that Monday through Thursday, I’m regulating what I’m eating.

I know that 80-90% of what I eat is aligned with my goals. And as long as what I’m doing 80%+ of the time is aligned with my goals, I know I’ll get there.

Since I know that I’m dialed in most of the time, I don’t worry too much about getting off track.

And at this point, since I have reached the goals that I wanted, I’m in maintenance mode so I can get away with more. If you’re a long way from the health and body you want, you may need to be stricter.

When I do “cheat,” by going out to eat on the weekend, I also tend to pick the same few spots to go to.

Typically, I have a Thai spot, a healthier pizza place, and then one other ethnic food spot (like Indian).

To make it extra nerdy, I literally keep a list of these restaurants (and the five or so meals at each place I like, that are aligned with my goals), in an evernote document.

If I go out to eat and I’m getting hungry, I can just pull that up and know I’m not making a decision that will completely derail me.

Your Tiny Daily Habit For Today

Tiny Habit for Today Thumb

Do I personally use “cheat days” in particular to juggle eating what I want, and eating what I need to eat?

No.

The way I do it is flexible cheat periods.

Those periods are the weekend, and they’re when I’m on vacation.

What I personally recommend is a three-prong approach:

  1. Come up with your own personal food rules – ones you’re flexible with, and ones that are set in stone. Maybe that could be avoiding fried food, or maybe that means you add vegetables to every meal. Keep it really simple.
  2. Strategically use your weekends to eat what you want (within reason). I personally allow 3-5 meals on the weekends where I can have fun and eat what I want, do what I want, and mostly go wherever I want. The point is to have fun, enjoy my life, and hangout with friends and family.
  3. Go free-reign on vacation. To me, enjoying my vacation should be the primary thing, since I work a lot and don’t take too many vacations. If you’re focused most of the year, and then take a two week break, you may see your weight change but it won’t be the end of the world.

Before you go, leave a comment below.

How do you personally accommodate for the fact that you want to eat junk food, but you’re also trying to reach your health and your weight loss goals?

What strategies do you personally use? Share below.

-Alex

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  Read more about this in my book Master The Day. You’ll learn the nine daily success habits I learned interviewing people that lost 100+ pounds and kept it off in a healthy way – by changing their habits. Plus, you’ll get a free $100 bonus video course if you show me your receipt. You can get the audiobook here too.

7 comments… add one

  1. It is so refreshing to see someone doling out sane advice on Internet regarding diet and healthy eating! And I can totally vouch for all the rules you mentioned, because I have been following them even before I read this article and they have worked for me! Thank you for writing this 🙂

    Reply
    1. That’s awesome Sanjeet, glad they’ve helped 🙂

      Reply
  2. I agree 100%. Why does it have to be identified as Cheating Anyway? Just makes it seam like you are doing something wrong, which in it’s turn makes me want to hide it. It’s not cheating if your are not on a diet. (just healty eating habits). You simply have to plan for it. With the holiday on the way and all the food that comes with it, I like to think ahead and plan. If i know i will be eating out with friends then I’ll make sure I have a light breakfast or lunch to balance out everything. As for every day regular life, it’s the same thing, i balance out my day. And when I get a craving for something sweet, I have a small bowl of wrapped candies, or dark chocolate covered fruits in my desk drawer (out of sight :)). I’ll take one when I’m craving sugar and I find I don’t binge anymore. Definitely not like I used to! Like your book says… “Master the day!”

    Reply
    1. EXACTLY Mona! This expresses the entire essence of it. How are things going for you lately, do you have holiday plans?

      Reply
      1. Things are great and I’m still on track. Another 8lbs down 🙂 ones i hope to keep off during the holidays. But again balance and moderation stay in mind because its going to be a full week of christmas dinners and brunches with family and friends!

        Reply
  3. This was a great article. It helps with the yo yo that continually happens after eating and the guilt that you feel with “cheat” meals. It makes me feel as though I am cheating on myself if I eat something I enjoy.

    Reply
    1. Hey AJ,

      Ah yeah, that’s the trick – to view it as just enjoying yourself rather than having committed a crime hah.

      Reply

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