Home It's All Mental Why I Don’t Believe In “Cheating” On Your Clean Eating

Why I Don’t Believe In “Cheating” On Your Clean Eating

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I know I’ve said this before, and everyone jumped down my throat… but I don’t believe in the concept of “cheating.””Cheat days,” “cheat meals,” and the like? I don’t believe in ’em.

Tomatoes... mmmm...

It’s ok to throw tomatoes at me. I’ll just make tomato bisque out of ’em, anyway.

I think it’s appropriate to talk about “cheating” during a week where we’re committed to taking extra steps to eat healthier, cleaner and closer to the source because, honestly, so many of us are struggling with the vast amount of sacrifices we’ve had to make in order to do better.

No, I don’t believe in cheating. Cheating is a concept inherited from the “dieting” mentality… something else that I don’t agree with.

Allow me to explain.

People who take on temporary diets to lose a few pounds, only to revert right back to the habits that caused them to pack on the pounds in the first place… they “cheat” their diets every now and again. They “cheat” and eat the way they used to, because they’ve realized that they took on a diet that was far too restrictive for their natural liking – in a cold turkey kind of way, at that – and regress… without really learning anything from the situation altogether.

I can’t support that for a ton of reasons.

Firstly, it implies – like I mentioned – that you took on something too restrictive and too soon. Why? Are you trying to fit in a dress before the weekend, or are you trying to change things up so that you never have a problem getting in that dress again? Why did you go cold turkey? Don’t we know a gazillion people who’ve tried to cut things (namely smoking) cold turkey, only to regress because it was too much to bear?

Secondly, it implies that we don’t recognize that the habits/food items we used to “cheat” are the ones that got us in this mess in the first place! If I have committed to clean eating, decide to have a “cheat day” when I come home from work and have a TV dinner… y’know, because I’m sooooo tired and need to relax after a long day? C’mon, man! That ain’t gon’ cut it! The TV dinner might not even be that terrible – it’s not the food that’s the problem! It’s the habit. Coming home and not having anything healthy prepped for you to take? Coming home and having the TV dinner in the house in the first place? That’s the kind of stuff that results in you hitting up a fast food joint.

Embrace the fact that you are changing your life. You are not yo-yo dieting. You are not overindulging. You are not leaving yourself open to the risk of unpreparedness. You are definitely not going to gain the weight back.

You certainly aren’t “cheating.”

So… if I’m not cheating, what happens when I slip up?

First of all, it’s not a horrible thing. It’s not a “cheat” – because that implies that “it’s ok because I don’t do it often” – it’s a learning opportunity. Take a long, hard look at what you slipped up on. Take a look at why you felt that you “needed” it so badly. Analyze how you felt directly before and after you ate it. Did it help you feel better? Are you going to be hungry ten minutes from now? Was it empty calories?

Now, think about the future. Is this a good habit to maintain? Do you need to take some extra precautions to prevent this kind of trouble? Did you slip up because cold turkey just isn’t working for you? If you’re mad that you had that TV dinner when you know you’re supposed to be cooking, what extra precautions do you need to take to prevent it from happening again? You need to step your freezer game up, or have lighter dishes on hand. You need to have better snacks nearby to eat while you cook (yes, I do this too.) Embrace a salad instead. You know you’re supposed to do X, instead you do Y… so do what you have to do to make sure that you never forget that X.

I’m not talking about those situations where you just can’t get out of an eating mishap. I was hit with the example of a temperamental boss buying you a little birthday cake – can you really.. really turn down a slice? This isn’t cheating. This is acknowledging that life happens. While you may feel like you need punishment in the form of a supercardio session, this isn’t you indulging for no reason other than “I just wanted it.” Be reasonable in your assessment – if you feel like you’re giving yourself a pass for bad behavior, admit that. It’s a part of learning the lesson that comes with “cheating.”

In short, you don’t “cheat” a lifestyle. There is nothing ok about going against what you know you’re supposed to be doing, and making it “ok” because it’s “only for one day.” That doesn’t cut it. It’s half’ing it.

I hate this cliché (I hate all clichés) but really, this is a lifestyle change. For crying out loud don’t “cheat” it, because you’re only “cheating” yourself. So give yourself the time and patience it takes – the time and patience you deserve – to become accustomed to things you might’ve never tried.. never done.. never imagined. It’s so worth it.

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Tiffany December 16, 2010 - 11:44 AM

Erica I agree with you. I am just getting started and I am having challenges. Especially with the stumbling blocks at work and the holiday season. I am sure you have noticed this, but I am coming to realize how crazy it is that most things and holidays we celebrate are centered around food. Wow what and epiphany! We need to figure out innovative ways to celebrate other than busting our guts to the point that they are hanging over our jeans. (rant) Anyway now that I better understand what you me when you say you don’t agree with cheating. I support what you are saying. We need to stop makinging it okay to be like a dog that has gone back to his own vomit. Just like getting rid of waste and then creating more of the same thing you just got rid of. This site along with prayer and the Lord is really helping me to make changes!!! Permenant ones! Thanks.

CoCo January 17, 2011 - 6:25 PM

“…you don’t cheat a lifestyle.”

You’re so right!

Habibah March 4, 2011 - 1:55 PM

I so love this article!! It was exactly what I needed to hear! i lost 34 lbs 3 years ago & was well on my way to lose more when i fell & broke both ankles. I became so depressed–I put back on the 34 plus another 16!! I have been working to release this weight for the past 6 months–using WW. I would do great all week–weigh in on Saturday, & then allow myself a cheat day. Never understood how much damage I was doing to myself–emotionally, physically, and even spirtually. I dont live as a Christian on Sundays only–Christ permeates my life everyday–I live this way because it brings me life. So I must be the same with this healthy lifestyle I chose–Thanks

LaShonda May 17, 2011 - 6:21 PM

I agree with this. I have a cheat period around my menstrual cycle, but it doesn’t consist of eating the foods that are bad for me. I actually find myself eating more of the crunchy brown rice crackers that I’ve incorporated to replace my love of potato chips during that period of time. The concept of eating the stuff that got the weight on me in the first place is almost nauseating to me at this point when I remember it’s texture and consistency. Keep the great articles coming!

milaxx May 18, 2011 - 9:07 PM

I couldn’t agree more. Cheating is too connected to the dieting mentality. I don’t want a diet I want this to be a lifestyle change.

madeline June 7, 2011 - 12:04 AM

I love your blog agh! It’s just the perfect combination of social justice, feminism and healthy encouragement. Every time I read it! I especially needed this today! Thanks for writing and inspiring.

Norn June 9, 2011 - 3:45 PM

People say, “Can’t you just cheat?” (usually about gluten), but who am I cheating???
No outside force can put any rules on me; just like ANY lasting change, it has to come from INSIDE.

Tasha July 4, 2011 - 6:32 AM

Erica do you find anything wrong if on occassion you just want that scoop of icecream or to try a small piece of cake…or would you suggest just to try not to introduce those things back in your lifestyle change any longer

Erika Nicole Kendall July 4, 2011 - 9:29 AM

It depends. Are you a sugar addict? If you were someone who abused alcohol, would it make sense for you to take “one drink?” Do you think you could stop at “one scoop?”

RJ August 7, 2011 - 11:41 AM

Erica, I’m a soda and bakery addict. (I’m an addiction counselor I KNOW what addiction looks like) in preparation for my clean eating, I’m “tidying” first. I have managed better alternatives for cakes, brownies, etc. But nothing that kills my “brown soda” craving. } tried moving to root beer first, I tried drinking a bottle of water to “cleanse the craving” but nothing satisfies. Any suggestions?

TJB August 7, 2011 - 11:49 AM

I love this. I bought the clean eating meal plan, I downloaded the chart, I added an extra $50 to my grocery money and bought all the frozen food, etc. that I needed…i did all of the tasks, but I neglected to prepare myself mentally. Because I didn’t, I find myself convincing myself that this “one blueberry croissant” is okay. Oh I didn’t drink my water today, that’s okay. Oh, I didn’t have time to cook so I’ll get chinese food…bc it’s a little “healthier”. I realize that the problem is deeper. It’s about developing a better sense of self worth. Like someone else said…I’m cheating myself…and what do I mean to me? I have decided to take it slow and change my habits gradually and with more intention so that they stick. I’m about to go to sunday brunch and I’ll likely have pancakes…but they’ll be wheat 😉

Keep your head up ladies!

Jay January 9, 2012 - 11:48 AM

Once a month I eat whatever I want its not because I feel deprived or restricted; I love food and I go to different states and places to try different foods. I would be depriving myself if I never was able to go to any restaurants that I have dreamt of that is when I would lose it.

Erica June 14, 2012 - 2:58 PM

I totally agree with no ‘cheating’ no cheat days or cheat meals because it defeats the purpose of a lifestyle change. Life happens and it is all mental. Self evaluation is very important.

Tameka June 14, 2012 - 4:11 PM

Call it what you want but I do love a scoop of custard every now and then. I don’t call it cheating I call it incorporating it in to my life (lol). By the way love the blog

TEA September 30, 2012 - 7:17 PM

I don’t call it cheating. One Sunday for brunch I went out with some friends and had sausage and french toast with banana cream cheese, ice cream and syrup. Once in a while I will eat stuff like that. The last time I had anything close to that type of meal was a year prior. I don’t feel like it’s cheating to eat things once in a while. I like things like ice cream and cookies and I’m not going to completely give it up because I know that’s unrealistic for me.

Margaret February 18, 2013 - 12:10 AM

I just told someonevthis exact thing!

Kami April 21, 2013 - 9:40 AM

Before as a vegetarian all I did was eat processed soy products, applesauce and frozen meals, At the time I was suffering from nitritional deficiencies now cheating is not an option. Thanks for the artcicle, I have been clean eating vegetarian for about four months now. Since the month of December, I have stopped depending on resuarant meals or frozen meals. Even though I go to organic restaurants to get a meal, it is expensive. Since I already buy healthy foods from farmer’s markets and Food coops, I just cook to experience trial and error. Now if eating sweets ( organic raw dark chocolate, vegan ice cream) it has less than five ingredients including raw sugar or coconut palm sugar instead of corn syrup or agave nectar.

Kathrin Ivanovic August 19, 2013 - 1:45 PM

A friend recently said that I am too serious about what I put in my body. “Everyone needs to go off script sometime” is what she said. I have been going off script for 33 yrs and I ended up weighing 420lbs.

So, no! I can’t go off script. I actually like this script – just had homemade ricotta with fresh strawberries. I <3 this script!

Karen October 11, 2013 - 8:25 AM

Ouch, this hits home. I am a weekend cheater. But I am noticing I need less of my “cheat” food these days (usually apple danish at the deli by my home) to feel I got my “cheat’s worth” out of it.

Carmen March 2, 2014 - 12:26 PM

OMG! You are so right! Just because you eat a slice of cake does not equal cheating! But to say it’s ok to cheat while you are working to eat healthy really is equivalent to someone saying it’s ok to take a puff even if she’s stopped smoking. It only leads into that slippery slope. I tried that weekend cheating and what I found I was doing was making up for the five days I ate healthy! Did I lose weight, yes, BUT I felt awful and tired and wilted and just simply blah on Monday! Then I found that my “weekdays” of healthy eating didn’t start until Wednesday! It just didn’t work for me. It’s one thing to have that piece of cake at a party or go to a party and eat the food that is given (healthy or not) but to give yourself permission to eat unhealthy for a full day or two full days is never a good thing. Love your blog! You look amazing!

JoCaryn May 14, 2014 - 12:29 AM

Thank you!!!! I totally agree!!!!!!

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