Wise Words for a Diet Cheat

Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on August 29, 2012

Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I am slowly becoming a former fat girl. I have been changing my lifestyle since March and have lost over 50 lbs so far. The problem is that I am beginning to cheat. Every little morsel of any type of food I am not supposed to eat goes in my mouth. I have been taking spoonfuls of chocolate frosting. Nibbling on chocolate at work. I make excuses to clean the kitchen so I can sneak. I even eat leftovers off my daughter and husband’s plate. I started my diet great. I was a wall: Not letting the little chocolates or work parties bother me. My husband graciously helped me begin my journey to healthier eating and exercise. But as I went on further and further I noticed myself resenting him. Every time he catches me eating outside my diet plan he snips at me. You are nibbling again. OMG—what are you eating now? Even healthy snacks elicit a comment. Help!–Allison

DEAR ALLISON: Wow. Fifty pounds in five months? That’s 10 pounds a month—a pretty amazing achievement. I know you are struggling now, but you have much to be proud of! I think what we have here is a typical plateau—an emotional one, for sure, and maybe a physical one as well.  And then there’s that husband of yours, who may be misinterpreting what it means to be helpful. All of these things are conspiring to make you feel guilty and shameful, not exactly the strongest frame of mind to be in when you’re trying, basically, to change your whole life. Here’s my advice for rebuilding your “wall” and getting back on track.

Adjust your expectations. It is fantastic—completely fantastic—that you’ve made so much progress. But the rate at which you’ve been losing tells me you’ve been pretty strict. Many off-the-shelf diet plans (like that promoted by celebrity trainer Jackie Warner in her book, 10 Pounds in 10 Days: The Secret Celebrity Program for Losing Weight Fast, as well as the “Kate Middleton diet” created by Dr. Pierre Dukan) consist of phases, the first of which is usually more restrictive when it comes to calories (and sometimes whole categories of foods), and then allowing you to eat more quantity and variety in subsequent phases. Diet experts explain their reasons for doing this in different ways, but one justification is that the stricter the diet is at the beginning, the quicker you see results—and seeing results boosts your confidence and helps you resist cravings and stick with your plan. But most folks know that you can’t sustain a strict diet for too long, or you’ll rebel, like you’re doing now. I don’t know what plan you’re following now, but I suggest aiming to lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week and adding a few more servings of healthful, yet satisfying foods—maybe a couple of snacks that include lean protein and whole grains, or an additional side dish at lunch and dinner. Eating more healthful foods in general may help you resist some of those trigger foods a bit more.

Purge your fridge, freezer and pantry. Those little cans of ready-made frosting are E.V.I.L.—truly the devil’s creation. Even though I prefer my own homemade butter cream to the canned stuff, if it’s around, I’m on it like a paparazzi on Jennifer Aniston. Simple solution: get it—and anything else within reach—out of the house. There’s simply no reason for anyone to have cans of frosting hanging around, just waiting for a cake to come along. When you need a can, you can run out and get one (and stop fooling yourself that you’re keeping the leftovers to avoid wasting money). If you’re hitting the vending machine at work, make sure you have no change or singles on you when you leave the house in the morning. Do whatever it takes to make it inconvenient (if not impossible) to cheat.

Build in your “cheats.” Some experts—like the Biggest Loser’s Bob Harper—don’t believe in having a “cheat day.” (Read our interview with him here.) But somehow incorporating a way to feed your need for chocolate may help you stick to you plan. I used the “cheat day” concept during a time when I had overwhelming PMS cravings—I mean, they were worse than I had when I was pregnant! Each month, on the day before my period started, I allowed myself a day to eat anything and everything. If I wanted a burger and fries, I got it. Ice cream? Yep. But at the stroke of midnight, I went back on my plan. I remember so intensely craving a chocolate-chip peanut butter cookie before my midnight deadline that I drove to a couple of bakeries (closed), grocery stores and even convenience stores to buy one—and had to settle for a pack of Oreos. But that was my escape valve, and it worked. I have also at various time allowed myself a certain, specified treat for dessert on specific nights of the week (Fridays, or Fridays and Saturdays). That system might work for you. Just be careful to define portions and “schedule” your so-called cheat (even put it on your calendar), so you can work toward it all week.

Get hubby off your back. Now, to that husband of yours. He may have been helpful at the beginning, but now he’s just a nag. Set aside your resentment and annoyance (as difficult as that might be) and have a serious discussion with him about what you need from him. No need to make it an argument or have it be confrontational. Tell him you are going through a hard time, and what had worked in the past for you, both diet-wise and support-wise, isn’t working for you now. I’m sure he truly wants to help—you just need to tell him that the best way for him to support you is to keep quiet and let you do your thing. This is YOUR journey, not his. You can handle it—just tell him that, and thank him for all that he is doing.

Focus on what you’ve done RIGHT. Sometimes we get so focused on what we’re doing WRONG that we forget how much we’re doing that’s right. You have lost 50 pounds! On most days, you probably do more things that support your new healthy lifestyle than things that don’t. Make that real for yourself! First, go out and try to find something to represent the weight you have lost so far in some concrete way. Stop by a pet store and see what 50 pounds of dog food looks like (try to lift it while you’re at it). Or go to Home Depot, where they have stuff like dry concrete and mulch. Head to the gym, and stack up weight plates until you reach 50 pounds. If you keep a food diary (and I would advise it), highlight the healthy choices you’re making in green, and the not-so-healthy choices in yellow. You’re likely to end up with WAY more green at the end of the week. Give yourself credit for all the work you’re doing. These things can rebuild your confidence so you can continue on your way to a healthy weight—and a healthy life. Best to you!