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  • Shayna Schmidt

Can you "Cheat on" your Food?

"The trap I see people fall into again and again is the notion of 'cheating' on their food. Related to this is the notion of having a 'relationship' with food. You cannot cheat on your food, and if you are seeking a healthy relationship with food, that very process may be at the root of your problems." -- Robb Wolf, WIRED TO EAT Does this quote speak to anyone else? I know it speaks to a lot of our clients (and me, to be honest. Big time). So many factors go into why we get hungry, why we crave certain foods, why we choose to eat certain foods, and more. But one major aspect is the realm of internal dialogue-- the conversations we have with ourselves when we see something we really want to eat, for example. The rationalizations we make, the self-sabotage into which we talk ourselves, on which we fall back on. As Wolf mentions in his book WIRED TO EAT, this is a super uncomfortable topic. People have strong emotional responses to being told that perhaps there is a larger issue going on that's unrelated to food, and that they'd be better off seeing a therapist than a nutritionist. But if we can get a handle on the psychology of cheating and the misguided notion that we are in a relationship with what we eat, it is more likely that we will be liberated from the vicious cycle many of us endure on a regular basis. When we have a less-than-perfect moment and head to the pantry and finish off the entire box of Oreos, are we really "cheating?" What does that word mean in this context, anyway? Where did that term come from? On WHAT are we cheating? Wolf explores the dictionary definition of the word: "To act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination." By that definition, we certainly did not CHEAT by eating Oreos. Eating Oreos was not an underhanded move, or an attempt to gain an unfair advantage. The terminology does not apply; however, the GUILT is what hangs over our heads. The guilt of dishonesty, which comes from a sense of moral failure. "If I was a better person, I'd be strong enough to avoid temptation. "If I was a stronger person, I'd be able to have self-discipline."

But this is garbage. You cannot "cheat" on food. You EAT food. There are consequences to what you eat, but none of this is about freakin' MORALITY! (Though, I have to acknowledge then that morality can be applied to food in the sense of moral considerations from a scientific or a religious perspective, but I think we can all acknowledge the difference here. And if you cannot acknowledge the difference, then that's useful because perhaps it shows you that there's something going on that may be much deeper than just the food). What happens if you "cheat"? What happens if you have a "bad" meal? You have two ways to look at it: it is either a soul-crushing failure and you might as well quit and go buy 5 gallons of Halloween candy (it is on sale this week, after all). Or, you put on your big boy pants and realize that you are ONE MEAL AWAY FROM BEING BACK ON TRACK. Read that again. ONLY ONE MEAL. Those are the options. Why not look at it for what it is: one "less good" meal out of weeks or months of "very good" meals. Now, if it's a situation where the "very good" meals are becoming the exception and the "less good" meals are becoming the rule, then we have some talking to do.

Ask yourself: is changing what you're doing really important to you? Is the pain of your current situation greater than the pain of change? If it's not, that's cool. Carry on doing what you're doing. But be honest with yourself and don't turn it into a bunch of guilt and drama. Honestly, it's easier just to focus on the next meal than it is to bail on your progress.

If the pain of your current situation IS greater than the pain of change, then let's get started. One meal at a time. Hopefully you're working with a nutritionist or coach (hopefully from Weighted Plate!) who can ensure that the meals you're prepping are healthy and in line with your goals. And hopefully you can start to be honest with yourself about what you're feeling when you reach for certain foods. Is it hunger? Is it sadness? Is it stress? Keep a journal. But there will be no relationship drama (at least not with your food) and no morality issues-- just eating well. One meal at a time. If one is bad, make the next one good. And so on, and so forth.