The question comes up frequently, “What should I do if I cheated on my diet?” Via instant message, text message, email, Facebook group post, smoke signal, or carrier pigeon, it has become a topic that seems to be poorly addressed. To begin with the end in mind, let’s address the five key points up front. We will tackle each in more depth below, but here they are in all their radiant glory:
- Review the circumstances that lead to the decision.
- Understand and own the consequences of your decision.
- Don’t get caught in the cycle of binge and punish.
- A diet is not made or broken in a single meal or a single day.
- Your choices define your outcome, but they don’t define your worth.
Each of these will be addressed in a five-part series, the second of which is below. If you haven’t read the first part, please click the hyperlink above to read it.
Understanding The Consequences
For those of you who read the first part, it was very much a dive into assessing the “why” of your “what.” You chose to eat off-plan, and the question becomes what was the programming – the “routine” – which prompted you to do so, and how do you insert an escape clause into the programming by removing the limbic functions of that routine to force yourself to consider how to “rewrite the program.” This part, however, is not quite so existential. This is about complete honesty and transparency. If you aren’t being honest with yourself, however, that is an issue that you should be addressing with the help of an accountability partner, spouse, friend, therapist, or other competent person with whom you can be transparent.
So you ate, or are contemplating eating, something that moves you away from your goal. OK. What happens now? From a biochemical perspective, assuming that your off-plan meal or binge is carbohydrate-heavy, you can expect some of all of the following:
- To have a rapid heart rate and a feeling of euphoria for a brief period.
- To become excessively thirsty.
- To crash a few hours after your meal.
- To retain water weight until you diminish liver glycogen stores again.
That’s the “inside my organs” part of the discussion. It is pretty simple, and something most of us have experienced after an off-plan/carb heavy meal.
Where I want to steer this conversation, though, is the thoughts that tend to go on inside our brain when we begin to eat a restrictive diet (whether calories, fat, carbohydrate, whatever). In his book “Triggers,” Marshall Goldsmith has a list of 15 lies we tell ourselves (a book I strongly suggest reading). Many of them apply to life changes in general, but two of which I want to talk about with regard to diet are:
- I won’t get tired, and my enthusiasm will not fade
- I won’t get distracted, and nothing unexpected will happen
Let me address these two in six words: Yes you will. Yes it will.
Look, it happens to everyone. When people begin a diet, they are full of confidence that they are going to make it this time. They may put something on their Facebook or Twitter feed, they may tell a friend from work, a spouse, or a from a church or social group. And then “it” happens. Whatever “it” is, “it” occurs. Sometimes it’s a simple as months of grinding with minimal progress to show for it. Sometimes it’s more complex – illness or death of a loved one, relationship issues, or work stress. Other times, it’s celebratory…these can be the most insidious! And we find ourselves at a crossroads where we can go left or right. To the left is the choice that moves you toward your goal, and to the right is the choice that moves you away from your goal. This is the place that you may find yourself, and then you blink and the next thing that you know is that you are seated at a table with a box of donuts or a slice of cake is in front of you, and the choice is made, you cheat.
Now what? The judgment happens:
- I’m such a failure.
- Why can’t I stick to anything?
- What is wrong with me?
- I suck at this, and I’m never going to succeed.
I want to let you in on a secret of life that it took me a LONG time to learn – that little voice in your head that everyone has…yeah, I’ve never met a person who has told me, “The voice in my head is a positive influence.” It’s always negative. It’s always going to diminish your successes and magnify your failures. And now, on the heels of a recent failure (in the form of a glazed donut), the silent voice is going to kick into overdrive.
The second secret that I will let you in on is that you can never silence the voice in your head. It will always be there. What you CAN do, however, is to frame it in…to place it in a box which is labeled “Proper Context” and use it as a means to change. Placing the voice in your head into context does not mean ignoring it completely, however. It involves taking ownership of what is true, and rejecting what is false.
- When the voice says, “I’m a failure” you can respond by saying, “I failed to make the right choice, but that does not make me a failure.”
- When the voice says “What’s wrong with me?” you can defend your worth by stating, “I made a poor choice in consideration of my goals. That is all.”
- When the voice says, “I’m never going to succeed” you take that thought captive and tell yourself, “If I continue to make choices like this, that is true. But I will have more opportunities to make the right choice, and I will.”
Eliminating the voice’s ability to drive you into a shame spiral is the first step in taking ownership of your consequences. Reigning in the voice isn’t done by making empty promises that tomorrow you will do better. It isn’t done by making excuses for yourself that today was a special day. It isn’t done by passing blanket judgment upon your worth as an individual. It is done through the power of a simple statement: “I made a choice which, when I consider my goals, was a poor one. If I continue to make this choice regularly, I will not make progress toward my goals.” This is where the power of the AAR (discussed in part 1) is beneficial. First, taking captive and adding context to what the voice in your head is saying. Second, to own what is truth and reject what is false. And third, to utilize the AAR to identify the trigger or cue that prompted the decision, making a modification to the routine, and beginning to shift the thinking out of autopilot and into a more “present” state.
Until you are able to accept, own, learn, and move on from failures, they will continue to hang around and the cycle will repeat itself. That is a hard truth, but it is one that you must learn. This is what you must own as a consequence of going off-plan:
- You have a goal – be it fat loss, muscle gain, life change, fitting into a swimsuit, etc.
- You made a choice that did not line up with the goal.
- The distance between you and the goal is now somewhat greater than it was.
- You must either:
- Evaluate your commitment to your goal and give yourself permission to change it
- Change your behavior to line up with the goal.