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 third of which is below. If you haven’t read the first part, please click the hyperlink above to read it.
I Ate a Donut, Hand Me My Flail!
You smile at this section title, but the truth is not far off. As we discussed in the first two sections, you must both understand and accept the consequences of your decision, but also understand why the decision was made…in part 3, I want to explain the “Why.” Why is it that I am so pushy? Because this part explains the response that I see on a regular basis. I get at least 5 emails, IM’s, or singing telegrams per week. They all say something similar:
“I was at a party with my boyfriend/husband/wife/girlfriend/dog/uncle, and they totally didn’t have anything keto-friendly. So I HAD to eat a slice of pizza. And then that slice of pizza turned into two, and then four, and now I’m three days into a carb binge…how do I get back into ketosis the fastest. I think I’m going to go to the gym and run 100km on the treadmill so that I deplete my glycogen stores…also, I’m going to sign a document with a notary present stating that I’ll never make any more mistakes as long as I live. That’ll work, right?”
These sort of messages break my heart, because I see the logic behind them – there is an earnest desire to make better choices in the future, and an honest approach to understanding what causes ketosis (diminished liver glycogen being the most-talked-about trigger). So they run, and they lift, and they eat “super clean” and they say five Hail Mary’s, and they make commitments to join an accountability group or confess to a close friend. And three days or two weeks or a month later, guess what I get in my inbox or my IM window?
“So I was doing great…running a marathon per day, eating only organic kale raised by Peruvian monks who washed each leaf by hand twice per day…and then I ate a donut…but I’m SOOO totally going to get back on track. I have a plan, and I called my notary, and the gym is open 24 hours per day. I got this.”
And so the circle begins. There are countless articles on eating disorders – about anorexia, bulimia, and their many causes and treatments. But what I see from dieters has every indicator of bulimia, but it manifests itself in the gym as much as it does the kitchen. In fact, I’ve actually begun calling it “lifestyle bulimia.” It’s a binge and purge decision-making process that believes that every consequence of every wrong decision can be undone with some herculean work effort or out-of-character pattern of eating. It comes in three varieties:
- I ate a donut, so I’m going to call myself names, drive myself into a spiral of shame, and come out of it a week later and not able to fit into my pants. So now I must run a marathon every day for 50 days, like Dean Karnazes.
- I ate a slice of pizza, so I must now confess on every Facebook group and sub-reddit to which I belong like they are my priest. “Bless me Facebook, for I have sinned…the time since my last confession was two weeks ago at that wedding.”
- I had too much beer, so now I must swear off of alcohol for all eternity, and if alcohol ever touches these lips…if I even spell a word which is close to the word alcohol, I agree that I will take out my flail, and give myself forty lashes.
The reality is that none of these solutions truly work. They are all draconian in their approach, and they all originate from a place of guilt, shame and absurdity, and not from a place of ownership, context, and healthy decision-making. Removing context it giving the voice (see part II) free reign to speak things to you which are untrue. In the same way that the voice in your head will tell you that you are a failure and that you’ll never succeed, it also has this annoying habit of encouraging you to make these sorts of promises…and the reason I encouraged you to apply context and rational logic to the voice in your head in the previous part is because these promise to yourself, when broken, create a cycle that plays on repeat.
- Make a poor decision which takes you away from your stated goals.
- Receive negative consequences for the poor decision.
- Make a promise to yourself that it is impossible to keep.
- Inevitably break the promise and introduce guilt.
- I am a bad person, and incapable of change, and I must be punished.
- Repeat every 7-14 days until you give up on the prospect of change.
And why will you give up? Because you’ve let the negative self-talk run uncontrolled and without context.
So how do we resolve lifestyle bulimia? We do it by re-reading parts I and II of this series. We take ownership of the choices that have been made, we review why we made those choices, and then when we begin the negative self-talk, we frame it into context, receive what truth it offers, and reject the lies. We then begin to deconstruct what lead us to the point of making a decision that isn’t in keeping with our goals, and we introduce a change in the routine.
Let me end by sharing notes from actual conversations I’ve had on the subject:
- “But Tyler, I have a lot of willpower, and I want to do this, and I can do this!”
- My response: “What does your history say? You’ve told me the same thing three times, and each time 14-21 days later, you come and confess.”
- “It was all going well for me, and then I went to a party with friends, and the train went off the tracks with my diet…I do this sort of thing all the time!”
- My response: “So what can you do differently next time to plan ahead or change the routine?”
- “I feel like a complete failure at everything, and I don’t think I’m ever going to succeed in changing myself!”
- My response: “You won’t succeed if you keep tying your success to your willpower to keep promises that you never should have made in the first place.”
Ending lifestyle bulimia happens when we make adaptations to routines which are not working for our goals. It ends when we begin to take ownership of the truth and reject the lies that our self-talk tries to tell us. And it stops when we refuse to commit to unrealistic responses to life happening. Once you accept the consequences of your choice, and you move forward with a firm plan in place for how to adjust the cascade of events that led you to the poor decision, two things remain:
- Stop trying to earn your own forgiveness. (Part IV)
- Separate your self-worth from your choices. (Part V)