Treat, Don’t Cheat
By Erik Castiglione
Greetings Relentless Family! Last week we analyzed a number of different nutritional plans to show you what’s out there. We also determined that the best plan in the one that you’ll actually follow. This week, I’m going to talk about one of the biggest keys to success with ANY nutrition plan. I touched on it last year in “How to Have a Healthy Relationship With Food.” What is it? It’s embracing the notion of “Treat, Don’t Cheat.”
One of the biggest reasons that diets fail is that they are overly restrictive. Once you tell yourself that you CAN’T have something, you immediately start to crave it. Oscar Wilde said it best, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.” Cutting something out can work in the short-term, but it is not sustainable. You can’t follow a nutrition plan if it’s not sustainable.
So, how do you yield to temptation while still sticking to your nutritional plan? This is where the idea of a “treat” comes in. Merriam Webster defines a treat as “anything that affords particular pleasure or enjoyment.” When it comes to food, this could be almost anything: a big, juicy steak; ice cream; candy; etc. Whatever your poison, the key to keeping it a treat is to control how much of it you have. While it’s not explicit in the definition, it is implicit that a treat should be a rarity, or at least something you get in small doses. If not, it loses its novelty, and with it you lose the pleasure and enjoyment of it.
How does this relate to your nutrition plan? Well, it can give you a great strategy to satisfy your cravings. Have small doses of the thing you crave on a semi-regular basis. For example, if you constantly crave chocolate, allowing yourself a fun sized Milky Way a couple times a week isn’t likely to derail your long-term success. In fact, if you follow a macro tracking plan (or the zone), you can actually work this in to your macros and you’ll still be following your plan while satisfying your craving.
Controlling the serving size isn’t a novel idea by any means. Go to any fancy restaurant and order a dessert. I guarantee it will come in a small portion, because the flavors are so rich. You don’t need much to satisfy your craving. Now, if you have something of much lower quality, you’re likely to compensate by having much more of it. This is one of the biggest issues with the paleo diet. Often, people will substitute ingredients for their “paleo” alternatives, resulting in abominations like paleo cookies and other such hokum which is less than a shadow of the food they attempt to imitate. The inevitable result: you end up shoveling these down your gullet in the hopes that the cheap imitation can satisfy your original craving. Paleo or not, this is a huge surplus of calories.
Of course, you may still have the occasional craving to go nuts everyone once in a while. On rare occasion, it’s perfectly okay to splurge for that banana split or 26 oz prime rib. Heck, you’re taking advice from a guy who’s crushed a 51 oz steak, killed 50 wings in a sitting, and believes that all pizzas are single serving. Oscar Wilde also said “everything in moderation, including moderation.” Your social life may require the occasional binge, and as long as it’s only a few times a year, it’s actually a good break for your mind. Again, view this as a treat, and not a cheat. That way, you won’t have any guilt associated with it. Just, make sure you get back on track after. This DOES NOT mean starving yourself, it just means that you act according to plan. By adopting the “treat, not cheat” mentality, you can set yourself up for long term dietary success.