Friday, May 11, 2007

It's Not Cheating

I really hate the words "cheating on a diet." To me, the phrase is incredibly loaded, and doesn't accurately reflect the true nature of what a diet is supposed to be.

The reality is that diets don't work. We all know this. Diets are short-term changes made to lose weight over a short period of time. Once the weight comes off, if you return to your original eating plan, the weight will come back. Period.

Weight loss (and weight maintenance) boil down to simple mathematics. If you consume fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight. If you consume the same number of calories as you expend, your weight will remain stable. If you consume more calories than you expend, you'll gain weight.

It's simple math.

There are all kinds of excuses, explanations and justifications for why people can't or won't lose weight, but they all can't avoid the simple science involved in weight loss: if you consume more energy than you expend, your body will store the excess energy as fat.

I hear a lot of overweight people complain about their slow metabolisms, their dislike for exercise, and how unfair it is that skinny people can eat their weight in French fries every day and never gain an ounce. There's no question that it's not fair, but not everyone is so lucky to have such high metabolisms. Nobody said life was supposed to be fair.

Eating an entire bag of potato chips has nothing to do with cheating on a diet.

Choosing to eat a bag of potato chips, or choosing to consume a bowl of celery stalks is a choice. You can choose to make wise food choices, or you can make poor ones. If you choose the chips, it's not cheating. You've made a choice, and you live with the consequences of that choice.

In the world outside the dieter's domain, people don't accuse you of cheating if you make a choice that costs you more than an alternative. If you were out car shopping, and opted to buy a more expensive new car instead of a cheaper used car, nobody would tell you that you are cheating on your budget. They might point out that the used car, especially if you are going to keep it for only a couple of years, is the better financial deal, but they aren't going to necessarily say you've done something bad. It's a choice, and you get to decide whether the consequences of a choice are livable. Is a nicer car and higher payments livable, or would you prefer to have the secondhand car and lower (or no) payments?

The same should be true with your food choices. Hopefully, you know how many calories you can safely consume while still losing weight. Likewise, you should know something about your basic nutritional needs and how to best meet them. You know how much you should exercise. Once you have all those parameters in your mind, you get to choose.

Having a scoop (or twelve) of ice cream isn't cheating. It's a choice, and you get to live with the consequences of what you decide. In the end, you get to decide what goes into your mouth, not anyone else.

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