We Have Met The Enemy, And He Is Us: Why We Cheat

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t cheated on their diet. I’m not talking about just low carbers here, but about all dieters. Everyone I have spoken to, written to, or heard from has cheated on their diet at one time or another. Why do we do this to ourselves?


What Is Cheating?

Cheating is about the abdication of responsibility and control. Notice that I said “abdication of responsibility and control,” not “loss of responsibility and control.” We don’t “lose” these things, we choose not to exert them. We almost always have a self righteous excuse, too, something to make the cheating not our fault.

“I couldn’t help it! The bread just smelled so good!”

“My neighbor brought over cookies for us and I just couldn’t hurt her feelings by not eating them.”

“Everything on the menu was full of carbs! What was I supposed to do, not eat?”

“It was my birthday!”

When we cheat we are very creative liars.


We Set Ourselves Up For Cheating

We often set ourselves up for cheating. We mostly do this by not preparing ourselves for events ahead of time. We don’t get to the grocery store, so there’s no good low carb food in the house, or we go to a party hungry and without taking low carb “back up” food to help us fend off the high carb goodies that we are offered. We cruise by the bakery section of the grocery and buy a six-pack of cupcakes “for the kids” when we have two kids and in the back of our minds we know they’re only going to get one cupcake each…. or maybe none. Rather than dump the apple pie our neighbor brought over into the trash can as soon as she leaves, we let it sit on the kitchen counter until we cave in a have a piece – or four.

Imagine that you are on your way to the mall to do some shopping. It’s a nice day, you’re feeling fine. The traffic is fairly light, so you don’t have to pay a whole lot of attention to your driving. All of a sudden – WHAM! You hit a huge pothole. It feels like a land mine has gone off under your tire and you’re afraid that you’ve broken an axle. The experience rattles you so badly that you turn around and limp back home. It turns out that your axle isn’t broken, so the next day you sail forth again, determined to get to the mall and do the shopping that you need to do. You take the same route because it’s the most logical way to go. Now let me ask you, what do you do when you get to the pothole? Do you hit it again or do you drive around it?

Cheating is a lot like hitting a pothole. We might be caught off-guard once and be able to excuse ourselves because it was unexpected, but if we make the same mistakes over and over again then we have to own up to the fact that we are subconsciously making a choice to fail.


Why Do We Cheat?

The simple, superficial answer is that we cheat because we want what we want when we want it. Our goal of being thin and healthy is weeks, months, or even years away; the chocolate cake is sitting on the table right now. Yes, we want to be thin and healthy, but we can’t have that right now, so we settle for what we can have, even if what we can have is bad for us. We can always get back on track tomorrow, right? Or next week….. or in the spring……

There is a more complex answer, too. Remember that carbohydrates are literally an addictive substance for many of us. While we can begin to break the physiological addiction by going through a strict induction phase, the psychological addiction is likely to be with us for the rest of our lives. It lessens over time if we avoid unhealthy carbohydrates like sugar and wheat, but like alcoholics, we are never “recovered;” we are always “recovering.” Would you tell a recovering alcoholic that “Just one little drink won’t hurt”? Of course not. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves and say “Just one slice of pie won’t hurt.” It will.


Sometimes It’s More Than Just The Carbs

In addition to the physiological and psychological aspects of carbohydrates, there are also the emotional ones. Food has been a crutch for many of us. We have used food as a psychological comforter, something to keep us warm and safe when we’ve been lonely or tired or afraid. We’ve used food as a “stopper” to keep our anger and frustration in.

Some of us have used our heavy bodies to circumvent our sexuality and are afraid of dealing with it when we become thin. We are uncomfortable with getting attention from the opposite sex. What are we going to do when we’re thin? The dilemma is difficult to send some of us running straight for the cookie jar.

Some of us have never attempted to achieve our dreams because, of course, how could we possibly do that when we are fat? If we get thin, our excuse for not striving for our goals will be gone, and then what are we going to do?

And lastly, some of us are actually afraid to be thin. We’ve spent most of our lives fat, and don’t even know how thin people act. And to top it all off, we’ve spent a good deal of out lives resenting thin people. How can we turn our backs on our “true” selves and become one of “them?” Thin people have been the enemy so long that we just hate to give up our comfortable animosity.


Can We Break The Cheating Cycle?

So it’s hopeless, right? Wrong! We can break the cycle of cheating if we really want to. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. Then again, being fat and unhealthy isn’t easy or fun either. It’s our call. We can be fat and unhealthy and miserable – and get to eat cake and potatoes. Or we can become thin and healthy and occasionally be miserable because we can’t eat cake or potatoes. The choice is ours.

If we are really going to succeed, we must learn to see ourselves very clearly. We must get to know ourselves better than we ever have before, and be honest about both our motives and our goals. Doing this may sometimes be uncomfortable, but it is imperative that we understand why we do what we do and why we want what we want. Kathleen Munson, who writes the “Tough Talk And No Nonsense” column, calls it “emotional housecleaning,” and that’s exactly what it is. Those damn emotional dust bunnies will get us every time if we don’t sweep them up.


How To Break The Cheating Cycle

The first step is pretty obvious. We need to decide that we are going to stop cheating. We can’t use halfhearted measures. As Yoda said, “Do or not do. There is no try.”

Once we’ve made that decision, we need to prepare for our weaker moments. We should always have low carbohydrate food available, whether we are at home or not. This means having meat and low carbohydrate vegetables in the freezer, and some low carbohydrate foods already prepared and ready to snatch at a moment’s notice. Hard-boiled or deviled eggs, meat roll-ups, slices of precooked steak, real cheese, homemade low carb soup, prewashed bags of salad greens, seasoned chicken breasts, or whatever low carb foods are our favorites should be in the refrigerator at all times.

High carbohydrate foods that tempt us should be banished from our homes – at least until we get ourselves under control. This is a time to be selfish and uncompromising. If our children have to have cereal in the morning, then they have to have cereal that we don’t like. If our spouses have to have popcorn or potato chips in the evening and we love those things, then they have to keep them in the trunk of their car and eat them out of our sight. If pizza for the family is a must on Saturday nights, then they can darn well go out to Pizza Hut by themselves, and they’d better not bring back any leftovers.

We should be prepared when we are away from home, too. We can pack a small, insulated cooler to take to work each day. We can have some premeasured bags of nuts or some protein bars in our desk drawers, the glove compartments of our cars, and in our purses or fanny packs. We should eat something low carb and filling before we go to a party so we don’t arrive hungry, and we should have some emergency low carb rations secreted somewhere so that we can whip them out if the high carb foods at the social gathering begin to tempt us.

We should not apologize or explain or compromise our pattern of eating for anyone. We should answer only to ourselves, and only do what is best for us.


When We’re Tempted To Cheat

We’ve made the decision that we’re going to succeed, that we’re going to lose weight and become healthier. We’ve prepared by stocking the refrigerator, the freezer, our purses, our briefcases, our glove compartments, and our desks. We’ve got it made in the shade, but…. we are still going to be tempted to cheat sometimes.

We can “just say no,” but we really need to go further than that. We need to analyze why we’re tempted at that particular time. Are we bored? Are we too tired? Are we lonely or afraid or angry? This is where the really hard, often uncomfortable work starts. We need to allow ourselves to feel the uncomfortable feelings, to understand why we feel them, and to ride them out. It’s similar to driving through a long, dark, scary tunnel. We’ll never see the light at the end if we don’t travel through it. In the long run, it’s worth all the effort.

Watch out for those potholes. Drive around them.

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