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The Bottom Line in Health: Eat to Cheat

Fall is upon us, and many of us have dived head-first into a diet-program to shed some pounds and get fit for the new school year. By obtaining a reasonable amount of calories from healthy foods, and incorporating a moderate level of exercise into a routine, we can significantly improve our physical appearance, and feel comfortable in the new sweater and pair of slacks we just purchased. However, staying committed to a diet program, which is equally as important to losing weight as is exercising, can be a difficult task.

Many people believe that engaging in a weight-loss plan simply means abstaining from unhealthy foods. However, this approach to losing weight can actually lead to fixating on prohibited foods, more cravings to consume these foods, and subsequently, to abandoning health goals. Because most diets are highly restrictive--dictating what you can eat and when--they are, not surprisingly, often unsustainable in the long run. This is primarily because people get bored of the limited foods that they are allowed to eat, and eventually let their cravings take over their food choices. The binge-eating that follows this loss of control can set back all of the hard work we have put towards the diet, and reverse weight loss goals. So how do we stave off the desire to overindulge in the fattening foods that we love?

Because diets can seem punitive, many of us wind up feeling frustrated: we want our diets to end. Rarely are we encouraged to maintain a diet as a way of life. To help avoid intense feelings of deprivation and eating splurges commonly experienced by those on a diet, try “responsible cheating.”

While responsible cheating is not a free pass to gobble down as much of your favorite ice cream or French fries as your stomach can tolerate, it does allow you to consume unhealthy foods that you relish in a sensible manner. In fact, the Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit medical practice and medical research group based in Rochester, Minnesota, approves of this strategy, asserting that, “you can eat anything you want, as long as you stay with the parameters of eating less.”  By employing a number of simple techniques, you can easily incorporate “responsible cheating” into your weight-loss plan.

By structuring “cheat meals” with care, you can indulge in the foods that you love while increasing the likelihood that you will stay on your diet. The first step to controlling your binges is to enjoy them with all of your senses; serve these foods on colorful plates with garnishes, and eat the meals slowly so you can savor the taste. Furthermore, choose intensely flavored forms of your favorite foods so you can satisfy your craving with less food, and therefore, fewer calories.

Remember to make compromises. A little goes a long way with most cheat foods, and you do not want to overeat to a point where you undo significant progress.

Increase the chances of sticking to a compromise by planning out a cheat snack ahead of time, and be aware of the caloric value of the cheat foods so you can appropriately fit them into your diet. Schedule your sensible splurges during daylight hours when you are out in public and feel more accountable for your actions. Finally, if you decide to go out for drinks with your friends, choose a low-calorie mixer to add to your alcohol of choice. Vodka is one of the lowest calorie alcoholic beverages, and can be enjoyed with calorie-free club soda to limit calorie intake.

Insert these small lifestyle adjustments into your daily routine to help you stick to your diet, and prevent the floodgates from opening to extreme overeating. Remember that you do not need to eliminate the foods you love from your diet in order to achieve your weight loss goals. In addition, including frequent exercise in your schedule will increase your body’s caloric expenditure, and boost your metabolism, both of which will increase weight loss. Time for some cheesecake!

A Note on the Author: the Bottom Line In Health seeks to provide simple fitness and nutrition tips for the Yeshiva University community. As a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness and Nutrition Specialist, it is my goal to enhance the readers’ understanding of how to maintain a healthy standard of living while improving performance in and out of school and supporting an overall sense of well-being.