One of the most frequently asked questions on this site is: How do you cheat on your diet?
First off, let’s get a few things straight…
You don’t want to cheat on your diet, right?
I mean the whole reason you’re embarking on this journey is to rock-out your health and whittle down your weight!
You want everything to go smoothly. You want it not to be hard.
You want all the people, places, and things in your life to be “on board,” invested, literally coalescing around your mission of being the best-possible version of yourself that you can be!
I’m with you! That’s exactly how it should be!
But you know, and I know, it’s a cold, hard world out there. Especially when you’re on a diet.
It’s time to face the fact that you’re pretty much a lone wolf.
Sure, maybe you’ve recruited a bestie on board. Yeah, you might even have armed yourself with the My Fitness Pal app… but at the end of the day, every situation, every decision boils down to just you.
And willpower is a game of momentum my friends.
You’re on your own, surrounded by a wicked forest of food porn, sabotage, holidays, family gatherings, vacations, diabolical co-workers and that says nothing of the inner-turmoil of your own mind:
“I’m not going to have a doughnut. But Linda brought them in special today for the whole office to share–we can’t let Linda down! No, I’m just not doing it. But it’s Friyay–everyone is allowed to cut lose on Friyay! Nope, I’m good. C’mon, you’ve already done this diet for a whole week already, you deserve a treat! NO! Shut the !@$# up!”
Yeah, I think it’s safe to say you’ve dealt with that inner voice before too.
Here’s the bottom line:
The way you think about and manage “cheating” on your diet is going to give you tremendous success or lead you to a merry-go-round of starting and stopping that will essentially get you no where.
Luckily, for you, I’ve got something (free & printable) that is going to help you manage cheating, no matter what diet, plan, lifestyle, movement or food religion you’ve decided to embark on!
You’re going to figure it all out in these 4 parts:
- you are your habits
- how to stay on track using your monthly monitor–get your free printable tool here!
- learn what type of “cheater” you are –there are 4 kinds!
- how to manage slip-ups on Dr. Fuhrman’s plan
Alright, let’s do this! Let’s plunge right in and find out the number one key to dieting success…
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we?
Diets are over. Diets are passè, blasè, totally 90s, forget about them!
Oh, and by the way, diets don’t work.
I think we can all agree that when we talk about “diets” here we’re really talking about lifestyles–the way we want to eat for the rest of our lives. Weather it be paleo, gluten-free, whole-foods plant-based, vegan, nutritarian or anything else, we aren’t looking to do this temporarily.
So, how do you go from the ultimate Coke-guzzling, pizza-inhaling, doughnut-dunking Standard-American-Diet-hero to the healthy lifestyle of your dreams?
Guess what? You are your habits.
If you’re overweight, tired all the time, crabby, and pessimistic about ever being able to change, then I bet there are a set of habits that are propping up your life and the crappy way you feel.
You need to ask yourself this very important question:
What do you want your habits to be?
For me, there are 3 things: (1) I want to be in control of my eating by following Dr. Fuhrman’s plan at least 95% of my meals (more on that to come), (2) I want to be physically active daily, and (3) I want to do something creative daily.
Habits are the things we do every single day, our default–they almost feel automatic.
And therein lies your problem and your very solution.
You are going to have to stop momentum on your current habits and do the hard work to push uphill against those toxic habits until you can form new healthful ones.
To quote a beloved, furry, green Jedi knight: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Sounds a little daunting doesn’t it?
I mean where do you even begin?
Welcome to your solution!
This simple little monthly calendar, when used correctly, is going to help you build the habits you want and manage those times you cheat!
Stop right now to download and print this out: Monthly Nutritarian Lifestyle Monitor
The concept is simple:
Each meal represents an empty circle. You color-in each circle based on what you eat.
Green means you ate according you your diet, 100% perfectly. Your mission is to have as many green dots as possible each month.
You’ll score your month’s progress by dividing your number of green dot meals into the number of total meals you ate for the month.
Let’s dig in a little further…
You Set the Tone
This monthly monitor will work with whatever diet you choose to follow! You set the guidelines in the “KEY” section:
It is crucial that you outline exactly what your perfect day of eating consists of and write it down here. These are the eating habits you’re striving for and, remember, your sole and all-consuming mission for the month is to collect as many green dots as you possibly can!
For me and my fellow nutritarians, it’s easy–we follow Dr. Fuhrman’s protocol.
Whatever your desired dieting path, input it here!
Since your goal is to collect green dots, you don’t get any consolation prizes for yellows–sorry.
I don’t personally use the yellow category for that very reason, but that doesn’t mean that having this category might not be helpful for you!
If you choose to use the yellow option, you need to be very precise as to what constitutes a just-less-than perfect meal. For a nutritarian, that might be the use of oil or salt in what would otherwise be a completely conforming meal.
This is a nice way of documenting nuances in your diet. And a yellow dot is better than a red dot any day of the week!
Super-easy: a red dot means you ate something that was not part of your desired lifestyle.
If you’re using the yellow option, then a red dot is the worse possible way you could eat a meal.
If you’re using only green/red, it can have range. It could just mean you fell short of your green-dot ideal or it could mean you went all the way to crazy-town.
There’s some space each day for you to jot down notes. If you do have a red dot meal it would be worth it to note what you ate. This extra info can help you have insight at the end of the month and tweak your efforts for greater success next month!
If you’re on a diet that allows in-between-meal snacks, no problem–just draw 1 or 2 more circles in the box for the day and color them in accordingly.
What Your Score Means
Your monthly score is going to let you know whether you’re taking the action needed to lose weight and eat more healthfully.
At the end of a month you’re going to write down the total possible meals for the month in the “SCORE” section.
After determining your total meals for the month, you count how many green meals you’ve earned. (Earning is always more rewarding than failing at something, right?)
You divide the number of green meals by the total number of meals available to get your score.
When thinking about your score it’s kind of helpful to remember your grade scale from school:
But it’s important to note that even 60% is a real accomplishment and nothing to be ashamed of! Don’t believe me, just listen to Dr. Fuhrman’s take from his book Eat to Live:
“If you improve your diet now, and begin consuming even 60% of your calories from nutrient-dense plant foods (that’s 10 times as much vegetationas the average American consumes now), it is reasonable to expect a 60 percent decrease in your risk of cancer or heart attack.”
No matter what specific plant-based protocol you follow here’s how you need to think of it:
Every single meal that you chose to eat healthfully is improving your life! Every green dot you fill in is a win! Don’t focus on the slip ups, get right back on and earn your next green dot!
You are earning your healthy lifestyle with every good decision you make, it all doesn’t just stop because you cheat.
Now it should be a whole lot easier to actually visualize the way you eat, you might notice some patterns…
What Kind of Cheater Are You?
There are 4 styles of cheating that I’ve identified.
My name is Kristen and I’m a flat-line cheater.
A flat-liner is the classic all-or-nothing type of dieter–you’re either 100% perfect or 100% not. There’s no in between.
Being a flat-line cheater is what led me to figure out a way to change my habits and visualize my progress in more than “on” and “off” terms.
I have to take a moment here to share my personal story…
I adopted Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian lifestyle back in January, 2013. I completed his 6 week plan faithfully, I’m talking 100% (you can read all about it here), and lost over 21 pounds! I am happy to announce that none of those 21 pounds have ever been regained since I lost them!
However, I had more than 21 pounds to lose and, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m an all-or-nothing-kinda-girl. A definite pattern has emerged where I will go stretches of months, weeks or days eating completely on my plan–followed with days, weeks (and during the really bad times) months being off my plan.
For the past 3 years I have been cycling, losing and re-gaining the same 15 pounds–and I’m over. it. My ultimate goal is to reach my ideal weight and maintain it.
Sadly, it’s taken my 3 years of “on” and “off” dieting to realize I’m not going to get to my goal with these habits.
For flat-liners, on-and-offers, all-or-nothing-ers (or whatever you’d like to call yourself), visualizing your eating this way is extremely helpful and will help you snap out of funks quicker!
Every single green meal is a victory! There is no “start” date or “end” date, there is only how many green meals can I stack up this month? And can I beat my score next month?
The complete foil to the flat-liner is the checker board cheater.
You may think this kind of cheating is schizophrenic, but really there is a lot to be said of this type of cheater.
They aren’t obsessed with perfection and can transition quickly from their transgressions. If they cheat they do better the next time!
The only problem here is they never put enough green meals together in a row to see real weight loss–and over time this can cause them to get discouraged and give up.
If you notice that you end up cheating on your diet every single day, you have to challenge yourself to put together at least 3 to 5 days where you don’t cheat, or come to grips with the reality that you are not going to lose weight.
You might have to start with small steps like: if you cheat for a meal then the next three meals have to be 100% on your plan–and hold yourself accountable to this rule.
Once you start to see results it will motivate you to stay on track.
You are a militant, dieting bad-ass Monday to Friday at 5PM–then all hell breaks loose!
It’s like dieters gone wild for the next 48 hours, but somehow you rally and get right back to the green zone come Monday!
This is my hubby to a “t.” I also notice that a lot of people who workout regularly fall under this cheating banner.
Honestly, this pattern can maintain your weight if you workout religiously but it’s not going to help you lose weight.
So, what’s the ideal kind of cheater?
Glad you asked…
This is the kind of cheater you want to be!
This is the cheater who still is a winner at the end of the month!
This comes straight out of Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Eat to Live. “The 90 percent rules allows you some leeway for imperfection and special occasions or to have a treat once in a while.”
It’s easiest to visualize in a 10 day frame. A total of 30 possible meals and 3 of them can be cheat meals.
If you notice, you don’t have more than 1 cheat meal in a single day, they aren’t back to back, and most days (7 out of 10 to be exact) are completely 100% on-plan days.
This is the kind of cheating habit you want to have after you have reached your ideal weight and are ready to just maintain.
If you’re still needing to lose weight, you want to be back at that “A+” range which is eating on target 95 to 97% or more of your meals.
Okay! We’ve covered a lot!
You know that you need to create habits by taking daily action to live the healthy lifestyle you’ve chosen.
You know you are going to cheat along the way, but now you have a tool to monitor those cheats and not let cheating become a habit that shuts down your progress!
If you are not on Dr. Fuhrman’s plan, or thinking about starting it, you are more than welcome to stop reading here! May I suggest you head over to my most popular post: Eat to Live Food Prep Guide (that has an awesome free printable food prep schedule)!
But, if you’re curious about what this site is all about, you’re thinking about starting Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live 6 week program or you’re a nutritarian veteran who needs a little refresher then there’s a little bit more you need to know…
Like I said earlier, the number one question I get from fellow nutritarians and soon-to-be-nutritarians who happen upon this site for the first time is: How do you cheat on the Eat to Live plan?
In the beginning, I really didn’t like this question.
I’ve realized when you hold yourself out as a quasi-expert on a certain diet style (this site is all about being nutritarian) a question like this is to be expected.
I always answered with a resounding: “You don’t cheat.”
Obviously, I’m not the young, naive nutritarian that I used to be. But there is still some truth to that, especially in the beginning…
Do Your First 6 Weeks at 100%
When you are starting Dr. Fuhrman’s 6 week nutritarian program you are not supposed to cheat.
You need to strictly follow the nutritarian guidelines to prove to yourself that this lifestyle will heal your body, reverse disease and you will lose a good chunk of weight in the process.
In Eat to Live Dr. Fuhrman explains it like this:
“I encourage people to do a scientific test: do this very strictly for just 6 weeks and see how much weight you lose. Most get so excited with the results during the six-week ‘trial’ that they are motivated to keep going. Results encourage change, and results motivate. The stricter you are, the more quickly your taste will change.”
The first 6 weeks is what hooks you, frees you from toxic hunger and proves to you that eating nutritarian is what your body craves. You realize that the way you’ve been eating your whole life has only led you to health problems and being overweight.
It is critical that you dive into these first 6 weeks with complete dedication so you buy into adopting this as your permanent way of life!
In Dr. Greger’s recent book, How Not to Die, he corroborates the effectiveness of this all-in approach:
“I’ve always tried to get my patients to think of healthy eating as an experiment. It can be overwhelming to think of such sweeping change as permanent. That’s why I ask them to give me just three weeks. I find that if my patient thinks of it simply as an experiment, they’re more likely to go whole hog and realize the maximum benefits. But that’s just me being sneaky. I know that once those three weeks are up, if they really gave it their all, they will be feeling so much better, their lab values will be looking so much better, and their palates will have started to change.”
You experience the power and vibrancy of the nutritarian diet when you follow Dr. Fuhrman’s program for 6 weeks. You can read my personal 6 week journal here. I’m not saying doing this for 42 days is easy–it ain’t. But it is extremely worth it!
You will never fully go back to the way you used to eat or think about food.
But it’s also important to remember that 100% is hard to sustain after those first 6 weeks…
What Score Do You Need To Keep Losing Weight?
For a long time, after my first 6 weeks of being “the perfect little nutritarian” (and losing 21 pounds in the process), I thought the only way to reach my ideal weight was to stay on the program at 100% until I reached that magic number.
What ended up happening is I would start the plan, then cheat. Everything would grind to a halt for a few days, I would feel really crappy, then feel like a failure, and start all over again trying to be at 100% like I was those first 6 weeks.
I’ve realized: I had a lot more motivation those first 6 weeks because I had a lot more weight to lose.
Now I’m closing in on those last 15 vanity pounds and feeling more comfortable with my body.
I’ve realized that I’m not going to be able to be 100% perfect like I was those first 6 weeks, but I can still reach my ideal weight!
I’m going to have to be scoring at least 95% each month.
And, that’s how I would define health excellence: 95 to 100% on-plan nutritarian eating.
Maintain Your Nutritarian Lifestyle With the 90/10 Rule
Okay, once you reach your ideal weight on Dr. Fuhrman’s plan you get to have a bit more leeway.
Here’s what Dr. Fuhrman had to say about it in Eat to Live:
Falling off the plan for one meal should give you more incentive to continue the rest of the week without a setback. Jump right back so that you eat healthy for the rest of the week so as to make the one meal off the diet almost meaningless. In other words, follow the 90 percent rule. The 90 percent rule allows you some leeway for imperfection and special occasions or to have a treat once in a while. You can still retain the benefits and your healthy slim body if you follow that less-than-perfect “special occasion meal” with twenty healthy meals.
Essentially you want to get 90% of your calories from nutrient-dense, whole plant foods. 10% can come from low-nutrient foods.
Ideally, you would use low-nutrient foods as condiments, which would break down to 1 or 2 low-nutrient items daily.
Examples of 100 Calories Worth of Low-Nutrient Foods:
- 2 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 bagel
- 1/2 cup pasta
- 1 small cookies
- 2 ounces broiled chicken or turkey breast
- 3 ounces fish
- 1 1/2 ounces red meat
- 1 thin slice cheese
- 1 cup of 1% milk
In Eat to Live, Dr. Fuhrman goes on to say that “[u]sing the 90 percent rule, you are allowed to eat almost any kind of food, even a small cookie or candy bar, as long as all your other calories that day are from nutrient-dense vegetation.”
I hope you feel a whole heck-of-a-lot more comfortable about this whole cheating thing!
Now you have an easy-to-use monthly monitor to visually see how your eating habits are affecting your weight-loss goals.
Don’t let slip ups get you down and set you back! Expect them to happen and know that you can still achieve amazing results and health excellence even when cheating happens!
Wait! Was this post helpful for you? Please leave a comment and let me know–I love getting your feedback!
Let’s live better together! xo, Kristen