Are you a cheater? A straightforward question that can hurt feelings or start a brawl. Words possess power, they capture an abstract idea or emotion and create a visceral and immediate reaction. I hear athletes over and over, programming their head with behaviours for failure in their eating with the “cheat” or “treat”.
Why does a “cheat” undermine our efforts? Every time we say “cheat” we program ourselves to think we are pulling one over on the new eating program or all those new healthier foods we started to eat. By starting our Saturday with waffles or ending it with a slice of cheese cake we somehow got away with something. That feeling of breaking the rules gets us the emotional release we really want from the discipline of changing our eating, reinforced by the very real pleasures of the foods we miss. Overtime the focus of our food choices looks less about performance and health and more and more about the feeling of freedom when we “cheat”. Ever listened to someone plan their Saturday cheat meal or day and it’s only Tuesday. It’s not the calories or the sugar it’s the emotional pay-off that spreads overtime and undermines an increasing number of our food choices.
In almost every aspect of life people who cheat suck. I don’t cheat on my spouse, I don’t cheat on my taxes, I don’t cheat at cards and I don’t cheat when I eat. I Eat food that gets me closer to or further from the body and life I want, either way, I think, I act and I take responsibility.
I know let’s call it a “treat”. Oh crap, now we have taken the thrill of food adultery and made it into a reward. “Today was tough, I deserve a glass of wine tonight”, and “I kicked butt in that sales call today, let’s celebrates tonight with some ice cream”. Hey Scooby Doo, will you do it for a Scooby Snack? By making our food a “treat”, a reward for good behavior or performance, we reduce ourselves to the same level as the yorkypoo sleeping at the foot of the bed. Do you think Dr. Pavlov was wrong in his famous experiment with a food reward and a ringing bell? Today’s top head scratcher, a logic loop-de-loop, “because I was good on my diet I deserve a food reward”.
What about “I had a really bad day and I am going to eat a mac and cheese to feel better”. Comfort food, really? Food will not make you feel any better, but those smells that remind you of your mother making mac and cheese really do have an emotional pull. So, here’s an idea, put down the fork and call your mother, or your spouse, sibling, child, friend or hot line. Any one of those will get you over your problem faster than food, and build richer relationships to boot.
None of us are five year olds waiting on a grilled cheese sandwich because we skinned our knee or a sea lion balancing a ball on our nose for another mackerel. By not rewarding ourselves with bad food, our single act of discipline gains us multiple rewards including the increased ability to exercise our will in any situation and looking better naked.
What if you eat fresh fish and meats and garden fresh vegetables three or four times a day, days or weeks at a time are you still “cheating” or “treating” when you have some ice cream? Only if we tell ourselves we are, over time our words and actions create well-worn paths in our perceptions. Carelessly adopting and using the wrong language can create negative attitudes, excuse undesirable behaviours and distract us from our real potential.