This article was a feature article from my newsletter "Coffee With Jim".
Why You Must Keep a Low Carb Cheat Journal
Are there some foods you eat regularly, but know you shouldn't? Maybe pizza? Maybe donuts?
Are there some foods, like green vegetables that you should eat more of, but don't?
Do you know why you eat many foods you shouldn't and don't eat many of the foods you should?
The reasons for cheating are similar in some ways for all people. Among these common triggers are stress, hormonal hunger, emotional associations, habits, etc. But the way these factors show up are quite varied, and the differences can make a difference.
Your emotional associations were established differently than mine. Your typical excuses probably differ from mine in some important ways. Some of the beliefs you have that permit you to cheat are probably different from mine. The stress level in your life is probably different from mine. Etc.
The truth is, I don't know why you cheat or slack. Not exactly. But maybe you don't know why you cheat or slack either. At least not exactly. Cheating usually follows patterns, but unless we make the effort to expose these patterns, we might not see them.
That's why it's very important to keep a cheat journal.
What is a cheat journal?
A cheat journal is nothing more than a notepad you keep to record times you cheat. Every time you cheat, you should write the fact down, with the date and time (after all, you might cheat more than once in a day). But most importantly, you should make an attempt to figure out WHY you cheated on this particular occasion, and write that down, too.
If you don't write down why you cheat, you are apt to forget why you cheated on a particular occasion, and you are apt to miss some patterns.
When you record a cheating episode in your cheat journal, it is often helpful if you ask yourself questions to try to figure out why you cheated. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you figure out why you cheated on a particular occasion:
Am I unusually stressed right now? What caused this spike in stress?
- What pleasure am I getting from eating this forbidden food?
- What pain am I avoiding by eating this forbidden food?
- Do I feel justified about cheating at this particular time? Even a little? IF so, what is my justifying excuse? (e.g., I'm stressed, and I'll start fresh on Monday. It's my husband's fault there was no steak left over in the fridge when I went to get some, so I should feel free to eat a slice of birthday cake since it would be too much to ask of me to cook some new source of protein when I'm so hungry. I've been doing OK -- cheating won't hurt too much right now. )
Why is it important to get all this information down on paper? Well, like I said, it's so you can see patterns.
Maybe you use the same excuse every time. Mabye every time you get down below, say 225, you say, I'm doing OK. And you cheat until you get back up to 230. This is not too bad if your goal is 220 or 225. But if your goal is 190, then you are definitely hurting yourself with this excuse.
Or maybe you notice that if you're going to cheat, it's usually right as you're settling in to watch your favorite TV show. Somehow you've associated eating comfort food with your favorite TV show.
Or maybe you notice that you cheat most often on Sunday nights. Is there something about going to work on Monday that raises your stress levels?
Maybe you do pretty well on your diet until people bring pizza or birthday cake to work. And then you give in, and then it's hard to kick the carb cravings again, so you continue to eat comfort food until you get positively fed up with your weight again.
You can see the value of keeping a cheat journal. It helps you see patterns.
The true value of a cheat journal
But the true value of the cheat journal isn't just to diagnose your cheating. The true value is that it will help you develop a pin-point strategy for overcoming cheating.
If your cheating stems from bad beliefs or excuses, you can work on replacing those specific beliefs with new, better beliefs.
If your cheating stems from stress, you can try to find other ways to deal with stress, and condition yourself to use these methods instead of using food. For instance, you might exercise, or do breathing exercises, or take a hot bath (my favorite). In the long term, though, you'll want to figure out how to remove the source of stress from your life, if possible.
If your cheating is triggered by the pizza and cake at work thing, then you'll be able to develop a specific, targeted strategy for dealing with that problem.
Whatever your typical excuses are, it is good to expose them, so you can start to work on them.
Cheat journal tips
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your cheat journal.
Keep your journal in a special place, away from other paperwork. If you're like me, this will keep your journaling from being "so complicated" in your mind, so associated with the clutter. Even though it's right there, if you don't keep it in a special place you might feel like you'll have to confront all the other papers if you want to write in your journal. Keep it in a special place by itself, and you'll probably actually write in it consistently.
- Do it every time you cheat.
- Really work hard to find the excuses, beliefs, patterns involved every time. Get really specific.
- Record the date and time, the way you cheated, and the reason.
- Take some time every couple of weeks to notice patterns, and take time to eliminate the obstacles that are keeping you from staying cheat free. Replace bad beliefs, change your environment (e.g., get rid of the chocolate chip cookies in your desk drawer), re-condition yourself.
In future articles we will look at some of these specific strategies for dealing with cheating behavior, but, for now, get yourself into a position to know what the problems are for you.
You might be interested to know that eventually I will be writing a book that specifically addresses how to deal with cheating on low carb diets. Look for that in the next couple of months. : )
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