Thoughts on cheating

The Fella and I have an open relationship with the way we eat. So first of all, we don’t like to call it ‘cheating’. Naming a deviation from standard operating procedure something naughty like ‘cheating’ sexes it up too much, makes it seem like a good thing. It’s more important to remember that the good thing – the best thing – is the way we eat now.

Also, there are ‘cheats’ and there are CHEATS. There’s having a supper of high-quality oily fish (like the sardines we ate over the holidays) with some bread and a glass of wine. Then there’s mowing down half a pizza, a couple of donuts, and half a growler of beer. There’s splitting a LaraBar to go with your black coffees, then there’s taking advantage of the 3-for-1 deal on candy bars at the convenience store on your way to Starbucks coffee-beverage heaven.

Deviations happen over the weekend (holidays excepted). They are carefully judged for value. What I mean is we don’t waste a ‘cheat’ on something that’s only okay. So over the holidays, when we bought sardines, we forked over for the sustainably-caught imports that were packed in olive oil. We could just as easily have got the ones we used to (packed in water, cheap as chips), but why bother? We wanted the best version of the ‘cheat’ that we could get our grubby little mitts on, because if we were going to bother deviating, we didn’t want to waste our ‘cheat’ on inferiority.

There is also something to be said for a deviation with a destination. Several weeks ago, a cinnamon bun bakery was brought to our attention. All they do is cinnamon buns. They’re all frosted (not glazed). No picking and choosing. A small shop front, cinnamon buns and coffee. So we weighed it up and decided to make the trip (did I mention it was more or less across town?) In the end, we were glad we took the chanceĀ to try it out, but determined that we didn’t need to go back again any time soon. The buns were good, but not life-changing.

It’s also vitally important to listen to bodily signals. There are lots of places that advise this, and I always thought I understood it well enough until we did the potato famine. Those two weeks took away all the noise between our brains and our digestive systems. If we deviate too much, or too often, we are heartily scolded by our guts. The brain, for all its good PR, doesn’t know much of anything. If we went completely off the rails, our brains would just keep ticking along, perhaps with the occasional flash of insight like, “Why did I get so mad at that guy? Maybe it’s all that sugar I’ve been scarfing.”

A good prime directive to remember is that there’s no obligation to go off-plan (also not a favourite term, but better than ‘cheating’). We’ve been deviating pretty regularly and that’s almost certainly slowed any progress we might otherwise have made in terms of weight loss. However, there’s also something to be said for striking a balance between austerity and gluttony.

I’ve mentioned before about learning what really isn’t good anymore. That’s going to be a process. We’ve done pizza and Thai food; scones and cookies; great honking plates of turkey dinner and an overabundance of alcohol. This weekend, we’re taking ourselves out for fish and chips. It’s entirely possible that this will be the last time we have fish and chips for the foreseeable future. Right now, we have memories of fish and chips – or more accurately, of the feelings we associate with fish and chips – and there’s no post-famine data to compare those memories to. So while we learn, we take ourselves back to those old standards and see if the memory can stand up to present reality.

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