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3 Things the Most Successful Diets Have in Common (How to Stop Cheating)

Jeremy Hendon | August 27

Most Successful Diets - How Not to CheatI ate chocolate chips for a week. (Not just chocolate chips, but I had them pretty much every day.)

And I don’t eat chocolate (I know this is sacrilegious to many of you, but chocolate honestly makes me feel terrible – bloated, tired, and generally bad). But I did eat chocolate. Just over a week ago, for 7 or 8 days.

It wasn’t worth it. It never is, no matter what food I “cheat” with.

But we all cheat. Even superstar athletes whose job it is to be in incredible shape will cheat on bad food. Most of them, at least.

And bloggers? Let’s just say that I’ve hung out with a few of them. Some are better than others, but we all cheat.

If You Want to Be Lean and/or Healthy, Nothing Matters More than Cheating

If you’ve read any of my other articles, then you know I’m not a fan of certain diets. Anything that doesn’t provide you with the necessary nutrients (e.g., veganism, grapefruit diets, juicing in place of real food, etc.) is bad for you long term.

However, there isn’t a single correct diet either. Paleo is a framework, and it’s the easiest and best to start from, but it almost always requires some adjustment depending on you and your body.

But, no matter what, the most successful diets all have one thing in common. You can stick to them.

Honestly. I hear so many people who tell me that their diet isn’t working for them, and then once I really get into the details, it’s just silly how many ways they’ve found to cheat on the diet.

This isn’t tough love or anything. If you don’t want to have an awesome body, to feel great every day, to have tons of energy, and to get be more productive than you’ve ever been, then that’s your choice. And more importantly, I understand cheating. I’ve been there thousands of times.

But nothing worked for me until I really stopped and figured out how not to cheat anymore.

(By the way, this is a pet peeve of mine with respect to most Paleo and Real Food bloggers and authors. As a group, most of them act like people just need a lot more information – that everyone needs to be educated. Really?? You know 99% of what’s healthy for you. You need to learn how to stick to it.)

There’s a Reason Why You Cheat

Most Successful Diets = No CheatingThink back to the last time you cheated on a diet (a month ago? yesterday? 5 minutes ago?).

When faced with the temptation of cheating and disrupting the progress of your diet, what went through your mind? Did you struggle for a few minutes, start making excuses – or worse yet, decide that you’d ditch your diet altogether and just start it again in a few days?

We all have ways of dealing with temptation, and likewise, we all have ways of dealing with having cheated. But wouldn’t it be better to not have cheated at all? There is a way – and it’s easier than you might imagine.

Whenever someone cheats on their diet, it’s typically because some sort of unexpected occasion or temptation arose. And when you’ve already been restricting what you eat, unexpected temptation can be almost impossible to resist.


If you plan for cheating (rather than living in fear of it), the whole game changes. You suddenly have home-field advantage.

Here’s How You Plan for Cheating

First and foremost, don’t plan a cheat day. That’s a terrible idea that’s gained traction because a few popular people do it. Having a “Cheat Day” makes it seem like you need to escape from your regular eating once a week. Psychologically, that’s just going to mess with your head.

More importantly, you don’t need to “refill glycogen stores” unless you’re a pro athlete (or very close thereto). Seriously. Research it a little, and you’ll find that it’s getting you nothing unless you’re doing some pretty grueling workouts 3-5 hours per day.

Secondly, and more importantly, you’ve got to accept that life happens. Those situations that caused you to cheat before are going to come up again. I ate chocolate chips for a week because we were moving and weren’t able to cook enough food. Most importantly, we didn’t have a solid plan for what to do when this happened.

Fortunately, once you know this, you can do something about it. With proper planning, your diet can transform from a diet into a lifestyle.

3 Easy Ways to Plan For, React To, and Minimize Cheating

By most definitions, cheating on your diet is the simple act of not adhering to your dietary plan. Contrary to what many people think, you don’t cheat because you didn’t have enough willpower.

You cheat because you let yourself be put in one too many situations that forced you to make a choice.

Plan Your Meals1. Plan Your Meals

Anybody who is really serious about their body does this. Bodybuilders have been doing it for decades. Professional athletes often do it for months before big competitions. It’s that important.

You can do this every night, or you can do it once per week for the entire week. Once per night is probably easier. Plan out every single meal.


Yes. I’m not saying that you necessarily need to cook every meal beforehand, but you need to know what you’re going to eat ahead of time. And be as specific as possible.

If you’re going to be eating at home, decide what you’ll cook or pick up on the way home from work. If you’ve got restaurant reservations, take a look at the menu now and write a note to yourself about what you’re going to order.

Most importantly, if you know that you’re going to be in a place or situation where you’ll have too much tempting but unhealthy food, then decide right now that you’re going to eat unhealthy for that meal.

If you set out a weekly plan each week, including any times when you’re going to eat unhealthily, then you will largely avoid having to make decisions at time when you’re hungry, tired, or stressed out. And that means you’ll be at least 98% less likely to cheat.

It’s even better if you can cook ahead of time and have food ready, but for right now, all that matter is that you have your meals planned beforehand.

2. Keep a Record of When You Cheat

You’re going to cheat. Just accept it. And while you’re accepting things, accept this: When you cheat, you MUST keep a record of it.

Write down when it happened (day, time of day, etc.), where (party, at home, at the office), and your best guess why (you won’t be honest about this at first, but do it anyway…something like “stressed out” or “free cookies”).

You’re going to hate keeping a record. You aren’t going to want to write it down. It will seem like it’s making it official. And you’ll be scared that someone else (like your spouse or friend) will find your piece of paper and make fun of you. Or just not respect you any more.

Literally, you’re going to resist keeping a record with every fiber of your being.

Do it anyway.

There isn’t a simpler way to convey how important this step is. When I’m serious about my diet (most of the time), I like to keep a record of everything I eat, good or bad. I haven’t done it for a while, but I can vouch for just how effective it is.

Keeping a record does 2 things:

a. First of all, it actually makes you less likely to cheat. Each time you write down how you cheated, it burns that transgression into your head, and you’re a little bit less likely to do it next time.

b. Secondly, it allows you to start understanding why and when you cheat. I know that you think you know why you cheat (not enough willpower, too stressed, etc.), but you only have a vague idea. You need to know the specific situations that are triggers, and you’ll never know those situations unless you keep a record.

Keep a Record. I’m not Kidding.

3. Dwell on How you Feel After Cheating

Some “cheat” foods won’t make you feel very bad. But most will.

If I have ice cream (which I’ve had twice in the past 3 years – both times at a Paleo conference), then I feel terrible. No pain, but I feel like I have less than zero energy. I don’t even feel like I can muster the energy to lie on the ground. It’s that bad, and I usually have lots of energy.

On the one hand, feeling like that is bad. On the other hand, you can use that to your advantage. If I eat something that I know is not good for me, then I really focus on how I feel after I eat it. (This makes me not very fun to be around for a bit.)

The reason you need to do this is because your brain currently craves whatever junk you just ate. You need to change that. The easiest way to change a craving is actually to associate a very negative experience with that food.

Since you’re already recording your cheat, I highly encourage you to also record how you felt. Be specific. Was it loss of energy, pain in your gut, bloating, etc.?

If you can really live in and visualize the pain and discomfort, then you can start to link it to the food you just ate.

This is NOT Popular Advice

To be frank, I like writing articles that get a lot of shares and comments. It’s fun.

This is not going to be one of those articles. For the most part (and pardon the slight cynicism), most people don’t want to know the procedure they need to follow that will eventually allow them to achieve their goals. They want the shortcut despite their protests otherwise.

And sometimes, I write posts that have effective shortcuts, because I know or find little things that will work a little bit for some people. That’s fun.

But this is serious. You need to figure out how to cure cheating. And, for all but a few people, the 3 steps above work.

So you’ve got a choice. You can get serious, plan your meals, record your cheats, and really learn to solve your cravings and temptations. Or you can go read my more popular articles… Your choice.

How Do You Stop Cheating?

Although these 3 steps work, there are other tips and tricks out there. What has worked for you? What definitely does NOT work? Let me know in the comments.

Images (in order): sea turtle, Laser Burners, and photosteve101.

glacierkn - August 27

I can definitely attest to #3, dwelling on and really visualizing the pain I feel after I’ve binged. It really is difficult, and I have to have a calm mind (that’s not overly hyped by the potential of indulging) in order to think through the whole process of going to get the food, eating it, and feeling like crap afterwards. It helps to talk through the whole process, saying “It’s just not worth it.” The most important thing is to have a clear, calm, and confident mind, like you point out, and not get caught off guard by the “opportunity” to cheat.

    Jeremy Hendon - August 27

    Great point. It often does require a little bit of mental distance (and often time) to really gain that perspective and starting linking the pain to the transgression.

Bhakti - February 6

it comes down to “just DO it” or ..don’t. It sucks to deny ones self however the results of staying true to yourself are far more wonderful !

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