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Another Way of Looking at Cheat Days and the Ruination they Lead to – from the Perspective of an Ex-drunk.

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I went to a dinner the other night.  Three of us were normal weight.  The rest ranged from every-day overweight to morbidly obese.  Two are currently eating themselves to death.

I have a problem in this setting because I have a tough time keeping my mouth shut.  Put ten fat people in a room, you’ll hear more excuses and false information about why people get fat than you can shake a stick at.  Better, they also happen to be experts on how to lose that weight.  I should know, I used to traffic that cow pucky.  I can only take so much before I say, “Now hang on a second”, and attempt to right the ship.  Of course, I’m sure I’m a bundle of fun to have around as well – I’m not lost on this.

In any event, one of the “eating myself to death” family members suggested that for some people, “cheat days” are necessary when it comes to one’s diet.  I submit Exhibit A, I think that family member missed the irony***.

A morbidly obese person telling a recovering alcoholic of more than two and a half decades, without relapse, that cheat days in what a person eats are necessary to lose weight.  If you haven’t put two and two together, by that thinking I should be having a beer every now and again… or would that be a case of beer every now and again?  Do you hear me now?  If we’re going to cheat, why not do it right, eh?  If you think there’s logic in the ex-drunk taking a drink every now and again, I suggest you marry a practicing alcoholic, or invite one in to your happy home and give that tornado a spin.  It’ll change your perspective pretty quickly.

There are three distinct aspects to a cheat day, so let’s look at that, first; Eating too much, and eating junk or my favorite:  Both.

Alcoholics and recovering alcoholics are the Masters of the cheat day.  We’ve used every excuse there is to justify them.  For us, the cheat days also come with heavy consequences.  Madness, insanity, mayhem, death, and prison.  Where can I sign up for some more of that?!  For us, to drink is to die.  There is no return to “normalized” drinking of alcohol so there are no cheat days.  Oh, we may try, but sooner or later we’re butt-naked on the hood of our car with the key stuck in our ass, screaming, “It’s okay, I think it’s just flooded!**”  In other words, there is no such thing as a cheat day.  To cheat is to die, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

I prefer to save my cheat days till after I’ve attained my target weight.  Of course, by then I don’t want to cheat because I know just how damned hard it is to lose the weight in the first place.  And that’s pretty much how recovery works for me (over-simplified, but close enough for government work).  Once I was able to remain sober for more than a few weeks and realized how difficult it was to stay sober and clean up the wreckage in the first place, I had no desire to go back to the old way of life… because the old way was miserable.

We can always have our misery back.  We just have to do what we always did to get there.  Just a thought.

**Special thanks to Robin Williams for that one.  I laughed the first time I heard it, but it hit a little too close to home back then, if you know what I mean.

***I do know of people who have properly used cheat days – not many, but a few.  Let’s just say they figured out that “a” cheat day every now and again isn’t bad…. they just can’t all be cheat days.

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19 Comments

  1. tammi1438 says:

    Nice way to look at cheat days.

  2. OmniRunner says:

    Good perspective over our eating problem in this country.
    I certainly understand why alcoholics can’t have a cheat day, fortunately food allows for moderate and infrequent cheat days.
    I’m with you on not ruining my hard work with a disaster of a cheat day.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Truthfully, and to put it simply, some people can handle a cheat day and others cannot. 90% of people can handle a drink, while I can’t (though not for a lack of trying). The problem usually centers around the 10% who can’t thinking they’re in the other group. Thanks Andy.

  3. Sandra says:

    Agreed. FYI: I don’t even call them cheat days, because that implies “cheating” the system, being deceitful. I just call them what they are–days where I don’t count.

    Love having time again to read through your blogs (and hopefully write more myself–too busy working on my next two books though)

  4. Gail says:

    This is SO great, and I have sent your article to a few clients (fingers crossed that they are still my clients after reading) because they need to read what I tell them, and you wrote exactly what I articulate almost every day.

    For me? I treat Christmas, TG, Easter, birthdays, and (insert whatever excuse for a cheat day you can come up with) like every other day. I eat sensibly. The food I eat might NOT be sensible on Christmas Day, BUT I don’t overeat, and truly THAT is the issue. I will certainly allow for those folks that simply have no self control. They take one bite of chocolate mousse and MUST have six more gallons of the stuff. Those people, much like alcoholics, can’t cheat because it is not cheating. It’s actually life devastating. For other folks, like me, that CAN take a bite of something they’d never normally have and walk away, it’s not cheating. It’s called self control. It’s what separates us from most animals. That fifth helping of mashed potatoes did not get in your mouth by GPS. YOU made that decision. Best to own it and not come up with those bloody excuses you wrote about so eloquently, and hilariously.

    What particularly resonated with me was this: “Put ten fat people in a room, you’ll hear more excuses and false information about why people get fat than you can shake a stick at. Better, they also happen to be experts on how to lose that weight.” Right??????????!!!! Silly me, getting all certified and sh*t and passing all those exams. The REAL experts are the ones that ARE morbidly obese!

    Keep these non cycling posts coming occasionally. I love them.

    • Brent says:

      Actually, a lot of fat people do know a lot about diets… they’ve tried so many of them and they’ve read so many books, dreaming that each one would be the magical key to instant thinness. I used to be one of those (both seriously obese and a diet expert). I could tell you all about the differences between the various fad diets out there, and knew calorie counts for lots of different foods. All of that knowledge was to help me remain in a state of denial about the horrendous state of my life. It wasn’t because I was serious about losing weight, it was a way to help me keep it on and to avoid making painful changes.

      It’s a little bit similar to those people who act religious and virtuous on the surface to disguise their addiction to kiddie porn; thinking they’re good people keeps them stuck and keeps them from getting treatment until after they’re in jail and have hurt many people.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thank you Gail, I certainly will. I’ve got another one I’ve been working on that you’re sure to like…

  5. Brent says:

    Yep, you’re exactly right about the degree of dishonesty and denial of the compulsive overeater. Back in the day, every day was a “cheat day” as I thought I should be allowed to eat whatever I wanted in whatever quantity and thought I should still be the same size as anyone else. I was in complete denial of what I was doing on the small scale — eating irresponsibly — and what I was doing at the macro scale — killing myself slowly.

    I lost a lot of weight and managed to keep it off while still having all that craziness go rattling around in my head. It took several years of effort afterwards to dive into the reasons why I ate, a process that was incredibly uncomfortable and brought up horrendously painful memories of childhood trauma, before I was able to choose most of the time not to overeat when I was in a situation where too much food was available.

    The one thing that makes recovery from overeating difficult is that you have to eat to stay alive. You don’t have to drink ever again once you are sober. And it’s really easy to tell whether you’re drinking; it’s not always so obvious when you’re overeating. After a very long and very hilly ride (80 miles, 6,500 feet of climb) last summer, I went out to dinner afterwards and had two complete entrees — a steak followed by a double cheeseburger with fries when I realized my body needed a lot more protein. That was a careful decision, and it was not an emotionally driven binge. Any other time, that much food would have been a horrendous binge, but given that I just burned off 6,000 calories, it was appropriate.

    The hardest thing is to forgive yourself and get back on track doing what you know is healthy after a binge. I had more to eat yesterday than I planned, so, yes, it was a binge. The hardest thing for me was to forgive myself as I went to sleep and then to wake up this morning and eat something that works, not as punishment for the binge, but from a healthy perspective of taking care of myself. It takes a lot of practice to do what normal people instinctively know how to do.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thanks a lot, Brent. I agree with almost all of what you wrote, but I’m working on a post that shows how overeating and alcoholism are alike… not to refute your reality, but to give a different perspective to it. I’m still trying to work out what I have to write so it makes sense. Either way, brother, your story is an awesome one. I have only respect for you.

      • Brent says:

        (We could correspond privately about the details of alcohol versus food as addictions, if you want more background.)

        I agree that both are addictions and there are significant similarities. I certainly used food exactly the way many people used alcohol, to escape from a reality that I didn’t want to be in. Instead of a fifth of Jack Daniels at bedtime, my drug of choice was a pint of Haagen-Dazs, almost every night. And just like drunks have a regular route of liquor stores so the clerk doesn’t figure out they’re alcoholics, I had a regular route of grocery stores so I wouldn’t buy too much at any one store. There are lots of stories you hear in AA meetings that are my story about food, with just the name of the substance changed.

        But the differences are significant, perhaps enough that the AA approach as embodied in Overeaters Anonymous doesn’t work as well as it has for booze. First and foremost is the fact that you have to eat to stay alive, so you have to take a chance of breaking your sobriety three or more times per day. That makes it much harder to be able to be rigorously honest about whether you overate… There could always be some rationalization about whether you ate the right amount on a particular day. You have to get to a really high level of honesty really fast to be able to lose weight, and a lot of people take a very long time indeed to be able to get there. With booze, honesty is simple. Did you drink any alcohol today? Yes or no? It would be easy for anyone to verify by watching a video of your day whether you told the truth or not. But somebody watching a video of me eating couldn’t tell whether I’m taking care of myself or whether I’m eating addictively.

        There’s also a very real problem in food disorders that seem ludicrous to the recovering alcoholic: undereating is a problem that in a way is just as bad as overeating. The most serious form is anorexia, which can quite literally kill you. But there are some very slippery variations on this as well. Some people exercise constantly (I’ve met some people who spent 4-6 hours a day on the treadmill to get anorexically thin while still being able to binge-eat at will). They were obsessed with “purging” the food just like a bulimic. And a lot of people go on artificially restrictive diets that are borderline anorexia; they’re certainly not taking care of themselves in the way they do this.

        I know many people who have had years of abstaining from overeating, which is commendable, but it doesn’t look all that healthy. One woman I know well reset her 20-year “abstinence” date when she ate a single cookie. And having her over for holidays was quite difficult because she could only eat what was on her food plan and nothing else. She weighed and measured everything, never ate in restaurants, and had a whole bunch of other unhealthy behaviors to try to control a binge that she thought was right around the corner. That’s living a lot more fearfully than most sober alcoholics I know.

        I got a lot out of OA but no longer go, because I think it’s not sufficient. I do other things with the goal of being flexible in what I eat, honest with myself about how I’m doing, and being compassionate and understanding so that if I do binge (as I did yesterday) I get back on track fast and don’t go on a “bender,” cramming down ice cream so I don’t feel guilty about the cookies, for instance. I’m working much harder on the food addiction than I ever had to work to get and stay sober, partly because food is my main addiction, and partly because it’s just so much trickier.

  6. zoeforman says:

    Thanks for an honest comparison of eating & alcohol disorders. I have family members in both camps and this hits the nail on the head and I’ll try and help others see this clarity.
    Thank you for writing this.

  7. You made me last go out loud. Thanks.

  8. Lori says:

    This was a fascinating discussion. I struggle with both my alcohol and food decisions, and comparing and contrasting the two is helpful. I often just lump my bad choices under the two categories of either “I’m no good” or “I deserve this” for both food & wine. Every new little tidbit of truth and shared story gives me help & hope to keep making better choices for myself.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thank you, Lori. There’s more to it than “I deserve this” and “I’m no good”. Just keep coming back and you’re sure to find out just how good we are and how much good we deserve when we make good choices.

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