I Haven’t Cheated on My Diet in 20 Years

By Debbie Koenig 

Over Memorial Day, we filled our new house with weekend guests for the first time. All family, lotsa people, lotsa eating. Many emails had flown back and forth, planning menus for each meal. Everyone brought food, but each of us packed just a little more than we’d agreed (me included). The last group to arrive was tasked with picking up bagels for the next day’s breakfast, and I had high hopes that they wouldn’t add extras. This particular wing of the family is on a diet, one of those programs where they send you refrigerated meals to reheat. They were definitely going to go easy on the food, I thought.

They showed up with enough provisions for a second weekend. In addition to the bagels they handed me four bags of chips, hummus and carrots, five different cheeses with crackers, black-and-white cookies, and a bag full of items from an Italian deli — a spiral of Italian sausage, marinated olives, salami. I must’ve had a stunned look on my face, so one of them shrugged and said, “We’re cheating this weekend.”

I remember that feeling, being so restricted in my eating that I took every opportunity I could to splurge. I’d sneak food and gobble it down, barely even tasting it, all to get the momentary rush that came from “cheating.” But most of the time, I’d feel regret almost as soon as I’d swallowed. Next came guilt, and eventually, self-loathing. Which prompted more cheating. Clearly, I had no business trying to lose weight — I wasn’t worth the effort. Soon after, I’d give up.

This went on for nearly two decades. Each time I cheated my way into conceding defeat, I’d gain back whatever I lost plus some extra padding. By my 27th birthday, I’d yo-yoed up to more than 250 pounds.

And then I rejoined Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time. I’d gotten into therapy, which was helping me to see that I did have value, whatever my size. The whole idea of “cheating” suddenly made no sense. I finally realized I wasn’t pulling a fast one on the Weight Watchers corporation, or getting away with anything. Those mini-binges showed on the scale, and in the way my stomach ached after eating too much, too fast.

I’m coming up on 20 years as a Lifetime Member. In that time I’ve indulged, on occasion I’ve eaten more than I intended, and I’ve even had food-related regrets. But I’ve never cheated. Eating healthfully isn’t a game. Some days are better than others, but each time I slip, I acknowledge it, adjust my eating in the days that follow, and move on. Deciding what to eat and how much is all on me — I wouldn’t be cheating anyone but myself.

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