Treats, not cheats

Being the language nerd that I am (okay, full-on nerd, what with the grocery flyer fixation and all), I’ve been thinking about the terminology associated with diet, and specifically, with dieting.

I’ve been reading the MDA eBook “Primal Living in the Real World” and while it’s full of really helpful advice, one thing that keeps jumping out at me is how often people talk about “cheating”. This term has always rubbed me the wrong way and I feel like it’s even more misplaced in a nutritional diet like PB than in a traditional diet like Weight Watchers.

The way I see it, it’s not a test. You’re not being graded. Cheating implies that you’re doing something morally wrong. That you’re getting credit for something that you didn’t do. The thing I like about the PB philosophy is that it’s not about tricking your body into feeling better or losing weight. I prefer to think of food-related “cheating” as “making bad choices” or “eating my feelings”!

Likewise, your relationship with food is not like your relationship with your spouse. You can’t “go behind the back” of your bacon and eggs by eating a slice of toast at the same time.   I just feel like calling this sort of behaviour “cheating” is not helpful at all. It’s almost anthropomorphic, in an abstract way. Like food is actually human in some way. Like good food can be betrayed by not-so-good food. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

Anyway, the other interesting thing is this: when do we differentiate between cheats and treats? If a treat is really a treat, it should be enjoyed. A treat is something that is relatively rare, because if it were more common, well then, it wouldn’t really be a treat! So how do people decide which indulgences are worthy of being called treats and eaten without remorse or guilt, and which are just bad choices — what they call cheats?

I guess a “cheat” implies an element of guilt, or of weakness, or lack of control. Would you call it a treat and be glad of it if you felt like you were letting yourself down?

Mark calls red wine and dark chocolate “sensible indulgences”. Are these treats, or is a treat something above and beyond an indulgence? I’d like to think so — I’d like to have a glass of red wine more often than “rarely”.  But a treat – say, a rich dessert made with lots of sugar – enjoyed in the moment and then moved on from? That sounds good to me. But packaged crackers, tortillas, and rice aren’t “cheats” or “treats” – they’re just not optimal choices.

Thoughts from anyone? Does the word “cheat” belong in the PB vocabulary?

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2 thoughts on “Treats, not cheats

  1. Yeah, I see your frustration. If you read some of the MDA posts & comments, you’ll see that many people say things like “cheating, for lack of a better word”… there is some acknowledgement that people don’t really want to use that term, and some people say “indulging” (which I think is perhaps more accurate?) but I don’t like to think of it as “cheating” either, that makes me think of failing at it, when it’s not.

    I think it’s just that people don’t know what else to call these “breaks in Primal eating” apart from “cheating”. “Treats” is probably an ok term to use, but I don’t know, with the way we tend to think about/enjoy “treats”…usually they become far too frequent to be really called “treats”.

    Re: tortilla chips/rice, I eat those on a quite limited, far less-frequent basis than I did pre-PB, and I don’t really think of them as “cheats”, but as part of my 80/20 living (but as I mentioned before, I did cut those things out completely at first during my 30-day challenge which was important).

  2. Pingback: I’ve Been “Good” | Primal in the 'Peg

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