It starts with a piece of dark chocolate after dinner. It’s raw, so it’s healthy, right? Really it’s an antioxidant supplement, you tell yourself.

It grows slowly, without your conscious awareness. A glass of wine on a Wednesday. “Just one” piece of bread at the restaurant before dinner. A croissant at the farmer’s market because it just looks so damn good and you feel so Parisian. And what’s a croissant without a cappuccino? Just this once…

Next thing you know, your little indulgences have gone from once or twice a week, to once or twice a day. And suddenly, those pants are feeling tighter. That lil’ bit of bloating is back. You notice you’re feeling headachy lots of mornings. Your energy is lagging.

Before you know it, you’ve thrown your hands up in the air with a wild case of the f*ck-its, eating everything that strikes your fancy, arguing you’ll “start again on Monday.” (See what I think of that little act of procrastination here.)

You are officially experiencing what I like to call Cheat Creep. It’s slow, it’s subtle, and you don’t notice it until you’re knee-deep in treats and way off your program, feeling shitty.

Know what I’m talking about?

Yeah, me too. Welcome to being human. All but the most disciplined among us have experienced this at some point in time (and I bet even the disciplined have their moments).

So what do we do about it?

  1. Forgive yourself. Blame, shame and other forms of self-flagellation have no place here. So you slipped off the wagon – maybe even way off. What good will it do to beat yourself up? None whatsoever. It’s time to look yourself in the eye and say, “Wow, we got off track here didn’t we? It happens and I forgive you. Now let’s get back on track.”

Which brings us to point number 2:

  1. Get back on the wagon. The earlier you do this in the process, the easier it is to do. While drastic measures sometimes feel appropriate, it doesn’t need to be some full-blown cleanse. And honestly, going from major Cheat Creep to cleansing just sets you up for that ping-pong effect of going back and forth from extremes. We’re looking for long-term sustainability here, not short-term pendulum swinging. You already know what to do. Start with the next meal, and then the next, and the next. There is no better time to start than today, and tomorrow you’ll be so glad you did.
  1. Ritualize indulgence. This is my strategy for preventing future Cheat Creeps while still enjoying the truly occasional indulgence. The hardest thing about Cheat Creep is that it sneaks up on us, so awareness is half the battle. If you ritualize an indulgence, you bring it front and center into your awareness, and so it’s harder for it to sneak in. An example from my own life:

I love coffee. I’ve been drinking it since I was in my early teens and it is, to me, one of life’s greatest pleasures. I love the taste, the ritual, the smell, the energy-boosting, and the incredible mental clarity it gives me. But for a while, coffee didn’t love me back. I tend to be high-strung and I easily overtax my adrenals, a situation that coffee exacerbates. I also discovered a food sensitivity to coffee a while back, and while I’ve healed it, for a long time it wasn’t optimal for me to have it every day.

If I had just tried to wing it and have it “every once in a while”, that coffee would have been back to a daily habit in a hot minute. So I ritualized the experience. I got one, fully caffeinated latte (my favorite way to drink it) on the weekend, and another mid-week (usually on my busiest day – Tuesdays – as a little “go get ‘em Tiger” pick-me-up). That’s it. No more, no less.

I now had a space to channel my love of coffee. I didn’t risk it creeping into my every day, and yet I had it regularly enough to satisfy my urges. The bonus is that those two coffee mornings felt like a real treat, not a guilty pleasure.

Do you suffer from cheat creep? How do you get yourself back on track? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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