Cheat on Your Diet and Still Lose Weight

Sensible splurging actually boosts your chances of weight loss success, experts say.

By Wendy Fries
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Farewell, chocolate eclair. So long, Kettle chips. Adios, buttered potato.

Many of us equate starting a weight-loss plan with forever forsaking the foods we love. Yet, this approach can lead to resentment -- and goals abandoned long before their time.

The truth, experts say, is that you can have your weight loss and eat cake, too - as long as you splurge the sensible way.

Diet Success = Sensible Splurging

Taking away a person's favorite foods can be the death knell to a diet, says David W. Grotto, RD, LD, a nutrition advisor and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association: "I think splurging on a diet is mandatory, not an option."

Grotto calls it "structured cheating." But there's a difference between enjoying your favorite foods occasionally and eating everything you adore, he says. The key to maintaining control is in deciding what you want, how much you'll have, and then to "eat it with full consciousness ... lick your lips, and then move on with your life."

Carolyn O'Neil, RD, agrees.

"I think sensible splurging is really the key to being able to achieve a healthy lifestyle," says O'Neil, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!

Anyone can follow a restrictive diet for a short time, says O'Neil, but ultimately, most will break down and overindulge on the foods they denied themselves. "So why not come up with a sensible diet, so your chances of success are much greater in the long run?" she asks.

O'Neil says that when you know what you're getting in to, you have more control. If you love cheesecake, know the calorie count of your favorite type, and then you can manage your splurge with portion control. O'Neil sums up her diet philosophy this way: "The more you know, the more you can eat!"

With that in mind, WebMD asked nutrition experts and a few regular folks what they know about splurging, and boiled their advice down to these 10 tips:

  • Accept your "splurge foods" because the desire for them isn't going anywhere. And as we all know, when you tell people they can't do something -- like enjoy a slice of pie -- they're going to want to do it even more, cautions Grotto.


  • Go for flavor hits. Whatever you love, buy it in its most intense and tasty form, says O'Neil. This will mean you can have less, yet still get that flare of flavor you crave.

    For example, are you crazy about salt? Splurge on gourmet sea salt or chunky kosher salt, and then grind your own over a ripe, red tomato. "You'll have a more brilliant, bright flavor," says O'Neil, "but a better salty hit and crunch -- so you'll use less."



  • Enjoy with all your senses. When you indulge in your splurge, serve it on a pretty plate with a colorful garnish so you can appreciate its eye appeal. Take time to savor the delectable aroma, and relish the smooth or crunchy texture against your tongue. A splurge "feels like more of a treat to me when I can engage all of my senses," says Bethany Dunning, a high school teacher in Michigan, who relishes her rare opportunities to cook the foods she loves.


  • Have a plan. "If you happen to be a dessert lover and eat out, ask to see the dessert menu first," says O'Neil. This way, you know what your splurge goal is and can budget your calories for what matters most to you. Knowing where you're really headed -- toward that pecan torte, perhaps? - will make it easier to skip the creamy clam chowder or the deep-fried cheese sticks.


  • Get away from it all. How many times have you eaten lunch at your desk, or in front of the TV, and then realized you didn't taste a bite? "Our society doesn't embrace eating and enjoying our food; we try and be productive at all times," says Grotto. That's why it's so important to slow down and savor your splurge without distractions. And if you do so away from the kitchen, it's harder to sneak in seconds.


  • Have only what you love. "If it's bad [for your diet], it had better be good," says O'Neil. So instead of grabbing a trio of donut holes each morning with your coffee - and distractedly downing a doughy 300 calories -- splurge on something worth savoring, like a small, perfect wedge of creamy cheesecake.


  • Think outside the splurge box. Megan Bratberg, an environmental scientist in Texas, calls herself a chocoholic. But when it comes to her preferred splurges, she places pricey delectables like asparagus, red bell peppers, and good peppercorns right up there with dark chocolate.

So next time you feel the need to pamper yourself with a treat, try satisfying that urge with a pint of perfect blueberries or a bottle of an intense, fruity olive oil.



  • Compromise. O'Neil lives in the South, where sweet iced tea is queen. Instead of doing without when she goes out, she compromises, and orders unsweetened iced tea with a dash of sweet tea on top. So if you think it's not a picnic without your creamy chicken salad, enjoy it -- but cut the calories by replacing half the mayonnaise with yogurt, for example.

    "Compromises are an empowering thing," says O'Neil, adding that small changes like this add up to big results over time.



  • Make it yourself. Can't enjoy your morning coffee without a muffin? Mix up your own batch, slipping in goodies like oats, nuts, and whole-grain flour. Love to splurge on piping hot pizza? Try making it yourself, using intensely flavored toppings like goat cheese, smoked salmon, and fresh herbs. You won't even miss the piles of pepperoni. "Food, for me, is as much about process as product, and savoring something that has taken time for me to create is very rewarding, says Dunning.


  • Make small changes. If you love to indulge -- do! Passionate about a nightly dessert? Enjoy every mouthful -- but start topping it off with a walk around the block afterward. Addicted to a pizza slice and a cola for your daily lunch? Relish every bite -- but enjoy them four days a week, instead of five. Both Grotto and O'Neil emphasize: Small steps add up to big changes, so find the changes that work best for you.

    "We almost have it built into us, hard-wired, the resistance to simple things," says Grotto. "That's why I think so many people fail on diets."

  • Healthier eating doesn't need to include sweeping resolutions on New Year's Day or vows of abstinence as summer approaches. It's the slow and simple changes that are often most effective, and "what works for me may not work best for you," Grotto says.

    So learn what your splurge foods are, learn to embrace them, enjoy them, and to fit them into your diet, says O'Neil. How you do that is as individual as you are.

    Published June 16, 2006.


    SOURCES: Carolyn O'Neil, RD; and co-author, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! David W. Grotto, RD, LD, nutrition advisor; spokesman, American Dietetic Association. Bethany Dunning, teacher, Michigan. Megan Bratberg, environmental scientist, Austin, Texas.

    ©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

    Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

    Last Editorial Review: 6/16/2006