Time to Confess: I’m a Cheater

Cross my fingers…

It’s time to come clean, once and for all: I’m a cheater.

And, really, I’ve always been one. It’s been particularly bad for the last year of my life – admittedly, I’ve cheated almost every single day. I’ve cheated multiple times in many different locations, from airplanes to restaurants to my very own home.

What’s more is that not only would I say I don’t mind being a cheater, I honestly and absolutely advocate it. I’ve seen my mother cheat. My grandfather does it daily. I’ve watched my own friends cheat right in front of my own eyes – while I cheered them on. Yesterday, a friend and I both cheated…together.

Okay – you might have figured out by now that I’m not really talking about relationships or anything else involving any sort of immediate ethical intervention.

What I’m actually talking about is food.

You see, if you’re a die-hard food lover like me, cheating has always been a pleasure. “Cheating” means we get to take a momentary break from our diet rules and eat the things we really want to –  who hasn’t said to themselves “okay, if I take the stairs today, I get a brownie!”?

And cheating in this manner can usually be a good thing. Without cheating, we can become too deprived, and our healthy diet can go out the window as fast as a plate of chocolate chip cookies at a Weight Watchers meeting. Cold turkey quitting methods generally only work for superheroes, and life without the occasional cheat would just be too boring.

Of course, the problem with cheating begins when we cheat too much – when one brownie becomes seven, and we’re left punishing ourselves with a death-by-treadmill session.

That was my problem just a few years ago. Like many of us were, I was raised on a diet of hot dogs, Frosted Mini-Wheats, and Happy Meals. Every large family gathering warranted a giant pot of cheese-covered Cincinnati Chili. Life milestones were celebrated with eight pounds of steak tips and a trip to the local Dairy Queen. No summer night was complete without a chocolate ice cream concoction. Meat, dairy, cheese, oh my! And I loved it all – every last processed bite of it.

As I grew older, though, my body paid the price. I eventually began to eat “healthier,” which equated to the classic “diet” most every magazine suggests: egg whites for breakfast, a turkey sandwich for lunch, and some sort of chicken and rice creation for dinner. I snacked on “snacks” like “100-calorie” (toxin) Twinkies and “low-fat” (but sodium-laden) “air chips.” This became my regular routine, and those hot fudge sundaes became my occasional “cheating” indulgence. After I finished licking every last trace of crud from the bottom of my plastic hot fudge sundae cup, I would punish my body…and my mind. On this cycle of “dieting” with the “occasional cheat,” I felt so hungry, so unsatisfied, so unhealthy, and, honestly, so depressed. At 24, I felt exhausted. Not just after I cheated – but every single day. Something wasn’t right.

Eventually something took hold – the lack of energy, that inability to lose five pounds before a close friend’s wedding, a feeling that perhaps it was unnatural to regularly put ingredients in my body which I could not even pronounce. I started doing some research on the foods I consumed and eventually made a profound yet totally simple realization: you really are what you eat. Did I want to be a dead animal carcass? Did I want to be full of fat, cholesterol, and barbeque sauce? Not so much. I did more reading, more research, and finally came to the realization that animal products, especially meat, did not do this body of mine any good.

After all signs finally pointed to “HELLO, WOMAN – STOP DOING THIS TO YOUR BODY,” I became a vegetarian in December of 2010, and I haven’t turned back since. After feeling the impact of this change (lighter, freer – and happier!), I eventually transitioned into veganism. And after that point, I’m not exaggerating when I say my world was changed forever.

Here’s the thing: as a vegan, I get to cheat all the time. I’m cheating the system of processed foods and meat-stuffed everything we’ve become accustomed to. I’m also cheating because I eat as much as I want…whenever I want. So long as I stick to my vegan parameters, I can eat as much whole plant foods, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes (and so much more!) as I wish. No guilt, no excessive anything. I learned that I could eat literally pounds of vegetables, and my body would do back flips in joy as opposed to punishing me as it did when I filled it with various meat, dairy, and plastic-filled concoctions. Kale spaghetti, almond milk, peanut butter, and banana smoothies, and organic garden herb seed burgers topped with fresh tomatoes, avocados and roasted onions – eating foods like this, I don’t feel guilty, and my pant size doesn’t pay the price. I feel lighter, freer, and, most importantly, healthier. What’s more is that this stuff is delicious – and, as a vegan, you don’t necessarily have to miss out on the things you “cheat” with now, if you learn to make the right swaps.

Once of the most common issues people find with trying veganism is that they have certain foods they “just can’t go without.” Often, those are those foods we “cheat” with. Well, I have great news: there’s a vegan swap for most everything! Craving chocolate? Try Go Raw Chocolate Super Cookies. Covet Girl Scout cookies? Yep, there’s a recipe for that. Screaming for ice cream? How does Red Velvet sound? Are you a “salty” snack craver? How about some Goldfish crackers, vegan-style? There’s even a recipe for vegan macaroni and “no cheese”. Not in the mood to make your vegan junk food from scratch? Here’s a list of vegan junk food (eat these ones sparingly, though – the way to go is whole, unprocessed foods at least 90% of the time).

It’s time to face it: veganism is no longer just for the hippies. Public figures are making the switch. It’s in the news. Vegan cookbooks are thriving. In essence, it’s a proven way to improve a person’s health and well-being. And it’s easier than you could have imagined.

If you’re not already vegan and you give veganism a try, I hope you too can begin to see that eating this way can feel like just like cheating – if you know how to do it right. When you follow a few simple guidelines (pretty simple: is it an animal or does it come from an animal? Yes? Then it’s a no-go! No? Scarf it down!) to become vegan, you can then eat most anything (remember to stick to whole plant foods as much as possible, my friends) else you want  – all day, every day. If you’re already vegan…keep it up — you probably know just the type of satisfaction I’m talking about here. And there’s nothing (even that last lick of those old hot fudge sundaes) that feels quite as good as that.

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