Birthday Cheating

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 37, which means that I truly have to accept the fact that I’m on the 40 side of my 30s now, and should probably stop thinking that I just graduated from college “a few” years ago. (The older I get, the more flexible my definition of “a few” becomes.)

I don’t mind getting older, because life kind of gets easier the older I get. But I do miss the days when I just ate whatever I wanted and could get away with it. sigh.

So, yesterday, since it was my birthday, I decided to cheat. My husband asked me where I wanted to go for dinner for my birthday, and I didn’t know what to tell him. All the foods I used to love for gastronomical reasons are on my naughty list now, so it kind of sucks the joy out of eating out. I’ve been very scared to cheat, because I haven’t wanted to go back to the joint pain, and have also been very nervous about starting the whole sugar withdrawal thing over again, because that was TORTURE. 

He talked me into having a birthday cheat, though, so I chose Carrabas. For the bread, of course. We all went together, and then we dropped the kids off at kids’ clubs at church and went to the Olive Garden so that I could have a Chocolate Almond Amore. It was heavenly. Absolutely heavenly. But it meant that I had had the Big Three of anti-inflammation diet no-nos: refined flour, white sugar, and alcohol. I waited to see what the damage would be.

I didn’t immediately feel bad. Until this morning, I didn’t notice any ill effects at all, but it was immediately obvious today. The minute I woke up I was aware that my fingers were stiff again, for the first time in nearly 2 weeks. They hurt to bend and two knuckles were tender to the touch. I also woke up several times during the night – something that was the norm for me until about 2 weeks ago when suddenly I started to sleep through the night. And…stepping on the scale confirmed that I’d gained two pounds. Because of 2 small half-pieces of bread and a drink. Man, those refined carbs wreck havoc!! Finally, this afternoon I started feeling that woozy, slightly dizzy precurser to a headache that used to be so common, but that I haven’t had in nearly four weeks.

So, yeah….cheating costs. I have yet to see if the sugar cravings get worse. I really – REALLY – hope I haven’t just set the clock back again for withdrawing from the evil stuff. If it turns out that the cost for a little cheating is only a day of setbacks, I might still do it on a very rare occassion – special days, like Thanksgiving and Christmas…or my birthday. But feeling healthy is more important than food, so if it gets too bad it wouldn’t be worth it.

If you’re trying out a similar anti-inflammation diet, my advice on cheating is this:

1. Take it easy and really pay attention to how your body reacts. Don’t just glaze over it, really pay attention, and act accordingly. Cheating on special days might be okay, and a good way to still have a bit of the foods you love once in a while. But if it sets you back too far, or makes you feel too sick, then it’s not worth it. Be honest with yourself. Keep a journal of symptoms if you have to, and record what you feel like for how long afterwards.

2. Choose the things you really want to cheat with. If you’re going to cheat, make it count. Make it the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt of cheats, not just whatever girl or guy comes your way. For me, it was bread with dipping oil and a Chocolate Almond Amore. Find what it is for you that you really want the most.

3. Keep cheating to special days. And don’t kid yourself – stick to days that really are special days. No, the day your kid finally gets potty training doesn’t count, as wonderful as that is. And I don’t care how hard your week was…just because it’s now Friday doesn’t make it a special day. We’re talking birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover…days that really are set apart. If you start arbitrarily assigning “special day” status, you’ll be cheating all the time and undoing all your hard work. And then, presto chango, you’re off the wagon.

4. And when you do cheat, don’t go crazy. I had two small half-pieces of bread and one drink, not a whole loaf and a gallon of ice cream. You know…use your common sense. Pick the one or two items you’d like the most, have those, and skip the rest. If on Thanksgiving what you want the most is the pumpkin pie, then skip the stuffing/dressing. Pick and choose and make it count.

UPDATE: So – back to the basic question: does cheating start the withdrawal process all over again? How much will cheating cost you? I write this 4 months later, after having gone through Thanksgiving, Christmas, a hurricane and extended power outage, and being invited to eat at people’s houses. On all of these occasions I ate things that were not approved. And, my experience was that these cheats did NOT reset the process all over again. After Christmas week (which had the most cheating) I did have more cravings than I had been used to, but they were manageable, and I was very quickly back to normal. On one occasion – after eating some peppermint bark at Christmas – I went into an “I can’t stop myself” thing and instead of only cheating with one I scarfed down three before I knew what I was doing, so be careful about eating things that might trigger binge eating. Health-wise, I found that sugar more than anything else gave me some negative side effects, mostly in the form of headaches (probably from the sugar rush my body isn’t used to.) However, many of the consequences – such as joint pain – don’t happen anymore when I cheat. I think the inflammation has calmed down to the point that it doesn’t flare up so bad with one small cheat, though I’m sure that would quickly change if I fell of the wagon. You’ll have to see for yourself what your especial trigger areas are, so listen to your body. So – the answer is, for me at least, cheating doesn’t completely set you back, but it may temporarily awaken some cravings that had been put to rest, and may give you a day of some symptoms that you had eliminated. It’s not the end of the world, and in some cases (such as eating at other people’s houses) I feel that the sake of relationship and not letting my dietary choices make things strained between me and other people is more important than being strictly to the letter on this. Food choices, unfortunately, can easily divide people it seems, so be aware of that. In other words, it’s okay to be flexible!