When is it OK to Cheat On My Diet?

If there is one thing I’ve repeatedly tried to iterate on this website it’s that moderation is a key to health living. Too much of anything is bad and too little of something beneficial is also no bueno.

Kryptonite for a certain pharmacy brute.

Kryptonite for a certain pharmacy brute.

First, lets define diet. Our culture has given this word many meanings. It is a verb, adjective and noun. Lets boil down diet to a simple meaning; what one habitually puts into their mouth. That’s not the official dictionary definition, but it is simple, direct and clear.

For one then to say they are on a diet is akin to saying, “I’m breathing today as opposed to not breathing tomorrow for fear of inhaling something bad, but only tomorrow, since I’ll likely be crashing my breathing again the following day. I just can’t help myself. Breathing is so good!”

Doesn’t that sound a bit silly?

So diet is what one habitually puts into their mouth and actually swallows. And saying that you’re on a diet is like saying that you also breathe. So the next question is this; do you ever eat pie? Or cookies? Or cake? Or some Hot Cheetos? Or a Coke?

Are monster burgers part of your diet. If you eat them from time to time then yes they are!

Are monster burgers part of your diet. If you eat them from time to time then yes they are!

Sorry, that was 5 questions. If you answered yes to any of those or anything else in your mind that would count as a junk food, then yes, it is a part of your diet. So if someone offers you a piece of pie or cake and you tell them you’re on a diet so you can’t, then you’re straight up lying. Maybe the frequency is once in a blue moon. Maybe just at Thanksgiving or Christmas or some other major event (I just ordered 3 desserts at a nice restaurant because it was my anniversary).

The truth is, “junk” is a part of most people’s diets, just in small amounts for some, and large amounts for others. Frequency, as mentioned above also plays a role. So the question of when is it ok to cheat on my diet becomes moot because the reality is, if you eat it, it’s already part of your diet.

Let’s take a look at an example. My life and my diet.

Here’s a sample of one of my days and things I might eat during that day. In no way should this be a template for you since you aren’t me. Remember this is just an example of one pharmacist in rural America.

5:10 AM Wake up

5:20-5:30AM Protein shake

6AM Workout

7AM Protein shake

7-8AM Make breakfast for kids, shower and get cleaned up for work

8-8:30 Eat chicken, beef, pork, eggs or some other protein source, usually with some oatmeal or quinoa.

9AM Start work at the pharmacy

1PM Lunch: Eat chicken, beef, pork or tuna with some rice or oatmeal or quinoa and some veggie (usually broccoli)

2PM Resume work

6PM Go home, make dinner for wife and kids. My dinner is usually weighed out if I’m calorie counting, and if I’m not then I just TRY to eyeball it (usually fails and revert back to weighing)

Dinner may be anything from some sort of pasta (we love angel hair) to rice to potatoes(not often) accompanied by pork roast, beef roast, chicken and some fruit (usually melon because right now it’s melon season).

If the kids eat all of their food, including their veggies, we’ll sometimes have some dessert. Ice cream, jello, a little cake or pie (depending on availability from my wife).

8:30 Bedtime for kids. Teeth brushed before hand.

10:30 I try to get to bed by this time, doesn’t always work.

Rinse, Repeat.

I don’t always have dessert. Sometimes I do. Most nights I don’t. The weekend, when I’m home and have more ready access to food, is usually when I partake of something wonderful. Last Friday I made blueberry scones for dessert which we had with some ice cream on the side. Oh man was that good! But do I have blueberry scones every night? My mouth and brain say “ABSOLUTELY!” My will and my waistline say otherwise.

Focus on being happy and healthy before you think weight 90lbs will create both

Focus on being happy and healthy before you think weight 90lbs will create both

I’m not saying I’m fat. I’m just saying I know better than to have dessert every night. If pie is involved I can’t stop till it’s gone. The desirability of dessert is also proportional to my stress level during the day and the amount of carbs I had. Low carbs and high stress = recipe for disaster if I’m not careful. Moderate carbs with low stress and dessert just isn’t as appetizing.

I wrote about eating intentionally a while ago. You can look at the links here:



Rather than ask when can I cheat, the better question to ask might be, how often do I include junk into my diet? Remember that diet is something that you put into your mouth habitually. I would consider every weekend or even every month habitual. It really depends on you. If you were to deny yourself and good hamburger for the rest of your life and truly eliminate it from your diet, then yes if offered, you could then say, “sorry I’m on a diet that includes no hamburgers. Ever!”

But I ask you…Why? If you have a gluten allergy, then obviously you wouldn’t be eating scones, at least with wheat flour. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan then you’d avoid meat at all costs, which you are free to do. But why? These are wonderful foods and indulging from time to time is ok. Just make sure indulgence doesn’t become overindulgence and that includes one too many ounces of steak.

Sit down and enjoy your food. Even if you only have 5 minutes, sit down, put your phone away, and enjoy your food. Savor the flavor. Enjoy the texture. Let it be an experience.




Anxiety and Sleep Medications

Anxiety and sleep medications can be dangerous, especially when used inappropriately. Zolpidem (Ambien) is a very common one that many people take to get to sleep at night. Alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Valium) are also fairly common drugs that are seen in the pharmacies and in the cupboards of many people. They are taken whenever a person feels anxious, which these days seems like all the time.

Zolpidem is classified as a sedative-hypnotic. It puts you to sleep and that is why so many people like it. Take one sometime before bed and it’s lights out for the next few hours. So what’s the problem?

Zolpidem affects a specific omega-subtype of the GABA receptor in the central nervous system. This subtype is what puts you to sleep but doesn’t seem to affect muscle tone and doesn’t show anxiolytic properties (anti-anxiety). This also may be why so many people have reported all kinds of crazy incidences of sleep walking or other activities without remembering a thing. You can read about some of those here:


As with many receptors it’s also likely that since they are being activated so often by meds like zolpidem they get down regulated with time and people don’t get the benefit of the drug. I’ve talked with several people in the pharmacy about this. They are so frustrated that they can’t get sleep. Some take double the dose that is normally prescribed and still only sleep a couple of hours.

This quite honestly scares me. I’m worried that some people are going to take it too far one day for that one night of sleep and then not wake up. We Americans especially forget that more isn’t better to a problem that actually requires less.

Another problems that scares me is the sharing of these types of meds between family and friends. This is especially true among teenagers. A recent article talks about this:


SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) reported that “the estimated number of emergency department visits involving zolpidem overmedication (taking more than the prescribed amount) nearly doubled from 21,824 visits in 2005-2006 to 42,274 visits in 2009-2010” [1]. By comparison they report that in 2010 there were a total of 4,916,328 drug-related visits to emergency departments throughout the nation.

It’s not the most abused drug in the country but it is on the rise.

Drugs like clonazepam mentioned earlier aren’t so selective as zolpidem and can cause other problems. Originally they were developed for people with seizure disorders and they work well for that. People now take them primarily for finding relief from anxiety and stress.

Like zolpidem, people can become tolerant to them over time and require higher and higher doses to get the desired effect. It’s no different from a person on pain medications. These are more likely to cause a euphoric effect on a person than the zolpidem and many become psychologically dependant. It’s very important to note that people wishing to discontinue these after having been on them for some time must do so slowly. The withdrawal symptoms in people on high enough doses can actually land them in the hospital and cause death. While going cold turkey off narcotics isn’t recommended it typically doesn’t cause death like the benzodiazepines (clonazepam, alprazolam) can.

What can a person do to help with sleep?


Exercise seems to be beneficial to those who have insomnia. In a study with insomniacs, researchers looked at walking on the treadmill for 50 minutes at a time, 3 days a week for 6 months. What they found was that participants were able to fall asleep faster and had decreased amounts of wakefulness during the night. [2] The effect was seen in both the morning and evening groups.

Another study found similar results but the best were achieved in those performing moderate amounts of activity and not all out, balls to the wall type of stuff. It was also done on the treadmill for 50 minute intervals.[3]

In another analysis done in diabetics, the loss of belly fat with diet or exercise or a combination of both resulted in better sleep. [4]

There are other things that can help. Getting into a sleep schedule and actually going to sleep at the same time every day. I know that seems impossible or at best unlikely but it does help.

Managing a proper diet and exercise/activity level also decreases anxiety and symptoms of depression. I realize the catch-22 of people with depression. They don’t want to do anything, especially exercise. They don’t have the energy to do it and even if it makes sense logically that it will help, emotionally they are too drained to even think about it. If that’s you I encourage you to do whatever you can, even if it is walk to the mailbox. Any start is better than nothing.




2.Passos, Giselle Soares, et al. “Effects of moderate aerobic exercise training on chronic primary insomnia.” Sleep medicine 12.10 (2011): 1018-1027.

3.Passos, Giselle S., et al. “Effect of acute physical exercise on patients with chronic primary insomnia.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine: JCSM: official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine 6.3 (2010): 270.


Eating Intentionally during the Holidays

This is probably my most favorite time of the year. I love the crisp (non-snow) weather. I enjoy cozying up with some hot chocolate and a good book or writing on my laptop. I especially love that my grass stops growing and I don’t have to do any yard work. That last one is especially nice, although I do miss the fresh tomatoes from the garden. And of course this is the time of the year when I fully get to take advantage of eating pie.

Thanksgiving and Christmas however (while fun times of the year with friends and family) are times when many make excuses to turn from normal everyday people into absolute gluttons as if there is some sort of overriding OK during these times of the year to put on 10lbs. They then get their gym membership renewal in January and proceed to workout out for a few weeks until they lose steam and then 9 months or so later repeat the process all over.

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results every time.

You can eat like this over the holidays if you want. I won't stop you. But don't complain if you end up feeling horrible after the fact

You can eat like this over the holidays if you want. I won’t stop you. But don’t complain if you end up feeling horrible after the fact

Rather than feel guilty, gluttonous, or otherwise ashamed of how we act during the holidays maybe we should look at the overall process and make some observations before we look at recommendations.


Whether you like the traditional dinner with turkey and stuffing, canned gelatinous sauce called cranberry, mashed potatoes and gravy, and of course pie or you’re more into non-traditional (whatever that may entail) we all like a good thanksgiving dinner. The problem of course is the dinner on the 4th Thursday of November, the problem is all of the pre and post festivities that go along with it. For example: one family I know very well, my wife’s, will have nothing but pie for dinner the night before. While I personally enjoy a good round of pie in copious amounts just as much as the next guy, it’s probably wise to limit my intake that night, especially since the next day I usually feel like garbage if I don’t.

Christmas time isn’t too different. In fact the whole month of December becomes a what’s what of holiday treats and confections. You know the drill; bake a ton of sweets and give them away to people all the while receiving them from others. I remember this well as a kid and was happy to oblige anyone who was willing to drop off sweet goods. And while super tasty and welcomed, it really isn’t too different from going to the store and buying Oreos and snacking on those a few times a week.

Does all this sound familiar?

Cold weather tends to keep people indoors as I alluded to earlier. This means overall physical activity tends to go down. More calorie intake and less calorie burn equals weight increase.

What to Do

I’m going to keep it simple. My mom always taught me the KISS principle (Keep it simple stupid) so lets review how to do just that.

Eat Intentionally

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Sit with your family or friends at the table. Talk about experiences, life in general or good memories. The dinner table is for that very thing since it was first invented. Enjoy the food! Enjoy the company. Enjoy a piece of pie or whatever sweet treat you happen to have and then be done. Most people are actually done after a big meal. It’s the day after of sitting and watching football and eating all the rest of the pie (you people know who you are) or ingesting whatever else you can, even the veggie tray with dressing, while doing nothing all day long.

The women in the family usually get back sometime in the afternoon, maybe earlier depending on how early they left for Black Friday sales and start making more food because they are hungry from furiously fighting back the throngs of other people crazily trying to get the best deals on anything they can find. The people who stayed home aren’t hungry but might indulge anyway because someone else is making the food.

Same thing happens at Christmas just without the Black Friday sales.

Instead of baking Christmas goods maybe you and yours can render some holiday service in some way or another. The experience will be good for all around and you won’t be forcing others to eat things they might not normally have consumed.

In short keep your eating to meal time and eat a nice dinner. Give service rather than sweets. The service rendered will be sweet to those in need. One plate of good food is probably enough too.

Last year for Christmas we had two roasted ducks with some cheese and salami sides as well as some roasted peppers. It was a great meal that left us all (except my dad) satisfied and we had a good time at the table. After a little dessert the meal was over and we spent time as a family. No crazy post dinner meals or next day grazing on fatty foods. Just a nice day with family.

Be extra careful this year as Christmas also falls on a Thursday which means that the day after is Friday and many might have both days off.

Have an enjoyable Holiday Season!