You can cheat on any diet

Most nutrition goals are pretty simple: to look good in a swimsuit and to be healthy. Of course, sometimes we put a short-term emphasis on #swimsuitgoals, but health is also a priority, particularly in the long term.

As readers of this blog, you likely know that achieving those goals requires optimizing two unavoidable truths in your diet:

  1. The quantity of food (for your weight/body composition); and
  2. The quality of food (for your health).

Most diets focus on altering the quality or quantity of food. Rules, like restricting certain foods or controlling what time you can eat, are examples of this. And even if a diet focuses on quality OR quantity only, the other is often affected. 

Paleo, for example, focuses on quality but by eliminating so many foods, quantity is often reduced. If your diet was full of processed foods, salty snacks, and desserts, it is going to be hard to achieve that same quantity with meats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. 

Macro counting focuses on hitting a specific number of protein, carbohydrate, and fat grams. Some individuals may end up eating more whole foods because they get “more” food (in terms of volume) when they choose fruits and vegetables over chips.

But, no matter how strict the rules or how many restrictions a diet has, you can cheat on any diet. And this doesn’t mean lying about what you are eating (that’s just not doing the diet!) or occasional indulgences of less ideal items (that’s being human!). This means following all the rules to a “T” but still not achieving your body composition and health goals.

Since quantity isn’t restricted on Paleo, you can simply overindulge on the high-calorie items. For example, one can over-indulge on almond butter and bacon and end up eating more fat than they need. Their body composition, in turn, suffers.

On macros, you can eat whatever you want to hit your gram totals. While perfection is not necessary, when the diet starts to look more processed than not, it is not protective of health. And while processed foods in appropriate quantities are certainly better than overeating processed food, it is still not optimal. This is also where performance and recovery will start to suffer due to the role of micronutrients in these processes. 

Even the 800g Challenge can be cheated. Sure, the rules state nothing is eliminated, but if one is already overeating relative to what their body needs and the 800 grams of fruits and vegetables is simply added to the diet (versus replacing items), one will gain weight. It’s harder to do, but still possible.

This is where the names of diets hold little value compared to the application of it. The “show me pictures of your last 3-days of meals” test is probably the best descriptor we have of one’s diet. An itemized diet log works just as well. Regardless, it’s a true audit of the diet and allows users to best understand how to optimize quality and quantity versus using more potentially vague descriptors.