You Wouldn’t Give a Drug Addict a Cheat Day

I submitted this blog to the Huffington Post but for some reason they decided they didn’t want to run it. Since it was already written, I figured I might as well post it here for you guys to read. Anyone who has followed me for a while will recognize that it is very similar to an older post that I made a while back. Just never you mind that. Read it with fresh eyes. Comment and let me know what you think…


My name is Hank and I am an addict. Hello Hank.

I am addicted to food and I am of the personal belief that it is an addiction that is much harder to overcome than even heroin. Now let me qualify that statement with the fact that I have never been addicted to heroin and I am not trying to down play the seriousness of being addicted to a drug, especially in light of recent high profile drug related deaths. In fact, I am trying to bring attention to a concept that most people pass off as silly or farce.

hank-hanna-shooting-cheeseburgerBeing addicted to food is worse than being addicted to a drug like heroin because my body NEEDS food. I can’t quit food cold turkey. I can’t detox off of food. The ONLY thing that I can do is MANAGE my addiction.

And the only way to MANAGE it is to fully embrace the idea that overcoming your addiction means changing the way you think about food and committing to living as if you truly WANT to change.

At my heaviest weight, I was around 360 pounds. It took me a long, long time to figure out that I was addicted to food and that I was slowly killing myself with it.  And let’s be honest here, most obese people ARE addicted to food. My obesity and most everyone else’s obesity is due to uncontrolled consumption of food. Period. And overdosing on food isn’t a quick death like it is with drugs. It is a long, slow, painful and bankrupting death. I woke up one day and realized that the only way to control my addiction to food was to manage what I was putting in my mouth. I set a daily calorie limit and started counting calories.  When I started running out of calories before the end of the day, I started researching foods that were lower in calories but higher in nutrition. It is no surprise that more vegetables and lean protein became the staples of my diet. Pizza, french fries and grossly processed “food” items became less and less prevalent in my diet. I began to lose weight and two and a half years later had lost over 100 pounds and and was able to show medically (through blood work and physical) that I had improved my health by leaps and bounds.

But I am still addicted to food just as much as ANY recovered addict is still addicted but managing.

Now let me make this post even more controversial…

Would you ever consider telling a drug addict that it would be ok for them to have a cheat day? A full day in which they were allowed to do whatever drugs they wanted. No? How about offering them just one cheat high? Not a full day of uncontrolled drug use, just one fix. A cheat “meal” if you will.  That would be ridiculous, right? Offering a drug addict a day to go back to their old ways would ruin every effort to help them overcome their problem.  So why should ANYONE who is grossly overweight because of their food addiction be allowed a day to cheat on their recovery?

“Cheat” days or even meals for an obese person are a sign that someone doesn’t truly want to change themselves. They have not set aside their former self for their new and improved self.  I am reminded of a passage from the Bible (I hope that you don’t run off just because I am quoting the Bible here) that says that once you decide to live for Christ you are a new person and that the old ways have died.  You don’t have to be Joel Osteen to realize that the idea can be applicable across religious lines. Once you decide to change, then shed your old ways and never look back.  I did not want to be fat anymore.  In order for me to change that, I needed to die to the things that led me to become obese and fully embrace my new way of life that included thinking completely differently about food.

I should eat to live, not live to eat.

If I live by that principle then I should be concerned with putting food into my body that will nurture me and encourage health and well-being.  If you look at food with those eyes then the things that used to tempt you will be less appealing.  A treat will seem satisfying, but not some incredible experience that completes you and defines you.

You have to know that unhealthy food is a slow acting poison. A drug. It is imperative that you understand that.

The eventuality, if you can maintain the mind set, is that you will lose the weight and you will get healthy.  And through that you will have adopted a lifestyle that will help you maintain a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle.

Don’t enable yourself. Empower yourself.


38 comments to You Wouldn’t Give a Drug Addict a Cheat Day

  • Sharon

    This is exactly what I needed today… I’m 145 lbs but still addicted to food, to the point that I ate an entire package (30 count) of oreos today. After eating a birthday cake over two days! I thought I could “cheat” for my birthday, but obviously I can’t control those cheats.

  • Great article Hank! I agree that cheat meals can be a big down-fall for people with food addictions. I think that I have a addiction to sugar, and even though i have never been obese I have struggled for years (since I was a kid) with overeating, especially sugar. Research has shown that the combination of sugar and fat can be as addicting as heroin, and I believe it! I let myself have a treat now and then but I have to be very careful or it can quickly spiral out of control until I’ve eaten myself into a sugar stupor. Too bad Huffington Post didn’t pick this up!

  • Barb

    Absolutely true and I applaud you Hank for joining us food addicts on our life long journey to eating to live, not living to eat. I too realized I have an addiction to food (sweets like candy, breads and italian salad dressing to be exact), after I’d lost 60lbs then gained it back over the course of 3 years because I cheated once on my diet and had been loosing my battle with my addiction until this year. Food addicts should not be given a cheat day…nor a day off from working out (unless sick).

  • Kerryn

    A very interesting article Hank and one that I hope will get people thinking (and more than that – acting). I’m glad you are not down-playing the seriousness of addiction to illicit drugs because unfortunately the stigma and social (and legal) consequences of illicit drug addiction is VERY different than that of food addiction.

    This certainly does not make food addiction easier to manage, indeed often society encourages our food addictions, indeed there are whole industries committed to feeding our unhealthy-food addiction. Fortunately, however, there is much support and much information for people who want to manage their health and weight and people are often applauded for their efforts. As a drug and alcohol professional it grieves me that those addicted to illicit drugs are often told ‘it’s your own fault – you got yourself into this mess, get yourself out’. Imagine if we supported those with illicit addictions as much as support those wishing to manage food addiction.

    I appreciate the comparison you are trying to make just be careful you don’t further stigmatize and marginalize those who are worse off.

    good luck with your journey my friend, I wish you all the best.

    • hank hanna

      Thanks Kerryn. I think it is very easy to look at illicit drugs and see the effect that they have immediately on people using AND the people around them. That is why society DOES take it very seriously. I am hopefully conveying that the effects of food addiction are much slower to manifest and therefore AREN’T treated as seriously and by the time the effects do manifest, it is so hard to reverse. I will never make the claim that illicit drug addiction is not a very serious problem, but I will always standby the fact that food addiction is not given as much credence. Thanks for commenting!

  • Wow! What an amazing viewpoint & I definitely relate. Thank you so much for sharing…

  • This is incredible. I didn’t think of cheat meals that way before. Thank you so much for posting this. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it on my page and in my fitness groups. I will not alter anything.

  • Amanda - RunToTheFinish
    Twitter: runtothefinish

    All right so in my post today I actually open up about my issues with sugar and while I am very touchy about the word addict having experienced it someone very close to me…well I do believe food is addicting. I have never liked the idea of “cheat days” for all kinds of reason that deal with the mental side of food…anyways all that is to say yes I’m starting to realize that there may be no “just one bite” for me with certain foods.

    • hank hanna

      Thanks Amanda. There are different strokes for different folks, but I think the problem is that people, especially obese people, do not see that food can be a drug. I think that if people are receptive to that notion then they can more easily move forward, just like you are talking about.

  • Fantastic post, and probably why I am having so much trouble battling my weight now!

  • Just to expand up on this idea (a great comparison, by the way – as a fellow food addict I think its a difficult concept for some people to understand)… I think we often see these cheat days as “rewards” for our good behavior of some sorts. The reality is that to truly reward ourself is to take care of ourself. As I tell my detox participants over and over again, it’s not about denial… it’s about loving choices and WANTING to make the most nourishing choice for our bodies. On the other hand, old habits die hard. We also have to forgive ourselves when we slip up. So you have the art of loving yourself coupled with the art of self-forgiveness – two major challenges for some people. Might I also suggest looking into an author named Geneen Roth – her book “Breaking Free From Emotional Eating” is a short, yet informative read. Great post, Hank!

  • two things: I’m a recovering addict of Meth AND a food addict in recovery from obesity…I can attest that they are very close in comparison and while I’ve been clean off the Meth for 20+ years (because I would NEVER allow a “cheat” day) I’ve NOT been clean from my addiction from food because it’s much harder to do so….second thing: I love Joel Osteen!

  • Awesome!! I couldn’t have said it better, and nothing I can add would enhance your message. Great job!

  • Jessy Jean

    If I could have a cheat meal I would. But it snowballs and becomes more like a cheat week (or three). Not much different than an addict going on a serious bender. Then I hide from my personal trainer (sponsor) until Im ready to “clean up” my eating.

  • Great post! I really needed to read this and be reminded why I’m on my healthy journey. Thank you for the motivation 🙂

  • Angie
    Twitter: wanderingangie

    A great post Hank.
    A bit of a punch in the stomach for me. I have never thought of myself in terms of being an addict, but it makes sense. I have an all-or-nothing personality so although I’m not addicted to anything else, I could be. I have always used ‘treat’ days as something to look forward to. I don’t want to do that forever so need to stop now. We live in a food obsessed society, which offers little support for people who struggle with food.
    I want to keep learning about myself and nutrition so find the balance that works for me.

  • Kaybee

    I absolutely agree. The thing I hate about the concept of “cheat days” is that it continues to vilify food. By saying “I’m cheating,” you’re basically giving yourself permission to do something you view as bad. When you slip up on non-cheat days, you can feel very guilty and it can lower your sense of self worth. It’s not a big step from “I did a bad thing” to “I’m bad.” Self worth should not be tied to the food we eat. Changing your relationship with food and how you think about food is very important in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

  • Carolyn

    I heard an AA lead one time by a woman who also was a food addict. She said she wished she was only addicted to ETOH, that for her it was like taking the Lion out of the cage 3 x a day, grooming it, cleaning the cage, taking it for a walk, and then GETTING IT BACK IN THE CAGE!
    Awesome article really awesome

  • Cara

    I am on MFP and someone posted your link to read. I love it. I totally agree with many things that you say. I think food addiction is the worst kind because it is the only substance you cannot live without. You are also around it all the time. I am addict. I have unhealthy relationship with food. It stems from something else and this is how it has manifested itself. I am becoming healthier day by day – first I had to work from the inside out – you can change the way you look but that won’t change the way you feel. Today I love myself and feel I am worth taking care of. I look and see a beautiful woman of God. 80 pounds ago I hated myself , thought I was ugly and fat.

    You say “Cheat days or even meals for an obese person are a sign that someone doesn’t truly want to change themselves” – that’s is HUGE statement and you just spoke for everyone. I think you can only speak for yourself. To you it was a cheat day – do someone it is eating in moderation and portion control – I know tons of obese people who did Weight Watchers and nothing was off limits. You also said “Once you decide to change, then shed your old ways and never look back” and you referenced the bible and Joel Olsteen – I am a follower of Christ – I was born again and have shed the old me – but food itself is not a sin – gluttony is – Please know I am not trying to be mean spirited or ugly – I totally get what your saying – and you have done an amazing job but if I may – I think it would be better to speak how you feel – how it did or didn’t work for you.

    Just like food addiction is not like drug addiction in the fact that you have to live with it – its about changing your inner self and how you view yourself. Diabetics shouldn’t eat sugar but there are tons of recipe books for no sugar recipes – they are modified for the diabetic. There is no modification for a heroin addict.

    Again, please know..I am not trying to be combative at all – I just think when people post about their journey in anything – it should be kept to their testimony, what worked for them how they feel and think – so that line where you said “Cheat days or even meals for an obese person are a sign that someone doesn’t truly want to change themselves” could have read “for me I felt if I had cheat days, I wasn’t really trying to change my old habits so I could not allow myself a cheat day”

  • wendi

    I know this is old, but I had to add this… Find me an alcoholic who can handle 3 drinks a day, no more, no less. And let’s take the food vs. alcohol scenario a little further.

    Have that “alcoholic” make daily decisions about which type of alcohol, consuming a variety in order to obtain adequate nutrition–which means cupboards and a refrigerator full of wine, beer and hard liquor. She’ll have to read labels and consider fat/sugar/carb/caloric content and keep it all balanced. Offer her lots of magazines/books about the latest contradictory theories on “healthy drinking”–plus a few cookbooks with cocktail recipes so she can make “healthy drinking decisions”.

    Have her actually handle/brew the stuff–you know, preparing “lunches” for the kids, “cooking dinner” for the spouse. Have her work in a building that has “liquor machines”.

    Bombard her with nonstop TV ads, internet sites, billboards, magazines, etc. showing cute kids and sexy adults enjoying alcohol with no ill effects–yet have HER wear a shirt that proclaims “I drink too much”. You know–make it visible, just like rolls of fat, so other people can feel superior.

    See how sober–and how sane–she is after a few weeks of this–not to mention a lifetime.

    NO addict but the food addict faces such complexity. To those who struggle with an eating disorder each and every day and win even ONE battle a day–you have my admiration.

  • […] I was really impressed with a recent blog post by Hank over at The Business of Losing Weight – You Wouldn’t Give a Drug Addict a Cheat Day. […]

  • […] this balance can exist. The flex points are there for those meals where you want to indulge (but not cheat) within reason. However, they are only really there if you actually count. This next week, […]

  • […] + You Wouldn’t Give A Drug Addict A Cheat Day […]

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