Perilous Journey 2: The Urge to Cheat

07/31/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Neil Zevnik Private Chef, Food Writer, Wildlife Rescue Volunteer

So here I am, only one week into this rigorous adventure, and already I'm hearing voices -- the container of Haagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche was seductively whispering to me from the freezer last night, and now it's the vodka bottle beside it preaching sedition and urging insurrection at the cocktail hour.

Let's face it, we're human. We're a species that you have only to forbid us one thing, and it becomes the one thing we crave most above all others -- Adam and Eve, the apple? I rest my case. So when faced with a diet plan that denies me any number of customary delights, my brain short-circuits, my taste buds howl, and my will (which was not all that strong to begin with) begins to crumble. What to do? And on top of that, there's the little matter of dragging my aging butt off to the gym and the park for seemingly endless workouts and boot camps day after day after day. Just the laundry alone from all those sweat-soaked t-shirts and grass-stained pants is enough to discourage anyone...

I'm sure this is a daily dilemma faced by every person who attempts to transform themselves through altering food habits and committing to serious exercise. How do you encourage -- nay, force -- yourself to stick with it? How do you balance the competing claims of improved health and allowable vanity against innate laziness and oral gratification? And how do you do it all without driving your friends and family batty with your incessant whining?

Okay, I'm ready to share my strategy, such as it is (understanding, of course, that this is all an ongoing process and unfolding discovery, and as such is subject to alteration at any time). I seem to be developing two reasonably reliable maxims:

Number One: There Is No Negotiating. The alarm goes off, the room is murky gray at best, it is not a fit hour for man nor beast to be up and stirring (and my pound pup Jane attests to that with a sleepy, puzzled stare); surely boot camp can be skipped for just one day, if I promise faithfully to do an extra half-hour on the treadmill at a more civilized hour. There Is No Negotiating. Get up, get moving, get coffee.

It's almost dinner-time, if I have one more 8-ounce portion of fish I will grow fins and gills, and a cheese-oozing pepperoni, sausage & mushroom pizza on my doorstep is just a brief phone-call away; really, I'll cut out half my carbs tomorrow I promise. There Is No Negotiating. Turn on the grill, turn out the fish, and turn off the mental images.

Ohmigod, I've had the most wack day at work, I've put up with more nonsense than any one human should have to bear and did it all with a smile, I deserve a nice restorative cocktail, I've earned it; and hey I can swap it for the sweet potato, after all vodka is distilled from potatoes, right? There Is No Negotiating. Pour away the vodka and pour out the green tea.

And Number Two (in direct contradiction to First and Foremost):

Give Yourself a Break. Okay right, it does seem to negate the First rule -- but not really. This is the safety valve, if you will. Every once in a while, you need to indulge yourself, in order to keep your motivation (and sanity) intact. It is this rule that allows me to stick with the program when I might otherwise fling it out the proverbial window and surrender totally to my baser instincts; and it keeps me from blowing it big-time (like having a couple of beers with the pizza and following it with a vat of ice cream). So when you reach critical mass, you treat yourself to one slice of pizza (no sausage or pepperoni, please); or you have one cocktail before dinner, not too large, and savor every sip; or you skip your cardio on Thursday, just to give your bod a little breathing space. And suddenly that salmon for dinner seems once again appealing, and boot camp appears to be a sweaty satisfaction instead of an unbearable chore.

Anyway, that's what's working for me so far. The demands of my new stepped-up regimen are testing these maxims more than ever, so we'll see what transpires over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, there's Alaskan Copper River salmon robustly calling my name from the kitchen, and my pj's are briskly suggesting an early bedtime to prepare for boot camp tomorrow... Stay tuned!