On Cheating and Weight Loss


In this post we are not talking about the concept of the “cheat day,” the periodic safety valve which many weight-loss diets encourage to keep people from going completely off the rails. But a person who is kicking alcohol or cocaine does not get a cheat day, and Dr. Pretlow does not endorse that idea any more than a classic 12-step program would.

Dr. Pretlow has found that when a person’s drug is cheesecake or cheeseburgers, their particular “problem food” has the same calamitous potential as booze or blow. The problem foods have to be left behind, and that’s that.

A recent University of Eastern Finland study set out to determine (through blood tests) whether participants were following their prescribed diets correctly, and not telling fibs about their nutritional intake. The researchers’ perception was that deviation is more likely to happen when an entire food group is eliminated, or when there is no cheat day. However, we repeat that when a particular food functions as an addictor, there is no room for “planned hedonic deviation,” and no leeway can be given.

This next bit is somewhat counter-intuitive. In the trials of W8Loss2Go, the first stage, withdrawal from specific problem foods — the ones that acted like addictors for that person — went smoothly for most participants. Even the renunciation of snacking was not traumatic.

Where the subjects ran into trouble was with the everyday grind, the withdrawal from excessive portions at regular mealtimes. Dr. Pretlow says:

Participants displayed obfuscation, rationalization, deflection, denial, cheating, and lying — resembling drug addicts.

A paper titled “Addiction Model Intervention for Obesity in Young People” and co-authored by Dr. Pretlow and Carol M. Stock addressed the problem of cheating when measuring and weighing food amounts. Several study participants confessed to adding more to their plates than they recorded in their food logs.

Asking parents to oversee the process, or asking the kids to send in photos as confirmation, is a temporary fix. But of course ultimately the individual must take responsibility for accurate reporting. Apparently, for some obese people, the very fact that more food is available is the only impetus necessary to derail them.

Sometimes, the study subject might be guilty of an omission that is more charitably called resistance than an outright cheat, by skipping the weighing and measuring on the grounds that it takes too much time. But the end result — inaccurate reporting — is the same.

The gathering of anthropometric data is never a walk in the park. A 1995 study, written by academics who had also consulted other studies, concluded that “the population as a whole underestimates energy intake by self report and that the degree of underestimation is severe in selected subject groups.”

Not surprisingly, obese people are one of those unreliable groups, tending to both underestimate their caloric intake and to overestimate their physical activity, to the point where this discrepancy is characterized as a “consistent problem.” Even average-weight people tend to under-report their intake of food by as much as 50%!

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Blood Test Reveals If Dieters Have Been Cheating, Avoiding Bias Of Self-Reports,” MedicalDaily.com, 08/21/14
Source: “Eating addiction: there’s an app for that,” HuffingtonPost.com, 09/11/15
Source: “To Lose Weight, You Need to Stop Lying to Yourself,” BodyForWife.com, 01/07/15
Photo credit: Nina A. J. G. on Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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