Cheating At Solitaire

There’s been a lot of talking and thinking about the concept of “cheating” in my life lately.

Over at Urban Gets Diesel, there’s a lively debate in the comments about what constitutes cheating on the 30-day, no-cheat paleo commitment the fabulous Ms. Urban has sponsored. I would assume the title provides a good working definition, i.e., NO cheating. But humans are clever and creative, so there’s been some hair-splitting and questions about parameters. All of which I find extremely helpful in solidifying my own ideas about cheating behavior.

At my Weight Watchers meeting, questions inevitably come up, especially with new members, about the “zero points foods” and what cheating on Weight Watchers means. Zero-points foods are usually vegetables or high-fiber goodies like Fiber One cereal or a condiment that’s quite low in calories. For example, one tablespoon of soy creamer in your coffee (15 calories) might be a 0-point food. There’s even super high-fiber, reduced-calorie bread that’s zero points for one slice. Because Weight Watchers is a portion-controlled, calorie-controlled plan, foods like veg are unlimited — but Fiber One and that splash of soy creamer and your morning toast are “free” only in one-serving sizes.

But what does that mean? Eat the whole box of Fiber One, you’ve got lots of calories, no matter that it’s loaded with fiber. Ditto the creamer. So questions come up: How far apart do I have to eat the 0-points foods so that they’re still “free?” Can I eat more than one 0-points food at a time? If one slice of the bread is zero points, what about two slices? Am I cheating?!

At CrossFit workouts, it can be very easy on the surface to define cheating: skimp on your reps, that’s pretty clearly cheating on the workout. But what if you need to scale down mid-workout because you’re not quite up to the task of the prescribed workout? That’s not cheating, right? But it is cheating if you quit on the reps… so how does a person in the midst of CrossFit drunkenness know the difference between the two? And even slippier, what if you’re doing the required numbers, but you’re not delivering the full range of motion? Does that rep count? Are you cheating?

I think of all of the above as “cheating at solitaire” (thank you, Mr. Mike Ness)… that hair-splitting, rationalizing, over-explaining why it’s OK to do/not do something, while knowing in your heart where the truth lies.

We need to define what constitutes a “cheat” BEFORE we start an endeavor — and it might be different for everybody. Once you’ve got your expectations and definitions set, you’ve gotta comply with those rules with all the relentlessness you can muster.

Here’s a story for you… when I got back from my vacation, Melissa Urban had the 30-day, no-cheat paleo party raging on her blog. I was ready to clean up my diet after vacation indulgence, and I knew my parents were coming to visit in three weeks. Here’s the email exchange we had:

Me: My parents are coming to visit during the last week of July, so I’m thinking I want to do a no-cheat three weeks, but I was wondering what you think about that.

Melissa U: I think it would be a fantastic idea to have a super strict restricted cheat 3 weeks before your parents arrive… if you tell me you want to go hard core, I’m okay with that and I’ll hold you to it. Your call – and you don’t get to decide on the fly. Send decision now.

The turning point in that conversation was, “Send decision now.” Melissa was fine with me continuing on the path I had been on: eat super clean all week, indulge a little at Saturday morning breakfast. And she was fine with me going no-cheat. But I had to commit to a direction BEFORE I started. No mid-course corrections based on what I wanted in a particular moment.

So I decided to go hardcore, no cheat, “not even one corn tortilla on Saturday” for three weeks. And until this weekend, it was pretty easy.

Friday, I wanted a glass of wine. Saturday, I wanted to eat the fries that came along with my breakfast. Sunday, I wanted to eat refried beans.

Today, I wavered. Dave and I are going to Dallas on Thursday to see the American Idol concert (More on that later… promise!), and I told him this morning, “I’m having a drink on Thursday night. I don’t care if I’m not supposed to cheat until next week.”

When I got to the office, I started crafting my email to Melissa explaining why it is totally OK for me to have a cocktail on Thursday night.

But every reason I came up with sounded like bullshit. And I knew that if it sounded like bullshit to me — the person making it up — it was definitely going to sound like bullshit to her.

Instead of writing her a rationalization email, I sent her a message reaffirming my commitment to my no-cheat three weeks. I will not be having a cocktail on Thursday night. Because I made a prior commitment to myself that I wasn’t going to cheat until my parents visit.

Does it matter in the big picture if I cheat on Thursday? No and yes.

No: One drink on a random Thursday night will not tank my lifetime progress.

Yes: I made a commitment to myself and non-compliance with that commitment undermines my success in a way that’s more significant than the fleeting pleasure of a shot of booze.

My friends and family sometimes hear me say things like my ‘yes’ statement above and respond with, “[sigh] You are so hard on yourself [slow head shake of resignation]. ” But you know what? I think I’m being kind to myself. I think saying no to something that’s not good for me right now is a very loving, supportive act.

And that’s how I’m trying to think about the workout I did this morning, too. Because I was sorely tempted to cheat at solitaire.

I suppose I should be celebrating the fact that I didn’t cheat – and I bumped up to the RX’d 16kg kettlebell – rather than bemoaning the fact that I still. cannot. do. a. f*cking. unassisted. pullup.
Imagine the scene: It’s 6:12 a.m., and I’m driving to CrossFit Central, chanting to myself as I always do on that drive: You can handle whatever is on the whiteboard. You can handle whatever is on the whiteboard.

The whiteboard said this:

3 rounds for time:
400m run
21 kb swings, 16kg
12 pullups

And I groaned. Because for weeks, Erika has been telling me I need to get off the blue band and go to a skinnier one.

Erika is right.

Today was the day.

I did two rounds on the skinny black band (3/4″?) and one round on the really skinny white band (1/2″)… and it sucked. One pullup at a time. Panting and resting and almost crying from frustration in between each one.

But I knew I’d be cheating if I went back to the wider band.

So I muddled through.

I was the last person to finish. And I mean LAST. Everyone else was on to partner situps and drinking water, while I hung from the damn bar, with Carla and Jen and Carey – and then just my dear friend Carla – coaching and encouraging me.

It sounds cooler than it was. I mean, Carla was awesome. I was not.

At one point, she said, “Don’t make that face. Stop thinking. You can do it.” And I knew the face she meant. It’s my defeated face. My “I’m not having fun” face. My “I might cry soon” face.

So I forced a smile and swung and pulled and grunted and huffed and eventually got the workout (Apparently, I kip halfway up, then pull the rest of the way from a dead hang. So… yay?! I’ve got half of each working, I guess.)

I really didn’t enjoy that workout.

But here’s the thing: Dissatisfaction and frustration might be the result when I don’t give in to the temptation to cheat. But giving in to cheating definitely leads only to hollow, momentary pleasure or comfort.

We’re grownups. One of the few advantages of adulthood is that you are the boss of you. So YOU decide on your rules. You decide what’s cheating and what’s not. Just make sure you’re not cheating at solitaire.

Big hugs of thanks to Carla for sticking by my side this morning and to Melissa U, a.k.a., the Moxy-Boss for helping me get my head on straight about food.

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  • Aaron says:

    Way to fight through on Helen today! But more importantly, way to NOT cheat on yourself! Keep it up Mel!

  • Melicious says:

    Dude, it was pathetic. Truly.

  • Barbara says:

    Mel…this was a great post.My cheating ass needed to read this today. I can lie to myself all day long but where does that get me?

    You are seriously hardcore and a mentor!

    I'll be last on that bar someday and I hope(pray) I have some kickass friends there to cheer me through the pain!


  • Team CS says:

    Much love to you, Mel. At first I thought maybe you wouldn't want me following you around and talking you through the rest of the workout, but I know the dangers of "frustrated face-making," and I wasn't about to let you succumb to it!

    And in the end, you didn't. 🙂

    See you Wednesday!


  • Bonita says:

    I'm so proud of you for not quitting. You are getting so close to full Kipps. It will just happen one day soon KA-BOOM! I hope I'm there to celebrate with you.

  • Aaron says:

    Hey now- everybody has tough days, and I mean the kind of tough above the normal crossfit tough.

    And about now you're rolling eyes saying "yeah but" NO BUTS! You fought through it and didn't let yourself down. That's a fight that's tougher than any other. Everything after that is cake! Paleo-cake of course 😉

    "The pain of discipline is far less than the pain of regret."
    – Sarah Bombell

    "Self conquest is the greatest of all victories."
    – Plato

    Today's WOD might not have been a "whiteboard" victory… it was a whole other kind. And that's something to be proud of!

  • Robbie says:

    I got so fired up reading your story! Way to dig and go get it. I always tell my clients," Go find your workout, it's not coming looking for you." You walked in looking to make it harder for yourself and that's badass in a way that makes me want to WOD right now! I catch myself wanting to cheat,but I'm only cheating myself so if I lose count mid set, I add 5 reps which keeps me honest!

    How did that 22inch jump go? Tell me somthing good!

  • Melicious says:

    This is going to sound stupid, but… I completely forgot I was supposed to try that 22" box this weekend! We ran on Saturday morning, then we saw Food, Inc., and I got so worked up about food, that was all I could think about all weekend. On Sunday, I stayed in the A/C all day, alternately pouting about the sorry state of the U.S. food supply and researching where I can get grass-fed meat and organic produce.

    I'm going to get to that 22" box this week, though. I will!

  • Melicious says:

    Aaron, thanks for the badass quotes and the sweet words of encouragement. You're a best-quality human.

  • Marc Majcher says:

    Seems like the general rule for the other kind of cheating works pretty much the same way in this kind of situation here, too. If you have to ask if what you're doing is technically "cheating", it probably is.

  • Melicious says:


  • Robbie says:

    I believe you 100%…that you're going to rock that jump. Rebel yell, knees around ears…boom goes the dynamite.

  • Melicious says:

    Now I'm going to blast "Rebel Yell" out of my studio speakers when I tackle the box in the backyard. Thanks, Robbie!

  • erikajeanne says:

    I am SO PROUD OF YOU FOR UPPING THAT DAMN BAND!!! Aaron is right about the different kinds of victories. Making it all the way to the end without giving up or trading down is, in my opinion, one of the sweetest. You have been strong enough for that skinny band for a long, long time hon, and I'm proud of you for sticking to your goals. Thanks to Carla for jumping in and reminding you that the disappointment always starts in the eyes, and if you can keep that determination in your face, you will keep going. Super proud of your tenacity, I am. :o)

  • Melicious says:

    I know I'm supposed to, all, "Woohoo! I did it." I still feel kinda meh. I mean, I know this is how it's going to go every time I step up to a new challenge. I just can't seem to stop nagging myself with the idea that I should have conquered pullups by now… which is ridiculous. I mean, it's not like I'm lying on the couch eating bon-bons, for heaven's sake. But there's the ugly truth. I think I'm lame for not being able to do it yet.

    BUT… I have a new "get a pullup done" plan, so schemes are afoot.