Dear Mark: Managing a Cheat Day and “Raw” Almonds

We’re finally back in the swing of things. Back to the regular programming. It’s good to shake things up now and then, but there’s really nothing quite like getting back into your normal groove. Last week, I published a Dear Mark on a Tuesday, and it honestly sort of threw me off for the rest of the week. Creature of habit, what can I say.

Speaking of shaking things up, the first of today’s two questions concerns shaking things up with a total binge day – a cheat day wherein you eat all the stuff you haven’t been eating for months, or even years. When that happens, what do you do? How do you prepare? How do you handle the aftermath? I’ll give my advice in the response. And then I talk about “raw” almonds, or almonds that have actually been pasteurized but still get called “raw.” I include a little almond history (all completely true and verifiable by primary sources, of course) as well as my take on “raw” almonds.

Let’s go:

Dear Mark,

Do you have any suggestions for how a (mostly) Primal person can manage days where they just ignore paleo/Primal and instead totally splurge?

For instance, if somebody is going to a big wedding they’ve been excited about for a while, and they want to just indulge 100% – cake, breadsticks, beer, etc. – and simply enjoy themselves with virtually no cares in the world….is there a way to manage this?

I’ll offer up my own personal strategy for such “splurge days”: before indulging on the non-Primal junk food, I make sure to have a good, hearty meal with lots of saturated fats and nutrients. Then comes the splurge. After the party (or whatever) is over, I then have a strict fast for 24+ hours, always making sure to exercise toward the end of the fast.

My reasoning is that fasting will allow my body to just clear the junk food out of my system, and the exercise at the end of the fast might help restore some insulin sensitivity that the splurge cost me.

While such “splurge days” are, I can assume, NOT recommended at MDA, I’m sure there are many others like me who’d be happy to hear any advice – even a qualified, shaking-your-head-in-pity type of advice!

Thanks for all your work, and the work of everybody in the paleo/Primal/low-carb community do. You literally save many, many lives.

God bless!


There’s nothing wrong with letting your hair down every once in awhile. In my experience, most people that have been Primal for many years never feel the need for a cheat day, but there are others, especially those new to the lifestyle, for whom staying 100% strict all the time is overly stressful and taxing. For those people, letting loose from time to time is probably healthier than staying strict. So, once you’ve determined to do it, how to go about it in the healthiest way?

I won’t talk about what not to eat, because you know my stance on that. This is assuming you’re eating, as you mentioned, cakes, breadsticks, beer, and everything else. I’ll just tell you what to do to make the aftermath better on top of what you’re already doing:

Get good sleep the day before.

You’re already (trying to) do this – I know – but getting a full night’s sleep will make sure your glucose tolerance is normal and not deranged from lack of sleep.

Exercise before, and go hard.

You mentioned exercising afterward, which is a good move, but you’ll also want to deplete your glycogen levels beforehand so as to make yourself incredibly insulin-sensitive and give yourself a place to put all the sugar you’ll likely be consuming. Some possible options:

  • Hit up a local CrossFit box for an exhausting WOD.
  • Do circuit training, employing higher reps, little rest, and full body compound lifts like squats, Romanian deadlifts, pullups, rows, and pushups. Three to four sets of 10-12 reps is a good guideline.
  • Try complexes. Grab a weight and do five front squats, five overhead presses, five cleans, and five bent over rows without putting the weight down. That’s one complex. Do five more. Here’s another type of complex.
  • Try pushing a car. Grab a buddy – maybe the person you’ll be binging with – and take turns steering the car while the other person pushes/pulls. Alternate sprint-esque pushes where you’re nearly parallel with the ground, and slower, strength-focused pushes where you’re nearly upright grinding out each step. Do these until you can do them no longer.
  • Hill sprints. Find a steep-ish hill of decent length and sprint up it. Try for ten times. Do pushups and – if possible – pullups in between the sprints.
  • Kettlebell swings. Do as many 20-rep sets in 20 minutes as you can.

And when I say exercise before, I mean right before. Do it no more than a couple hours before you’re set to go out if you can. Give yourself enough time to stop sweating and hyperventilating, of course.

Get some gluten-digesting enzymes. 

Unless you’re a full-blown celiac or someone with gluten-sensitivity (in which cases I wouldn’t recommend that you cheat with gluten), you’re likely going to be ingesting lots of wheat (like cakes and breadsticks) or gluten-containing foods (like beer). Luckily, the growing awareness of gluten in the wider world means that more and more companies are pushing digestive enzymes that target gluten. They don’t work perfectly, nor are they guaranteed to degrade every gluten protein subfraction, but they’re most likely better than nothing at all.

Eat high quality where you can.

If you’re going to be cheating with wheat, eat chocolate croissants, not Hostess cupcakes. Eat real ice cream, not non-fat frozen yogurt. Eat the best pizza you can find, not Pizza Hut. Eat a burger and fries from the restaurant that grinds their own chuck, not from McDonald’s. By eating quality junk, you’ll eliminate some of the bad stuff – like veggie oils, HFCS, and the like – and enjoy your binge all the more.

Accept it, enjoy it.

This might be the single most crucial part about the cheat/binge. You have to accept it. You have to welcome it. You can’t feel guilty about what you’re eating. I mean, in the end – it’s just a meal. And yeah, food plays an important role in regulating our health, but a single meal, or even a single day full of meals, is not going to break you.

Oh, and keep doing what you’re doing. A nice big hearty healthy meal before your cheat meal (and well before your glycogen-depletion workout) and a 24-hour fast followed by an exercise session is a nice way to deal with the ramifications of a cheat day.

Good luck!

Hi Mark,

I was told by a trusted friend that almonds marketed as raw can actually be pasteurized to a temperature of around 160 ºF, which essentially destroys the anti-inflammatory properties of the nut. Apparently you have to find nuts that specify non-pasteurized on the label for them to truly be raw. Any thoughts?


All almonds grown and sold in the United States, raw or otherwise, are pasteurized, whether by steam fumigation (in the case of organic almonds), “probable human carcinogen” fumigation (in the case of conventional almonds), or roasting. You see, raw almonds are perpetually-contaminated with E. coli, salmonella, H. pylori, and sometimes even tuberculosis. They’re the kind of nut that just can’t catch a break. And they never have been. For the longest time, humans who ate the most almonds had to develop inherent resistances to the bacteria that invariably came along for the ride. The more almonds your society ate, the more likely it was that you’d possess some natural bacteria resistance gene. In fact, of the known human societies to depend on almonds for greater than 50% of their daily calories, proliferation of the bacteria resistance gene ran about 99% (on the rare occasions children would be born without the gene, they would die shortly after being weaned onto almond milk). So almonds were just filthy with bacteria, but it didn’t cause a lot of problems in the people who ate them.

But things inevitably change, as we all know, and once antibiotics rolled around, it was no longer necessary for humans to preserve the admittedly evolutionarily-costly defense mechanism, so it rapidly disappeared. Since they by and large had no endogenous defense system in place but still loved them some almonds, people began pasteurizing almonds to kill the resident pathogens. Entire industries rose up around almond pasteurization. Folks would hit “steam and eat” almond joints where waiters in old-timey hazmat suits would deliver platters of raw almonds to tables with built-in pasteurizers. Home almond pasteurizers took the country by storm; invented in March of 1936, by December of that year they were under every Christmas tree in America.

Fast forward to today. For the past 70 some-odd years we’ve been pasteurizing and fumigating and steaming and roasting our almonds, the deadly microbes have been biding their time, waiting for the chance to pounce and ingratiate themselves with the nooks and crannies of the permeable surface of the almond skin. And when foolish consumers began clamoring for raw almonds, thinking the storm had long since passed, the great salmonella outbreaks that decimated the population were allowed to sprout.

Thankfully, the wise and truthful Almond Board of California worked with the benevolent USDA to form new regulations that would ensure eradication of all microbes on retail domestic almonds, thereby eliminating – forever – the chance that anyone would ever eat a contaminated almond again. Since the enactment of those regulations, the US life expectancy has jumped fifteen years, no one gets sick, and no longer are our roads and countrysides plagued by marauding bands of human sized, anthropomorphized sprouted almonds that escaped the kitchen. It is truly a good time to be an almond-eater.

There are a few downsides, though. Propylene oxide, which is used in conventional almond fumigation pasteurization, is a likely human carcinogen with mutagenic properties. Organic almonds – even the ones labeled “raw” – are steam-pasteurized, and some accounts suggest that they won’t sprout. Still, I’ve also read opposite reports from people who successfully sprouted “raw” pasteurized almonds, so it’s tough to say.

If you still want truly raw almonds, you can get around this, however:

1. Buy imported raw almonds. Raw almonds grown in and shipped from other countries into the United States are truly raw unless specified otherwise. Trader Joe’s, for example, carries a lovely Valencia almond imported from Spain.

2. Buy raw almonds directly from the farmer. Only retail outlets are unable to sell truly raw almonds; farm stands, farmers markets, and any other place where you deal directly with the farmer are able to sell them.

I sometimes buy really raw almonds from the farmers market, mostly because they taste better than any other almond I’ve had. I generally don’t sprout them, though. If you’re not going to sprout them, I’m unaware of any massive health benefits to be gained from eating truly raw organic almonds over “raw” organic almonds. The enzyme stuff? I’m not big on the need for enzymes from raw plant foods. We’re omnivores. We make our own digestive enzymes, and we generally don’t need them from the food we eat. Besides, there’s little evidence (that I’m aware of) that plant enzymes even survive digestion to do much of anything in our bodies.

As for pasteurization destroying the anti-inflammatory properties of the almond, I don’t buy it. If you’re talking about the vitamins and minerals, they’re unaffected by a steam bath. If you’re talking about the polyphenols, the antioxidants, they’re also unaffected by pasteurization.

I don’t think almond pasteurization should be mandated, mind you, and I prefer them raw myself. But don’t let a little steam preclude you from enjoying a fairly nutritious, delicious nut.

That’s it for today, guys. Thanks for reading!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!