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.

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

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    1. I use almonds in my desserts from Spain only.They are not just raw,also they have that real great flavor,the one you get from almond extract.It’s delicious i definitely advise you to try.U.S. so called raw almonds,which they started pasteurized i believe since 2005,?, almonds don’t even have a flavor

      1. I was in Spain a few weeks ago, and in addition to the delicious jamon (ham) and olives (I was in Jaen, deep in olive territory), there were delightfully tasty almonds served at every meal.

  1. A few weeks ago my wife bought some almonds from a farmers market that were not only raw, they were still in the almond fruit. It was only then that I realized how closely related almonds are to peaches. The fruit looks feels smells and tastes like a small under ripe peach. The meat of the fruit is only about 3 to 4 mm thick.
    I’m guessing this is a case of human selective breeding, in the case of the peach, for more and sweeter fruit, and in the case of the almond, for a softer pit, and a less bitter seed.

  2. You know, I’ve been studying this lifestyle a little, and I find that I do have an easier time losing weight when I don’t eat simple carbs, but the extreme degree in which followers of the Paleo lifestyle examine their food is just overwhelming me. Now there’s a certain type of raw almond that’s better than another?

    Call me simplistic, but this is just too frustrating and complicated for me. In this polluted world, no food (or water, for that matter) seems safe to consume.

    When the caveman was alive, I’ll bet if you threw anything consumable in front of him, he’d hork it down. Granted, there was nothing edible back in those days that was processed or treated in any way. Unfortunately, that world no longer exists. I’m just feeling like in order to do this, I’d have to spend most of my time trying to figure out what I can eat, which is just too bordering on obsessive for me.

    Sorry, that’s a lot of commenting on a thread about almonds. It’s just kind of been nagging at me for awhile.

    1. I hear ya–it seems like every day there’s a “wait, don’t eat that!” article. Drives me nuts, pun intended. I’m also sick of the financially elite talking about how important it is to buy organic, join this gym, eat this, drink that…I live in in NYC and am a student–even “cheap” food is expensive. So I make do with what I have only to be bombarded with, “Well, if you REALLY want to be Paleo, you’ll…” fill in the blank ::rolls eyes::

      1. Sounds like you both might want to check out Mark’s book. He covers most of both of your concerns.

        It pretty much boils down to:

        a) be aware of what goes into what you’re eating (not just the ingredients, but also the pesticides or other chemicals, hormones, etc when it’s being grown, and even how it’s being raised)
        b) buy the best quality foods you can afford

        This isn’t really a “paleo thing,” either. Any of the groups that advocate clean style eating (including our friends on the other end – the veg*ns), will say the same thing. How something is grown, finished, or harvested, really does matter (for example, grain finishing a cow severely diminishes the good effects obtained from grass feeding).

        Tammy – it’s not that there’s a certain type of raw almond that’s better than another (Mark actually mentions that the pasteurized almonds actually aren’t any better or worse, nutritionally speaking, than the truly raw almonds), but rather that, in the US, calling a store-bought almond “raw” is technically a lie.

        While he does recommend getting truly raw almonds if you can, he’s doing so because he feels they taste better. It’s kind of like recommending strawberry or chocolate ice cream – there’s not really any difference between the two except taste.

        1. Hi Shauna,

          Thanks for the response! 🙂 I actually own two of Mark’s book (Primal Blueprint and cookbook). I didn’t meant to put that all on Mark, but there are a lot of people out there who suffer from such tunnel vision I find myself overwhelmed by the information, you know?

        1. also, my pat response is “there are no meal/food police”. A person can eat whatever they want, whenever they want, however many times a day they want. People just want to be aware of what they are putting in their bodies & what their bodies can or can’t tolerate…

    2. I hear you about stressing out over what to eat, which is neither good nor all that critical. Actually, foods that Grok ate are mostly no longer available. (Dinosaur haunch? Bugs? Worms? Wild plants that have long since disappeared or morphed into something else?)

      Others might disagree, but to me eating “paleo” simply means eating as simply and as close to nature as you can. Even if all you ever do is get rid of the sweets, grain products, and bad fats you’ll be doing your body a huge favor without having to worry so much about it.

      1. Put plants on one side of your plate, animals on the other.

        You get as close to that sentiment in a natural sense as you can with whatever means you have and you’re doing better than most people IMO.

        Some days, you’ll do better than others.

    3. Tammy, that’s silly. This is very easy to understand. Don’t eat grains or veg oil and limit your dairy. Once you have that then it’s just fun to learn about the minutiae. If you are into that sort of thing. Mark is putting new articles out everyday in order to give us news. If you read or in the morning are you “obsessed” with news? How would you suggest he make a blog without giving new information and still make it interesting? Why are you on a food blog if you think that learning about food is obsessive behavior? I think most people read this article and think, “cool” or “that’s nice.” I’m very tired of people using the word obsessed. Why can’t I read this article without being obsessed? If someone had a question about almonds and asked Mark why are they, “obsessed”, and not just curious? i guess I’m obsessed with people mis using the word obsessed.

      1. Wow, sorry dude. I wasn’t saying that anyone else is obsessed. I’m saying that for me, that much in-depth research into everything I eat would feel obsessive. I don’t know how much you know about people who are constantly trying to lose weight, but it definitely has some of the same characteristics. I’m just looking for the simplist way to eat healthfully without having to count every calorie or think about food constantly. The interesting little facts and tidbits you speak of, while simply being interesting to you, would send me off in search of the perfect peach from bora bora, or whatever.

        That’s what I’m trying to avoid. Live more life, not freak out about my diet constantly. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t even eat almonds raw, because I think I’m allergic to them. I eat them roasted, which I don’t even know if they are worth eating at that point.

        1. Tammy,you have to understand it’s not how much food you consume or how many calories you count,it’s about how much energy you are getting from the food,it will makes or breaks in the healthy weightloss

        2. This is the simplest way to eat. You’ve found it. No one here counts calories. The whole point is to eat foods that came from the Earth or that had a mother.

          Eat healthy greens, veggies, a bit of fruit, lots of meat and animal fats, and you’ll be sated. Just stop eating when your body tells you to. Drink water, or tea, or whatever.

          Eating this way really prevents any freaking out about your diet… how can you freak out when you ate a huge plate of veg and meat? It’s all good for you.

          You just gotta stop overthinking things. It’s easy:

          1. No grains and processed sugar and boxed weird foods or vegetable oils.

          2. Lots of fresh veggies, greens, some fruit, a bit of yogurt or aged cheese or raw milk if ya want, and meat and animal fats.

          3. Don’t stress.

    4. it’s very simple if you don’t care about food irradiation,so you don’t even need to buy raw almonds.But in U.S. almonds this name is deceptive,because it’s not raw anymore,it means that all good nutrients and enzymes are gone.When question is why do you even need to buy raw almonds? Bottom line is they are not raw

    5. No, it’s not like that. Basic Primal – keep it simple! You don’t need to freak out about these details. These are for fun, a little microscope play if you will. For those of us who have been at it for years, articles like this are just brain candy. They’re fun. Good stuff to know, and we might or might not choose to apply it to our food choices. But don’t think posts like this should guide your every move or that the type of almond you eat will make or break your health. Chillax.

      1. That’s a good way to think about it.. these articles for us are “brain candy”. Agreed.

    6. I can appreciate your approach to simplicity, or your position on wanting to keep it easy. But, the truth about both almonds, and most other things (brain performance, for example), is that the more granular you get, the more optimal you get. So – the more details you dive into, about very specific elements of the food, and how they interact with human biology, the better equipped you are to make a decision on consuming a food that can either: make you feel amazing, or literally make you feel like crap.

      Some people just don’t know what amazing feels like. I do – and there’s no way I’d ever go back. I built a 200K a year business in about 11 months, I’m a 29 year old CEO, building 2 companies. I can perform that way because I’m very granular about what I put into my body, and selectively aggressive about what I WON’T put into my body. — And that is a very smart way of dealing with food, the one thing that will 100%, determine the quality of your performance output.

  3. Maybe someone can help me with this: My throat itches whenever I eat almonds that are sold in the U.S. My girlfriend brought a dried frui and almond mix back from Jamaica, and I ate every almond in the bag without a problem. Any idea why I can eat almonds grown there but not here?

    1. Alexander, don’t eat almonds! You’re allergic to something they’ve been processed with.

      1. But then why can I eat dark chocolate almonds and ones from other countries?

    2. I have this too. Most likely you are experiencing something called “oral allergy syndrome”. It’s not an anaphylactic allergy – the sort of thing that could be life threatening. There are categories of foods that set off oral allergy syndrome in susceptible people, and different foods are also linked to different pollen allergies. My group includes almonds, as well as carrots, peaches and many other foods. It’s linked to birch pollen allergy. It is only a problem with raw foods, and I find it to be a very minor irritant.

      1. Thanks Allison! I’ve never seen the term “oral allergy syndrome” and I’ve apparently had it all my life. Almonds are among the worst offenders, especially raw almonds, which I avoid entirely. And it sounds like I’m not doing myself any favors by eating the roasted ones with skins!
        I did find that after I dropped all grains I also lost most of my oral allergy symptoms, especially to stone fruits, and now I can eat CHERRIES and AVOCADO. I was already gluten free and wasn’t aware of any responses to other grains, but obviously they were triggering something.
        I would also add that for me (and my son) it’s more than a minor irritant. Too many oral allergy foods and I start to wheeze.

        A question: When we buy almond flour, like Bob’s Mill, is it raw? Processed at all?

        1. if it’s made fro almonds grown in U.S. and i believe it is,so it’s not raw.All almonds in U.S. are irradiated i believe since 2005 or so

        2. Buying almond flour in a bag is processed, stale and tastes foul.
          I decided I was insane to soak, blanche (soak in boiling water for seven seconds, throw into chilled water then pop off individual skins) and dehydrate my almonds every week.
          So I bought a bag of organic blanched almond flour one week. The baked goods- primal crackers which are a staple in our house with b-d butter and nori flakes- were voted unanimously grotesque and unsympathetically thrown out. The difference was massive in taste, texture and no doubt nutrition.

      2. Wow! I get this with avocados and sometimes carrots, but only if they’re unsalted. As long as I use salt, I never have to worry about it. I never knew it was an actual thing, with a medical term and Wiki page and all that – always thought it was just me.

  4. Ha, I’ve been waiting for that cheat day advice for a while. Not something I do often, but sometimes it seems almost unavoidable (going out with friends and there’s one dollar Sam Adams and 49 cent wings). I’ll definitely try a hard workout next time I know I’m going to cheat.

  5. re: raw almonds

    Homo Erectus had control of fire; our ancestors evolved from pre-human to us eating cooked food. Only fruits and leaves are healthier for us raw. All other foods should be cooked.

    Nuts are healthier (and probs more paleo/primal) dry-roasted than cooked in oil.

    1. i do not agree with you if you cook almonds first of all oil heated becomes carcinogenic and if you heat your food over 115F,it will lose all nutrients,including enzymes,that’s what helps to digest.You need to sprout nuts and seeds.They become easy to digest.You can also heat the up or dry cook them in the dehydrator with temps lower 115 F Believe me they delicious.Cooked ones don’t have nothing on them

  6. My beautiful wife tried soaking them (we live in NZ so they are “raw”) for a day and roasting them at 60C for about eight hours. We aren’t going back!

  7. Holy crap dood about the almonds I used to eat raw almonds in Puerto Rico right off the tree thank goodness I didn’t die!

  8. ref Cheat Days: I’m Italian & we have a “family sauce” recipe which taste like no other so when fixing it U can just know that you’ll “cheat” cause of the pasta, but honestly I really do not enjoy the pasta any more. The garlic bread i thought ok…but again I was disappointed. The triple choc cookies I didn’t even bother i opted instead for 2 squares of 85% cacao bar smeared with cashew butter…i did low carb (atkins) several times in my life & it worked but it never “changed” my taste…which Primal has done:)p.s. I wld be super skinny if i cld just break the nut butter banana habit lol

    1. Speaking of changing tastes…
      My husband was always a milk chocolate guy and since going primal, has turned into a dark chocolate guy. Yesterday he had the nerve to ask me why I ate some of HIS 88% chocolate bar!! Gone are the days when I get it all to myself.

      1. Good for him,Meesha.Milk never digest,so he will be healthier.Bad for you.You are going need to increase your supplies of dark chocolate

  9. I’ve never heard any of this about almonds. So strange. I think where I live (mediterranean) the almonds are truly raw and not pasteurized. We eat them raw straight from the tree in the spring when they’re green (dipped in a little salt) and in the summer crack them open when they’re ripe with hardened shells. Pretty much eat them all the time.

  10. Ah, cool to have my e-mail question answered!

    So working out before PLUS my after-splurge workouts is the key take-away. But also, if you have to eat junk food, at least eat the less junkie versions of it.

    This is a big part of how I’ve handled paleo/Primal – by knowing that, when big events come up, I allow myself to let go – and so this advice will help me to manage such occasions.

  11. Be careful with the hard workout followed by the booze. I don’t know about you guys but the weddings I’ve been to most people aren’t having just a few beers. A killer workout leaving you dehydrated and depleted right before a wedding could lead to some dancing similar to Elaine from Seinfeld!

  12. Mark, good timing on the cheat day advice since this is Thanksgiving in Canada. I’ve had turkey dinner with all the fixin’s with non primal family members two days in a row. My 80/20 has been more like 50/50 since Saturday…I passed on the bread/rolls and mashed potatoes with gravy (thickened with flour) but indulged in a little bread stuffing, cranberries sweetened with sugar and pumpkin pie. Luckily I’m at my goal weight so this doesn’t stress me out much. I enjoyed it but now back to strict primal for a while!

  13. I agree about the booze. Since going primal and cyclic ketogenic, three drinks had me vomiting and 1 glass of wine now gives me the worst hangover the next day. Must be the taxing of my liver already working hard in gluconeogenesis. Nevertheless, make sure if your cheat day involves drinking to maybe up the (complex) carbs and be mindful. I know this kind of flies in the face of what mark just wrote about being completely glycogen depleted on the cheat day…..Im just sayin’…

  14. I’d like to vote that there’s no such thing as a ‘cheat’ – because there’s no external authority giving us the rules. I really REALLY cannot eat gluten or dairy, and so I don’t. However, I drink wine, and occasionally have something sweet. I might have a corn chip or two every few months. That’s not cheating – it’s what I chose to put in my mouth that day. I’m convinced the ‘cheat/splurge’ vocab/mindset has thousands of people stuck in a hopeless cycle that’s just depressing to watch/hear. There’s nothing ‘splurge-y’ about a food that makes you feel like crap (and most of those foods are not honestly very tasty, once we let our tastebuds outgrow them).

    I sometimes do the Scarlett O’Hara trick of eating in advance (I really don’t want to be the special guest at the wedding with a thousand grueling questions for the wait staff). And I respect those who’ve decided they’re “all in” for whatever non-Primal fare they’re going to chow. But let’s call that “eating what I dammwell feel like” or “going along with the herd” or – you know, something a little more empowering, and less like a booboo.

    As a wise man said, “There is no cheat. There is only eat.” May the Primal force be with you (and bon appetit!).

    1. Sara,you can eat healthy raw vegan desserts more often than you think.It’s not even a cheat.It’s gluten free,dairy free and no processed sugars and delicious.

      1. Again – there’s no such thing as “cheat”!! 😉

        I occasionally eat healthy, vegan desserts, but not often. I don’t often *want* dessert… I have transitioned out of my sweet tooth. I did make grape sorbet a couple of weeks ago – just Concord grapes (so!!! sweet) and a squeeze of lemon. It didn’t need anything else. (If I’d been making it for kids, or company, I might have sweetened slightly.)

        Tonight was a sweet night – my husband loves the raw/vegan delights from Hail Merry….

        1. I don’t do the raw vegan thing, but Hail Merry treats are amazing… all that dark chocolate and coconut oil!

          For me, splurges like that are “go out to the grocery store now” kinds of splurges. We never keep that kind of stuff in the house, so we have to really want it in order to go out and get it.

  15. I did have a big cheat on vacation — I had a personal sized pizza at a great Italian restaurant. Couldn’t finish it and it wasn’t nearly as good as I had hoped. Still, it tripped my bread cravings on for a couple of weeks. Not Worth It for me.

    As to the Scarlett O’Hara thing — While I don’t stuff myself with pancakes and sausages before a party, I do usually try to have some quality fat and protein an hour or so before — especially for a buffet. Then I’m not tempted to over-graze (especially since I don’t graze the veggie part of the buffet.)

  16. Great article. I echo the last section on the ‘cheat’ article…”Accept it, enjoy it”. I used to struggle with beating myself up over this to the point where I was making myself sick (literally) that I lost control. Fast forward (thanks to the slap in the face from some folks on MDA) and now I roll with it and continue to get in shape even after hitting my goal weight. In the end it won’t set you back…so have fun.

  17. The timing of this cheat article is pretty spooky. I told myself that on sunday I was going to cheat, hardcore. I had been on a vegan diet for 8 months before switching to primal for the last couple of months, and the entire time I had a huge craving for NY style pepperoni pizza, hot wings and blue cheese. Just about every single day for the last year I thought about them. sometimes at night i would lie awake thinking about pizza and wings. Finally I succumbed. I thought what a great way to celebrate Brady v. Manning that by getting a pizza and wings and letting loose. So I did.

    The pizza didn’t taste anywhere near what I remembered. The wings were gross, and the blue cheese just didn’t cut it. They were all the exact same stuff I used to get, same restaurant, same sauce, same everything. Didn’t cut it.

    While I was eating and for a short time after, I felt my heart start to race, beating at a much quicker pace. My head started to hurt, feeling foggy almost. When I was finished eating, I felt nauseous, sweaty and confused. My heart continued to race. I contemplated forcing myself to vomit, but I held it in and took the dog for a walk, getting some fresh cool air which seemed to help a little.

    When I got back from the walk, I took the leftovers and tossed them in the garbage. Today was a nice smoothie for breakfast and a hearty salad for dinner.

    Don’t think I’ll be doing that again.

  18. As to the changing tastes and not-worth-it ‘cheats’, I totally agree. I’ve been Primal since June. I started loving veggies almost immediately, and within a couple of weeks ice cream stopped tasting good after about two bites.
    I participated in a spaghetti feed as a test a month ago (with more salad than spaghetti :D), and the spaghetti was…bland in a low-quality way. Not worth eating, taste-wise. By far the best part of the garlic bread was the butter. And yes, I did feel bloated after that meal.
    A ‘cream of broccoli’ soup (college fare) that was shockingly high in starch tasted bad (read: not like food), some canned-in-syrup strawberries (also college fare, and drained of the syrup of course) were frankly disgusting, and the ice cream I had last night was not up to par and left me feeling the sugar (feeling like crap).
    Grains; added sugars: Taste bad now, feel bad soon, not worth eating.

    1. Luckily, the dining hall’s salad bar always has spinach, eggs, bacon bits, and olives, to which I add random other veggies and meats. Now I just need to hit the gym…

  19. My family owns alot of land on the adriatic coast with lots of almond trees. I’ve been eating them strait after harvest my whole life with no issues?

  20. I have cheated on and off for about a week now. I’ve been having premium icecream, pizza, hot wings, egg rolls, and lots of cream. I guess dairy is considered a cheat for some and not for others. Anyway, the pizza smelled amazing but tasted bland. The hot wings also didn’t taste as good as I expected. And the egg rolls weren’t worth it either. The icecream was as good as I remembered. Dang dairy. Tonight for dinner I had fresh trout with jalapeno, garlic, and kerry gold butter with a side of fresh green beans. It tasted so much better than the pizza/wings/eggrolls. It is funny, I thought I would die without pasta when I first started. Now, I don’t even consider pasta even when I am going to cheat!

    1. And, now, my favorite indulgence that I don’t even have to feel guilty about is roasted chicken. I devour roasted chicken with a primal zeal that I never had before. There is something so good about sucking bones and my hands covered in chicken juice!

  21. I “cheat” or “splurge” every 4 or 6 weeks. It is not really because I miss a specific taste or a specific non-Primal food, it is more like reminding myself what kind of crap I eat by feeling like a used chewing gum immediately after and the next day. Sounds silly, may even BE silly, but it works for me 😀

  22. “In my experience, most people that have been Primal for many years never feel the need for a cheat day

    now that we’ve been eating this way for almost 4 years – this is quite true – a splurge is most often just a nice big serving of something primal (as opposed to a normal modest portion) that’s a treat!

    the desire for almost all things not primal is so weak (except for our little ones sugar desires) that it’s not so difficult.

    of course – there ain’t nothin much not-primal in the cupboards – and that helps the most—

  23. Love this post Mark we love almonds and walnuts they are a great snack.

  24. Hey Mark thanks for this awesome advice on both accounts.

    My question for you though is how effective do you think cinnamon truly is as an insulin control protocol whilst eating cheat food i.e. if you were eating cheat food, would adding cinnamon have any positive effect on stabilising insulin and limiting the damage of that meal or would it depend entirely on the type of food or how bad that food is?

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  25. I’m off to Italy for a few days and asking myself whether or not to have pizza. I don’t ever eat gluten as it makes my knees ache and gives me headaches. Does anybody have any experience with gluten digestive enzymes and know if they work?

    1. Have a few bites of pizza but order salad and some nice meat for yourself. Don’t bother spending money on a bottle of enzymes that will just help you hurt yourself. 😀

    2. gluten enzymes takes care of my bloating.
      but i still get a hangover headache & shoulder ache the next day from wheat.

      maybe others have better luck.


  26. I can attest that the longer you’ve been eating Primal the less you want the cheat day. However I still do. I have been at it for about 3 years.

    I used to do like a cheat time frame of maybe a week. At first it was like a mental rest not to have to be thinking about it. However, it sort of shrunk down to little more than a day and I totally look forward to it being over by the end of the day.

    Maybe this is the beginning of the end of the existence of the cheat day altogether? We shall see.

  27. I agree that the longer you’ve been doing this, the less you want to cheat. I’ve been doing this for 3 1/2 years now, and when I first started, I would cycle through being super-strict and then bingeing, to the point that my husband said, hey, it’s more like you’re just focused on the food than about have a date-nite in. It was a wake-up call for me to get my thoughts about food under control.

    What really helped was a switch in exercise routine. My workouts aren’t very long, but they’re intense. These last few months, I’ve worked out so hard that I’ve completely lost my appetite for at least an hour after the workout. Somehow, that’s also killed any want for junk food.

    I completed a Whole30 about a month ago, and with the exercise dialed in, it was downright easy. Then, after completing a race, I treated myself to an enormous chocolate-chip cookie sundae, and I got crazy emotional. It wasn’t worth it. Now I’m looking at splurges being more like spending 2+ hours making braised short ribs on the weekend or turning a banana and avocado into dark chocolate pudding. Feeling like garbage isn’t worth the effort of worrying about cheating.

    That’s my 2 cents!

  28. So… the propylene oxide issue exclusive to almonds? I did a quick (VERY quick) Google search and it looks like propylene oxide is used on most other nuts (i.e. pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts, etc.) Just wondering if this issue is larger than just almonds…

  29. I’ve been low-carb primal since February. I’ve lost about 20 pounds with no effort, and haven’t cheated once (or really wanted to)

    I no longer have cravings to satisfy (I barely have an appetite at all), and I suspect (but will not test it) that if I cheated and ate “whatever I wanted” for even one meal a week, I would be fighting cravings every moment in between.

    Not for me, thanks.

  30. I don’t cheat much because afterward I feel rotten. I don’t mean guilt, I mean physically rotten. If I eat ice cream after about one scoop I can feel a headache starting. If I eat three scoops it often turns into a full blown migraine. It just isn’t worth it.

  31. I had ONE beer at band rehearsal last night, and now I’m all nasal-stuffy, phlegmatic, and just all-around woogety. A long way from the days of each member of the band showing up with a 12-pack.

  32. Does the pasteurisation of almonds make the oils in them harmful to us?

  33. Pasta used to be a staple of our family diet. I’ve since switched to zoodles (thanks and enjoy my ‘spaghetti & meatballs’ way, way more now. Harvested the first zucchini of the season yesterday so can’t wait for my next ‘spaghetti’ night. Oh, and my partner and stepson (who ‘refuse’ to go primal), want my zoodles instead of their stodgy spaghetti now!

  34. Nice post, looks very cool have to disagree on Crossfit recommendation it’s way too demanding for most people as Crossfit is designed for elite athletes which is really 2% of the population. Even cut down versions of Crossfit in my view is not worth it, better of lifting weights or doing some gymnastics.

  35. I’m a bit confused by the part about almonds. It seems like Mark is using much more irony than usual and I’m not sure which parts are serious and which parts aren’t.

    Either way, I’ve been living in Spain and eating raw Spanish almonds for years and as far as I know I don’t have tuberculosis.

  36. Well said on Spanish almonds! When I was younger, I lived in Spain near traditional, local, organic, family-run almond farms. We kids used to help harvest them and get a bowl of almonds in return, or run around picking the ones that ripened too early for harvest (we “stole” quite a lot of early and late fruit, nuts and veg!). We’d get a brick and sit on the doorstep smashing almonds all afternoon. Good times. 🙂

    Another relatively safe way is to buy them whole: shell, skins, the odd twig… the lot! Those are rarely if ever pasteurised anywhere, if you can get your hands on a sack of them! They ought to be cheaper per kg, but that’s just because they have the shell and stuff too, meaning less almond per kg. And you’ll likely find that some of them look sorta shrivelled, so it’s best to get a mid-harvest batch, if you can, to ensure the healthiest, fattest almonds. Still, two wise ways of eating unpasteurised almonds!

    Happy hunting!

  37. I got some dry roasted almonds with sea salt recently. I left some of them in a bowl with balsamic vinegar and molasses in a fridge overnight. Seems to be a good snack.

  38. I have thought about the cheat days post a great deal since you posted it on Monday. When I try to eat beans or potatoes now, I get so sleepy that I can’t do anything. Eating ice cream sends me into so low of a blood sugar that I almost pass out and get the shakes. Grabbing a handful of “fancy” potato chips from a bag, leaves bent over from acid reflux. Eating primal keeps me focused and lifting heavy! I have been Olympic lifting for nearly 20 years and I am about 1.5K off my best lifts ever since going Primal! Just say no to cheat days, not worth it.
    Dream big , Lift heavy!

  39. I haven’t eaten wheat since last Thanksgivign, aside from maybe 4-5 little things. A few weeks ago I decided I wanted Chinese food. Not only did I want that, I wanted breaded delicious sweet and sour chicken. And was it tasty! It was just what I wanted…but then 20 minutes afterward, it hit me, like a ton of bricks. I was in the bathroom off and on all night. I am not celiac, I have a sensitivity, but having gone so long without it…my body just wasn’t ready. We’ll just say that I won’t do that again for a loooong time.

    It’s pretty funny because we don’t have wheat in the house anymore, but every couple of weeks my husband will decide to have wheat at work. I always have to chuckle when he does because for a few days after he usually feels like he has the flu coming on….foggy head, tired, achy.

  40. I’ve been in Italy for two weeks now. Avoiding refined carbs has been tough. I will definitely be doing a 24-hour fast tomorrow and it will make my travel day easier since its always hard to find good food in airports… Thanks Mark!

  41. I’m confused about the almonds. How do they get so contaminated that they need to be pasteurized? If it’s inherent to almonds, then the ones from Italy (and anywhere else they grow) would also be contaminated and need to be pasteurized. If they are all so contaminated, why would Mark or any of the rest of you risk your health or life to eat unpasteurized almonds? I’m so confused! I think there’s something missing from this blog.

    1. The majority of the “historical information” about almonds was in jest. He was making a point that people have been eating raw almonds for thousands of years with no problems, bu the US government in the past couple of decades decides that they are a public health threat and MUST be pasteurized. The problem is not the almonds; it’s the industrialization of food products.

  42. I bought some raw almonds from a grocery store so that I could compare them to the Kirkland (pasteurized) band. Not only could I see a difference but the taste was so much better. Very crunchy and not anywhere near as dry as the kirkland almonds. I find it hard to believe that the nutritional content is the same between the two. My search did not come up with a direct test between raw and pasteurized almonds. I’m hoping someone can help me out here.

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