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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 31 2013

Entitled to Sabotage

By Mark Sisson
237 Comments

Treat or Cheat?Last week’s post on emotional eating got people talking – about the personal struggles they’ve had and the mental games they’ve learned to avoid in their quest for health. One such game, I think, is what we call treating ourselves. How many people justify bad eating habits because they tell themselves they deserve the treat? “Can’t I just enjoy a little pleasure in life?” “Aren’t I entitled?” Sometimes it takes on context. “With all I put up with…” “Why can’t I just have this one thing?” “This is the one thing I do for myself.”

Treating ourselves. When the noun morphs into the verb, there’s a subtle but significant distinction. Treating ourselves invites us to step outside our normal life for the promise of something of sweeter – and “better.” On occasion, it can be a lighthearted dalliance. For too many people, however, it becomes a continual path of self-sabotage. We all want to believe we deserve more, deserve better than what we come to feel is the mundane. Advertisers leap on this low hanging psychological fruit. Our culture as a whole promotes the immediate gratification of it. There are days when the most resolute among us might at least consider the question. Maybe it’s been one of those days…or years. We’re going through a tough time. We might feel like this momentary extravagance really is all we have to salvage the day.

We can feel like we’re justifiably soothing ourselves or we’re valiantly snubbing our noses at the world that abused us so heinously, but the truth is we’re only robbing ourselves of our own health and wellbeing. Sure, a “treat” distracts us in the moment. The taste, texture, and concept numb us for a short time to whatever emotion, issue, or task we’re hoping to escape. In and of itself as an occasional choice, it doesn’t seem like any real harm. Usually, it isn’t.

The problem is, the concept can take on a life of its own. We treat ourselves enough, and it becomes more than a momentary indulgence but an ongoing excuse to delude ourselves into living – and eating – in an alternative reality. As reader Chica put it last week, the treating/cheating concept places the possibility of making healthy choices outside ourselves and onto an invented “authority.” We give up our own authority and sell out our own intention in doing so. A treat in this context can convince us on some level we’ve “freed” ourselves from that imposition for a few minutes. It might make x, y, or z situation feel comfortably remote for a time, but sooner or later that same vexation comes back into focus again. By eating out of avoidance or entitlement, we’re not fixing the original problem. To boot, we eventually find we’ve created new issues. We put on weight. Our health markers take a downturn. Money we’d budgeted for healthy food has now been spent on junk food. The literal and figurative cost can add up quickly.

Sure, there are conscious, legitimate reasons for choosing to eat a piece of holiday pie, a friend’s birthday cupcake, or other non-Primal food. Telling yourself you “deserve” it, I’d suggest, isn’t one of those. As the 80/20 guide explains, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with pleasure for pleasure’s sake – no strangled mental justification required. An excuse, I would argue, is nothing but a game.

What do you deserve then? It’s a question I think we all need to ask ourselves at some point. What do you feel you deserve, and how does your answer genuinely serve your wellbeing? Do our indulgences (food and otherwise) mollify us or nourish us, numb us or fulfill us? Do we even regularly give ourselves those things that we feel we deserve? If not, why not? Do we accept other, lesser things in their place? What does this denial (full or partial) do to our life satisfaction, and how does it perhaps influence less healthy choices we make in a day – whether it be food or something else?

Ultimately, we decide what role pleasures and rewards will play in our lives and what they will be. The best indulgences I would argue, aren’t those that remove us from our healthy intentions but those that leave us with a broader, more expansive vision of what they could be.

Thanks for reading. Share your views on treating yourself to what you deserve. Have a good end to the week, everyone.
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237 thoughts on “Entitled to Sabotage”

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    1. That picture with the whipped cream, and toppings looks sooooo good…

      And whats that? A cherry on top too!???

      Who am I kidding, I’m going to make me a big bowl of ice cream right now!

      1. You know what? The picture barely looks like food now, it could be spray painted foam rubber from how garish it looks.

        Eating that would feel less like a treat than an imposition.

        Today I had a real treat – blew 4 days food money on a haunch of wild venison from a top quality game butcher.

        Next treat might be a big bowl of amazing organic berries. Or a too-expensive bottle of vintage French red wine.

        1. Ooh – nice on the venison.

          I like looking at pictures of baked goods (really!) because they are so darn pretty. (I’m sure the previous association with the sugar rush doesn’t hurt.) They make amazing art with cakes, etc.

          When we do have “edible” art around for celebrations, we throw away any extra cake/baked good/etc as “not food”. (We follow the 80/20 rule the kids. The adults are a bit more strict.) We’ve thrown away some large quantities on a few occasions. I also encourage the kids to do the same for anything that’s supposed to be swallowed but bad for them that they get.

        2. Those are my kind of treats. My treat today is 2 squares of 87% Taza chocolate, a spoonful of raw almond butter and a spoon of macadamia nut butter.

        3. Yes, you really nailed it. On the rare occasion where I “treat” myself to say, a pastry, it never lives up to my expectations. I end up asking myself, “why the hell did I used to think this was so good?!”

          I love when I get the chance to splurge on good meat, perfect produce and fresh, raw dairy.

          Way more satisfying, mentally and gustatorily.

        4. Agreed.
          I’m starting to understand some 1st generation Asian (East and West) migrants, when they’re so fascinated with our brightly coloured “food” but won’t touch it themselves.

          Aesthetically? That cupcake is pretty.
          Food it most certainly is not. :p

  1. Excellent post, and timely too. This is something I often must remind myself of.

    I’m treating myself to braised (pastured) pork belly tonight. Yes, I “deserve” it.

  2. The reason a person may not be able to reward themselves with a treat (as in my case) is firmly addiction. Treats have to at least be low carb or non-food related. Another problem is the “I’ve blown it” mindset that becomes the springboard to paleo sin.

    1. i agree! that’s all very insightful, especially the all-or-nothing mentality. it’s always a good time to just start over with healthy eating again, even after “i’ve blown it.”

    2. Ditto, and not just for food, but exercise and personal finances, too. Even a small failing can (and probably will) be used a springboard for apathy the rest of the day/week/month. I have to be very careful, since I am so prone to this issue.

  3. I have learned the hard way that, for me, to “indulge” on sweets other than those in the form of fruits is self destructive. Once I get started, I start making excuses and allow more into my diet. It gets to the point where I feel tired, not as happy, and start losing quality sleep. I am no longer motivated to move. I would rather just sit. After a month or two of little “indulges” by I gain fat and then I am miserable. I read Primal Connection during such an episode of “indulgences” and what you said about make right choices that are not self destructive hit home and I just do not “indulge” on sweets anymore. It took about 3 weeks for the normal taste buds to come back and to restore my energy, happy mood, and quality sleep. That “little indulgence” is not worth it.

    1. Here, here!
      I read somewhere, I think it was Aglaee Jacob (apologies if I’m misappropriating along with my paraphrasing), that a treat is not a treat if you feel bad/sick afterwards. I have to remember that when I fall face first into a pile of brownies!

      1. Agreed. I was considering going to the food bank today to get “free” cookies and such (even though it’s all free, but the baked items are officially unlimited and off the record of the month’s brownie points for provisions) but I asked myself how I expected to feel after and decided it would be better to commit the lesser of two evils for sustenance and individual morale by not eating much until tomorrow: welfare day, then I’ll journey to the closest city and report to probation to find out whether or not I’ll get breached and go back to jail. In an imprisoned situation I tend to feel better and behave more beneficially if I’ve loaded my organ reserves and exercised Grokctually.

        1. I was wondering where you had disappeared to; I hadn’t seen any comments from you for a while.

          Glad to see that you’re back. I find a lot of your comments refreshing and I enjoy reading what you write.

    2. I agree as well, it is such a vicious cycle. The more I indulge the lousier I feel and there seems no way out. I give in easily to social pressure either older folks that refuse to understand and are so hurt if you don’t accept their offerings, family that feels they are being cheated if there is no pasta, pizza or potatoes.
      I am a few days back in to the swing, no left over Christmas candies, got some coconut creamer for my coffee (no dairy). Glutamine in a big bottle of water for the sugar cravings and a little bowl of macadamia nut butter coconut and coconut oil as a “treat”.
      The “bloat” is already coming down..

    3. Yes, I’m there, have been for about 6 months, swinging back and forwards against a backdrop of familial (mostly) stressful episodes. Definitely an all or nothing here.

  4. Great Post! Living primal style means treating myself daily with great foods and feeling good. Though the occasional homemade coconut milk ice cream with dark chocolate flakes is my favorite “indulgence”!

    1. EXACTLY! 🙂 “being good” most of the time entitles me to have what i consider a treat — and what is that? rack of lamb! home-made ice cream! lobster tails! once in a blue moon i’ll even have some twice-baked potato! take THAT, baskin-robbins….

  5. This is something I think many people struggle with, and the removal of guilt in the way Mark describes is spot on. I also believe his final comment is pertinent. We should treat ourselves in both new and non-food ways.

    And, for my money, when I want to treat myself, I buy an exotic/expensive fruit/vegetable or cut of meat. All the indulgence without the risk.

    1. Exactly, I always try to remove guilt by overly justifying it. I like your ideas for treats and will copy! THANKS!

  6. wow, so timely! i am heading on vacation after a month of pretty strict primal and had a dream last night that i was massively cheating particularly around sugar. i feel like i am pretty easily able to do this at home, so this will be a new challenge…travel for work and pleasure, how will i fair? staying conscious and aware will be key.
    thx for the post!

  7. Mark, great post.

    I believe that many of us tend to live our lives with a “poverty mentality” and dieting is pretty similar. Living as though there just isn’t enough to go around – not enough pleasure, not enough love, not enough food, not enough money. At some level, we feel like we have to steal these things. I think it helps tremendously to go around believing that there is ENOUGH, it removes the inclination to beg, borrow, and steal…or find excuses to provide to some imaginary master.

    1. Agreed completely. The “abundance” mentality enables me to practice gratitude and stop looking for “treats”. Now if only I could keep it right up front in my head and not lose sight of it when life gets in the way.

    2. Can’t agree more. It’s a mindset. What do I “deserve” – why would I “deserve” to destroy what I’ve worked so hard for? What “good” does that do? None! I love what others have said about the “treat” being a better cut of steak; a fancy fruit; or treating myself to extra time at home with the family.

      As for having “enough?” After you’ve lived overseas as long as I have, you learn what is really important. Live in a tent with 49 of your closest friends for a year – and “enough” takes on a whole new meaning! Enough means being warm, fed, clothed, and, most importantly, loved. Everything else is just extra.

      1. Dave and TerriAnn….exactly! I agree on all counts!

        Practicing a state of gratitude means that you have all you need…you’re safe! All will be provided when you need it. Also, allowing yourself to appreciate yourself and the things you do. We get criticized so often that it helps to remember we all do the best we can and we deserve respect and to be treated kindly.

    3. Agreed. A manta I like to repeat is “I am blessed with abundance.” Coming from a mindset of abundance rather than deprivation is really helpful.

  8. In the U.S. it seems like every “treat” is a food (or alcohol). And we are compelled to pair fun with high-oil, high-carb white-flour (or fried carb) treats. Especially with kids (and that’s where it starts), food is no longer tied to hunger or nutrition; food means fun – like McDonald’s Happy Meals and play tube slides. Can we host a team breakfast without donuts and high fructose juice?

    The social nature of treat food is very difficult to overcome. I’d never buy myself a store-bought cake, cookies or cupcakes, but one or more shows up at every celebration or gathering. Even post-dinner events for kids come with “snacks” and treats to make it more “fun”.

    I’d like to see more ideas for how groups to enjoy time together and celebrate without making it about edible treats that we eat at non-meal times.

    1. This is a good point…”the social nature of treat food.” Nothing quite like having to pass on someone’s store-bought birthday cake to have everyone in the room raising their eyebrows.

      1. The surprising thing though is if you commit to no cake, after a while everyone in the family gets used to it. (Hopefully!) My family does ask, but they are waiting for me to say no. (They’d probably be shocked at this point if I asked for a big slice.)

        In big social gatherings, usually people are less concerned with you actually eating the stuff than with you having had the chance to have the cake.

    2. +1
      how dare you host a gathering without “fun” food- what will my friends think if they were forced to drink water

      1. EXACTLY! When we have friends over and we make them breakfast, I can offer them water…or water 😉 I doubt they want my homemade Kombucha or coconut milk, but that’s all I got. I even hate to have sodas at our house if we do a crawfish boil or something like that. The 2yo only gets water, so should the adults.

    3. And it seems like we have these gatherings several times a week, if not every day. That’s where the problem gets REALLY problematic, when the “treat” becomes an every day event.

    4. Your mention of McDonalds reminded me of a comedian I once heard. He said that when he was growing up he associated McDonalds with good feelings and would get a warm & happy feeling every time he saw the golden arches. He did not want his children to grow up like this so ever time they drive by he punches them in the arm. NOTE: I’m not advocating child battery!

      1. Ha! Although it would benefit from a little tweaking in regard to the method, it sounds great in theory!

        It’s unfortunate that to a great number of us, food is much more about with what we associate it rather than nourishment for our bodies and a necessity for health and survival.

        To many, food = love, safety, comfort and celebration.

    5. Yes, so TRUE!! I am dealing with this right now with a 7 year old, who I fear will test positive for Celiac soon (as I did)…that will make this so much more difficult, as these treats that literally surround him at school and after school will actually become dangerous, not just habit forming. Living this lifestyle has brought this to light for me, that this food follows us around everywhere and is tied to literally ALL social events, especially with kids. I may have to come to grips soon with being “that parent” if my little guy is, in fact, Celiac…but it will be the right thing to do for his future. It just baffles me to see food from this perspective now, and realize that nutrition is so far gone from the picture unless we live “alternative” lifestyles that somehow force good food on kids!

      1. Why would you need to be “that parent?”. As an adult, I go to many social gatherings where I essentially eat gluten free without creating big issues for others. It’s a habit I hardly think about now and I’m sure it can developed in a 7 year old, too.

        I know it’s hard when you are the kid that has to be “different”. And it’s hard on the parent, too. But I was “different” kid and I survived. Not only that, I grew to adulthood and thrived. It’s an opportunity to really learn to how to navigate society as unique individual.

        1. Sorry, but you do become ‘that parent’ as soon as your child isn’t allowed (for whatever reason) to go and have a burger with his friends or can’t have grandma’s lasagna. Of course, it gets easier as an adult but there are still social situations over which you have little control.

        2. LOL – I guess there are 2 levels of “that parent” What you describe is simply good parenting. Even without any outstanding health conditions, being parent means creating structure for children. That’s not easy, it won’t make you popular, but it’s critical and just part of the gig. That role takes on even more importance where there are health issues.

          However, there’s another level of “that parent” where all of society has to participate in the “woes” of the family. As in my child has a gluten issue, dairy allergy, nut allergy, etc. Therefore you, busy stranger, need to wash your hands, not eat a whole classes of food near my kid, and label any homemade food, etc so that my child can feel “normal”. (An by extension, myself.)

          I deeply respect the right of parents to choose what’s best for their family, even if I don’t agree. Not so much when I’m supposed to participate in those choices lest anyone feel bad about not being “normal”. There are ways around all those issues without asking strangers to change how they are living.

      2. You know what? Gently be that mom. There are celiacs who ding negative with the biopsy because it can take years for enough damage to appear yet in unnecessary agony all that time. Even if he’s not celiac, he could have an intolerance. Then he gets leaky gut, and then you have all the rottenness that comes with that. My suggestion is you educate your kid on the potential consequences, and make paleo/primal kid friendly treats available. “Eat like a dinosaur” folks have lots of allergy friendly sweet treats for kids.

        1. Oly, good point. And yes, I plan on going about like that. I’m overly sensitive to the harsh response people have to the whole “gluten free” thing right now. I’m not one to put others out…my nature is to gain joy from accomodating others. So to have this issue that puts me at odds with about 95% of all food out there in social situations just sucks (the looks and comments I get for kindly turning down food with no explanation slay me!). But I have already started down a very reduced gluten road with my little one, as I’m already sure he’s sensitive. I plan on slowly building him up to eating Paleo most of the time – making it second nature with time. Sadly, I think the “that parent” comment comes more from how my own mother has reacted to the news of Celiac…she doesn’t want me to involve my child at all in “my health issue”. It just makes me hyper aware that there are those out there that view this as being very much in our heads. Should I care? Absolutely not. Do I? I try not to, but I can feel what others think very acutely – it’s a special skill I have that’s not working well for me in this instance! 😉

        2. Suzanne – I hope you don’t think I was having a go at the CD/gluten parenting. I’m sure that the more people become aware of primal/paleo the better for everyone – including CD sufferers. Unfortunately so many CD sufferers try to claim exclusive rights on eating this way and scorn us primal types.

      3. I was diagnosed with CD 32 years ago so our household is 100% gf. When our daughter came along, two years ago, it wasn’t even a question, she would be gf (and now paleo). I am ‘that’ parent and have friends ask me, why would you do that to her? Do what? Feed my child the best possible foods. It’s a non-issue for me, which isn’t to say it’s not hard socially, because it is sometimes. I just have to remind myself that I’m the parent, and it’s up to me to raise my child the way I see fit. Sorry Mickey D’s…she won’t know who or what you are!

    6. I couldn’t agree more!!

      The manager of my 5 year old son’s hockey team decided that every family would take turns bringing a ‘treat’ for the team for after the game or practice.

      The item most people bring is a box of Timbits. For those of you who don’t live in Canada, they are basically little donut balls that are sold at a large coffee shop chain.

      I don’t let my son have them, and I’ll bring him something else to eat like an orange or banana, but I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t there, he probably wouldn’t glance at me and say ‘no thank you’ to the person offering him this junk. Keep in mind that we’re talking 8:00 in the morning to boot. Sugar is bad news any time of the day, but for some reason it seems more horrific first thing in the morning.

      To make things worse, my ex doesn’t think there’s a problem with our son having that crap. It won’t kill him, he says. Ugh!! I ask him if he’d feed our kids spoonfuls of sugar and his answer is, of course, no, and when I tell him that’s exactly what he’s doing his answer is always ‘but it’s different’. It is very frustrating!!

      I apologize for going on a bit if a rant there! I think as long as we’re giving our kids a head start at home, bring primal alternatives for them when were not at home, and keep talking about why we eat this way, it will pay off in the future.

  9. My trainer/RD has stressed that I’m entitled to good health and wellbeing. With that mindset, nothing that will compromise my health and wellbeing feels like a treat.

    1. Exacly what I think everytime I feel guilty when saying “no” – AGAIN – to someones painstakingly homabaked treat. I AM entitled to protecting my health. It may taste heavenly but my health tastes even better. 🙂

  10. I see the “treat mentality” in what sometimes appears to be the desperate quest to find dessert recipes that barely squeak by as paleo. By putting things like bakery items on a pedestal, they become what we really wish we were eating, the food to which other foods are negatively compared. So many of us had childhoods where junk treats were given as rewards, to celebrate good times, or even just after every meal to reward us for eating our veggies, and it’s so hard to just mentally get rid of the pedestal. For me it has meant getting away from all bakery…I don’t care if you have the most delicious wheat-free primal chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, I don’t want it. I can’t take a step down that road. It is possible to get to the point where regular food is a treat, for instance I look forward to a big bowl of steamed broccoli with olive oil right now.

    1. I’m going to make steamed cabbage with garlic butter tonight – favourite veg recipe of the moment!!!

    2. Alice, this is so true! Thanks for putting into words what I just couldn’t quite articulate. There’s nothing special about these foods, yet we hold them in the highest regard and imply that if you don’t eat them you’re somehow missing out on this great thing.

      1. I struggled to articulate it, too. I read an article many years ago about how if you are the type of dieter who is “allowed” to eat one small piece of candy a day, then your whole day will revolve around when you get that candy and the candy will remain fixed in your mind as the most desirable food of the day. The article put it much more succinctly but I can only recall the general concept.

      2. Yes, my Big Ass Salad is my treat for every day of the week. I look at it as a treat and it is a treat. It treats me right and it’s not a “trick or treat”. I didn’t have to sign a treaty to stick to it either.

      3. Some people just can’t have a good time without alcohol, some without sugar.

        I’m not a coffee addict; we’re just in a committed relationship. After 6 months of no coffee or tea, I found I wasn’t getting anything done or having any fun, so I went back.

    3. You make some excellent points, Alice. For me, a bowl of turnip greens cooked Southern-style with bits of ham and sprinkled with pepper sauce is a treat. I love it.

    4. “By putting things like bakery items on a pedestal”

      Which is something people literally do! I’ve never seen an elevated meat plate.

      1. It didn’t dawn on me when I wrote that that my metaphor was literal. 🙂 But yeah, what’s up with cakes on pedestals? Some kind of psychological shrine/worship thing?

        1. Yes, cakes on pedestals are like the belle of the ball! Heh. Let’s buy cake pedestals and put charcuterie on them!

        2. Putting a cake on a pedestal elevates something pretty and gives the table some height variation. You can put something else that is colorful on it; fruit, vegtables or even candles. We do need another way to say “celebrate.” In the old days people used to sing, maybe I should try that at my next party.

      2. I have a cake stand I never use now after going primal. NOW I know what to use it for!!

    5. I agree with you! I grew up baking, my mother taught me to bake bread as a very little girl and I always took pride in my skills. But now I don’t bake at all, apart from birthday cakes. The sugar just isn’t worth it. My husband will spend weeks begging for brownies and when I make flourless brownies, he eats one and the kids and I get suckered into eating the rest and then reap the consequences in disturbed sleep and behavioral upset for a week or more after. I just had a roasted sweet potato with beef drippings poured over. It was awesome and far better than any bakery treat I could concoct.

      1. If you make some more, it might help to cut down the recipe to like Ez-Bake oven portions and/or throw away the excess. I mentioned it upstream, but our household is ruthless with disposing of “non-food”.

        1. Amy –

          I think your idea of ‘non food’ is very good. I have been taking things (milk chocolate, cookies, etc.) that get into our house – usually as a gift – to work where it is eaten quickly (by colleagues, not me!). But I think that there are times when chucking it into the bin might be just as well. It feels wasteful, but I don’t feel I’m ‘wasting’ other kinds of rubbish, a used tissue, say, when I throw it out. So, no longer will I feel bad for tossing out ‘non food’!

    6. “I see the “treat mentality” in what sometimes appears to be the desperate quest to find dessert recipes that barely squeak by as paleo”

      This is very true. Paleo baked goods make a great celebration food (rather than “treat”) but it’s critical to back away from the bakery aisle as a part of daily life. So many women, especially, are rightly proud of their baking skills but it’s an unfortunately unhealthy “hobby”.

      I used to bake pretty well myself. It’s not anything I do any longer. Ultimately, I saw it as freeing up my time to do other things. It also helped to declutter my kitchen. 😉

      1. I like baking bread, and I’m the only one who can’t eat it, so I make it once in a while and don’t eat any. I’ve learned to feel happy that they love it so much and not regret that I can’t have any. 🙂

    7. Wow Alice. Great response! I’m right there with you, but my veggie that I crave is roasted brussel sprouts after work!

  11. Me and the mrs. Bought a realy awesome dark chocolate bar that we are going to have when she get under 200 lb. ( im under that already.) But its not the real treat. The real treat is fitting into our highschool pants again and not being tired and sick all the time.

  12. I do find myself indulging in bad foods under stress, and I am painfully aware of that weakness. Applied at the right time, the rush of sweetness or comfort food does offer a relief when everything else seems to be going wrong. I do not do it because I feel I “deserve it”, but because it temporarily alleviates sadness.

    To give an example, when my dad passed away and I found myself close to emotional collapse from having to keep it together on particularly difficult days in the immediate aftermath, I managed to stave that off with good old-fashioned cake and candy. I realise obviously that emotional eating is not a good substitute to properly grieving, but it does offer some measure of comfort.

    It is low-hanging psychological fruit picking. But sometimes that is all you need to make it through a rough patch.

    That said, the time when I had the most mental fortitude was when I resisted temptations amid the holiday season. It turns out that breaking the cycle of temptation and giving in provides you with a much broader capacity to resist emotional eating.

    1. We reward ourselves with food because it’s the only thing we’ve permitted ourselves as a reward. At some level, it’s because we devalue ourselves on the whole of our lives. If you use food as a balm to emotional stressors, the reason is because you need someone/something outside of yourself to reassure you that there’s goodness left in the world.

      Punishment is inherent in our culture. And self-punishment is a pre-emptive strike against others punishing us. This is the nature of daily work and family related stress. The mentality of Self-punishment puts a shadow over everything – nothing you do is good enough, nothing you have is good enough, you will never have what you need…

      Is it any wonder that, when stripped of anything possibly enjoyable, we react by reverting to infantilism? Mama, me needs my milk!

        1. Mazzy, that is your second comment that I made a point of copying down for later reference. I’m guessing you’re a therapist.

        2. +1 regarding Mazzy’s insightful, brilliant comments….Archiving immediately.

  13. I think the way I have worked this out is thus: Before I indugle in something that is off limits or not primal, I try to think of
    1. How long will I be eating or drinking this?
    2. How long will I regret eating or drinking this?
    3. Am I really desirous of this treat or am I just bored, tired, tempted, etc.
    4. By the time I actually think on these things, I usually forget it and go about some other activity.
    Occupy the mind with good thoughts and productivity, listen to Beethove’s 7th symphony, read, walk, chase the dog.

    Whatever works most of the time!
    For me it’s the thought of how I will feel when I cheat or treat.

  14. While I agree that cheating is dangerous and ultimately a bad thing, I still think there is a role for cheat it.

    For some people it’s extremely hard to go cold turkey and immediately stop consumption of grains and other high sugar products.

    So using the concept of cheat days can be a helpful stepping stone along the way.

    I found that after eating well for 6 days my taste buds eventually adjusted so that when I cheated on the 7th day everything felt TOO sweet.

    I’m now at a point where I don’t feel the need to cheat and don’t feel deprived of those foods I used to eat… but I can tell you.. those first few months of trying to eat healthily… I was really jonesing for grains and carbs.. and having a cheat day helped me stay on track in the long run.

    In the end, not cheating and not wanting to cheat is the best state to be in. But being able to cheat once in a while is still better than eating poorly all of the time.

    1. I have to agree with you. My Friday night ‘Cheat Night’ really helped me to stay on track in the beginning. But as time has moved on, I don’t feel the need to do that anymore. As a matter of fact, teh thought of putting in my mouth what I once did is kind of repulsive.

      That being said, every once in a while, I will have something non-Primal because I simply like the taste of it and want to enjoy it. It’s not a reward, it’s not an allowance…it’s just simply because I feel like indulging in a butter tart (as an example)…no more, no less. It’s not a pattern of emotional eating nor is it a habit.

    2. I feel, unfortunately, that my food blog gazing qualifies as cheating…because I can spend/waste hours of my life coveting the images of baked goods that I simply know are not good for me, whether said bakery goods are paleo or not….Why oh why do I engage in such behaviors?!..I do not actually engage in preparing the recipes…but it almost seems punitive to gander at such things…to obsess over food to the point where one forgets to fully embrace the primal way of life…being vibrant and multi-faceted..open to all that life has to offer.

      1. I find that the more I think about, look at, or focus on something, the more I want it. So I focus on things that are good for me. Ice cream? No, I think about a couple tablespoons of heavy cream poured over blueberries (or pecans, or dark chocolate chips) Big Mac? No, bacon wrapped filet mignon over seared asparagus suits my health better. Focusing on baked goods is only going to make you want baked goods more. Focus on what is good for you AND delicious. The Primal Diet allows BACON AND CHOCOLATE. What is there to miss? 😉

    3. I would argue that eating carbs on a once weekly basis while transitioning into the Primal lifestyle is not a “cheat”. If you made the plan to allow yourself this indulgence, you are following your own rules and not, as the article describes, passing responsibility for your choices to some outside authority.
      I actually found that doing this helped me go Primal sooner than otherwise, since it helped me develop will-power (to not indulge for the 6 days), and then be disappointed by desserts not living up to my expectations (and feeling gross afterwards). After 1 month, I’m ready to kiss carbs good-bye altogether.

  15. I totally get this. I don’t think to “reward” myself with non primal food, because I’m not on a diet and I’m not suffering in any way that should require a “reward”. I am NOT patting myself on the back, but merely noting the psychology of it all.

    Our family simply has a new paradigm. Everything found on the primal/paleo food pyramid are the options we have to live the healthiest life possible. I’m as likely to eat something that is not on that pyramid as I am to put my hand on the burner of a hot stove.

    That being said, I do bake “paleofied” treats to keep three teenagers and a husband happy and on board. These treats have not impeded the tremendous health benefits we have seen.

  16. Thanks for this post, Mark, and the one on emotional eating. Like many other readers here, I struggle with both of these issues a great deal. It’s important not to forget about the heavy social and psychological factors that dictate what we desire and ultimately choose to eat. I know that being strictly paleo makes me feel amazing and, what’s more, eliminates the cravings for non-paleo foods more so than when 80/20 becomes more like 60/40. Yet even though I know this to be the case, I can always find many reasons not to be strictly paleo all the time. Number one on that list is precisely the topic of this post: that I should be allowed a treat, that I deserve it, that I should just live a little.

    I think that, in general, we fixate too much on food as a reward, as the ultimate pleasure. We (and I especially!) should focus on other things that truly matter: friends, family, work, hobbies, play!

  17. There are so many nice treats within the primal diet that I really don’t have the need to “treat myself to stomach problems” by eating anything else…. 🙂

    1. bingo ! with the very rare exception, this is exactly how i feel. i’ve been following the PB for about 9 mos and have lost nearly 60 lbs.

  18. I have found when I am really craving something non-primal, I can fend it off by eating something primal. I decide that I can have the “treat” after I eat this (fill in good primal food here). Once I’ve eaten the primal food, if I am still really desiring the “treat” then I may eat it, but usually the craving has subsided & I am satisfied without it.

  19. Wonderful post. I used to feel this way about “junk food”, that it was a treat and I deserved it for running so many miles, skipping lunch, having a hard day at work, etc…..then I would feel guilty and hate myself for it.

    Paleo eating (introduced to me through Marks Daily Apple nearly a year ago) has changed all of that. I no longer see food as a reward in the forementioned sense.

    I reward my body every day with wholesome, basic, nutritious, natural (delicious!) food and that is very satisfying.

    I had one of my husband’s french fries the other day……tasted disgusting! Not kidding. I used to live for those things…….now they just seem like rancid oil drenched starch. Yuck.

    Thanks to Paleo/Primal/Marks Daily Apple, my view of what is a “reward” has changed significantly. I love it.

  20. My treat is dark chocolate. At least 80% stuff. I buy a 100 gram bar (3 and a half ounces) and have 20 grams (thee-quarters of an ounce) as a treat. When it’s gone, that’s it for the week.
    A bar usually lasts a week but if not it’s kind of self limiting as I can’t buy anymore til shopping day.

  21. After reading this and much contemplation I have determined that need to plan my schedule better for what/when I eat. For instance, I had a awards dinner to go to last night. What I should have done was eat something prior to going, but the work day got away from me and when I showed up, I was starving, stressed and had no time to wind down. 3 glasses of wine, due to a stressed day was my “treat” followed by dinner and a healthy serving of tiramisu.

    As much as I appreciate Pastor Dave’s message – when I eat or drink like I did last night, it was because I was in the moment with friends. I didn’t think about what I was eating when I was eating it. That isn’t all of the time, but… This, apparently, is another challenge for me – think before I eat.

  22. Thanks for this post, Mark! I started Primal 2 1/2 years ago, and it was a great way to jump-start healthy eating. Now, I’m working through this “treat” issue, because I’m realizing that while overeating on Primal food is better than the alternative, it’s still overeating. It’s not good for my body to have to process a lot more food than I need, and certainly is not good for my diabetic tendencies!

  23. I made it through the holidays just great – it was actually easy to say no to the holiday cookies and treats. But then January hit and somewhere inside my head it “was ok” to treat myself because I did so well over the holidays. Make sense, huh? I actually handled my treats well, until we bought the MOST delicious, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth croissants & fresh bread from a local bakery….two weekends in a row. We actually made nachos for dinner one night – what were we thinking?? Well, now my jeans are feeling tight and my clothes aren’t fitting as well, and I’m feeling off. I’m tired & dragging and am having a hard time finding my motivation to work out. So now I’m slowly getting back on track (still fighting some cravings) and am trying to come up with ways to treat myself in the future that have nothing to do with food so I don’t put myself through this again!

    I keep telling myself “Stop rewarding yourself with food, you’re not a dog!”

    1. yep. me too. after christmas it started, Its now over (again)

    2. The same thing happened to me just recently. My partner and I travelled around the US (we’re from Australia) for 5 weeks and didn’t put on any weight. (There was the occasional things like a big slice of pizza or a hot dog from a cart, but those were more just to say we’d tried those American things that we don’t have at home). But we walked 5-6 hours every day so were fine.

      But in the week since I’ve been back, I’ve had popcorn and coke at the movies (I haven’t had soft drink in years), fish and chips (battered greasy fish, deep-fried chips), a block of chocolate, plus we made macaroni and cheese a few nights ago. (It was so strange buying pasta, flour and milk for it… I haven’t bought those things from a supermarket in at least 5 years since going paleo!!)

      It’s so tough we rationally we’re so educated (both scientifically and personally, knowing how we feel after we eat junk crap) and yet it still happens. I’m learning to let go of the side of guilt when I binge on non-paleo foods, slowly slowly, but it’s still a challenge every day.

  24. Hi Mark, I don’t follow ‘primal’, I am a low carber, but have been following your blog for a while. This is a timely post because I am off the wagon at the moment, can’t get back on, being dragged by the damn thing. I really like “What do you feel you deserve, and how does your answer genuinely serve your wellbeing?” Great questions. Unfortunately in the moment of feeling I deserve a treat it is not always possible to hear the voice of reason asking sensible questions. All you have is the pain of the moment and the knowledge that that ‘treat’ will fix things. The rational you knows it won’t fix a damn thing but the hurting part doesn’t know nor care.

    I enjoy your blog Mark, thanks for all you do.

    And dark chocolate doesn’t cut it for me, as a treat, yuk – not sweet enough. I’ve tried 70% up to 90% dark and its all too dark.

    I also have an issue with ‘just one piece’. If I could eat just one piece, or just one slice, or one cookie I wouldn’t be fat. (though I have lost ~ 50 lb on low carb, struggling to maintain that, and could stand to lose another 25 lb or so).

    1. Hi Isabel,

      I know exactly what you mean. Asking questions that would guide us away from indulgence when we’re in the midst of hurting just doesn’t work.
      The biggest hurdle in self-sabotage and emotional eating is that we’re fighting with our subconscious, survival-based, primitive brain. Human beings are programmed to avoid pain, it was a vital stage in our evolution that we are all still operating from. When we learn (often early in life) that food is a solution to our pain (or food is love) no amount of logical questioning will work to interrupt that subconscious pattern.
      Our subconscious programming is the problem here and it is largely running the show of our lives. Keep in mind that the majority of our thoughts are subconscious in nature, some experts claim that as much as 95% of our thinking is below the level of our awareness. That programming is largely created from the ages of 0-7, while we are little sponges without the cognitive ability to evaluate things in our environment for truth or importance. Everything we hear, see and experience as a young child is automatically true, and in some way means something about us. Many of the conclusions we come to about ourselves, who we are, what we’re capable of, about others, about love, marriage, money, food and everything else are incorrect or only partially true. Trauma is an especially powerful programmer, so it stands to reason that people with traumatic childhoods are more likely to have difficulty with their identity, addiction issues and all other manner of issues later in life.
      I learned all of that through my training as an Emotional Freedom Technique Practitioner from psychologists and social workers, but I don’t claim to be one, so take it for what it’s worth.
      Finding a tool that allows you to access those old programs, delete the ones that are obsolete and install new ones that serve you better, i.e. I am worthy, I can manage my emotions without food, it’s possible for me to be healthy and lean, it’s safe for me to be at my ideal weight etc. is the key to resolving the issues in my opinion. Keep in mind that as you read those new beliefs above, your logical, conscious mind will often agree, but the truth is, if your life isn’t a reflection of those beliefs, you have subconscious programming in your way.
      I highly recommend that one struggling with self-sabotage or emotional eating look into EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or other tools that can help us re-wire our brains, like NLP, hypnosis, neurofeedback and others. The neuroplasticity of our brains and how we can change our memories, belief systems and old programming is an absolutely fascinating field of study that is changing what we know about human change at an exponential rate! Hope that helps!

  25. Social eating has been my biggest challenge. In my early primal days I would just give in to eating non-primal foods, but as the consequences started getting worse, I rethought that strategy. Now my response to those that feel sorry for me because I’m “deprived” from non-paleo desserts because of my “diet” has been to ask, so which part of the dessert is a treat? Is it the sugar that will put me to sleep, the wheat that will give me a stomach ache or the dairy that will leave me with sinus/ear pain for 3 days? My friends now bring me fruit and nuts.

    The other part of social eating is overeating, especially on vacation with my non-primal husband. The beauty of a primal lifestyle is that even when I overeat for a week or two and gain weight as a result, once I return to regularly schedule programming the weight does too within a few days.

  26. Being T1 diabetic, i dont have the option of ‘indulging’ if i want to keep my blood sugar levels at that of a normal person. I havent had dessert in about 2 yrs, and its not hard to avoid when you dont have a choice. This is one positive of having diabetes(at least for me), and i make sure to always remind myself of this 🙂

    1. Just about to post any treats always fail to live up to expectation when you’re a diabetic, then i read you’re post. I rarely have a ‘treat’ then it reminds me how much it fails to please and then the post prandial high blood sugar feels horrible. Ive recently learned, after 23 yrs of type 1, how strict (primal but considerably stricter) my diet/excercise has to be to keep my blood sugars ‘normal’. It’s not easy as my insulin sensitivity continually increases meaning my insulin doses need to be constantly re-evaluated, which is a good thing long term, but whilst my body constantly moves the goal posts it aint easy (daily hypos). I digress, back on point: Dessert is bad!

      1. ‘dessert is bad’-amen to that. as a diabetic, i tell people i have a unique way of determining if a food is healthy or not: if it requires a whole vial of insulin to regulate blood sugar, it probably aint good for you! and nothing requires more insulin than dessert, bread, and pasta!

  27. Anyone else reading this with the intonation and cadence of “TREAT YO’SELF 2011!” from Parks and Rec? 😉

  28. I seem to be totally detached from this concept of “deserving” certain kinds of foods… I’ve thought about it but I don’t think of food as something I’ve earned or not. It is simply to be enjoyed as much as possible. I don’t hesitate to indulge in great food every day. Life’s too short to not eat things I love all the time. I would never consider ‘treating’ myself to unhealthy indulgences or cheats. The idea of this being a reward is just foreign to me. If I do happen to eat something I shouldn’t, I regard it as an exception, or a mistake. Which we all make.

  29. I “deserve” good, whole foods that make me feel good and aren’t just about momentary pleasure (one of the good things about paleo: eating non-primal/paleo foods makes me feel sick after about ten minutes.)

    Besides, any indulgence I might want could be done better. I don’t eat sugar anymore (as in added sugars, stevia, sucrose, agave nectar, honey, etc.) so if I want something sweet, I’ll eat some grapes. It’s sweet, and I don’t want it often, but when I do want it (like… right now as I type), I don’t need to feel guilty.

  30. I don’t ‘cheat’, ever. With my workout schedule I won’t eat anything that isn’t good for me. I’ve said publicly that I’m only one Hershey’s Kiss away from being a fat guy again.

  31. Shawn being type 1 does not mean you are not normal, just different from some others and unique against all others!

  32. I really felt I deserved to treat myself to Jamaica for some extra Vit. D production this year, but my pocketbook isnt in agreement! 🙂

  33. A friend just told me that he is now going to use “sweet” instead of “treat”, as in “I’m going to the store to buy a sweet.” The reason being that by using a neutral word like sweet, he’s removing the emotional connotations of the word treat.

    1. Winter holiday to warm, sunny climate? Now there’s a treat I could really get behind! Sadly, my pocketbook agrees with yours…

  34. Thoughtful subject today. For me, it’s the numbing under stress, which only lasts a few minutes before it switches to regret. I am a compulsive eater, and I usually sail through lunches, parties, etc. without cravings since I’ve been living low carb primal. I am very satisfied with the quality and variety of my daily diet. That is actually a miracle. Today, however, my son is driving for hours through a snowstorm. Two hours after a meal that can hold me for five hours or so, I’m into my husband’s peanut butter. I knew what I was doing and I knew why. Insanity? Absolutely!

  35. its all about the kind of stress you get when you turn things down if you stress out about rice not being in your diet alot then maybe eh throw it in there its not ideal but hey it works. when i threw yams into my diet not all the time but maybe 1 or twice a week the stress relief i got was enormous so id try looking through that lens

  36. This week I’m treating myself to a size smaller jeans from the local second hand clothing store ($4.95) and a membership to Crossfit (significantly more expensive). Food is not the only way to “treat” oneself!

  37. I just happened to be treating myself today! I work at Jimmy John’s, so I have to indulge on our French bread every once in awhile. I feel so much better being primal, and I’m so glad that I can wait and appreciate some of my favorite non-Primal foods only sporadically. (If I could eat toast everyday without feeling like crap and non-nourished, I totally would). But now it’s a treat whenever I visit my parents and I’m glad I finally have that control and mindset!
    Best to all. Cheers!

  38. I have diabetes. I buy myself flowers (daffodils cost about the same as a coffee) for my sweet treat when I
    I really want one.

  39. I haven’t ate a chips ahoy chocolaty chip cookie in over 2 years. The thing is your brain does not know any difference from reality to thought. So I can literally sit here and think that I’am eating a chips ahoy cookie without physically eating one. Honestly, its all sugar to me, if you want to transition from a fat meal to a sugary one to satisfy a craving, then why not get it from natural food! You can very well make a dessert from natural ingredients that come naturally whole from this planet!

    1. Not long ago my boyfriend bought some of them. I was apprehensive about even having them in the household, as I keep a gluten-free household. But he ate a few and threw them out. They were nasty and stale. He couldn’t believe he used to enjoy them.

      I make a barely sweetened chocolate chip cookie from almond flour and dark chocolate chips. It is more bread-like than cookie-like, and they are so undersweetened that you really can eat just one.

  40. Usually when I am craving a carb, I figure it is really fat that my body is asking for. I try to eat bacon wrapped sausage first. That has always done the trick. Bacon wrapped any kind of meat is simply sensational!

  41. The way I usually put it:

    There is nothing wrong with treating yourself every once in a while. It would be unprimal not to. Just as long as you recognize what you are eating as a treat and not an every day occurance.

    1. I admire your self-control.
      I “tried” a little taste of a cookie before Christmas once, then hunger set in. Pretty soon three cookies were gone. No self control and ravenous by now (insulin probably shooting through the roof) I finished the bag. Then I went to the store for more. Just like any other druggie, it took three weeks of hard work and determination to get myself off again. I can do the same with bread, for example.
      Please think about the millions of sugar and carbohydrate addicts out there, when you make recommendations, and promote “occasional treats”. For many of us “occasional” is not possible.
      For us sugar addicts it is best to leave all sweet tastes (and easy carbs) behind and never look back, ever!

      Thank you for this important post Mark.

  42. What better “treat” than coconut milk with some stevia/maple syrup/cocoa/vanilla?! Or a cocoa macaroon made with maple syrup!? (thank you Hail Merry!) Or some dark chocolate?? How can people go astray with options like that and site after site of ideas of paleo breads/muffins/etc? I think that’s the one thing that makes this lifestyle so sustainable for me…even the “treats” are fine.

  43. ME! I have depression and the primal diet has helped a lot but the only reason I can eat this way is b/c I found Mark’s Daily Apple- When Mark brought up 80/20 I thought, I wish I had thought of that on my own- I eat 20% of my calories daily in pure junk- coke-a-cola, cheetos, snickers candy bar whatever I want- It is the only thing that helps me to eat the rest at 80% and I feel damn good b/c I used to be 100% pure junk

  44. I like to treat myself by eating a 16oz grass fed ribeye… instead of just 8oz.

  45. LOL. I actually pulled this up to procrastinate on homework, with the excuse ‘I will learn stuff, and I will enjoy it.’ More applicable off-topic advice I have seldom seen. *closes browser*

  46. I will always view the best treats as food. However now that I am living the primal life I treat myself to grass fed filet, good dark chocolate or a more expensive glass of red wine. I also reserve bacon as a weekend breakfast treat. I used to make various pancakes to make weekend breakfasts special.

  47. This post goes very nicely with a chapter in a book I’m currently reading about “moral licensing” and the psychology involved with willpower. “The Willpower Instinct” is the name of the book and it has helped me understand the physiolgical aspects behind a lot of the reactions I have to sweets (generally addicted). I highly recommend the book for general information, not just in terms of facing dietary challenges.

  48. Lately I find myself having more trouble with rebellion than reward. I am dealing with a lot of anger issues because of life crap and that sometimes comes out as “Screw it! I’m going to eat whatever the hell I want! I hate everything! I hate everybody! Where are the Girl Scout cookies?”

    That, my friends, is textbook Gluttony. It says “I want whatever I want no matter what it costs anybody else!” When I say yes to Gluttony, I’m not just hurting myself, I’m hurting the ones who love me and want me to be healthy and alive for many years to come.

    It’s a tough thing to admit, but this particular sin of the seven deadly sins has my number big time.

    Now I also eat for other emotional reasons — Comfort when I feel sad or Shame when I feel worthless. Shame gives me more trouble than Comfort. But don’t forget to eyeball Gluttony right square in the double chins when you’re trying to isolate the emotion behind the eating.

    1. I don’t think it is gluttony. It is shame that makes you punish other people by punishing yourself. Gluttony is enjoyable. There is no enjoyment in stuffing yourself compulsively with food you don’t like very much.

  49. My idea of “treat” is based on 2 conditions.

    1) Holiday and special familial occasions. After a full Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, or a wedding feast or birthday party I’m gonna have some dessert. Chocolate mousse. Cheesecake. Ice Cream. A little bit of each. Yum. It’s the holidays, I celebrate. Reserved for such moments, desserts really are a special treat.

    2) If somebody I care about specifically makes me something, I’ll eat it to be polite. I.e. last year my sister baked me a chocolate-coconut birthday cake for a surprise B-day party my wife threw for me.

    I ate my piece of cake and enjoyed every last bite of it.

  50. I need a treat and its called a vacation. Preferably, somewhere tropical. Thanks for posting.

  51. Deep post and hits home for me. I am going to have to mark this and read it a couple times

  52. Sometimes if I really craving a certain food, I’ll think about another way I can satisfy that. Maybe I need some endorphins, so I should allow myself the time to myself to workout. Or maybe I am craving sunlight. As mentioned above, food is sometimes the only luxury we allow ourselves. If I went to the park on a sunny day, and just laid there synthesizing vitamin D, it would feel incredibly relaxing. However, I would only permit myself to do that on a weekend or when I really have “free time.” We always carve out time in our schedules to eat though. I’m thinking an IF where we replace meals with other satisfying pleasures could be quite beneficial here.

  53. Had a stick of sugar-free gum yesterday and the nutrisweet in it (I thought it was a sugar alcohol instead) set off a whole days worth of sugar cravings. First time I had an artificial sweetner in a year, never realized how strong the effects of them were.

  54. I loved this post Mark, I’ve been a long time reader of your site but haven’t been very active in commenting. I’ve just finished The Primal Blueprint (I know I’m a bit late there) and am now reading The Primal Connection…. which I LOVE so far by the way!

    Anyway as for ‘entitled sabotage’ I find myself doing this all the time, for e.g. I might decide ok I deserve that square of 88% dark chocolate and then I end up eating 10 because well I justify it in my head like it’s Ok after all it is DARK chocolate.

    Or I’ll blame it on my husband and say well he’s been working so hard lately let me make him a insert dessert here (even though he’s not a big fan of dessert anyway!) and then I end up eating more than he does!

    I’ve been eating Paleo/Primal whatever you want to call it for a while now but I still get stuck on the ‘treats’. I know a lot of Paleo/Primal bloggers out there are big on treats but sometimes it takes a lot of will power to just skip over those recipes and move onto REAL food… because deep down I know even though those treats are made with quality ingredients that they aren’t/shouldn’t be considered REAL… if that makes sense?!

    Problem is how to make the heart and the head align!

  55. Ever tried the following thought experiment when tempted by junk food:

    How will it feel as I’m eating it? How will it feel 5 minutes after? One hour after? One day after?

    That never failed to get me past a temptation in the early days. I don’t need it as much anymore, because I realize it’s only the idea of junk food that is appealing, not the ugly reality.

    I find that it’s a lot easier never to indulge in such things, because then the temptation remains purely psychological. When you cheat just a little bit, the temptation becomes physiological as well. And that is much harder to ignore.

    1. OH! I like that- I am going to give this a try- For sure, I do feel bad later after indulging in too much junk and the short term high doesn’t seem worth it in the end

  56. I heard someone describe the difference between “want” and “intend” and I think it is helpful to apply that difference to stay on a good nutritional path. So here is the way I think of it: Do I “want” to eat Primally, or do I “intend” to eat Primally.
    If I just want it, then I am just wishing or hoping for an outcome. If I intend it then all of my focus will be on my intention.
    Hope this helps.

  57. I ‘treated’ myself to ice cream last weekend, and I did pay for it. My chronic allergies which are under control with primal eating flared up within the hour! Didn’t treat me well at all! Good article 🙂

  58. I found a Charles Polliquin article on
    ‘The Myth of Discipline’ really helpful in resolving this headspace. If you try to frame decisions as being about self love, treats suddenly become those choices which are good for me – I deserve to be healthy.

    http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/161/The_Myth_of_Discipline.aspx

    ‘Discipline’ and ‘motivation’ are not helpful headspaces for me as then I want to ‘break out’, which usually leads to sugar and sadness.

  59. I look at my whole life as a treat. I love the primal lifestyle and have felt Ill on the rare occasion that I’ve eaten something from my old lifestyle. I’m not particularly fond of the concept of cheating. To me it equates hurt feelings, regret and guilt. Another words, if an indulgence makes me feel bad afterwords then it’s not a treat at all. I’m not perfect in any way,but thanks to primal eating and exercising I sure do feel great!

  60. Excellent topic and post. Mark is a very insightful and intelligent person and it’s always a pleasure to read a new post here.

    Personally I’ve tackled this problem by setting rules for indulgences that I’m prone to, and they only come after achieving a goal. Then they are turned into occasional rewards.

    Banishment isn’t going to work (at least for me), and putting them into a structured system takes away a great deal of their seduction and turns them into something positive–and rare.

  61. “Is this To DIE FOR good?”
    I find the answer is no, usually, sadly.

  62. I have friends who use this ‘philosophy’ to justify overindulging with alcohol.

    If I feel like I need to ‘treat’ myself, I’ll tend to get a massage, buy a new book or get a new hair do.

  63. I read this as I down a chocolate ice cream ‘flurry’ with double brownie bites & cookie dough. Found out I have a bad herniated disc (again!) and I’m out of commission for a while at best. I hope this is just the ‘get over it’ night of eating crud.

  64. *puts hand up*

    Yet another one who’s been struggling to “get back on the wagon”…this is absolutely an addiction. What else can you call it when there is little-to-no willpower when this crap “food” is within sight, when you feel you have to sneak a bite/handful/plate when hubby is out of sight/earshot? It disgusts me how addictive sugar and grains are, and I feel even worse that I keep giving in to it.

  65. Today I heard some raspberries calling my name; they were trapped inside a bran muffin at the food court. I had to say, sorry little raspberries I cannot help thee for I have foresworn ne’er to eat the fruit of the wheat nor the chaff.

  66. Yes, this post was a good wake up call for me. We’re having a particularly dreary winter here in Vermont, and “treats” are very easy to rationalize. I just ate some 85% dark chocolate which I use successfully as a mood elevator (yes, it’s a little bit medicinal), and I’m realizing that’s the best treat for me.

    1. Native Vermonter here. Yep, the winters are dreary. 😉 I ended up have to supplement with a fair amount of Vit. D to make it through. We moved South a couple of years ago.

  67. I am not into the supposive treats anymore – but believe me, I used to be. Now I feel ill if I have baked desserts. During Christmas time I had a few cookies and some cake. I felt like I was on drugs and my stomach was upset.

  68. Couldn’t agree more! I’m new to Primal; only started 4 or so weeks ago but already can’t believe how much better I feel… Steady energy levels, better concentration, less hunger, weight loss etc etc. Then yesterday I had a sugar-heavy ‘treat’ day (still not quite sure why when I felt so good without it)… Hello bad mood, constant hunger, palpitations, bad sleep! It is so not worth it.

  69. I’ve only really gone primal from October 2012 and before that I was Primal on and off, with a lot of it being off. The main reason I don’t crave the non-primal foods anymore is because everytime I do eat them I get a backlash. Feeling tired, groggy, having a blocked nose, stomach ache, and just not able to function. If I feel like anything, I spend my money on nice Primal purchases, because I know I will benefit from this in the long run.

    It is defintily tough at times to resist those lovely bakes goods at the local bakery, and you start salivating as soon as the smell of freshly baked bread hits your nose. However after also having read the wheat belly, I’ve discovered this is most likely to do with a certain protein in the bread, that is addictive to humans. I know this doesn’t make any difference when you crave it, but even so, when we think of this consciously and realise that a lot of these smells and food products have addictive substances in them, which again reverting back to Mark’s work/books, triggers the feel good happy hormones and thus “allows” us to go of the band waggon. Don’t do it! Instead splurge on that book you really wanted to read or the latest vibram five shoes, I know that makes me very very happy!

  70. Charles poliquin”Dr. Tom O’Bryan DC, who lectures the World over on the ill effects of gluten, showed in a recent BioSignature class, that the single intake of 1 mg of Gluten, which is case came a quarter of a Catholic host, would set inflammatory responses that could be seen in the blood for at least 12 weeks after that single ingestion.” I am in doubt,help me!

  71. I agree 100%. If I’m going to eat a cookie with all the conventional goods in it I don’t need to have an excuse like “I deserve it.” I’ve found myself doing that before. I will internally say, “you’ve done so good eating clean lately, why don’t you just eat one.” Then, before I know it I’ve had about 4 or 5 cookies (typically little ones). They seem to be a trigger food for me, and the opposite of rewarding. Thanks Mark for this post.

  72. Funny, I used to feel the same way about smoking. I viewed it as a treat. My smoking breaks were “treats”. Been 7 years smoke free. Now time to redefine my food.

  73. So…my daughter is turning one and I was going to cave in and buy a big sheet cake and huge burrito for guests…but this post is making me re-think these not so grand plans. Any suggestions on feeding lots of people with a main meat dish that won’t break my budget? Perhaps Paleo cupcakes with fresh fruit, sigh, fresh fruit in AK is super expensive! What would you all do if you were throwing a party? What would you serve?

    1. Meghan – I might feed guests a sheet cake and burritos (well, in my house it would be home-made flour cake, because I like to do this, and pizza). I just don’t eat any myself, so I have fruit, crudités, and maybe some sliced meat, which none of the guests (if they’re kids) eat. It depends on how you feel about leaving others to their regular habits, and how you feel about your daughter’s eating habits. Amy made a good suggestion to think of the non-primal left-overs from this as ‘non-food’ and throw it away after the guests leave.

      Doing primal, but non-primal-friendly food is a great idea, but sometimes it might be more trouble in time or money than it’s worth.

      1. Violet, I think you are right. My husband suggested a potluck to celebrate. The only problem is my other daughter gets out of control emotionally and physically with too much grains and dairy. My other sons are ok, but behavior problems actually become an issue for the 3rd child. I’ll link an article in regards to that in the next comment. So that means watching what my daughter consumes and knowing the next week could be hectic.

        1. Megan – This is a very moving article about your daughter. Thanks for sharing it.

          I am non-coeliac gluten intolerant, and eating gluten gives me distinct gastro-intestinal symptoms and somewhat more subtle emotional ones. That’s why I can stay away from cake and pizza, even if they are in my house. (My husband and 15-year-old daughter do eat that stuff, though they eat a bit more primally with my influence.) So my own advice works for me, and perhaps it might for some others.

          I can see, though, that in your situation, you might need to be much more careful for your daughter’s sake! Good luck. I see there are some concrete suggestions below for primal alternatives that don’t break the bank.

          You could also try things like fairy cakes (cup cakes) where most are gluten-full (for guests and gluten tolerant) with equivalent gluten free ones for the sensitive, so you need to splash out on the expensive alternatives in small numbers. In summer, we will have friends for a bbq. Before primal, I would have a gluten-free bun for my burger. (Now I eat it on a plate with knife and fork.)

    2. You could do some sort of make-your-own burrito thing, so that you and your family can partake of the lovely innards and stay primal while the guests use tortillas. Chili’s a crowd-pleaser, and easy to make in bulk for a crowd. You could just go way easy on the spice for the kids.

      Birthdays are one time when I do tend to “cheat.” I’ll make something decadent and homemade and sugary – but I do keep it grain-free. Pies with nut-based crusts are good for this (lemon merengue is very easy, and you can stick candles in the merengue), as are dense, dark, flourless chocolate things. Creme brûlées are good as well, but maybe not for a 1-year-old. The sugar is definitely suboptimal, but it’s way better than the sugar + gluten + artificial sketchiness you’d get in a store-bought sheet cake. If my family ever ASKS for fresh fruit for their birthday, then well…sure. But I’m not holding my breath. 😉

  74. My indulgence? Getting new running shoes! Just completed my 1st month eating primal and am down 12 lbs and 12 inches! Thought about getting a chocolate bar to ‘celebrate’ but decided.. new running shoes is such a better deal instead!

    1. Good for you, keep up the great work! Just wait, as the weeks go on, you are going to feel more and more awesome!

  75. A very good post, and unfortunately true for so many people. I am to the point where my “treat” is to stay Primal. I do not have to give in; rather than view this as deprivation, the act of not giving in is strongly positive. For example, my all time favorite non Primal comfort food is pecan pie, which I have always had at Thanksgiving and Christmas-it is also comfort food, a lot of family memoires especially mom. I live near a slices-available bakery. So what did I do?

    I passed. And felt great about it.

  76. “I’m Beavis, and I DESERVE nachos^H^H^H^H^H^H^H BACON! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! And a steak too. And And And some shrimp.. No! And Some LOBSTER! I Deserve it”

    Now there’s a cheat I can eat every day.
    See, even Beavis knows what’s a good treat! If he can do it, we can too!

  77. THIS post came at just the right time. I have started to view treats this way and have worked to modify this by taking that money and saving it for something that will give me pleasure for a longer duration. Like the new set of kettle bells I just ordered.

    Also understanding that there are primal sweets I can eat when I want something like that. However I’m finding that when I crave these things that sometimes I really need a more nutritious meal or my vitamins. Other times I find holding out is the best option.

  78. My two treats are completely primal:

    1. Instead of just using some coconut milk in my coffee, every couple of weeks I might whip the coconut cream with a little honey and cinnamon. Suddenly I have a latte with whipped cream. Yum.

    2. I get a massage every couple of months. I’ve always been bored during massages and hated the ones I had received as gifts over the years. But I’m dealing with illness and detoxing now, so a massage is a real treat that makes me feel better for days.

  79. Awesome article; my cheats are a spoonful of honey or pork rinds 🙂

  80. Thank you all for your posts. I’m transitioning to the primal lifestyle and really struggling with wanting sugar; I used to eat a protein bar daily and a bowl of granola cereal before bed. Now I’m eating dark chocolate like its going out of style…I can’t seem to stop eating it and I know I need to just use that as an indulgence. Having a tough time, just ate a bunch of chocolate covered blueberries and its 9pm and I need to be sleeping…

  81. In short I think I “deserve” better than crap. A treat? How about steamed organic brocolli drizzled with grass-fed butter….maybe a pinch of sea-salt, now that’s a “treat”!!! As far as the raised eye brows…Chive on!!!

  82. @ Lisa… try beef jerky, it takes a lot of chewing which it probably what you are missing. I use to be a peanut butter addict and beef jerky worked for me, haven’t touched the stuff, PB that is in over a year. good luck and Grok on!!

  83. We used to have Friday Night was “Junk Food Night” that used to mean going to one of the burger shops and indulging in C…P, then it got so we used to have beer, crisps and chocolate sta in front of the telly.
    We enjoyed this, and ate well all the rest of the week, but it used to make me feel hungry for a couple of days. Also I was not loosing weight like I should have been.
    We have just had our first “Paleo Indulgence Night”.
    All week Ive been on %0 carbs and lost weight for the first time in months, so I didn’t want to screw it up this week. I suggested I made a Paleo Treat and we didn’t buy the crisps and chocolate. I bought the Paleo Indulgences book and made some coconut treats.
    It took my daily carbs up to just 80g and I can go back on the wagon today with out feeling like Iv’e blown it. I out on 1lb, which I can easilly loose again before next Friday.
    So, Treats can mean a paleo treat, as I would normally not have anything sweet at all.
    We’re going to stick to this now, we have seen the benefits. In fact I’m seeing it as an opportunity to find and try new recipes.

  84. Fantastic post and commentary here.

    I think that another issue involved in treating ourselves with something harmful would be giving a boost to our personal fight (war?) of pursuiting health, that is, to give us reasons to worry for, forever.

    It’s like an utopia permanently postponed.
    The concretization of the utopia brings responsability – we, the ones who didn’t achieve it yet, say. It’s LIVING IN THE FUTURE, escaping from all we really have: the present.

  85. I deserve to eat in such a way that I feel good and have energy. I deserve to get massages more often!

  86. My “healthy indulgence” to get me through the winter rough spot is to get art supplies and learn some new technique. I’ve always loved to sew, and three years ago I bought supplies for batik, which I hadn’t done since high school. It kept me so happily occupied that I barely missed my outdoor sports. So the year after that I bought a whole bunch more stuff for fabric dying and resists. This year I went really big and got a basic manual screen printing press and am teaching myself silk screening. (This last venture should occupy me several more winters, as there’s a lot to it!

  87. “Punishment is inherent in our culture. And self-punishment is a pre-emptive strike against others punishing us.”

    @Mazzy. This stopped me dead in my tracks. I don’t treat myself with food; I know damn well I abuse myself with it. Questioning, “Is this good for me?” doesn’t stop me, because I want it to hurt me instead.

    Can any oft recommend any resources that help with this ‘I’m worthless’ mentality? Ones you can use at home, as opposed to finding practitioners outside?

  88. I have been doing well until last year summer when this whole thing came crashing down. I had consumed 8 quarts of raw milk every week through the summer and into fall and gained about 15 lbs. My boobs are HUGE…I am miserable. I stopped the milk and then went on a carb binge…so sick of meat and vegetables.
    I ate pastries through the entire fall season and part of January.
    On my last period I passed out in pain. THIS has not happened in the last 3 years of eating primally…I passed out ALL the time BEFORE eating primally but thought I was cured and I can ‘treat’ myself.

    I didn’t treat myself at all. What happened is i completely ditched the primal diet last fall and went onto a junk food diet instead and this is the result…THAT fast!

    I also know that I use raw milk as my ‘drug of choice’ for instant gratification because it has natural opioids in it.

    Also, I don’t understand why my brain keeps screaming at me when carbs fall low…I can’t take the ‘voices’.
    Everytime I hit day 12 and ovulate I turn completely insane! What can I use in its place to shut the boogeyman up?

    I have no idea, I’m at a loss.
    I took 50 steps backwards…but being woken up after my feint episode I’m now taking small steps forward in hopes to regain my focus and strength I once had while 100% on primal.

    To me it feels like I’ve been hiding a dark secret and I’m bugging out in my house until this ‘evil presence’ leaves.
    I’ve also avoided coming here and reading/posting about anything because I felt like such a failure.

    Ah, it feels good to finally come out 🙂

    1. Lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity and too much sugar/sweetener are a few things that can trigger what you’re describing. Soy products can do a great job of screwing up the hormones.

      Please don’t think of yourself as a failure. Guilt is so self-destructive. Just start taking a good look at what you’ve been eating and drinking, maybe via a journal or diary. You should be able to pinpoint and eliminate the items that bother you within a week or so.

      Also, going seriously primal might not be the answer for you. It doesn’t work for everybody. Some people do better with less animal protein, higher glycemic veggies, and a little rice in their diet. Try replacing the raw milk (which does contain lactose) with unsweetened coconut milk. Good luck.

  89. How good is life when you live out of harmony with yourself – fighting yourself over something as simple and natural as eating and food? Food is just food.

    Low carb and almost any sort of overly restrictive eating leads to bingeing not because humans evolved to overeat perse, but because it denies the body something necessary for high metabolic functioning. Almost everyone reading this grew up eating carbs, their ancestors for many generations ate carbs and by and large are well adapted to eating carbs such that the body is going to be unhappy and complain about not having enough carbs. Anyone who denies this will find little evidence to the contrary. Primal eating is dumb and ineffective.

  90. This is a great post. I decided to start paleo and give my self an off day on Saturdays, like I deserved a treat once a week. I ate cake and felt awful, even after 5 days of paleo, my favourite cake tasted of nothing but sugar, it was meant to be chocolate. Really glad I didn’t just go cold turkey or I’d still be craving it and not know better. From now on my treats are 85% chocolate. The time of day I feel I deserve a treat most is right after kids are in bed and I sit down. Its a habbit/addiction. Reading posts like this and the comments are helping me so much.

  91. Thanks for this post. I need it. I could and want to be doing better.

  92. I avoid the idea of “deserve” and just tell myself I’m blessed or lucky to have these choices.

  93. I do play this mental game all the time, with myself. I AM entitled, and I DO deserve something. With everything I put up with, I think I am worthy of health and well-being. This is my treat to myself, and for my body. I don’t need to sabotage myself further, I deserve better than that.

  94. Just now read this post and it is one of the best ones I’ve ever read on this site, because of how much it speaks to me. I’m really taking it to heart and thinking about those feelings of “deserving” and what they really mean. I think for me, when I feel that way it is because I’ve become very overwhelmed in life. I’ve not gotten help from others where I needed it. I’ve not taken time out for myself. So it isn’t a matter of deserving the unhealthy food that makes me feel terrible, it is more of a matter of waiting too long to take care of myself. Hmmm… I just have a lot to think about here. Thanks for the great post!

  95. Sometimes the search engine is faulty and comments don’t go through here, in what seems like very inconvenient ways. “Adjustment Bureau” or something trying to sabotage some grass-roots efforts?
    It’s like there’s some rascally ghost in the machine, an intelligent computer virus, dastardly wizards.. I don’t know what the cause is but something is trying to get in the way.
    Another reason to stay primal and feed your head with natural nutrients. If some seemingly omnipotent, unnatural force is trying to mess up your plans, you’re doing something right.

  96. Emotional eating is often really stress eating. Stress eating is caused by an excess of cortisol. The hormone imbalance makes you genuinely hungry and craving carbs, because the stress hormone cortisol spiked your insulin, which promoted fat storage, shut down fat burning and leads to carbohydrate cravings.

    If you think about it, you can tell the difference between a carb craving caused by a stressful day at work, versus a self-indulgent decision to eat an extra piece of cake just because it’s there. The first feels unavoidable and out-of-control, the second feels like an indulgence.

    Stress-eating caused by cortisol can’t be combatted by willpower. Hormones will override willpower every time. You need to combat it with something that reduces the cortisol. Deep breathing apps, meditation, gadgets like the EmWave are all highly effective at doing this.

    Indulgent habits can be combatted with willpower. If there’s no hormone imbalance involved, then using self-discipline is an effective way of tackling the problem.

    If we want to succeed, we need to learn the difference between the two and use an appropriate tactic for each.