Should You Eat Periodic “Cheat” Meals?

pizza and wings dealI get a lot of questions about cheat meals. Are they allowed on the Primal Blueprint? Is there a reason someone should actively seek to eat unhealthy food from time to time? The allure of the cheat meal is obvious: you get to eat stuff that’s otherwise off-limits and extremely delicious. You get to throw caution to the wind for a night. It’s like vacation and you’re a food tourist. But are there actual benefits? Today, we’ll take a look.

As I see it, there are three arguments to be made for including periodic — that is, scheduled or preordained — cheat meals in your otherwise solid Primal eating plan.

The Psychological Deload

Some people can stick to their strict diets with metronomic regularity. They have no issues avoiding “those foods” and feel zero compulsion to cheat. That’s me, for the most part. I’ll pick at the odd crusty piece of bread with butter in a restaurant or birthday cake offered to me, but I’ll just as often decline to partake. But not everyone is like that.

For some folks, hewing to the Primal eating plan takes willpower. It’s not so much that you’re constantly fighting off temptation. It’s that sometimes a burger sounds awesome. Sometimes your buddies want to go out for beers and wings or cosmos and gyoza (yep, those are my gender-biased happy hour corollaries and I’m sticking to them) and you’d like to join them. The cheat meal is a great way to take the load off, let loose, and maintain your sanity. It can ensure dietary compliance and there’s even recent evidence that it may make your diet more effective:

Women were placed on a cyclic diet consisting of three phases. For each phase, they reduced calories for 11 days followed by 3 days of ad libitum (i.e. at one’s pleasure) eating. After the three phases, they’d lost an average of 8 kg (about 17 lbs) of pure body fat. This surpassed the amount predicted by calories in, calories out. This study didn’t employ all-out cheat days, but the concept is similar.

The cheat meal is like the deload week in strength training in that it helps the people who need it replenish their will to stay the course and comply with the diet. It’s a break from the monotony, the ardor, the hard work — whatever you want to call it and however you perceive it. It’s like the 80/20 principle, only planned, and it works for the same reasons I included that in the Primal Blueprint.

Just, ya know, don’t take the deload week analogy too literally and make your cheat meal a full-on cheat week.

The Hormetic Effect

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of hormesis, it’s simple: what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Acute stressors beget resistance to that stressor. Think Wesley in The Princess Bride slowly building up his resistance to iocane powder with gradually increasing microdoses of the poison until he could handle a dose that would kill another man several times over. That was hormesis. Hormesis explains why plant phytonutrients – which are actually just toxins employed by the plant for its defense against pests – exercise, fasting, and even occasional sleep deprivation can be good for us. They all introduce an acute bout of stress that our bodies must fortify themselves against. In the process of fortification, we become stronger, healthier, and more robust.

Okay. A tough workout, some blueberries, a skipped meal or two are one thing. But could a meal of oxidized lipids (heated seed oils) and heat-derived carcinogens (well done meat and fried potatoes) really have beneficial hormetic effects? Maybe.

4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (4-HNE) is a lipid peroxidation toxin spawned by the interaction between reactive oxygen species and omega-6 PUFAs in the body. Large concentrations of 4-HNE and other similar toxins are responsible for tissue damage stemming from ischemic heart attacks, but low concentrations of 4-HNE activate NrF2, the same resistance pathway activated by phytonutrients like blueberry anthocyanin. In the right dose, 4-HNE actually primed cardiac cells to develop resistance against the damaging effects of 4-HNE and increased glutathione synthesis. Mice without the NrF2 gene did not benefit from 4-HNE, showing that hormesis was the lynchpin.

How about carcinogens like the heterocyclic amines formed in smoked, well-done, and processed meats? A team of Japanese researchers studying the effects of low and high-dose carcinogens thinks that “adaptations may be expected to occur in response to low doses of all types of DNA-damaging agents.” (PDF) There’s even some evidence that certain mycotoxins have hormetic effects at low levels in rodent ovarian cells, but that’s not sufficient reason to go out and knowingly consume moldy corn or anything crazy like that.

I’d guess that the hormetic principle applies to many toxins. Well, maybe except for acrylamide. That’s a carcinogen formed during the heating of starches (think French fries) which does not appear to stimulate the hormetic pathway enough to confer beneficial effects.

We don’t have enough to make any prescriptions (things like “a small order of fries will up regulate resistance to cardiac damage while a large order will increase susceptibility”) and I’m not even sure the hormetic principle applies to general cheat meals, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

The Metabolism Kickstart

Protracted calorie restriction in the pursuit of weight loss, whether deliberate (weighing, measuring, counting) or spontaneous (low-carb, focus on nutrient density to promote satiety), can depress metabolic rate and stall weight loss. It is known.

A cheat meal can kickstart the metabolism and keep the weight loss going, not despite the massive influx of calories but because of it. When you eat a big meal, a few good things happen:

Leptin increases. Leptin is a hormone that interacts with the hypothalamus to suppress food intake and increase energy expenditure. It’s reduced by low levels of body fat (body fat actually secretes leptin) and prolonged caloric restriction. So if you’ve lost body fat in the past, stalled, and further reduced food intake to bust the plateau, you’re doing a double whammy on leptin. A big meal, especially if it’s high in carbs and even if it’s a cheat meal, can restore leptin levels so that weight loss can resume.

Thyroid hormone increases. T3, the “active” thyroid hormone, is generally lowered during prolonged calorie restriction. This is normal, and as long as your energy levels are good and weight loss is maintained, a nominally depressed T3 is physiological and expected and nothing to fret over. But extended calorie restriction accompanied by fatigue, malaise, and weight plateaus or gain is a sign of too low a T3. That’s where an acute bout of overfeeding — a cheat meal — can help by restoring your thyroid function to physiological levels.

Glycogen refills. If you’re coming off a low-carb diet, a cheat meal full of carbs can restock your glycogen stores and make subsequent high-intensity, anaerobically-demanding fitness pursuits more fruitful.

Before you jump into a regimented cheat meal, keep a few things in mind:

Cheating is relative.

Cheating can be “healthy.” You don’t have to gorge on Hostess cupcakes, McDonald’s fries, and Totino’s Party Pizza for it to be a cheat meal. Maybe you cheat with a ridiculous amount of fresh strawberries in whipped cream and melted dark chocolate. Maybe you cheat with a pound of mashed purple sweet potatoes mixed with cinnamon and coconut oil. Maybe you cheat with a huge batch of homemade fries. Those are all examples of wholesome high-carb meals resembling (and often surpassing in taste) common junk foods that could provide a kickstart to your metabolic rate.

Cheating isn’t cheating if you’re not in a committed relationship with a clean, wholesome diet.

You have to have something to “cheat on.” If you’re already eating fast food five times a week, that cheat meal isn’t a cheat meal anymore. It’s just how you eat. And don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re cheating yourself with that fettucine alfredo. You’re not cheating yourself. You’re not “failing.” You’re just making an informed choice to partake of food that, if consumed chronically, would probably elicit unfavorable metabolic effects.

Try to keep something healthy in there.

Have a spinach salad alongside the gluten-free pizza. Eat a few eggs with your waffles. Going for a burger with bun? Spring for the buffalo burger and make it gluten-free. If you’re going for grains and sugar, avoid seed oils. If you’re gonna get French fries, skip dessert. Get a good whack of protein, too, and avoid gluten, especially if you’re celiac or gluten-sensitive.

If you’re stuck on a weight loss plateau and want off, a cheat meal once a week or so might help. If you feel hemmed in on all sides by too much dietary purity, a cheat meal could even be a good idea. If you wind up hungover just because you tried one of your friend’s French fries last night, a regular cheat meal might be able to cultivate more robustness.

But they aren’t necessary. Don’t think just because you read this on MDA that you “have to have a cheat meal.” It’s just a suggestion. Only do it if it makes sense and helps you stick to an overall healthy, enjoyable way of eating and living.

Let’s hear from you guys. Do you use cheat meals regularly? Have they helped?

TAGS:  hormesis, hormones

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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200 thoughts on “Should You Eat Periodic “Cheat” Meals?”

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  1. One of my favorite cheat meals is a Domino’s thin crust pizza with bacon and onions. I figure it limits the calories and carbs because it’s less crust and it’s got bacon and onions on it dammit! 😀

    1. Thanks for ruining my training day. 🙂 Heading over to Domino’s now!
      PS: Mark, you really didn’t have to include that tasty pic in your post… 🙂

  2. I don’t even think of food anymore as “cheat” or not, and I certainly don’t purposefully eat food that makes me feel sick, knowing what I know now. There is no good time to get sick for me! That being said, if I do go out to eat and options are limited, if I eat completely gluten free I will not feel really ill afterwards. I find it to be no trouble at all to eat paleo/primal at least 95% of the time if not more. “cheat” foods have no pull for me knowing how I’ll feel afterwards.

    1. I have been watching Paleo for almost 3 months, non stop with no cheating. I feel I have my eating disorder until control. For me, it would make no sense to cheat.

      I cheated so much in the past it caused major health problems, I now am working on to correct. For some people it may be ok to cheat once in awhile, but I love the feeling of having complete control over my body.

      People who are extremely sensitive or have serious allergies to certain foods should never cheat.

      1. So true, as a recovering ‘sugar addict’, I’ve found I have to be very careful with cheat days as well.

      2. Sorry, but this really jumped out at me and I can’t not say something about it:

        “I feel I have my eating disorder [under] control” . . . “I love the feeling of having complete control over my body.”

        Just because your eating isn’t unhealthy, it doesn’t mean it isn’t disordered.

        1. Please elaborate because I do not have a frame of reference

        2. This. On a low carb board I frequent there’s a woman who literally eats nothing but 1.5 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, six leaves of lettuce with .5 tablespoon of dressing, coffee and two cups of almond milk. She is so terrified of carbs that she believes just TOUCHING something like a potato will make the carbs jump into her body and get her fat. She looks like a concentration camp victim with a tan–sunken cheeks and eyes, bones sticking through her chest. And the worst part? People are ENCOURAGING her so she thinks it’s healthy. Mods at the board have tried to intervene but since she’s not telling people to eat like she does to lose weight they really can’t ban her or anything. It’s horrifying.

        3. Kelly, you are right. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder even though I was clinically obese. Obsessing about food, in whatever form, can be a disorder.

      3. I think I understand what Cheryl means. Carbohydrates can be so addicting, and the desire to eat them so insidious and overwhelming. You then have conventional wisdom telling you it’s your failure of willpower when you give in, which makes you miserable, sick, guilty and still craving carbs.

        Low-carb paleo gives you freedom from this addiction. Suddenly you can stop thinking about food all the time, and when hunger arrives it’s a polite knock at the door reminding you to eat, rather than a military siege that takes over your entire body.

        So when Cheryl says she loves the feeling of control – I agree, it’s bliss to be free of cravings that leave you so out of control and I wouldn’t choose to subject myself to them again.

  3. It may be that nature has selected for a changing diet. The minor stress from change itself is hormetic, almost regardless of what we are changing to eat. Same with exercise, sleep, sex, etc. Routine is death. Certainty is restricting. That is why time is important…it forces recognition of change as the background of our existence. Variety is not just the spice of life, it is life itself.

  4. As long as you know exactly what you’re doing, and that a big glop of carbs now is probably going to result in more cravings for carbs in a couple of hours, this might be okay. But I’ve seen so many people who eat “just one cookie” and then one more, and another, and pretty soon they’re blaming themselves for lack of willpower when it’s really just their body’s natural reaction to what they ate.

    1. It really does depend on the individual. If, for you, a big glop of carbs triggers more cravings later, and you don’t want to have cravings, then you can make your choice according to what you know to be best for you. For me personally, I don’t have that binge phenomenon, so I can cheat and then get on with my life.

      I think the real problem, at least in many cases, is the notion of eating “just one cookie” in the first place. It sounds more like an unrealistic goal, born from absolute, black-and-white thinking, and a set-up for failure, which leads to self-blame, etc. But really, why is eating *several* cookies at a time, within the context of a generally healthy lifestyle, such a big deal? Even if it IS in fact a lack of willpower, so what? You mess up one day, then do better the next day. Sure, there are some people such as diabetics that might have reasons to be strict with themselves; I’m not making a blanket statement about everyone’s needs, but I honestly think that if most people would just honor their body’s desires for food, including junk food, they would bring their appetites into balance over time. It is the deprivation mentality that feeds the addiction cycle more often than not.

      1. Agree! This is ALL so relative. For me carbs don’t trigger cravings at all. When I crave carbs its because I’ve missed some protein.

        IMO, the cravings are not as physical as some people think…its more about being easy, over anything else. Its more mental than physical as its just so easy to fill up on sugars and bad carbs then it is to maintain the higher protein, good fat regimens. If your out and about – like now for the holidays, etc – the available good proteins are scarce. Then if due to the holiday interruptions you’ve failed to hit the grocery stores, and you come home famished – unless you live an ascetic lifestyle there a good chance there are some carbs at home then maybe some ready protein sources.

    2. That’s the big issue in a nutshell. How much is ok? How much is too much? Does one cheat meal become a cheat day, a cheat week, a whenever I want to it’s ok?

    3. This is true. Last night I ate a cookie, then another, then three more! Then a few hours later I had a horrifying fast food meal! Today I wish I hadn’t, but I don’t feel bad as I NEVER do this. They were fresh baked and delish’!

  5. The way you’re talking about this is way ahead of the curve, Mark, which I hugely appreciate – but this whole “cheat” vocabulary is really off-putting to me – a symptom of the widespread craziness of most people’s relationship to food. I’m often urged to cheat by people who aren’t enthusiastic about their diets or their health.

    I never “cheat.” I do sometimes eat foods that are more treat-like than nutrient-packed. I never “cheat” by eating food that makes me ill (people actually do this, it’s incredible that someone would really rather spend a day on the bathroom floor than pass up a “treat” – when there’s so much else glorious to eat).

    Instead of “cheating,”I call all of it “eating.” I don’t punish myself or apologize for it or offer excuses when sugar crosses my lips (the cranberry sorbet at Thankgiving was incredible – better than the sweet-potato sorbet, and that’s saying something!)…and probably it’s not a coincidence that I love what I eat, how I feel, what I weigh. I don’t like vegetables less than chocolate. I do eat them more than I eat chocolate, but that’s not because chocolate is bad (and oh-so-sexy), and kale “good” (and oh-so-boring). They’re both awesome. Wine is also awesome, but I have coffee in the mornings – not because wine is some kind of cheat-y thing, but because I got stuff to do. Different stuff from dinner-evening-chat-hangout stuff.

    Maybe “cheat” is remedial vocabulary to help move from the SAD, and I’m all for whatever someone finds useful. This one’s not useful for me.

    It’s not “cheating” to rest or deload, either. I’m going to have a look at my vocabulary around movement and training and fitness and see what I think…

    1. I love this and couldn’t agree more. I too feel weird about the word “cheat” although I do use it when talking about grains (but not so much with sugar, which doesn’t phase me). I think it helps me keep a mental distinction–it makes it easier for me to keep straight in my mind what I do want to eat, and want to avoid, and it gives me a shorthand way of speaking to coworkers about my diet. We get a lot of catered lunches where I work, and lots of desserts, and so it makes it easier to discuss why I will occasionally eat birthday cake when it’s available but most other days refuse it. (Not that I owe people any explanation, but the subject does come up and I guess after extolling the virtues of the paleo diet as I do, I’d rather people know I was doing a consciously chosen “cheat” rather than just backsliding.) I wonder what other word we could use besides cheat. Then again, it seems like it would also be helpful to reframe the impact the word cheat has on us as individuals. For me, I love working my muscles “to failure” and that phrase has shifted my very idea of what failure is. Failure is actually success! In that context at least. And that notion has made me less afraid of failure in other arenas. Maybe we could take the sting out of “cheat” in a similar way. Dunno, but you raise a good point.

      1. My online fitness coach coined the term “planned indulgence”, or a “PI”. Helps keep the positive sane mindset as opposed to negative and punishing guilty associations.

        1. I adopted the term “planned indulgence” from Dana Carpender’s blog. And I set up some rules for myself:

          1. A planned indulgence is never a “day” or a “meal”, it’s a particular food or foods I wish to indulge in occasionally.

          2. When an indulgence is planned, I take steps to keep it from becoming problematic. I eat heartily leading up to the time of the planned indulgence so I eat the indulgence for pleasure, not to satisfy physiological hunger–it’s important to understand the difference. I want plenty of good, healthful food with it so that I’m not tempted to overeat the indulgence.

          3. I enjoy the heck out of the indulgence and give myself permission to fully enjoy it–no guilt. (I am often surprised that it’s not as good as I remembered, though).

          4. When the indulgence is over, it’s over. I make sure the very next bite of food in my mouth is a good, clean, healthful food. It is not necessary for me to feel guilty, skip meals, or skimp on healthful food to make up for a planned indulgence.

          5. Planned indulgences are RARE occurrences. Not daily, not weekly, not even monthly. Birthdays, anniversaries, or special holidays are good reasons to plan an indulgence, Wednesdays are not.

        2. Totally down with that. I think Mark put the word “cheat” in quotation marks. Words are words. The action, idea and attitude behind them are everything. So call it “cheat”, call it “PI”, call it what you want. Just know that the idea frees some of us up, not to go totally overboard but to be a bit more flexible and know why it can be ok and what the limitations are. Knowledge is power. Thanks everyone for your enlightening comments.

      2. Great point about ‘failure’ as success! I eat rare grains, and never gluten grains (can’t!), and when I do, it’s either a special treat (had coconut rice with friends, it was like candy! – and 4 of us shared a single portion) – or sometimes someone has gone out of their way to make “something I can eat,” and then I’ll take at least a symbolic serving in appreciation.

        I didn’t take into account – my tastebuds are now very much aligned with how I normally eat, so I’m not fighting my impulses by sticking to my guns. That might make the idea of a “cheat” make more sense/be more appealing. Thanks for your perspective!

      3. Feast days! Because of a health issue I’m on a pretty hard-core ketosis version of paleo. I love my feast days, but only have them three days a year. Thanksgiving was a feast day for me, and six very responsible days later, my blood glucose is still almost 20% higher than average. It turns out that my metabolism does not recover quickly from eating sugar and other carbs. So, no routine cheats for me.

      1. Sweet potato sorbet! I had made sweet potato wine, so had leftover cooked sweet potatoes, which were already sweetened. I added lemon juice and put it in the sorbet maker – also cranberry sorbet, which I left pretty tart and based on my mother’s cran-sauce recipe, with fresh orange and Cointreau. Definitely a special occasion meal…dessert is rare around here, so we make sure it’s terrific when it rolls around!

        I’ve sorbet-ified other unexpected things – sometimes when the texture isn’t quite right, I throw in olive oil. (I bet the Cointreau also had an effect on texture?) Bon appetit!

    2. Mark’s use of the word “cheat” is tongue-in-cheek. Everyone I know who has mentioned “cheating” in connection with food or diet, has done so with a nudge-nudge and a twinkle in their eye. It’s all in good fun, just like “food baby” or “fat dress”.

    3. Hmmm. Is it possible to mentally cheat without the act of and still achieve an equal physiological response? Similar to a Pavlovian response?

    4. This is an important point, I understand the use of – but really hate the implications of- the word ‘cheat’ in regards to dietary choices. Although I do understand that in many ways, its usually a reference for other people. For example, I eat paleo most of the time – its not my religion, or some dogma I have to adhere to, I do it out of choice.

      My friends consider me a paleo eater. So when I ate a pizza during a girls night out – they all freaked out because it wasn’t paleo. They didn’t understand why, if paleo works, I would ‘feel the need to binge.’ Again, really interesting use of language. Is eating a pizza when you’re usually mostly paleo ‘binging’? I don’t think so. It’s just a pizza. I ate it because I wanted to.

      Likewise, at Christmas which for me is the 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th of December I’m not paleo because the togetherness of eating carb loaded meals is more important to me during those days than my diet is. If I stuck to my paleo guns during that time, it would be too much about my eating regime and people working around that or whatever and I don’t want to focus on that during family eating time – especially when my 99year old aunt makes her famous potato salad. I’m not turning my paleo nose up at the role food sometimes plays in our emotional connectedness.

      It was the same when I went to France, I ate tons of pastry during holiday mode. Then I went back to paleo. I don’t see paleo as a restrictive rule book, I see it as best thing for my body and the thing I do *most of the time*. But I will say that there is a pervasive attitude out there that paleo is somehow a kind of rigid dogma that cannot be flexed. It can be.

  6. I’m not a fan of “cheat days.” The most powerful way to create a healthy lifestyle is to change your relationship with food and cheat days interfere with that.

    Having some ice cream or other “non-real food” from time to time and getting joy out of that is nothing to worry about. But that’s a far different from a cheat day mindset.

    Plus, how often have we seen the “cheat day” strategy devolve into 2 cheat days, 3, 4, etc.? It’s a lose-lose strategy in my book because it distracts from the work people should be focused on doing.

    1. How is getting joy out of eating ice cream from time to time not a cheat meal? What you just described is a perfect example of a cheat meal.

      1. I’d just call it eating. If you ate salad ( very primal and clean) for every meal, you’d feel drained and probably a bit cold and damp. It’s just too much raw food and doesn’t have enough calories or fat. So you don’t eat than much salad. Sometimes you want ice cream, or some really good french bread, but just like a salad, it doesn’t work if over consumed. Ice cream is a normal choice, so is bread. The point Kevin is making is the concept of “cheating” interferes with developing a healthy relationship with food and just leads to shaming and guilt. Most of the time I don’t eat bread. Sometimes I do. No cheating or falling of the wagon. It’s my normal diet. Ice cream just makes my nose run so I avoid it almost entirely. But too much salad in the winter makes my nose run as well.

  7. My favorite cheat is wings! I love them but I do take the skin off and just sprinkle them with sea salt rather than dipping them in dressing. I actually prefer them this way and I don’t feel as guilty because I at least reduce some of the JUNK.

    1. I occasionally fry organic wings with spices in a little coconut oil, eat while dipping in a little Renne’s greek feta dressing….you can also bake them in the oven. It’s hard to eat more than 5, and I can eat especially after mtn biking.

      This is not cheating is it? There are many recipes out there, including some ultra low carp pizza dough’s, that make cheating less appealing.

      1. They are hardly pastured organic chickens. I order these out, if at home I would not remove the skin because they would be better quality chickens and not fried. And I also try to keep the omega 6’s in check. I do usually try to get them at places that have grilled wings but I think they pre cook them in a fryer.

        1. If you want to limit your omega 6, just fry them wings in good old lard, they will taste 10x better and be 100% healthy.

  8. I wish I could cheat, but 2 things hold me back:

    1. Food allergies
    2. Blood sugar levels–the way I have to eat, Paleo and Primal eating seems like cheating to me.

    The consequences of cheating on either of these two reasons are too dire for me to contemplate, so I put up with the “odd man out” treatment.

  9. I like the idea of a cheat meal/food involving sweet potatoes or extra fruit with whipped cream or some Paleo baked goody if I ever feel the need to take a “break” from my usual meals. Just thinking about allowing myself to cheat with non-Paleo/grain-based foods on a regularly scheduled basis induces a slight amount of stress and anxiety because of the fear that I will get out of control with justifying and rationalizing eating that stuff more than necessary for the sake of hormesis. I also worry about the “addictiveness” that can be a side effect with some of those foods…
    I’m only a year into my Paleo journey and I feel like I still have quite a way to go as far as getting a handle on stress eating and declining or avoiding certain things like birthday treats people bring to work. For me, eating super unhealthy cheat meals intentionally would just derail me. It is getting easier with time, though. I am pretty proud of how I handled Thanksgiving. I ate Paleo for breakfast and lunch, but coudn’t help but to indulge in some non-Paleo food and dessert for dinner. That was it, though. I went right back to my Paleo ways the next morning (helped by not having leftovers from my friend’s dinner).
    I like what Mark said in the closing paragraph: “Don’t think just because you read this on MDA that you “have to have a cheat meal.” It’s just a suggestion.” At least there are some “healthy” options to think about if I find myself up against the urge to cheat. 🙂

  10. God, all this hand-wringing over a freaking pizza or burger or dessert once in a while. Life is for living – have some pizza if you want. You won’t burn in hell. Primal is a lifestyle, not a life-sentence.

    1. +1

      I hate it when people ask me if I “can” eat {insert SAD food}. I can eat whatever I want! I CHOOSE to follow a paleo lifestyle. The same way I CHOOSE to have beer and pizza every once in a while. And usually the indulgence makes me want to go back to my healthy foods even more!

    2. I agree! Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of the good or of progress!

      1. Agree! This notion of full control and perfection is as crazy an idea as is a complete disregard for ones diets and exercise levels.

    3. Love it, Vic. Too often we get wrapped up in trying to be so good that indulging a bit feels like committing a mortal sin.

      I eat well most of the time, work out almost every day, get plenty of sleep, and supplement wisely…Consequently, I don’t feel guilty about eating an entire pizza (and part of my wife’s) every once in a while.

    4. Amen Victor! If you’re going to do it, enjoy it or don’t do it at all!

    5. Even I (food allergies and all) enjoy pizza and/or burgers–it’s just made at home with ingredients I can eat. Tonight, I’ll be enjoying enchiladas made with my own coconut flour tortillas and AIP “cheese”.

      Cheat? I guess I already do–just not with off-the-shelf foods. I think the term “cheat” here applies to a break from cooking more than anything else.

    6. I mean this in fun, Victor, but you sound a lot like that serpent who was talking to Eve, prior to her cheat. 🙂

    7. I agree. If you feel like eating something, then eat it. Do your best to eat the stuff that you know is doing your body good. But at holidays, cheat days or whatever day it is….RELAX and unclench your butt cheeks. I can’t remember if it was on 20/20 or 60 minutes, but they were studying the over 85 year old people that remained healthy and mentally with it. When asked if they watched what they ate, the vast majority said, ‘not really’!! The study was also indicating that those that gained weight in their 70s, 80s and 90s, had the best outcome for longevity and mental clarity.

      Assuming you don’t have celiacs disease or some other severe medical condition, if eating a piece of pizza or some other junk food ‘wrecks you’, you had better start getting your ‘gut bugs’ in order and feeding them what they need……and that sure as heck isn’t accomplished by eating ‘low carb’!!!

    8. Very true. I recently went to a chowder showdown with beer pairings. I drank ALL the beer and ate ALL the chowder, all of which I’m sure was thickened with flour. One came in a mini-bread bowl. I’m not even remotely guilty. 😀

  11. Mark mentions glycogen refueling and that is a great strategy for athletes that permits some “cheats.” When you can leverage it for a greater goal of long term health, planned cheat days seems absolutely logical…and enjoyable.

  12. I’m going to wave a red flag and say that the phrase “cheat” shouldn’t be in our Primal vocab. Instead how about “choice”? Cheat comes with a whole load of guilt where as choice implies a reasoned thought around what you are about to do. For myself, the freedom I have around this lifestyle of getting off the sugar addition, never counting calories, listening to myself to relearn when I am full and now the total disinterest (distrust and at time disgust) around processed food means that I have lost a lot of negative self talk.
    I used to talk about being “starving”, I got “hangry” when I hadn’t eaten for a few hours, I was going to be “naughty or bad” if I had a cake or chocolate. I am sure folks can add plenty more there!
    So now I choose. I choose quality chocolate that doesn’t give me an “eat more” buzz, but satisfies that occasional feeling of a little something sweet. When I make dessert or cake, I’ll go full out on gluten free, grain free, high healthy fat baking – I call this pimping paleo. I eat, I enjoy and when it’s gone it’s gone.
    If I eat fries or a gluten free burger when I am out, I most often think that my home made version tastes so much nicer, but the social aspects of a night out with friends far out ways the choice of unhealthy food for one meal.
    So change cheat to choice, enjoy it with relish, suffer the physical consequences (bloat, carb ping etc), but don’t allow a load of guilt to settle. Then go back to eating normally, because primally inspired eating is normal.
    Rant over 🙂 – have a lovely day everyone!

    1. Interesting comment about the quality chocolate. I’ve noticed that eating a couple squares of a good dark chocolate satisfies my sweet tooth cravings almost immediately whereas a bag of PB M&M’s will be gone in seconds and leave me wanting more.

      1. Yes! I am the same way! I’ll have a square (or 2!) of good quality dark chocolate with almonds and I am good. No cravings, no wanted more. Totally satisfied. On Halloween, a co-worker opened a bag of PB M&Ms and Twix, I COULD NOT stop eating them! Then I felt like I needed a nap an hour after I indulged. After feeling like that, I can honestly say that I have kicked my junkie candy habit! It makes me feel like crap after I eat it, why bother?

      2. I also find that a single wrapped up Godiva chocolate will do me as a treat and I have no urge to eat more. I think that it’s wrapped has something to do with it… a bag of open chocolate almonds? I have no control.

  13. Great article, especially for those looking for a get out of jail free card. Primal eaters already have one compared to the strictness of Loren Cordain’s diet. I imagine if you ask Dr. Cordain, “Can I eat…”, he just says no before you can finish the sentence. 🙂

  14. Here is what I can tell you from an n=1 experiment done many many times.

    I am not strictly Primal but more VHFLC and pretty strict…most of the time. When I do go off I put lots of life into living and do it with abandon. everything being relative of course. My abandon is probably more like a standard American diet. Maybe 400 grams of carbs once in a blue moon. Maybe from Blue Moon beer actually. In any case I can gain 6 pounds in three to four days of debauchery on a trip. What happens when I get back in the normal swing of things is I always always drop at least 2 pounds below my binge. it seems to reset my hormones or something. Now I have been eating VHFLC for just over 3 years so getting back to my diet is not difficult at all.

    In short I think there is some merit to doing this. Again, n=1 but it works for me other than feeling the carb hangover for a day.

  15. Every once in awhile, I’ll have a handful of chips and salsa, maybe 2x a year. I nibbled on a couple of grain products over the holidays and paid for it with allergic reactions. For the most part, I stay primal and count grams of carbs – keeping daily intake between 40-100 grams. After 50 pounds of weight loss (over a year and a half), still losing and no longer pre-diabetic. As long as I get my healthy fats in the am and protein at night, I have no cravings or desire to change my diet.

    1. Have you tried corn chips? I believe Mark discussed this topic a while back. While still not strictly Primal, it’s a step above the chips made from flour.

      Life wouldn’t be worth living without chips and salsa. 😉

      1. Garden of Eatin Organic Blue Corn chips – we eat these on a regular basis. They are too awesome to pass on and you need something to dip the guacamole and salsa with. After a weight lifting workout I like to do a Chipotles style meal of rice, beans, meat and corn chips. That’s no cheat, it’s a carb load.

      2. Jacob – I usually eat garden of eatin blue corn chips. I have a reaction to corn among other things. And your right, life wouldn’t be much with out salsa, guacamole and chips!

    2. Does protein in the am make you hungry? I am finding a salad with some black beans and avocado is far more satisfying than eggs or meat. About 3 hours later I have a few pecans and I’m good for a few more hours. I have always been hungry. I too am diabetic, type 1 but the way I eat still seems to apply, even with insulin. Morning protein makes me hungry. Can I ask how much protein a day you eat? I have been low carb for 25 years, veggies only. And I need a lot of them

      1. I eat most of my protein in the morning/evening. I have bacon or eggs from chickens and butter from grass fed cows in the morning and I’m never hungry. I’m usually not hungry all day. try to have big salad at lunch. really don’t count the grams of protein – salmon/steak/chicken at night. I try to keep carbs around 60 grams a day. I like bitter sweet chocolate as a snack, once in awhile. Would type 1 diabetes make you process protein, differently? wondering. and try adding fat.

        1. eggs from my pet chickens, in case you wondered where else I would get eggs from. 😉

      2. Protein can be processed quite fast. Whey protein or lean meat goes pretty fast on me. But if you combine it with more fat, it stands for a long time.

        Try to add some some extra butter, olive oil or coconut oil to your meals.

        1. I think I process everything quickly. I do eat good fats as that is my fuel source since I’m low carb but too much saturated fat hangs out too long for my insulin. I’m on low doses and it’s used up in 1.5-2 hours. For some strange reason protein, low or high fat messes me up in the morning. I need it with lunch and dinner for sure. Lots and lots of green veggies too! I know black beans/hummus aren’t primal but they do tide me over and I don’t need a lot of them. Just a heaping tsp.on my salad. I snack on nuts or pumpkin seeds if I need a snack.

      3. I’m also type 1 for over 25 years, and that morning hunger can often come from a spike in bloodsugar, if your sugars are even just a little higher. This can be because your night insulin requirements aren’t enough to get you through to the am, or your muscles released glucodin as you rested overnight.

        The latter is why I tend to do my exercises at night, as it continues to burn any energy being released. I always had problems with my bloodsugar in the mornings, and no tweaking in any other area than exercise in the afternoon/evening, made any difference.

        The other reason you could be hungry, is if you’re bloodsugar is going the other way – too low, which is just the reverse of what I suggested. Do you exercise in the morning and reduce your insulin at night.

        I find an avocado with my eggs and bacon, leaves me feeling more satiated for longer – because of the healthy fats it contains. But an avocado with everything, just tastes better too.

  16. I’ve recently switched to a primal diet. My body is loving it! I am diabetic, and my aim is to get off all medications. We just weren’t meant to take pills. I’ve dropped about 7lbs in a month, which is awesome for me. My ‘cheat’ food is popcorn and dark chocolate. I tried it eat a pice of veggie pizza the other day…ewww! I never thought I would see the day when I wouldn’t want to eat french fries or pizza, but so it is. Yippee!

    1. Good for you! Glad it’s working out for you. I’ve noticed my palette has changed a bit as I eat healthier. It doesn’t take as much sweet food to satisfy a sweet craving. Likewise, I crave healthier alternatives…well maybe not “crave” but they appear more palatable.

    2. That’s our other indulgence, popcorn popped in coconut oil for movie nights, generally once a week. WTH, it’s gluten free and plenty of fiber. I started drinking my watermelon flavored Gaspari BCAAs mix with it, yum!

  17. Loosing weight is so difficult, and SLOW for me………….that cheat meals just pack on the pounds too quickly. It also makes me crave sugar thereafter. It’s best to just skip them. A little bite or two of higher carbs now and then is satisfying, but to go for a whole plate of pasta now, with bread, and a glass of wine would just derail me.

    1. Avocados derail me–it seems I can’t handle the fructose.

  18. I agree with Wendy. Cheating is a very negative action. Choice is much better. I’ve been eating too many gluten free biscuits recently, mainly because some of us meet up regularly and the person whose house we go to provides gluten free biscuits as I’m a Coeliac and then gives me whats left over to take home. I actually refused some today because if I have them at home I eat them and too much sugary foods makes my stomach and waistline expand. If I feel like a roast potato, I have one, always cooked with lots of lovely fat I’ve kept from a joint. If I feel like a piece of gluten free cake, I have some. What I have noticed is that gluten free pasta tastes of nothing after not eating it for ages.

  19. I’ve actually found that the better we’re eating, the less desire I have to “cheat”. Many years ago I put myself through college working as a barista. I have long had an appreciation for fine espresso, perfectly steamed milk topped by a delicate layer of foam. Until a couple of years ago I drank these semi-regularly. Now, I couldn’t *imagine* drinking a cup of warm milk. I think about the inevitable reddening of my face, that gross mucus that goes hand-in-hand with a large serving of’s disgusting. Not worth it at all. We did cheat a bit last week on Thanksgiving. Shared a crusty baguette between three of us. Was it delicious? Sure. But that was hard to remember while we spent the subsequent days talking about how lousy we felt. Lesson learned!

  20. Cheating is not in my vocabulary – there are just two things that I never eat – gluten containing grains and sugar (They both make me physically sick). Everything else is a choice. I don’t think of it as “cheating” when I eat as much eastern shore silver queen corn on the cob as I can for two weeks in August when it’s fresh and local – I call it enjoyment. Just because I don’t eat the crappy yellow “horse corn” that’s avail year round at the grocery store doesn’t mean its cheating when I eat the fresh local stuff in the summer IMO.

  21. I don’t regularly “schedule” a cheat meal, but I do have them on occasion when we are asked to go out for supper (how could I possibly say “no” to dessert or those Texas Roadhouse rolls?!) or I’m at my mother-in-laws for a meal (she’s an amazing cook and I would never turn down any of her high carb casseroles lol). I use cheat meals, but I don’t abuse them. It’s what makes this whole lifestyle sustainable, which is what makes Primal Blueprint living different from anything else I’ve ever tried…it’s SUSTAINABLE!

    1. I’m more likely to have a single impromptu cheat food than an entire cheat meal. As for setting aside a whole day in which to cheat, which some people apparently do, that’s what I would call full-blown falling off the wagon, even if it is done on a rigid schedule. For me it would be far too easy to start obsessing about those periodically scheduled cheat days, or even scheduled cheat meals. Then it becomes a slippery downhill slope that’s hard to recover from.

  22. I feel that so much of it depends on mindset. If it’s a really mindful, and conscious choice, and the “cheat meal” feels nurturing, rather than destructive or compulsive, then I think it’s totally fine and healthy. On the other hand, there are lots of psychological and emotional issues that get caught up in making decisions about our food. If we start conceptualizing the “cheat meal” or food as an escape, or a way to unwind, this could get unhealthy really quickly. Also, in my experience, sugar tends to ask for more of itself. I can go without sugar for several months, but then when I have a little, I start getting sugar cravings again. This usually leads to a couple of months of struggling with cravings and impulsive eating. For me, there are certain things I can “cheat” with occasionally, but there are other things that I’m better off avoiding all together.

  23. Such a timely post! I celebrated my birthday over the weekend and enjoyed a piece of chocolate cream pie (with gluten-free crust) and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was the most decadent thing I have had since God knows when-and I enjoyed every minute of it. The next day I was back on track with my normal way of eating.
    Now, a few years ago, I would have been stressing out over the pie, whether to eat, or not to eat, and feeling guilty about eating it in the end. I then would have possibly gorged for the rest of the day and then spent the next day exercising like a mad woman.
    Mark’s advice at the end was spot-on. Cheat meal’s aren’t for everybody.

  24. Oh man alive! I cheated on thanksgiving and my stomach still doesn’t feel right. I think I cheated too hard (sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, non primal stuffing, and dug all the toppings off a pecan pie). But I agree that a little cheat is worthwile, and I will have a big nasty, homeade burger cooked in butter from my favorite burger place once every couple of months. I always have a food baby after and don’t want one for another two months. I think if you are going to cheat, plan it, and do it right. Don’t half ass it with McDonalds corn laced swill.

  25. I just had a high-carb meal, felt pretty bad, but I guess it’s probably helping increasing Leptin, Thyroid hormone and in refilling Glycogen stores in my muscles.

    If my strength increases in future workouts, or if my weight loss journey increases in momentum, then I would incorporate ‘cheat’ meals into my diet.

    I want to include longer(up to 24 hours) fasting into my diet as possible. Don’t know how these two will mix.

  26. Don’t do it. I was dragged to Smashburger and in a point of sheer stupidity, I’m not going to say weakness, I decided to get a burger on a gluten free bun. I’ve been primal for 3 years now and I pretty much stick to it except for a bit of rice here and there. 20 minutes after the meal I felt horrible. I had a bloated distended stomach for two days and paid for that meal in more ways than one. It was not worth it and the bun wasn’t even all that great. That was all the reminder I needed. I find the longer I’m off the junk, the more adversely it affects me.

  27. I started paleo officially at the beginning of Nov. (lost 10 lbs & gained 0 over Thanksgiving!), but at the end of Jan. we’re going to Disney World. On one hand, DISNEY!!! – on the other, I need to come up with portable primal breakfasts and navigate lunches and dinners at the restaurants (we got the meal plan).

    I figure at least one day out of the week is going to be a cheat out of simple necessity, but I’d rather not destroy all my progress on vacation.

    Any tips?

    1. Disney can be done primally. At least one prominent Paleo blogger outlined how a while back. It may have been The Domestic Man.
      Anyway, there are primal-friendly options all over the parks. I tried to stick to seafood for sit-down meals, and various fruit and meat options for the food stands.

      1. Thanks 🙂 I’m really looking forward to more seafood – I don’t prepare a lot because it’s expensive and I dislike cheap white fish. I think we have 2 seafood dinners planned.

      2. Roasted Turkey leg! That’s my favorite thing to eat at Disneyland.

    2. Paula,
      When I travel, I bring nuts, seeds, dried fruit, dried tomatoes, flaked coconut, hard boiled eggs, home made meat jerky, home made raw milk cheese, and dried laver seaweed. If I have time, I make grain free crackers.

      You can carry hard boiled eggs in your carryon bag through security at the airport. Ditto for all of the other above items. Never had a problem.

      When I go to a restaurant, I bring along a couple of eggs and a baggie of nuts, seeds, coconut, and a few raisons or dried cranberries mixed together. Maybe some cocoa nibs mixed in also. While the others are eating the restaurant meal, I just eat what I brought. If the waiter objects, I plead “health reasons”. That usually shuts them up. You already paid for the “meal plan”, what is it to them if you simply don’t eat it?

      1. Thank you for the suggestions! They all sound really good – I should be able to fix all that without a kitchen. Fortunately we can drive there, so that’s one less thing to worry about 🙂

    3. US Wellness Meats (dot com) sells pemmican which tastes great and is totally primal. It comes in individually wrapped “sticks” which are totally portable and convenient, or you can buy a whole pail and put it into baggies yourself. It needs to be refrigerated/frozen long term, but is ok without the fridge for at least a day.

      1. I’ll definitely look into that, thank you! My husband has just gone gluten-free and is now horrified that there’s more to cut out. I’d like to keep him a few more decades, though, so I’m on the lookout for primal snacks he can take to work, as well.

  28. I don’t have cheat meals. I just know that about two special restaurant meals per week keeps me satisfied and has no ill effects on how I feel and perform. What is a special meal?

    A meal of bread, olive oil, black truffle raviolis in cream sauce, Grilled Eggplant Roulade with Balsamic Glaze, and some house made Tiramisu at my favorite local Italian restaurant.

    A big Bahn Mi at my favorite Vietnamese joint.

    These are all high quality food choices by most standards but they are too high in simple grain based carbs to do regularly. One Bahn Mi, I feel great. Two in a row, I feel it.

    The reason I don’t call them cheat meals is that I consider these meals to be just as important to a good life and promoting a healthy relationship with food as my monster salads or a fist full of sprouted almonds.

  29. Should you have just a little bit of poison? No. Should you get so hung-up that you have to seriously debate what you are going to eat? No. I think the more healthful you eat, the less you will ever want to ‘cheat’. It won’t even be appealing.

    1. Food that isn’t Primal isn’t necessarily poison. It’s just food that most of us have found we are better off without, even though it might always be appealing. I think that for some people the flip side of NOT cheating now and then is to become too rigid and obsessive. Strict adherence for the sake of strict adherence is never a good thing (not saying you do this, BTW). When the desire to keep one’s dietary record unblemished becomes more important than a generally healthful lifestyle, then it’s time to ease up a little.

      1. Good point Shary. Plus you can argue that the constant stress and worry about zealously adhering to a specific diet can be more detrimental to overall health than an occasional cheat meal of unhealthy/nonPrimal foods.

  30. I’ve listened to Dr Tom O’Bryan at both the Auto-immune summit and the Women’s weightloss event and he impressed me greatly with his take on all things gluten. He explains very clearly why cheating (with gluten) may well be very inadvisable because no human fully digests it and any particular individual won’t know necessarily what hidden effect it’s having – and they are many and various beyond the obvious bloated digestion feeling.

    I think the idea of over eating Primal/Paleo food is much more sensible! Not cheating with the toxic stuff.

    1. re: … why cheating (with gluten) may well be very inadvisable …

      It’s a recurring theme on the Wheat Belly Blog (most recently linked from my user ID here).

      Anyone who has been grain free can easily experience two distinct problems with a wheat cheat:
      1. nasty re-exposure reactions, and
      2. cravings that can get out of control

      With safe snacks at hand, I have seen no need to even be tempted in the 3+ years I’ve been LCHF grain-free. Heck, keep a Quest Bar in your pocket for Christmas parties.

  31. Why can’t women go out for beer and wings also? Why throw a gender bias into it at all? I’m disappointed, Mark.

    1. I really appreciate a guy making this remark. I personally wasn’t bothered by this particular gender bias (really more of a stereotyping than a bias, I think) but I was unhinged by his use of the word “man” when referring to all of humanity several weeks ago. Anyway, thanks. Nice to be reminded that there are men who watch for this sort of thing.

      1. In this case, as a person who strongly dislikes PCism because of this thing called colloquialism and common sense, I offer your comment as evidence A of phytoestrogens as being: ()

    2. Funny, My women regularly claims red wings. Once a month!

      1. I forgot to add she’s a Detroit fan. Me a Bruins. Detroits move to the eastern conference has created a great change

    3. It was obviously a joke and it didn’t have any negative connotation to it anyways. It’s a harmless stereotypical joke. Plus he wasn’t saying that women CAN’T go out for beer and wings. Out of the entire article of quality information I’m disappointed you decided to latch onto that one minute sentence that adds some humor into the article.

  32. I don’t think of it as cheating, exactly. I see it as living in the real world. I eat home made food with friends for dinner around once every week or so. They don’t eat like I do. They always have some carb thing for dinner, sometimes I can just decline, sometimes it’s mixed in. They always have luscious home made desert. Yes, they use white flour and white sugar in the desert. Potatoes, white flour noodles, white rice, the whole carb deal.

    When I just eat what they do, I am able to socialize with friends without letting on that I’m a weirdo. It is just plain easier than refusing to eat everything around me. I find time with friends more relaxing that way. And, yes, I do enjoy the different tastes and textures of things I would never have on my own. Sometimes I get ideas for dishes that I can modify to suit my mainly primal way of eating.

    As long as I have a reasonable diet at home, I figure a lapse when with friends will be beneficial in many ways. Less stress, and more human company. When my husband was alive, we had each other for company and I/we didn’t get together with other people as much. On my own it is good for me to find human company. Better, I think, than staying by myself and eating a perfect diet.

  33. I think this message is right for me today. I won’t weigh in on the concept of “cheat meal” although I much prefer thinking of this as choice. Where I’m coming from is that I’ve lost 120 pounds over the past three years eating primal. For a whole host of reasons, I’d like to lose another 10-15 pounds. Unfortunately, my losses have basically ground to a halt. Actively trying to lose weight this year, I’ve only lost 6 pounds and it has been an up and down struggle. Being so close to my goal weight and not being able to get there has been frustrating.

    The idea of eating some quality carbs isn’t something I’ve seriously considered. I’m much more in the occasional minor indulgence camp, eg sharing a dessert at the end of protein and vegetable packed meal every other month or so. I might have to give this a try. I was truly losing hope.

  34. You can rationalize anything. Define what is 100% good for you and then anything outside of that is a cheat. Good luck on figuring out the 100% list as it changes with every breath from bloggers, guru’s, scientists, doctors, etc. Sigh.

    Simply for me, certain foods trigger the desire to keep on eating regardless of hunger and those are avoided at all costs. Everyone probably has a few of those or not.

  35. one of my only cheats is corn tortilla chips when going to a Mexican restaurant a couple times a year. at least its gluten free.

  36. What you ch”eat” in private, is how you feel (and look) in public. Never worth it…

  37. Yes, leptin is secreted by adipose cells, but these cells don’t decrease in number with normal weight loss (not liposuction).

    I wonder if adipose cells decrease less leptin as a result of losing fat content, or if it is just the calorie restriction that leads to the leptin drop-off.

    Does a low level of body fat, in and of itself, reduce leptin? Even if it does, I would suspect calorie restriction to be a much more important factor.

  38. This post makes perfect sense to me, although I don’t call it “cheating” anymore. I’ve wondered why, for quite some time now, that I could eat perfectly for weeks, maintain my weight, eat what I’m craving, and then, when I go out to dinner and eat what a “normal” person would, I’d drop a few pounds! It gives me a smile to know that I could splurge just a bit, feel fine, lose a couple pounds, and go right back to eating primally with seemingly no ill effects.

  39. I’m hypersensitive to what I eat. Recently I went to a party where the food consisted of things I haven’t eaten in six years: rice and beans, cornbread, cheese, corn chips and hummus. I ate what was there, in small amounts.

    For the next three days I dealt with acid reflux, runny nose, sore throat and coughing. And no, it definitely wasn’t a head cold.

    For me, the “cheat” just isn’t worth it.

  40. Having escaped the addictive nature of sugar and other high glycemic carbs, and now enjoying the Primal lifestyle 60 pounds less than I weighed a year ago, I could no more have just one dougnut than an Alcoholics Anonymous graduate could have just one beer.

    1. I wouldn’t exactly call it cheating, (too negative), but hormesis makes a lot of sense to me. I recently experienced this exact phenomenon (see study). Without planning it, I had accidentally done just this sort of thing (low cal/primal for a couple weeks, then 1 or 2 days of not so much, then back again). I lost weight so fast I thought something must be wrong with me. My doctor thought it was a bit odd, also, not that he knows much of anything. Anyways, I plan to give it a try again, very effective and no big side effects that I could see. Felt great to get off that plateau and I still haven’t gained weight back even with not being quite as strict. The caffeine part is interesting as well since I also skipped from none to some and had much the same result. To me, very encouraging stuff, since I’m lucky enough (no allergies or obvious celiac) to be able to experiment like this.

  41. I don’t “cheat” anymore. Cheat, to me = “something forbidden” because it’s SO bad for me as to cause a reaction: gluten-centric foods or a soft drink (I’m a recovering Coke-aholic). It’s not worth feeling bad. Period.

    I DO occasionally eat non-pastured eggs, grain-fed meat, fried potatoes or a creme brûlée. And yes, sometimes even these seemingly minor deviations can add weight to me quickly. And even though watching pounds is not truly primal, I still do it.

    I’ve been known to gain 10 pounds eating under 2,000 calories a day on a 4-day vacation. While being active (walking 4 miles + a day plus a day of whitewater kayaking. And it can take a month or more of rigidity to lose that weight again. That’s just how I’m built.

    So going outside of my plan seems to have more negative (lost progress) than positive (reset) implications. In my case, it’s not a choice I can make lightly. Still, I think it’s important to LIVE life as an adventure rather than an exercise in discipline and will continue to relish the occasional creme brûlée!

  42. If there is one thing I learned from being a former vegan who only ate organic, it’s that being extreme in eating preferences can be as unhealthy as generally not eating healthy.
    From that experience, I swore to never be so strict again. Though I have incredible will power and did not feel like I missed non Vegan foods, my body showed me otherwise. Also, despite having great will power, stress was there.
    Bottom line, anything extreme is bad. I eat mostly primal, but not 100%. I feel wonderful and I’m in very good shape as a 43 year old. For me, I think going 100% would not be wise, primal or otherwise. At least that’s my opinion.

  43. Hm. Interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about “cheating”. I mean, I’ve been trying to lose the last baby weight (my baby is two) for a couple of years now. I’ve lost 24 pounds this year, but it’s been a struggle.

    I’ve tried several methods (things that worked when I was younger, don’t work as well at 44). For example, I tried Chris Powell’s “carb cycling” program. It worked, slowly, and allowed me one “cheat day” (where I didn’t go crazy).

    Note: I’m not paleo/primal, but have started reducing carbs this year based on reading “What to Eat” by Luise Light.

    But the weight loss was agonizingly slow, so for November, I decided to go hard core. No sugar, no wheat/flour/pasta, no alcohol, no fried foods. I still ate 1-2 servings of carbohydrate foods per day (beans or potatoes mostly, sometimes rice). I lost more than 7 pounds (the prior 7 pounds took 3 months to go away).

    So there’s that little “carrot”. I don’t know that I can give that stuff up forever. It’s hard to watch your family eat pizza and bagels. Rather than a “cheat meal”, I have to figure out how often I can really eat these things and be healthy and maintain my weight loss (and lose the last 8 pounds). In the prior month I wasn’t eating those four foods often – at most, 1-2 servings of each per week. So it’s interesting how fast it came off (many friends say it was the wheat).

    Maybe someday I’ll consider “all primal” – though really, I blame Primal eating for my problem in the first place. I did the 21 day challenge in 2011, and very shortly after got pregnant (at 41!)

  44. So many great comments here–Heidi, love the term Planned Indulgence!

    I don’t use the word cheat either — I refer to Primal is being “on plan,” but some days just don’t go like we plan them to do they? From reading Mark’s literature, two of my most important lifestyle changes have been getting enough sleep, and reducing stress — that wicked Cortisol thing affects every part of me!!

    I also just broke through a plateau after more than three weeks of no weight loss and I attribute it to Thanksgiving vacation! For three days, I “mostly” ate what I wanted to, but I didn’t go crazy. I split a pancake with my husband (Instead of having three–gluten free ginger pancakes, yum…) I had a sliver of blueberry pie, and 1/2 of a slice of fresh bread dipped in some yummy tomato soup. No alcohol though–an 8 oz. Rum and diet coke sets me back more than anything. The stats: total loss in four months is 30 lbs, I gained three over Thanksgiving and have lost 4.5 since Sunday — so yes, I think, for ME, I totally benefited from my off plan meals!Though, if I am being honest, I did have some inflammation issues with pain in my ankles and shoulders (my two hot spots…)

  45. When I was a vegetarian/vegan/raw fruitarian I would cheat on a regular basis and I hated myself for it. I would sneak out and binge alone in my car on Taco Bell. Then I’d hide the evidence and fast afterwards. Not only did I have poor self control but I tortured myself and lied to my husband and family. Being a non meat eater implied a martyrdom that I could never live up to and I felt like the worst kind of person. What I love about the paleo lifestyle is that I can eat my favorite things (locally raised bacon and jerkey!) and feel proud, healthy, like I’m doing the right thing. And the 80/20 rule allows me to love myself again, to eat without excessive self-loathing or secrecy. I’m no longer held back by an obsession with pure eating, I’m just doing what’s right for my body and loving it.

    1. Virginia, I too am a former vegan. I began eating fresh eggs from my friend’s chicken coop during my pregnancy and found myself feeling so much better that I continue to eat eggs now. I also eat dairy on my “cheat days”. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you I really appreciated your honesty, and think it’s awesome that you eat locally raised meat instead of abstaining, which clearly didn’t work for you. I’m a firm believer that ANYTHING we can do to avoid supporting factory farming, whether it’s abstaining from certain foods, or supporting small, local farms, or even hunting for our own food, is a step toward better health and a more humane lifestyle.

  46. Problem with cheating for me is that the person who suffers most is me. I only need to eat a few chips, or some icecream and 3 things happen:
    1. It’s become “food” in my head again. I normally just say no if offered any of these things, and can say no easily, because to me, these things are just “not food”. I can admire the cupcakes on a colleagues birthday and not feel even slightly compelled to eat them. Once I’ve crossed the line though, it becomes “OK” and then I need to decide and use willpower every time I bump into these things again.
    2. If I have a high carb food, I DO crave carbs again in a couple of hours. Before I went primal, I’d have energy slumps every 2 hours, one carb meal and I’m back there.
    2. I also put on at least a kilo overnight, sometimes 2 (4lb), and feel like rubbish for a couple of days. I’m bloated and uncomfortable, and my GI tract takes a good few days to settle back to normal. I’ve never noticed the effect others notice, of dropping weight.

    So rather than think of it as cheating, these days I’m thinking I’d rather miss a meal than “indulge”. For me it’s not worth it.

    Did I mention taste? It’s SO unimportant against all of this.

  47. Hello to all,
    I am rather new to the primal lifestyle, but I found something confusing in this post from Mark. What is the definition of a “cheat meal” ? Is this about eating non-primal food (grain, sugar…) or about eating higher carb than usual (but with paleo food) ?
    For instance, Mark mentions making a cheat meal with strawberries and cream or with sweet potato… well I thought this was a primal food, so I don’ t see this as cheating anyway !
    Otherwise, I think we should not be obsessed by food and listen to our impulse from time to time. If people get to the point that they get nervous because they have eaten some non primal food and that it disturbs them to deviate from the “rules”, then this is not normal. I am not speaking about people who are coeliac of course, but for most of us this is deliberate action to avoid/limit certain types of food.
    After all, if Grok had tasted cake, he would have eaten it (and even a big piece of it)… We are just humans !
    Personnally, I “cheat” regularly, but despite that what I feel that what I eat is much healthier than before. There is no perfection in this world. What was interesting in this post was the demonstration that “imperfection” is even better for us.

    1. “After all, if Grok had tasted cake, he would have eaten it (and even a big piece of it)… “

      He would have clubbed all the other dinner guests and eaten their slices, too! 🙂

      1. “He would have clubbed all the other dinner guests and eaten their slices, too! :)”

        I don’t know. When Marie-Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake”, there was a revolution as I recall. Maybe they were fighting over the cake?

        1. That quote makes for a great story, but the ill-fated queen never actually uttered them. Marie-Antoinette, according to historian, Lady Antonia Fraser, “donated generously to charitable causes and, despite her own undeniably lavish lifestyle, displayed sensitivity towards the poor population of France.”

          The cake story was already making the rounds long before 1789, and it was also attributed to Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish wife of the Sun King, Louis XIV, as well as to a couple of aunts of Louis XVI.

  48. I allow myself one day a week to eat whatever I want. This is mostly for social reasons and for psychological reasons. However, I find that the longer I stay eating clean and Primal, the less I even want to cheat. Also, some foods that I have completely eliminated, like bread based foods, i.e. pizza, will now make me sick if I indulge too much and it is just not worth it. I adhere to the 80/20 rule, and one day per week is less than 15%… IF I cheat all day, at each meal, which I don’t. So, the remainder of my 20% “cheating” is cleaner cheating on technically non-primal foods like 90% dark chocolate, red wine, legumes and full fat artisan cheeses.

  49. I don’t like the concept of ‘cheat’ meals. The eating plan we are on has ‘boost’ meals that include an extra serving of fast carbs. The purpose is to help move beyond plateaus. I think it’s important for our well being to not be anally strict about how we eat. We will be happier if we can plan to eat things we really like without feeling guilty. What I think is important is the idea that nothing is totally off limits. That way we have a choice about what we eat, and it’s okay to choose to eat certain things very infrequently because they aren’t very healthy for us.

  50. I read about a fella living in the Yukon many years ago with his wolf-dog hybrid. He noticed that during the winter months when food was scarce, the dog would chew its food very carefully, extracting every ounce of nutrition from it. What little scat he left contained thoroughly digested food. During the months when food and game were abundant, the dog would literally “wolf” down his food, barely chewing it, and his copious scat would contain undigested or only partially digested food. Grok probably followed the same instinctive seasonal eating patterns as that wolf-dog.

    Covert Bailey of “Fit or Fat?” fame was already advocating in the late 70s for the occasional over-indulgent meal as a way of jump-starting your metabolism. But the meaning of “over-indulgent” varies from person to person.

    I don’t agree with everything Covert Bailey wrote, but I thought this observation was pretty accurate:

    “No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.”

  51. I think about this a lot with regards to yesterdays topic. I believe cheat days are hugely important in helping the average person change their diet and lifestyle. I’m all for it. It’s better to get 75% of readers eating and exercising about 50% better than it is to get 5-10% eating perfect.

  52. Having fantastic abs at age 56, an ‘X’ physique along with attention from much younger women keeps me motivated me to eat Primal.

    So I only cheat three days a year – my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

  53. I love the foods I normally eat, but I will have a “treat” of something I would not normally eat about 4-5 times a month. I tend to write down when I have them so that I remember and the frequency does not increase. My treats usually consist of a substantial amount of sugary chocolate under 85% cacao like in a trail mix, nuts, maybe some ice cream. Sometimes it’s a big dinner out like sushi. I very rarely cheat with a gluten-containing item, however, not because I am allergic but because I don’t usually crave them. And I don’t consider eating too many squares of 85% chocolate or pouring maple syrup on a sweet potato to be one of those “treats”. That’s just eating too much. It’s more for eating something that’s not normally part of your plan.

  54. I cheat with some sugary stuff (e.g. ice cream), but never with grains (other than rice). I especially avoid gluten at all costs and at all times.

  55. My wife was away for the weekend and on the spur of the moment I decided to buy a loaf of ‘healthy whole multi-grain bread’, just as a sort of experiment. I had had virtually no bread of any sort for literally years, but the idea of a crunchy toasted piece of bread (with butter and jam) called out to me. Was it really that bad? Over the next few days I ate a significant portion of that loaf and ended up feeling lousy. Perhaps it was the gluten. Perhaps it was the carb jolts. Who knows? But the ‘experiment’ convinced me that I was so much better off not eating bread. Perhaps we occasionally need to reaffirm the wisdom of the Paleo way of eating. To prove it for ourselves on a personal basis. Did I enjoy the bread? Maybe, as a sort of forbidden drug. I do believe that food, bread in particular, is a type of ‘drug’.

  56. We all find ourselves eating that counterproductive meal from time to time. I like regain the will power immediately by reversing the trend. Think of not only the analogy off falling off the horse and getting back on. More like falling off the horse, taking off the saddle and hanging on bareback in a hard run for the next 10 miles. After a turkey dinner with gluten gravy and gluten stuffing topped off with store bought pumpkin pie, I did the reverse cheat the next day by only consuming raw, naked foods. A plain avocado for breakfast, plain salad greens and carrot, tomato, cucumber salad with lemon juice and EVOO for lunch, albacore and yellowtail sashimi for dinner. This makes the next paleo friendly cooked meal feel like a cheat and it is easy to get back on track. Planned indigence followed by planned deprivation for that matter.

  57. The funny thing about this post, to me, is that the so called healthy cheat meals are really just high in carbs.. I’m thin and active and I find that eating enough carbs is the best way to prevent hunger and cravings. Without grains, I do eat a lot of potatoes and sweet potatoes and plantains. And fruit. I think it’s good for me! 🙂

    On the other hand, I am absolutely one of those binge-eaters, if I get a whiff of a donut and decide to take a bite. Takes me a few days of healthy eating before the cravings go away. That only happened to me after I went paleo… I didn’t used to be a binge eater before that. I know that for me it’s my sweet tooth that I can’t control, so I prefer to cheat with occasional savory foods like pizza. I honestly used to be afraid of anything with dairy or gluten or magic-unhealthy-ingredient-x. I think I was even giving myself real symptoms of food intolerance. But when I realized what I was doing and stopped, I find I’m not as sensitive to things as I thought. Maybe, in our world, it is advantageous to keep common unhealthy ingredients in our diet either in small doses or from time to time, so that years later we aren’t so vulnurable to it.

    I agree that change is good. One way I’ve changed, yet maintained healthy eating, is to evolve. Learn more about different diets, find what works for me, experiment with old and new recipes for all kinds of cool stuff. There’s infinately many ways to have a healthy lifestyle. Not every experiment turns out well. That’s life. 🙂

  58. While I truly believe our bodies are not meant to process grains or added sugar, why is the point being stressed that we should avoid GLUTEN when eating a burger bun? I’m fully aware that there are people with Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance) and people with gluten sensitivity (supposedly) — but for those of us who are not allergic to gluten, what is the reasoning behind avoiding it when we choose to eat grains? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the “anti-gluten” movement was a fad and had been thrown out for most of the population (Celiacs aside, of course). In short: by avoiding grains, I avoid gluten. But when I do eat grains on occasion, I don’t see why to go gluten-free. Can someone explain this to me?

    1. “I’m fully aware that there are people with Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance) and people with gluten sensitivity (supposedly)…”

      “Gluten intolerance” is the blanket term for celiac (coeliac) disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy.

      Some of the GF hype is definitely due to a food-taboo-du-jour mentality, but a person can have silent celiac disease, meaning his or her gut is being gradually destroyed without his or her experiencing any symptoms. Perhaps some people are opting to follow the precautionary principle.

      I eat grasses and grains, but I avoid gluten simply because I feel better when I don’t eat it.

    2. There’s probably no need to go gluten-free if gluten doesn’t bother you. IMO, the idea that gluten hurts everyone is incorrect. If it does affect you adversely, in all probability you would know it if you are at all in touch with your body. Also, the current target fixation with gluten is misleading. There are numerous reasons why many of us avoid grains that have nothing to do with gluten. For instance, wheat can be problematic for some (but not other gluten-containing grains) or there can be issues with starchy foods in general whereby all grains are best eliminated.

      1. “If it does affect you adversely, in all probability you would know it if you are at all in touch with your body.”

        Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. In some ways those with celiac disease are the lucky ones, as their classic gastrointestinal symptoms are much more likely to be diagnosed correctly and early – years as opposed to decades. Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, however, don’t necessarily have GI symptoms. Their symptoms are often all over the map, and can include headaches, joint pain, numbness in the extremities, skin rashes, infertility, recurrent miscarriages, etc.

        1. Of course symptoms can be all over the map, but there will invariably be symptoms of some sort, not “silence.”

          A quick internet search will bring up lengthy lists of all the issues that can be related to gluten sensitivity. Every one of those issues can also be caused by something else. It shouldn’t automatically be assumed that gluten is the culprit just because it’s the current whipping boy. If there are no symptoms/issues, then there is probably little to worry about.

        2. RE: “If it does affect you adversely, in all probability you would know it if you are at all in touch with your body.”
          “A quick internet search will bring up lengthy lists of all the issues that can be related to gluten sensitivity.”

          Ideally, then, you would want to be in touch with your body AND have access to the internet.

          Gluten is a very obvious and inexpensive whipping boy, so a person has nothing to lose by eliminating it and observing how he or she feels. GI symptoms might improve very quickly, but severe skin rashes and infertility can take months, and sometimes over a year, to fully resolve.

          It’s no coincidence that cultures that consume large amounts of gluten have high rates of celiac disease, and those that don’t – in Asia, for example – have low rates of CD. As Asian diets change to include more Western foods, the rates of CD and gluten intolerance will rise.

  59. I’m not a cheater, however, I do at time stray from my typical food choices. On say a couple of bites of my son’s dessert, a piece of GF bread, some rice noodles here and there but it’s very rare. I noticed that now that it’s winter I’ve had a few more carbs lately. Still not gaining weight.

  60. Aha! But iocaine powder is not real! Cookies and brownies = REAL!

  61. “Okay. A tough workout, some blueberries, a skipped meal or two are one thing.”

    I must be missing something. What’s wrong with blueberries? I never would have considered it close to a cheat.

  62. This is a great topic as it is something that always comes up with my clients and more specifically the idea of cheat meals as opposed to cheat days. The point is eventually you WILL cheat, it’s just how bad you do cheat.
    Anyone here familiar of the mother of all cheat days by the Rock after almost 150 days of strict eating? look it up!
    I think cheat days can be a little rough on your system overall while a cheat meal helps stave yourself off over the course of day but only when it’s a last resort. Finding substitutes for your usual cheat go to’s can make a world of difference too. Pounding down a bunch of 90% cacao dark chocolate will be better than having 5 Kit Kats.
    Making your own pudding with chia seeds and raw organic honey will satisfy that sweet tooth while providing good nutrition as opposed to turning to Ben & Jerrys

  63. I think it’s funny that Mark says eating carbs in “cheating”, b/c plenty of paleo people eat consistently high carb… Carbs don’t necessarily mean a cheat, and I feel he promotes it that way sometimes.

  64. I had a “cheat day” involving some authentic (and expensive) Italian pizza.
    Tasted awesome.
    Felt horrible.
    It was like I was hung over the next day!!
    …I regret nothing.

  65. A cheat meal has one beneficial aspect: It makes you thankful that you no longer are eating that way on a regular basis!

  66. Whaaaaat? Are you trying to tell me gyoza aren’t Primally approved?
    I raise your gender bias and call!

    Seriously though, one aspect I don’t see covered here is the addiction aspect. Based on past experience I appear to be addicted to sugar and carbs. I am planning a once a week healthy binge but do have certain fears that my addiction will cause it to not be limited to one cheat meal…

    Very good call on the “committed relationship” point. I will very easily convince myself I’ve eaten clean and have “earned” a more relaxed Saturday night when I actually have been cheating “just a little bit” all week.

  67. Mark,

    Thanks for this informative article.

    While it’s certainly nothing new, especially among the bodybuilding/weight training crowd, be it with meals or training, It’s certainly nice to now understand WHY it works! Thanks for making sense of, at least for me.

    Every once in a while, for whatever reason, be it psychological or physiological, you have to have a break. I’ve found over the years, on both sides, food and training, that a quick break has always lead to an increase in either weight loss, muscle gain, or both.

    Regardless of whether it was martial arts training, weight lifting, or running/body weight exercises, the “break” helped get me out of the ruts that inevitably occur when repetition sets in. I “always” came back with a renewed vigor for whatever it was at the time, and without exception, increased the effects of that activity.

    A few weeks ago, I “decided” to have a Checker Burger, and a [email protected]
    I made it a large one at that! As I said, this was a conscious decision on my part, made for no other reason than my body said “I want it!”

    Afterward, I had no ill effects, my weight didn’t “balloon”, and I did not have the cravings some claim will happen, for additional carbs. Instead, I gave my body (or maybe my brain?) what “it” wanted, and went on about my normal life.

    The same for Thanksgiving.
    A paleo friend of mine texted me, to tell me she was “falling off the wagon” for Thanksgiving. My response to her was simply, “paleo/smaleo! I’m going to enjoy thanksgiving as per my usual, and would deal with it all later.” You can’t allow something, anything, to be so all consuming that it instills “fear” or so overcomes your life that other things such as family, finances, friendships, etc., are put aside.
    We have to keep life “balanced”. It’s the Yin and Yang.

    I did jokingly tell her that I’d already been to the gym that morning to work off some carbs “in advance.” LOL The fact is, I was going anyway;-).

    I had the normal fare, although I will say that some things no longer looked all that great to me. I did so I considerably smaller portions as compared to 3 years ago-pre-paleo, and enjoyed my Thanksgiving meal with family. All was balanced in the world.

    Again, these are my uneducated and unqualified results and observations. YRMV.

    In the end, if we listen to our bodies, and apply some common sense (and ok, maybe a little education such as Mark provides), most of the time, you’ll not be too far off.

    Thanks again for a fantastic site Mr. Sisson.

  68. Over two years ago the Paleo diet saved my life…loved how it controlled my low blood sugar problems… I am hypoglycemic. I came across Haley Pomeroy’s Fast Metabolism Diet which was an easy transition after Paleo for over 2 years. She does this very thing weekly. Eating in three phases….for me and my broken metabolism it is working…I am grateful to you and her for finding a solution that is lowering my weight and keeping my blood sugar stable..

  69. Feeling the need for cheating is just a consequence of poor cooking skills.
    There are thousands of excellent good recipes from worldwide traditions that you can do (I mean, not those comic variants of SAD favourites such as meatza, almond muffins, etc).
    Just go to your grandmother and ask what her grandmother used to cook: it will very probably be primal.

  70. Isn’t the key to Paleo / low carb benefits the conversion to a stable, ketogenic metabolic state? That is, the switch from being primarily a carb / glucose burner to a fat / ketone burner. This conversion requires a period of time, a couple of weeks minimum to maybe six weeks for some individuals. Does even a “cheat” burst of carbs blow this conversion? It’s not like a calorie counting diet, where a cheat can be compensated by caloric reduction the next day. Ruin your ketogenic metabolism and how long does it take to get it back?

  71. Cheat meals at our house are occasional Paleo baked goods… one of our favorites is dark chocolate chip cookies (made with raw honey, almond flour, eggs, coconut oil, etc.). Yum!!!

  72. After four days of Thanksgiving indulgence, I had a cheat meal of a salad.

  73. Best line … You’re just making an informed choice to partake of food that, if consumed chronically, would probably elicit unfavorable metabolic effects.

    Can’t wait to use it when my friends says I have more will-power then them.

  74. I hate the term “cheat meal”. I don’t cheat. I make deliberate and well thought out choices.

    I have decided the occasional less-healthy food is acceptable in my diet, but only rarely and in limited quantity and only if I will truly enjoy it.

    I chose to allow this flexibility, and it works well for me.

    If I regularly crave something I will find a healthy way to fulfill that craving.

  75. I follow the 80-20 rule. I eat well 80% of the time and the other 20%, well most of you would frown at me (typically involves sodium bombs, a deep dish pizza, and booze). But, I lift heavy or do some short cardio 4-5 days a week, get good sleep, load up on good fats and proteins, and eat my greens and fruit. In my opinion (key disclaimer – my opinion), life’s too short to manage to every meal.


  76. “Cheat” lately has been the little 99 cents bag of dark chocolate almonds at Trader Joe’s. Wonderful with some coffee…

  77. I have a once a week cheat DAY. I follow a super strict, but healthy and delicious low carb diet every day but Friday. My regular meals consist ONLY of eggs, beans, and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. On Friday, I go nuts! -pasta, chips, cookies, chocolate, and also some healthier choices: cereal, bananas, peanut butter, watermelon…but TONS of sugary, high carb foods all day. I started this to lose the insane amount of weight I put on while pregnant (Yes, for nine months, I ate like a machine. Carbs, carbs, carbs! It was great fun, but now I must pay for my crimes). I’ve been on this diet for 11 weeks. So far, I’ve lost 33 pounds. So…not the most impressive results, but I am very pleased since it’s SO EASY for me. I would DEFINITELY recommend a once a week cheat day. It might be holding me back some (especially the insane quantity of junk food I pack away on Fridays. It’s really ridiculous, and I always make myself quite sick), but it’s also what keeps me going strong, and never cheating on non-cheat days.

  78. I eat one organic fermented sour dough pizza with organic toppings per Calendar month, as Pizza is my main problem, but this deals with it for me.

  79. My cheats are usually sugar related. I have a box of opened gluten free chocolate brownie cookies that, since opened on monday, have been challenging me the whole week. 2 cookies, 20 carbs, how do I fit them in to the daily 100? God, they are so good… and I just don’t have the space in my food log macros to finish the box… so it remains my temptation.

  80. Usually, on my own, I am 100% Paleo. My family is aware of my lifestyle protocol, yet when i visit, I abide by the rule that I was raised with: ‘Eat what is on the plate and do not be an ingrate – compliment the cook (for the love it took),’ I am simply grateful that I can eat anything and still have no craving for it. My stomach does growl at me the following day. I regard it as a reminder that I am better off with Paleo/Prmial. 😀

    1. Robert, you have a very healthy attitude. Someone with specific food allergies and sensitivities would, of course, have to decline some dishes, but I love the be-grateful-and-compliment-the-cook approach!

  81. I love the idea of a cheat meal, but I can see why it would be a backhanded treat to your daily progress of becoming a healthier individual. I’ve also heard that its simply a calorie thing for weight reduction. It seems like everyone here would already know about calorie restriction diets benefits, but would it also reduce harmful cheat meal stumbles? lots of people talk about the 8 hour diet as a way to eat whatever you want, and their could be some truth to that, seeing that your body would break down everything you eat in 16 hours.

  82. Mark, I so appreciate you writing about this. I usually have amazing will power, and then recently I had a total melt-down due to a bunch of things happening in my personal life. I am now trying a different approach… I have planned about 15 days throughout the year where I am free to eat whatever… I now have them to look forward to, and that seems to be helping me stick to my pretty strict plan the rest of the time. (I am on a low-sodium and migraine diet with many paleo elements.)

  83. A good cheat meal every now and then is awesome. Be able to eat what you love without sacrificing. My favorites are going out for a burger or grabbing food at a buffet. It’s important to eat good but sometimes you aught to have a choice to blow off some steam. Once a week is best in my opinion.

  84. I have scheduled cheat all year. one serving, once a month. nothing more. ever. it help me be part of my family tribe. being made up of mostly American/Italian, southern, and mostly overweight… it hard to go to the Christmas parties and birthdays. 2004 Christmas party LITERALY had nothing but desserts and sweets at the potluck table. oh and one pot of pasta.

    here it is… in case you’re curious.

    January – alcohol (it’s new years! if I’m last one sloshed, I babysit. so lots of alcohol ;P )
    February – cheesecake
    march – banana split
    April – chocolate (Easter, and a extended family with a boatload of kids, mostly school age)
    may – pasta read grandmas birthday party, grandpa takes everyone out to olive garden.
    June – sweet tea
    July – lemonade, chicken and biscuits (4th of july party, this time I babysit…)
    august – birthday cake ice-cream (my birthday. my cake. any questions?)
    September – fast-food
    October – caramel apple, 5 pieces Halloween candy
    November – pumpkin pie
    December – old fashioned Christmas candy mix or
    gingerbread with lemon sauce if grandpa bakes it.

  85. Every other week or so I like to get a big burrito bowl from Chipotle (no beans) with rice tons of grilled veggie and chicken with salsa sour cream and cheese. Big smack of carbs and calories and always makes a difference in continued weight loss. And since Chipotle sources food from quality places, I don’t feel so horrible eating there. I could do worse for a “cheat meal”

  86. McDonald’s cheat meal every one or two weeks helps keep me sane!

  87. I think the Psychological Deload factor here is of fundamental importance. Obsession, in anything, creates stress, and you see a lot of obsessive attitudes around the scene (any scene, for that matter). Obsession is hard, and creates devisive opinionating. It sets up models of ‘better than’ and ‘worse than’, which leads to an attitude of sanctimonious righteousness – at one end of the pendulum – and feelings of guilt and unworthiness at the other.

    I’d like to see words such as ‘eliminate’, ‘not allowed’ and ‘prohibited’ to be replaced with notions such as ‘significantly reduce’, ‘informed choices’, ’empower’ and ‘compassion’.

    So having a ‘cheat meal’ every now and again is a way of being flexible, of flowing with those social and cultural situations when they arise. Which, as Mark says, is not an excuse to go overboard, but every now and again why not? Without the guilt and need to confess on Social Media. The Paleo Police do not exist. And nor do the Paleo Priests.

  88. “Some people can stick to their strict diets with metronomic regularity. They have no issues avoiding “those foods” and feel zero compulsion to cheat”

    I could eat bacon and eggs with butter for breakfast every morning. In fact, I have been doing so for a long time.

    I feel as thought it IS the cheat meal!