Is There Room for Cheating in your Diet?

I fell in love with the Paleo approach over ten years ago, when I first learned that it was my ticket to pain-free, stomach-issue free, high performance living.

A simple approach of eating fresh, local foods and avoiding highly processed, packaged items not only made sense, it was easy to follow and made me feel really well.            Also, it didn’t create a situation where I had to compromise anything, including how I’d fuel myself for long training sessions and racing or my love of culinary art and the ability to host lovely dinner parties with fantastic food.

Because of this, I quickly began using the very same approach with clients and it was a good three or four years before the words the Paleo Diet started to become mainstream terminology, and perhaps a couple years on top of that before it began to get so popular…perhaps to its own detriment, that it started to get confusing.

Fast-forward to today and the word is everywhere.

Not that different from a similar trend with the word vegan, or gluten-free.

Yes, perhaps those foods do not contain, in fact, animal products or gluten, however, all too often, the word the represents what was once a healthy approach to eating turns into the hottest new trend and the basic premise upon which it may’ve been based is lost.

Take, for example, one of the many Paleo-ish newsletters that you may receive. Last week, I read one that had a headliner of a Paleo recipe for a popular candy bar.

Or how about one of the many examples of how this trendy diet is being implemented by actors getting ready for a role, recording artists preparing to look hot in their next music video or even presidential hopeful Jeb Bush?

The Republican presidential candidate has become so widely known for his weight loss on the “Paleo” diet that when he indulged in some fried goodness at the Iowa State Fair on Friday, he was frequently questioned by voters and reporters about his splurge.[1]

While he has had success as evidenced by his weight loss of 40 pounds, he explained in the article on that “cheating is part of his secret” and “the only way to be on the diet is to cheat,” he told one reporter.

Here’s the deal. If you’re someone who prefers to make healthy choices most of the time, and your personal balance is such that one decadent meal per week is the key to your staying on board, for example, that’s great.

Eating properly most of the time is a heck of a lot better than never doing so, or only ever doing so now and then.

The key is how this cheating is positioned.

Cheat meals work when planned for, says Jim White, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. He explains that after several days of consuming fewer calories than you burn, splurging can rev up your metabolism while stocking up glycogen for tomorrow’s workout. It should also satisfy cravings that may nag at your daily diet[2].

But the mere word brings to mind a host of negative emotions, behaviors and a feeling of being out of control for many.

How many people can really have just one cheat meal full of sugary, highly processed junk foods and leave it at that?

In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder[3].

And while there’s a large disparity between someone faced with the challenges of an eating disorder compared to someone who simply opts to follow a healthy eating approach 80% of the time and be a bit less rigid for the remainder of the time, it’s not without consequence that the idea of feeling you’re a cheater plays a role.

As I’ve written many a time before, if a real paleo diet is followed in the first place, and the body is allowed the time to reduce inflammation, stable blood sugar levels, better mental focus and an appetite for delicious veggies doused in healthy fats with tasty proteins, the idea of wanting to cheat isn’t even an issue any more.

Give yourself a one month chance to follow a fresh, whole food approach and then, after that, go ahead and try your cheat meal.

See if how you feel physically afterward, compared to how you were feeling when you weren’t being ‘naughty’ isn’t enough to make you think twice about doing it again.

You’ll find your own equilibrium but its not until we can divorce all the negative feelings and emotions that come along with feeling you’ve done something wrong by eating X foods and then really going nuts eating everything and anything, again, that genuine optimal health can really be achieved.

Call it paleo if you want, or just call it real food; just keep in mind that the next time you see a recipe for a paleo candy bar, or a vegan cake or a gluten-free cookie, that if it’s anything other than a special occasion type deal, you’re only fooling yourself that these are great options to have on a daily basis.

Bring on the grass fed rib eye, the avocado, to leaves and the olive oil!

[1] “Jeb Bush Has Fun Breaking ‘Paleo’ Diet at Iowa State Fair –” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2015

[2] “The Art and Science of “Cheat Meals”” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 06 May 2015. Web. 17 Aug. 2015

[3] “Prevalence vs. Funding.” Get The Facts On Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorders Association, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2015