Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Cheating" on Paleo

The more people I meet that are on or have tried a Paleo challenge, the more I hear about "cheating". I recently heard someone waxing poetic about all the crap food she was going to binge on the day after her Challenge was over. This is CERTAINLY not the first time that I've heard this, it certainly won't be the last.

So I wanted to discuss cheating, the many shades of and then discuss how to get back on the band wagon.
So let's discuss it a bit eh?

First, let's have a little vocabulary lesson.
-Cheat means to deceive, to be dishonest and to violate rules.
Okay, so it looks obvious that to cheat, in the context of dieting, means to violate rules.

-Diet refers to a such a selection or a limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight.

Only thing is, we've grown so accustomed to eating whatever new concoction that food scientists can come up with that we've forgotten the other definition for diet...

-Diet refers to the foods eaten, as by a particular person or group, OR the food or feed habitually eaten or provided. (*thanks to for supplying these definitions.) So in essence, we're all technically on a diet no matter what we eat, regardless of whether you're even paying attention to what you put in your mouth.

So now we're all even: we're all on a diet. Let me tell you how much easier eating healthfully is once you've abandoned the idea that selectively limiting your foods to just those that make you feel good is weird & that being about as selective as a garbage disposal is normal.

My body is not broken if eating bread makes me feel hung over. I'm not crazy if drinking milk causes an itchy bumpy rash on my neck. I don't have an eating disorder if I avoid cheesecake because it makes my heart race so fast that I get nauseas.

Theoretically, it would be more appropriate to call faux-Paleo foods cheats. OMG I'm gonna hear about that aren't I? Think about it though, you're telling your digestive system to heal and be well and then you eat a muffin and say, "but it's a Paleo muffin!" Personally my body feels a little deceived because now I'm starting to feel the same sugar-rush-nausea that I'd get had I eaten a Dunkin Donuts muffin.

Paleo baked goods = cheat foods technically
Fanny Farmer style baked goods = Full on deviation

Secondly, so what's this whole cheat deal about anyway?
Sometimes I feel like people do a Paleo challenge specifically so they can cheat at the end. Why then take a vacation from eating like crap all the time? Start with these simple questions;
Why did I want to do a Paleo Challenge?

What did I hope to accomplish or discover by the end of the month?

Is it possible that you only did the challenge because everyone else was doing it? Not being fully invested in the process or not being interested in changing will certainly give you the feeling of being deprived, as you are constantly trying to get back to where you were. This makes a cheat inevitable.

Is it possible that you want to cheat because you're scared Paleo won't work for you? Are you rebelling before anything has even happened? No diet that was ever created ever worked in the absence of effort or change. In order to get results, you must give yourself over to the process.

I don't ever cheat...but others may disagree. For me, cheating is a mindset I'm not willing to accept.

Thirdly, okay Miss Fancy Paleo Pants, you don't cheat?!
Nope, but sometimes I eat poorly. Cheating implies deception and I am always fully aware that something is either food or it is junk. I either eat well or I eat junk, I don't try to trick myself into thinking one is the other. "Michelle, are those fruit snacks in that trail mix?!" I've eliminated the term cheating and have thereby created freedom.

So when I eat poorly, do I still have standards? Oh yes!!

1) gluten free
I avoid wheat gluten 99.9% of the time, even when I eat poorly. At this point I feel zero need to indulge in anything containing wheat or wheat flour. Anything I may possibly crave I can make/get an approximate without the use of gluten. The illness and damage to my gut that gluten creates is just not worth it to me. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll splurge on something like real-deal cinnamon buns, but when it gets time to, I rarely feel the need to go through with it. This is just what works for me folks.

2) artificial crap free
I try to avoid artificial sweeteners, flavorings, faux-fats and so on as much as possible. However, I would rather eat sugars than flour. Translation: Ill once in awhile eat Gummy Bears at the movies instead of popcorn. About once a year though I'll decide that sharing a bucket of popcorn with my mother at the movies is an experience worth having in my memory bank.

3) serving-size free
This means that sometimes I get satisfaction from not limiting a favorite food. One day I ate an entire pound of bacon for breakfast along with a banana and a couple cups of good coffee. Other times I'll eat a entire sweet potato or a whole bag of sweet potato chips with guacamole. This may not sound like a cheat but my body rarely needs that much food, so again it's the lack of limitation that can feel "cheaty" to me.

Fourthly, so what do I do when I do cheat or eat too much?
Well, it depends! A lot of this is discovered through trial and error, so I can only tell you what I do. I would recommend that you use my information merely as suggestion and motivation to find your own way.

So let's say I have a cheat that consists of a fantastic amount of carbohyrates. One day I make Paleo cinnamon buns for breakfast and then drink a few NorCals at dinner and end up eating a whole bag of sweet potato chips (or dare i say REGULAR chips) and guacamole. This kind of day will send my blood sugar spinning and I will wake up the next day RAVENOUS. So ravenous that I may be lightheaded from hunger before I even get out of bed. Im clearly not underfed and am just on the bottom-out of the blood sugar roller coaster I put myself on.

I've discovered that the best method for me is to drink a glass of water, then coffee with cream and then I fast until either a workout or dinner time. I'm sure a million people have a reason as to why this is scientific bull shit and how I'm going to damage some or other organ. But you know what? I don't care what naysayers may have to say about it because this is what works for me. This method gets me back to feeling like myself in one day whereas I could be feeling negative effects for multiple days if I "ate reasonably."

So let's say you have a cheat that does involve gluten. You ate half a pizza and a couple beers. My thought process, okay, time to minimize damage and promote healing. I'd recommend eating strict non-dairy Paleo for the next week and taking extra fish oil each day to minimize inflammation. My thinking here is that wheat damages the gut lining, gluten is inflammatory and refined carbs screw up your blood-sugar. So it makes sense to me that eating strict Paleo would keep out any foods that may hinder the digestive systems ability to heal. It will also help reduce inflammation, but making sure that you're taking a good anti-inflammatory dosage of fish oil each day is also beneficial. I'm not a nutritionist, this is just what I've done and what I plan to do the next time real cinnamon buns meet their fate at my hands.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to be honest. Tell yourself honestly why you are doing one thing or another. Why are you eating or thinking about going Paleo? Why do you want to eat badly so badly?

Being honest with yourself will increase and clarify the connection that you have with your body. This does not have a down-side, unless you consider your body a nuisance...and that's not a topic I'm about to get into. So eat well, or don't. If you don't on occasion, please take enough care to do some damage control.

(Just whatever you do, please don't wear your "epic cheat" around like a rebel badge, people don't care as much as you'd like them too :)

With fittest intentions,

P.S. Click here to learn more about my book The Tao of Paleo. It'll help you (easily) keep the big picture of health and happiness in mind during the Holiday season! It's also a fantastic gift for the yoga, fitness or Paleo buff in your life ;-)

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