Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS September 11, 2015
I hope you haven’t reached the point where you discovered Paleo and were motivated to change your life and then thought, “Can I cheat on my Paleo-type diet?”
Removing unhealthy food choices and replacing them with healthy ones is a lifestyle change. It’s not a fad diet that comes to an end allowing you to return to old eating habits. As a matter of fact, if you only had eliminated the acellular carbs and foods that have a high carbohydrate density, you would have greatly reduced your food cravings, and your body would be healthier, and your mouth would be healthier. But, to answer the question, “Yes, you can cheat”.
Of course, you need to define what cheating means.
As Mark Sisson and Dr. Loren Cordain have stated in their writings, the 80/20-rule or the 85/15-rule work. That means, if you are eating the foods that are part of the nutrient-dense lifestyle 80-85% of the time, then 15-20% of the time you could go off track and still be OK. That off track time would be considered cheating or maybe just indulging off the grid.
I am motivated – perhaps beyond most people’s desire to be motivated. I am 68 years old as I write this. At this point in my lifestyle change, which only began in 2013, I am a fat burner. That means that I usually consume less than 150 grams of carbohydrates a day (without actually counting grams but by making healthier food choices), and for the most part I have no carb cravings. I can effectively burn stored fat for energy throughout the day. In addition, I generally skip a formal breakfast because I am not hungry and start my first meal after the noon hour and end my last meal of the day by 8PM (intermittent fasting). But, most people are not like me. I definitely get that.
Interestingly, there may be some actual benefits to cheating or indulging off the grid.
Break the Monotony
For some, it can be difficult staying the course of eating healthy. Sometimes that burger with all the dripping juices and perfect bun sounds awesome. Other times your buddies and you just are out and about, and a pizza with a beer would top off a perfect evening. So, you join them by indulging off the grid. That’s OK. It is a break from what may appear to you to be the monotony of sticking to a strict food regimen. Just don’t do it often. But for some people, especially those with autoimmune diseases, allergic reactions, and damaged guts, just an occasional indulgence could cause unpleasant and serious reactions. Personally, I do not cheat like this.
The Hormetic Effect
Hormesis is the term for generally favorable biological responses to low exposures to toxins and other stressors. That’s why plants build up phytonutrients in their cell structure to ward off potential pests and disease. The stress created externally will build strength internally. The plant becomes stronger and more resistant, and the human body can become stronger and more resistant. Some research (Here, Here, Here) has demonstrated that eating some bad foods at times might improve overall health. But, again, don’t make this a routine excuse because of some research to indulge off the grid.
Restart Your Metabolism
If you had reduced your carbohydrate intake significantly and for a prolonged time, you actually could have depressed your metabolic rate and stalled your weight loss. When you eat a big meal especially high in carbohydrates, you could trigger specific hormones to restart your weight loss goals.
My Personal Thoughts….
If you have been motivated to make a lifestyle change, then you probably are not thinking about actively cheating. You occasionally may want to eat foods that do not have the ideal nutrient density that you would otherwise eat, and that’s OK. You may go out with the guys or gals and decide you will indulge in a way that you normally would not do, and that’s OK. These are the exceptions and certainly not the rule. I can go to almost any restaurant, even fast-food types, and find something on the menu that I will eat. The important thing for me is this: I know what I won’t eat, and everything else is OK.
If you have started a healthier lifestyle, think about where you are now mentally and physically compared to where you were when you started. I am a perfect example of a person who has embraced a new lifestyle, which has changed my life. How could I ever consider going back to the way I was? How could I entertain the concept of cheating when I know that this Primal lifestyle has saved my life?
Best of luck pursuing your new lifestyle.