The Paleo Diet and Cheat Meals

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A paleo cheat meal?

We all do it… It’s ok to admit it… Every now and then we all eat something that is definitely not Paleo. Does everyone eat in a perfectly Paleo way for every meal of the day, seven days a week? Maybe some die-hards, but on the whole, I’d have to say no, most people cheat every now and then. I actually don’t really like the word “cheat” because it makes the whole thing sound “dirty” or “forbidden”, but I’ll carry on using it here, just for ease. Really, cheating just means eating something that doesn’t fit with the Paleo template, but is there a smart way to cheat? Should cheats be totally off-the-rails, buck-wild, “eat whatever the heck I want to eat” events, or something a little more planned and controlled?

The Paleo Diet and Cheat Meals

A little while back, Melissa McEwen of the Hunt Gather Love blog, posted a helpful article entitled “My Official Guide To Eating Badly”, that includes some very thought provoking points. Check out my excerpts here, and then head over to her blog for the whole article.

“I like to blog about a lot of fancy stuff, but in reality, it’s not every day I’m making braised local grass-fed oxtails and wild caught sea bass. Life gets in the way. But that doesn’t mean you have to totally lose all the benefits you would get from a top-notch diet. Over the years I’ve figured out how to degrade my diet gracefully.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post on mammals, primates have an evolutionary strategy that involves fallback foods. These are resources of low-preference that are eaten when preferred foods are not available. These foods allow primates to survive when things get rough.”

Fallback foods huh? I like that notion. However, should we stick to reasonable, fallback foods when we cheat, or can we throw caution to the wind, and go crazy on pizza, buffalo chicken fingers, and cheese fries? Are there reasons, that should some of us have slightly more “controlled” cheats, Melissa?

“The things I think about here is

  • Determine what foods are never OK at any time. For example, if you have celiac, you are not going to be able to eat gluten ever again. That’s why I advise people who have health improvements with gluten elimination to actually get screened. You can’t just order a burger without a bun if you have celiac, you need to be way more careful than that.
  • Determine whether or not there is a dose-response curve. For example, with people like me who have some carbohydrate malabsorption (lactose or fructose), often there is some toleration.
  • Determine whether or not you can improve your tolerance. For example, if you are intolerant to lactose, often the lactaid pills work very well. I’ve been experimenting with Glutenease (which I heard about from Dr. BG’s ) with good results, though I am worried it’s just a placebo effect. If it isn’t then, I think it’s possibly the “Amylase Thera-blend” that is helping. Probiotics might also work.
  • There are also things that seem to degrade tolerance. At least for me, alcohol seems to definitely reduce the amount of things I can digest properly.
  • Ask yourself whether it’s worth it. Over the years I’ve determined that I don’t like most Easter candy enough. It’s just not that tasty to me to be worth the breakouts and other assorted maladies. There are a lot of other things that just aren’t worth it to me. I remember the last time I had Chick Fil A, which is strangely a fast food place that I have tasty memories of from my childhood in Georgia. But last time I had it, it didn’t taste as good as I remembered and I felt bloated and sluggish for an entire day. Nope. However, I am going to Sweden at the end of this month and I really do think there are some things there that are worth eating. I plan on having at least one serving of Kladdkaka, a rich gooey chocolate cake, at my favorite cafe in


    Chick-Fil-A Chicken sandwich. Would you eat this for a cheat meal? Photo by J. Reed. Image courtesy of

These are all very good points. I particularly like the one about Celiac disease. Celiac is literally a sentence of never being able to eat wheat again. Celiac disease never goes away, and even if you go 10 years without eating wheat, the second you eat even a little, all of the symptoms will return with a vengeance.

I also like the part about asking yourself whether it’s worth it. That’s what it’s all about really isn’t it? At some point, you probably became concerned enough with your personal health and longevity to start eating according to the Paleo Template, so if you’re going to cheat epically, it needs to truly be “worth it” to you. When it comes to the Paleo diet and cheat meals, if you know that you’re going to feel like crap the next day after eating one of those delicious Red Lobster Cheddar-Bay biscuits, but the taste is worth the cost to you, then go for it…..if you don’t have Celiac Disease that is!

So tell me….how often do you cheat, and how far off the rails do you venture?


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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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2 Responses to The Paleo Diet and Cheat Meals

  1. Katelyn May 1, 2012 at 7:13 am

    No, I never cheat. Ever.


    • Barry Cripps May 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Of course you don’t, Katelyn. :-)