“Cheating” is a conversation point that comes up a lot in the Paleo/Primal world or any nutritional world. People seek guidelines or advice on how to “cheat.” I have been wanting to do a post on this topic for a while and finally got a good excuse when Whole9 asked fellow bloggers to make their own “Healthy / F-Off Scale.” Before I present my version of the scale, let’s talk about “cheating.” I get perturbed when I see people preaching Paleo nutrition like it is a religion and that you should be shamed if you indulge. Whole9 did a (timely) post on this recently and I couldn’t agree more with what they are saying with respect to not living Whole-365. Unless you are a taste-sensation-less freak like Dr. Oz (who claims to not really enjoy food), you are going to crave some unhealthy foods and want to indulge. But how do you do that? What are the rules for “cheating?”
There are a few different perspectives on this: Whole9’s guide to eating dirty, Mark Sisson’s 80/20 Principle, PaNu’s “Smoking Candy Cigarettes” perspective and I can respect each of them. I also believe that creating guidelines for incorporating indulgences into your everyday life needs to be done on an individualized basis. There are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ set of principles that everyone can abide by. You have to know yourself, understand what your triggers are and set corresponding boundaries. Let’s look at some examples…I’m going to use baked goods as the sin of choice, but this applies to whatever your poison is:
Are you a Tiger?
Good old Tiger Woods…he just could not control his cheating. Once he got a taste of the dark side (a mistress), he couldn’t stop himself and kept going back for more. Sound familiar? I know when I hit a dessert buffet, I cannot limit myself to 1 treat. No…I want to taste the whole buffet. Much like Tiger, I need to get my fix of Vanilla, Chocolate and Caramel. I have said this before, I can turn into a competitive eater as I do not have the capacity to feel full when it comes to desserts. While my cravings for most things have been eliminated since being Paleo/Primal, my attraction to baked goods is one that has never subsided. But I know this about myself and therefore I act accordingly by planning my indulgences. Like Tiger, if I went on instinct I would be in my own mistress nightmare, except my mistresses are made of icing sugar. What works best for me is to create boundaries and stick within them. I set limits on how often I indulge and ensure that it is for a special occasion. That way if I have numerous occasions to eat homemade cake, I stay strong and say no except for the occasion that I had planned for it. I have been told that I have amazing will power, but it is just a matter of setting rules for myself. When it comes to actually indulging – It is always dessert that I indulge in – I will limit what I have access to, ie: I’ll order dessert at a restaurant or purchase 1 item to bring home (ie: The biggest cupcake). I savour it, lick the plate for every last morsel, mourn that the experience is over and then move on….get back on the healthy horse. If you know you cannot have an entire cake in the house without eating it (guilty as charged), then don’t bring it into the house. If you are a Tiger, then you need to set boundaries for yourself and prevent yourself from being in situations where you’ll have open access to the buffet-o-pleasure. Set rules for yourself so that you are limiting your indulgences to special occasions and avoiding going on instinct. But we are not all Tigers…
Are you a Vince Neil?
In case you are not familiar with Vince Neil, he is the legendary lead singer of Motley Crew – he is famous for having an appetite for strippers (listen to Girls, Girls, Girls). Back in the day, he was a regular at the rippers where he relished in the eye candy and was able to pick and choose when he wanted a taste. This reminds me of the Nutrisystem or Weight Watcher’s Diets where you can choose to have mini desserts that are not even half a bite. You can have treats often, but it’s a miniscule portion that would only make Tiger angry. But this works if you are a Vince Neil because you are able to have a couple bites from the candy jar and be satisfied. You can stop without eating the whole cake. This is good for avoiding binges and you can handle a buffet, but you may also require some boundaries to limit the cumulative damage. You do not want to be indulging all the time, even if it is a small amount – your gut takes days to heal after even a small exposure to a faux-food and you risk switching over to a ‘sugar-burner’ by teasing your body with blood sugar spikes. You can go on instincts and give in when a craving hits you, but you may need to think about setting a maximum limit so that you are not damaging your health. Alas, you are lucky because you can get the same Tiger satisfaction from a Vince Neil experience. Then there is Joe Jonas…
Are you Joe Jonas?
Joe Jonas, tween sensation (or is he 35 now?), wearer of the purity ring… he was able to hold off on ‘indulging’ with the ladies and showed his commitment by wearing a purity ring. If you are a Joe Jonas, then you probably don’t miss faux-foods or have insatiable cravings. You are less likely to require boundaries/rules because you are able to control yourself. I hate people like you. Just kidding….In all seriousness, if you are a Joe Jonas, then you will always be committed to your diet and will never let the indulgences get in the way. I feel that people are either born Joe Jonas’ or not…you cannot become a Jonas. Trust me, I have tried. Staying strict 100% of the time and only giving in when the I’ve found “the one” does not work for me (recall my icing sugar mistress nightmare). But if this works for you, then all the more power to you…just make sure you take off your Paleo promise ring before you indulge.
The point is that you need to know yourself and create principles that work for you – As long as you eat as healthy as possible, as often as possible, you can allow for the occasional indulgence. How much? That is something that you will need to figure out for yourself based on your personal goals and how you ‘look, feel and perform’ (as Robb Wolf always says). You need to be in-tune with your body and evaluate how you feel. If you get immediate health ramifications from having certain forbidden foods, then avoid them. If you start to notice a muffin top, then perhaps you are indulging too often or too much. Did you lose some of your pull-ups? Maybe that second slice of banana chocolate cake was not a good idea (I am talking to myself here). Everyone is different and you’ll have to find your happy place where you can attain your health and fitness goals, but still have the odd indulgence. As soon as you start to notice any negative consequences, then you need to re-evaluate your strategy.
Lastly, you need to care for your gut health as this is going to play a big role in overall health (mental and physical), avoiding disease and longevity. By no means, am I advocating “cheating” with this post and saying you should crack out on wine, cheese, pasta or whatever your poison is. But let’s be honest here, everyone is going to “cheat” and knowing whether you are a Tiger, Vince Neil or Joe Jonas is half the battle in helping you to figure out a strategy that works for you.
Now, I present my Healthy / F-Off Scale: