90/10, 80/20, 40/60… What’s Your Paleo Percentage?

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healthy-vs-junk-food11

Conversation overheard at the gym:

Ripped dude with six-pack abs and biceps that would shut down any military gun show: “Yeah, you know, I’m not like 100% paleo. I’d say I’m probably about 90/10.”

New guy with pony-keg abs, wearing Velcro tennis shoes: “Cool, so you can still have beer and pizza sometimes?”

Biceps: “Sure – and since you’re new, you might be able to start with an 80/20 split.” “You can tighten it up when you stop seeing results.”

Beer Boy: “Awesome! I’m gonna try it – thanks.”

Okay, that’s how it went down. I’m sure you’ve overheard or maybe even been on one of the ends of a conversation like that at some point in your ‘paleo career’, (and don’t even try denying the Velcro shoes…). Logically, we all ‘get’ what these paleo percentages mean, right? It’s not rocket science. You eat clean paleo (this means no paleo pancakes, paleo cookies, or other hybrid paleo creations that are showing up on some Paleo cooking blogs)a given percent of the time (like 80 or 90) and then the other 10-20 percent of the time you enjoy some non-sanctioned deliciousness. That’s really all there is to it. Everybody got that.

Wait a second, are you all sure you REALLY got that? Seriously, the more I think about it the less I actually ‘get it’. How exactly do you quantify what 80 percent and what 20 percent of what you eat actually is? Do you write down everything you plan to eat for the week and then tinker with it until you get the precise ratios? (If you do this, and there are probably some of you out there that do, I need you to pay attention here – STOP IT!!!  This is NOT the Zone and there is more to life than ratios and percentages – let it go!)  Or do you calculate it in ‘time’ – like there’s 352 days every year and 80 percent of 365 is – 292 days of eating clean. This leaves 73 days for the other stuff… Or maybe you break the day into hours – you’re awake for about 16 hours a day and 80 percent of 16 gives you 12.8 hours of clean eating and 3.2 hours for off-roading. Really, how the heck do you quantify this stuff? I liken it to those people (you know who you are) that are paleo during ‘challenges’ or for 21 or 30 day chunks at a time and then they go completely off the reservation until the next round. Sure, during that challenge period you feel good, your body comp starts changing and you have more energy than General Electric’s headquarters – but the entire time you’re thinking about what you’re going to ‘treat’ yourself to at the end of this little game.

Oh, and what  about the food/drink choices and quantities… (Yes, we’re going to go there, and I’m going to tell you the truth.  It may hurt a little, but you’ve been warned.)

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen gluten, wheat, dairy, soy, etc. listed under the “Food Dislikes or Intolerances” section of the questionnaire I send to my new clients. And believe it or not, on the exact same questionnaire listed under “Food Musts or Favorites” things like brownies, pizza, beer, ice cream, cheese and pasta show up… So, my burning question is, if you say that wheat, gluten, dairy, etc. are things that you don’t tolerate what the H-E double hockey sticks are you doing eating them?  I mean yeah, I know, they taste good – but seriously, is the pain and suffering really worth it? And did you know that one ‘off-road’ can set you back MONTHS in terms of gut healing, health and disease management?  Yeah, it’s not just a two or three day misery fest but it can undo a lot of healing and hard work pretty damn quickly. So let’s say you’re doing the 80/20 thing and your gut is about as healthy as Paula Deen’s career right now, and you’re thinking pizza and beer on Friday night sounds about right. One night of fun is well within the 80/20 rule and it’s your 20 percent damn it, and you’re gonna enjoy it. Well, guess what, as good as it was and as worth it as the Saturday lethargy, headache and time spent in the oval office was, it’s highly likely that your poor innards are gonna be paying for this for a lot longer than the municipal sewer system will.  Now you do this gluten/dairy intoxication thing once or twice per week and healing anything is next to impossible. So, am I telling you that you have to eat STRICT paleo with zero treats 100% of the time?  YES!  Okay, I’m just kidding, but you were scared, huh? I’m not saying you can never have anything that’s not a meat, vegetable or healthy fat – but if you don’t have an iron gut and know that you have adverse reactions to gluten, dairy, soy, etc., or if your gut or health in general aren’t where they should be then you need to be careful. I mean really, these days there are some damn tasty gluten, dairy, soy, etc. options. You don’t have to live in complete deprivation to be healthy! Now, if you’re not reaching your goals, getting lean, kicking ass and taking names in the gym, etc. – you may want to rethink the 80/20. If you really want to see your abs it might mean no ‘cheats’ for a while and you need to understand, that when you do stray from the meat and veggie routine that it’s going to set you back (so are crappy sleep, lots of stress and stupid exercise…).

With all that stuff on the table, I’m going to completely blow your minds with this next idea. Are you sitting down? No, seriously – SIT DOWN. Okay, what if, instead of saying 80/20, etc., or instead of having “cheat days” or “cheat meals” we try something different. First off, I HATE the word ‘cheat’, it insinuates that we’re doing something shady and eating some coconut ice cream is not shady. It’s delicious. I say we refer to ‘off eating’ as treats. That sounds happy and I like happy things…  Next, there will be no “treat days” or “treat meals”, even.  Why? Because, think about this for a minute, you have an entire day to completely go off the rails – you start with pancakes; move on to a cheeseburger (with the bun), fries and a Coke; and you finish the day off with pizza, beer, and ½ a package of OREO cookies. Now tell me, did you enjoy and actually taste every bite of all that or did you just keep eating because you ‘could’? It’s the same with an entire meal – you start with a margarita and the spinach and artichoke dip (with bread) appetizer; next is the 32 ounce Rib-Eye, loaded baked potato and another marg for good measure; and dessert is mandatory – I mean it’s your “treat meal” – so you go with the Molten Lava Cake and throw on a couple scoops of ice cream for good measure. You are now officially stuffed – I’m talking, let the belt out, lay down and cry a little bit full… Sure it tasted good – but did the first bite taste as good as the last and did you polish off the entire steak and dessert because you were truly enjoying it or was it more just something you do during every ‘no rules’ meal because you are entitled to it? I’m going to challenge you to (this is going to be hard…) get rid of the cheat day or cheat meal mentality. Instead give yourself ONE ‘treat’ FOOD. Yep, I’m cruel like that. You pick ONE thing – so if it’s going to be a cheeseburger, fine, but that means no fries or coke. You SAVOR and ENJOY EVERY bite of that cheeseburger. Make it an experience – eat your ‘treat’ distraction free – no TV, no computer, nothing. SIT DOWN and have a moment. It’s just you and the burger. I want you to taste it, chew it, feel the texture and above all ENJOY EVERY bite! If that burger, brownie or ice cream stops tasting absolutely, out-of-this-world, blow your mind AWESOME, then STOP eating it. At that point it isn’t worth it anymore. The last rule, don’t ‘waste your treats’ on less than awesome foods –you know the stuff – low fat/sugar-free ice cream, cold pizza, stale potato chips, the last few bites off your kids’ plates, warm beer, etc. Make your treats, ‘treats’ – not mindless bites of less than appetizing fare.

Let’s put away the 80/20, 90/10, cheat days and cheat meals. Enjoy the foods you eat – don’t ‘choke’ something down that you don’t like. It’s not worth it. And throw out the ‘clean your plate rule’ – yes, there are starving children in Africa, but they don’t need stale French fries and melted ice cream either. Make this way of eating a ‘lifestyle’ – it’s not a diet, it’s not living from one cheat meal, carb night or 30 day challenge to the next. You’ve got 365 healthy days every year – not 292. Make each one count. (And yes, an occasional ‘treat’ is healthy – as long as it doesn’t compromise your health.)

Eat to Live. Don’t Live to Eat.

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  1. Courtney
    July 11, 2013 at 4:21 am

    Great article! I know I’ve had this mentality, so I appreciate the points you made and the emphasis placed on enjoying every single bite of something “off eating.” Definitely pinning this so I can refer to it and share it! :)

    • Amy Kubal
      July 11, 2013 at 11:52 am

      Thank you Courtney! And please share it! I hope it helps lots and lots of people!

  2. Janeway
    July 11, 2013 at 9:47 am

    This is a great article that addresses a real phenomenon, that gray area where people are not acutely allergic to a food and therefore think they can binge on crap without ill effects. They’re not stopping to consider the long-term effect on their gut health, which can take months or years to repair.

    It’s a good reminder to me to lay off the dairy completely, because that’s where my denial is strongest. The cheese/ice cream temptation is always lurking, especially at a party where it’s provided free of charge. It’s taken me a long time to admit that a single scoop of ice cream (okay, a single pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch) would lead to an entire week or more of gastric issues, to put it politely. Then there was an unavoidable course of antibiotics that wiped out years of good gut health, followed by the long, slow road back. Those innocuous seeming treats do not help at all.

    I’m one of those “lucky” people who learned 30 years ago that I cannot eat wheat, even in small amounts, without suffering nasty symptoms within half an hour. I’ll often meet people who claim to be allergic to wheat and then praise me for my willpower, saying they can’t resist the pizza or cookies. For me, it has nothing to do with willpower. Because of the severity of my symptoms, eliminating wheat 100% of the time was a no-brainer.

    But you’re addressing that common, all-important gray area, which only seems gray because the damage occurs more slowly and subtly. You’ve reminded me that I can’t afford to fool myself, not if I’m seeking deep healing and permanent health.

  3. Karen
    July 11, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I truly believe that anyone who says they are eating paleo “80% of the time” is not actually eating paleo 80% of the time, it’s probably more like 60%. I try to stick to “100% paleo” and know that I will still end up eating some dark chocolate, or make a bad food choice in a moment of stress and fatigue (milk chocolate! gasp!). The 80/20 people annoy me – or maybe it’s annoying because the point of paleo (I thought) was that grains are bad. Grains do nothing but damage your gut and make you think you’re hungrier than you are, blablabla. So why would anyone choose a cheeseburger with the bun to be an allowable cheat/treat?

    I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which seems to be quite well-managed these days between meds and my diet. I can’t “cheat” with wheat, because I will feel awful for days. I can’t treat myself to a bowl of candy, because the very next day, I will experience joint pain. Last year I couldn’t stand without pain. I couldn’t hug my 1-year old without pain, I couldn’t turn the steering wheel without pain, I couldn’t get dressed without assistance. This year I ran a 5K in 30 minutes. I am deadlifting 40 lb dumbbells (this is not at my pre-RA level but getting closer). I feel amazing and my med doses are coming down and I will not risk a cheat/treat because I never want to be disabled again. That is why I don’t get those 80/20 people.

    • Cathy
      July 15, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      “I never want to be disabled again” says it all. That’s motivation. You do what you have to do.

    • Mark
      July 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm

      Karen,
      Curious as to what drugs (if any) you are on for RA? I’m on Enbrel which has dramatically cut the inflammation. Sometimes I wonder if I could go it alone with only Paleo, but that’s a bit of a spooky thought. 15 years with RA on this end.

      Thanks,
      Mark

      • Karen
        July 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm

        Mark,

        I’m taking Humira every other week and 4×2.5 mg methotrexate pills once per week. I want to ditch the MTX, because in my opinion they’re nothing more than toxic tictacs, but my rheumy won’t let me reduce them before he sees me again in September (I think he’s holding it against me for dropping from 6 to 4 without his pre-approval. I have NO pain symptoms since following this diet, but do start to feel a little in my jonts if I have the rare sugar binge.

  4. Brent
    July 11, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Amy,

    This is absolutely brilliant–all too often people (myself included) use the “clean eating ratio” as a sliding scale to justify choices in the short term, or to ramp up for a challenge where they can fix the past indiscretions.

    We all need to work on just eating well because it’s a good idea, and leaving the junk aside except for those true treats. We’ll be better off for it.

    • Amy Kubal
      July 11, 2013 at 11:51 am

      Thank you Brent! No one has ever called anything I’ve done brilliant! I’m flattered and I don’t expect that it will ever happen again… But you made my day!! :)

      • Brent
        July 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm

        I have my rare moments; and we’ll try to keep the garbage “paleo-ized” posts on our end to a minimum. :)

  5. Brad
    July 12, 2013 at 5:25 am

    Just ask yourself who or what is getting cheated here? The answer will always be that you are just cheating yourself.

  6. Salixisme
    July 12, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I agree with Karen – I do think that those who say they eat paleo 80/20 are probably underestimating what they eat.
    I know I am not 100% paleo – I use a wheat free soy sauce for example. But I try to avoid cheat/treat foods altogether.

  7. Chris
    July 12, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Actually, the “cheat day” helped me achieve the awareness that you’re trying to communicate here. When I began this lifestyle a couple of years ago, I binged on Saturdays. I still lost 40 lbs in four months, and whenever I had a craving I saved it for Saturday. It was this concentrated cheat day that actually made me realize that I had a gluten intolerance. Until then, I thought that my digestive woes were normal. So my “cheat days” no longer allowed wheat. And I continued this way, using “cheat days” as my n=1 experiments. I basically transitioned to the “one food” idea by systematic elimination of irritants.

    • Isaac
      July 13, 2013 at 5:18 am

      I think Chris’s point is valid, and I believe that is Mark Sissons point exactly with the 80/20 rule. He is just trying to get some buy-in so people don’t go screaming out the door. The 80/20 is really just for newbies, but after that I totally agree with Brad’s point above, the only person you are cheating is yourself, but people need to come to that on their own.

      Hopefully the 80 that they are eating heals their gut enough that they get destroyed on the 20 and learn for the next time.

      • EnglishRose
        July 15, 2013 at 11:22 pm

        I am not against some paleo is better than none. IT is just for the addicts amongst us one day on chocolate or one chocolate from the box cannot work. Our brain bio chemistry is like a cocaine or alcohol addict. We cannot have a bit of the addictive substance due to how it affects our brain and the compulsions it then engenders.

        • nik
          August 20, 2013 at 6:46 am

          great comment EnglishRose – actually printed it out. I was dithering about starting this – it’s yet another diet to start, not finish and get demoralised – but the addict comment made me realise my brain would be thinking that wouldn’t it?!

  8. M
    July 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    I don’t do “cheat days” or “cheat meals,” though I am open-minded to the concept and people who it really works for.

    Instead I ebb and flow with life, and end up eating non-paleo food when opportunities arise. Specifically, I might eat some baking a co-worker brings in, a couple pieces of bread with extra butter at a restaurant, some pizza at a work event, or some other gluten-containing food when visiting friends and family who are feeding me. This stuff does not come up often, and I do abstain a lot of the time (e.g., always pass up donuts or cookies at work… would never touch a juice or soda…). This type of indulgence will happen less than once a week on average – and I’m talking one piece or one item at one meal. I might also include a few “cheats” of my own choosing like a bowl of ice cream (homemade or w/ natural ingredients), a couple glasses of wine, some corn tortillas at a restaurant, a “paleo” treat (or yes – some 50% dark chocolate, with caramel – gasp!). But this too might happen once a week. Also – now that I’ve been eating clean for years, I think I have really good control over what I put in my mouth, and I’ve learned that it’s better to not feel *guilty* about eating less-than-healthy things and I’ve learned to not “fall off the wagon.” Eating well has truly become a lifestyle. The only reason I would push it >90/10 is if I felt I truly did have food sensitivities that I hadn’t previously appreciated or if I wanted to literally diet and be extra strict to lose more weight and finally see my six-pack or boost athletic performance to crazy levels.

    I also believe perspective is important. What’s better? That something be “paleo” or that something be “nutritious”? I’m trying to eat more liver, and while I enjoy liver pate, it’s just not that good on carrot or celery sticks. So I’ve started eating rice crackers to go with the liver. Rice crackers on their own are nutrient poor and pretty high carb (and most importantly – addictive), but with the liver pate, I think they are totally legit (because I might only eat 8-10 at a sitting, while eating 1/8 or 1/4 lb of liver). Without the crackers, I wouldn’t eat nearly as much liver. Likewise, if I eat an insanely healthy meal with quality meat, quality fats, and tons of fresh veggies and greens, is it really bad to eat a little bowl of ice cream as my “carbs” rather than a half sweet potato? Sure – it’s not as nutrient dense, but overall my meal probably beats a lot of others I might come up with in terms of total nutrient density. I will trade kale and marrow bone for ice cream. And tomorrow I might eat broccoli and sweet potatoes.

    I am confident I eat 90/10 (and by this I meant >90% of what I put in my body is nourishing me toward my goals as well as not hurting me), and I think the joy and stress decrease this brings me is worth it and will actually *improve* my health (stress and happiness are both critical to health). So, I do believe in the concept in this way. I assume you’re mostly not writing for people like me, who have truly bought in to the healthy eating concept. I do agree that people can take this idea way too far. It really depends on the person, and whether they respect and can control the cheats.

    • Ken S
      July 30, 2013 at 2:16 am

      I also think people shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. I mean if you are 80/20, that’s not too bad is it. it’s being AWARE that is the important part. It’s very hard sometimes so I think we just need to relax and don’t beat ourselves up.

      • Amy Kubal
        July 30, 2013 at 4:45 am

        I totally agree!

      • Holly Madden
        August 5, 2013 at 10:40 pm

        Agree. 80/20 is pretty good. And being aware is important. 100% paleo is very difficult. Great post. This is a good read.

  9. Nate
    July 15, 2013 at 5:28 am

    This is a awesome article! A good swift kick in the pants. I compromise way to easily. Thanks Amy. I needed this.

  10. Fig Newton
    July 15, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    I am 70% Paleo 40% of the time!

    • Amy Kubal
      July 16, 2013 at 4:12 am

      You sound very much like someone I know…

  11. heidifromoz
    July 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    My main failing is wine in the evening, and I really do enjoy it. I am lucky in being into junk foods and sugar at all (I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Oreo let alone been tempted to eat one), so while I follow the Paleo/Primal style fairly closely wine is definitely one area I don’t want to give up.

    Interestingly over the past ten months since I started this lifestyle, I feel heaps better regardless of what I drink. So it must be working.

    I guess we all have something in our diet/lifestyle that would probably be better avoided, but we’re human and sometimes we need the treats/wicked pleasures!

    • DarleneinSeattle
      July 16, 2013 at 9:47 am

      I agree. I haven’t given up wine. However, I have changed to only organic wine and it tastes so much better than it used to.

      I recently had a steak soft taco. Woke up the next day feeling like I went on a bender. Never again.

  12. heidifromoz
    July 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Sorry, that should read “I am lucky in not being into junk foods” – ooops!

  13. Chelsea
    July 15, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    All I can say is thank you. This is exactly what I needed to read right now. Awesome!

  14. Curious
    July 15, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Bravo! Great article.

  15. mark kirkendall
    July 15, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    This shines a bright light on how poorly i really am doing with my diet, from someone who believes ‘paleo’. am i less unhealthy than the guy eating fast food several times a week? asking that question signals a compromise that i’m willing to accept some level of off-eating. you have me rethinking some priorities.

  16. Joe
    July 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Amy,

    As someone who is adopting a Paleo lifestyle to lose weight and improve my blood pressure and cholesterol I can honestly say I have struggled with the idea of “cheat days”. On other diets (okay, “lifestyles”) I have tried I would allow myself a cheat day every weekend and do just what you mentioned; eat a huge pancake breakfast followed by a big cheeseburger and fries lunch and move on to a steak and potato dinner that was complimented with a nice hunk of anything made with chocolate a la mode. Even while I was eating I was aware I was full but I was on my cheat day so I was going to clean my plate. After many attempts of different programs I came to the conclusion that I just don’t have the discipline to handle cheat days. Inevitably my cheat days are day long binges followed by a few days of half-hearted adherence to the plan and eventual full blown failure. I do not doubt that those on the plan for other reasons than fat loss may be able to handle a cheat day option but for many people (Raising my hand) it is the first lie we tell ourselves on the way to falling completely off the Paleo wagon. I don’t take cheat days because I didn’t become overweight due to my great self control and I don’t believe I will develop it while Domino’s is still delivering. When I have a cheat day craving I just remember how great it will feel when I can take my daughter to the swimming pool and not be worried she is ashamed of the way her Dad looks. It isn’t easy all the time but its part of the commitment I think you have to make if you have significant weight to lose.

  17. Luke
    July 15, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Beautifully and assertively said. I love that you not “held the mirror up” but you also offered a real solution. Solutions over excuses!

  18. Michelle
    July 15, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Thank you soooo much for this article! I feel like it was written specifically for me. I have really been sucked into the whole paleo baking/treats thing lately and whilst I haven’t eaten any processed food or grains, legumes etc in quite some time I have been eating a lot of treats and justifying it to myself as being okay because it is ‘paleo’. And meanwhile, I have been exercising like a demon and still having slow weight loss and thinking, aaargh this plateau sucks, but really its self-sabotage isn’t it?

    Thank you once again for a great reality check!

    Kind Regards,

    Michelle.

  19. Ben
    July 15, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Robb, you say “You pick ONE thing – so if it’s going to be a cheeseburger, fine, but that means no fries or coke.”

    Couldn’t you have five fries!?!

  20. Michelle
    July 15, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    I just had this discussion with my coworker. She is the type that will eat supe clean for weeks, then have the pizza , beer, lava cake and scoop of ice cream and feel guilty (and horribly sick) later. I did that twice before I realized the consequences were not worth the “fun”. I don’t binge like that anymore. I do have an occasional treat. I’m sure the paleo patrol will not arrest me for keeping pieces of dark chocolate at my desk. ;-)

  21. Elle
    July 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Love this article It drives me nuts when people say they are vegan or paleo except for …. and the percentages? They are really annoying. I am so glad to see you address this.

    And I hate the whole CHEAT mentality too. If you want something, have it, but make sure it’s worth it.

  22. Robin
    July 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Good one Amy.
    #toughlove

  23. EnglishRose
    July 15, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    I will always be a sugar addict so like drug and alcohol addicts I have to be 100% abstaining so I am 100% paleo always. It is a change of a way of eating and it is for life and it is wonderful. I don’t crave or want the foods that make me feel so bad. It is liberation, not difficulty. For some without addictive genes they may be able to tolerate cheat days and the like but I cannot.

  24. Kevin
    July 16, 2013 at 1:52 am

    And when all else fails…the abancer is a respectable option
    http://www.yasarcanturk.com/wp-content/gallery/yasar-canturk/ab-enhancer.jpg

  25. Amy
    July 16, 2013 at 3:21 am

    Great article, Amy. I’m forwarding it to my husband – he has several issues, including Type 2 Diabetes, and is trying to manage it through diet…but his sugar keeps creeping up. I often hear “but I only had 2 bites of X”. And I feel that’s a dangerous statement – 2 bites of ice cream plus a few croutons, plus… really add up if you’re not paying attention.

    Your article points out that even having Paleo “treats” is still a treat – that’s a tough one for us (though a big step away from conventional ones).

    I also like the advice to select something you’ll really enjoy – intentionally, and enjoy it thoroughly. A friend of mine has the phrase “is it worthy?”. If I crave french fries, I’ll have them – but I don’t really care about the hamburger bun.

    Finally, we can’t be lazy! We can’t give in to “oh, I’ll just grab a bag of chips”. Usually, we really can wait till we get home to eat.

  26. AMY
    July 16, 2013 at 5:58 am

    GREAT ARTICLE! Just what I needed. I don’t eat the paleo treats but I have noticed that I have been slipping with a few cocktails or an ice cream on the weekend. It always makes me feel like crap come Monday; both physically and mental.
    Thanks you for writing this!!

  27. Lisa
    July 16, 2013 at 7:11 am

    I find that the more paleo you eat, the less you want of the “cheat foods”. I recently went on vacation, stayed Paleo but on last day, decided to have small square of chocolate and some tortilla chips (I will add that I do not have any symptomatic food intolerances). The foods didnt taste as I thought they would taste and would have rather have had a can of sardines in olive oil. So, I totally agree with this article. And having a really good quality gelato or other food might taste great on occasion, but i typically crave the foods that are the best for me now!

  28. Erin
    July 16, 2013 at 7:11 am

    Logically I know you were not speaking to “me”, but really, you were. As with a few people here, I had to really junk-out once a week and suffered severe physiological and psychological consequences for at LEAST 3 days after.

    As a FORMER member of the bodybuilding/figure scene, I am going to put a bit of the blame on the culture, where “EPIC CHEAT MEALS” were something to be bragged about while doing hours of cardio. Boooo Hisssssss!

    I had to come to my own version of this through years of lost progress and gastrointestinal pain. I am getting much better at listening to my body and ACTUALLY enjoying the treat I choose, instead of just throwing as much of it down the hatch as I could.

    Thanks for always writing articles that speak to the challenges that we face and giving no nonsense solutions. I’m sick to death of hearing “everything in moderation”, cause quite frankly, moderation is both subjective and not a solution to an epidemic. You’re a super star.

  29. David Kluttz
    July 16, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Thanks Amy. I would like to add a bit which I am sure you already know. I became aware of Paleo in 2011 and have attended AHS11 & 12, read the key books and dropped my weight from 312 down to 260 in about a year. But I still struggle with over eating and not getting enough exercise. Just this week I have recommitted to eating right (let’s not call it Paleo because it gives rise to those absolutely journalistic critiques that go down the line of “we don’t have the food available today that was available 12,000 years ago) and starting working with a personal trainer this morning. I need to be eating right, exercising, and getting proper rest for my health in general (I’m 66 years old) and specifically because I am a Type II diabetic. I am way too fat at 5-11 and 260 pounds, feel tired and am generally stressed out. So now it boils down to eating, exercise, rest, meditation and time with my wife (of 44 years) family and friends. This was a all a prologue to simply say, let’s not call it “cheat” or “treat” if we want to be truly honest with ourselves. It actually is difficult to “eat clean” in a way that is not harmful to my body just because of where and how food is available to me but it is possible, I’ve done it and will do it. I just have to keep in mind that for me to consider a beer or bowl of homemade fresh peach ice cream to be a “treat” is like saying smoking on Saturday night at the local pub is a “treat” for someone who smoked for 30 years but has now quit. Maybe this seem harsh, closed minded or unrealistic but consuming food and drink that my body cannot tolerate or is destroying my overall health really is not rational even though it tastes good or is satisfying at the moment.
    My approach is to select foods that my family and I really like and are healthy, eat those and distance myself from the things I consider “cheat” or “treat” but are harmful to my health……..just like the cigarettes I smoked 42 years ago!!!

  30. Dawn
    July 16, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Up until recently,I’d been allowing myself to have a little bit of dark chocolate on most days. Having given up so much, I felt it was the one treat I could give myself, other than the occasional almond flour and honey based cookie. Then I woke up and realized that it was my only source of refined sugar, and eating it so often actually might cause me to develop a sensitivity to it. So, I gave it up two weeks ago.

    Whereas my daughter made significant dietary changes all at once, to heal her digestive system, it took me years to make the gradual changes that have added up to a complete reversal of old habits. By taking it one bite at a time, I was able to create lasting changes.

    With that all stated, I do believe the Paleo percentages can be powerful for people who have a long way to go in upgrading their food choices. For someone who is eating a processed food based diet, taking it one Paleo meal or snack at a time can be a lot more powerful than making changes all at once.

    We each have to connect our own dots. Paleo is not the only nutritional theory that can be used to heal the gut, and food is not the only form of nourishment that can help us recover from illness. We are all unique individuals, with different situations and life circumstances, which all needs to be taken into account more so than our ability to strictly follow any one diet.

    What you’re really talking about here is motivation. Those who have it will be a lot more successful than those who don’t. While health care providers can give clients the resources, tools, support, and encouragement clients need to make major lifestyle changes, they can’t actually make the changes for them. Healing has to come from a place deep inside of oneself.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. It will be especially good advice for those who suffer from chronic illnesses, digestive distress, and food sensitivities. In those cases, there really is no wiggle room for cheat foods.

  31. Dan French
    July 16, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Amy will personally spank you until you comply with at least 97/3.

    • Amy Kubal
      July 16, 2013 at 10:14 am

      In your dreams Dan, in your dreams… ;)

  32. Miki
    July 16, 2013 at 9:46 am

    I totally get this. The cleaner I eat, the more sensitive my digestion is. Crappy ol’ double edged sword. I now avoid “bad” food because I don’t like pain. It has nothing to do with self control.

    • Cindy
      July 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      This is me. I LOVED breads. Pancakes. Waffles. I stopped most wheat last year. Now if I have something as a treat(ha) or because I didn’t ask the right questions, the pain is a reminder that this my new life. A few rebellious moments have consequences. It’s not worth it.

      I bought some ‘gluten free’ bread at a farmers market a couple of weeks ago. It was ok heated up with coconut butter. Not great, just ok. The pain, oh the pain. Lesson learned. I don’t even like the smell of bread anymore.

  33. Amy Kubal
    July 16, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Thank you all so much for the wonderful comments and for sharing your stories. I’m so glad that this brain dump of mine has spoken to so many of you! Thank you for reading it. You guys ROCK! :) -Amy

  34. Primal-V
    July 16, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Great post, thank goodness REAL food tastes so good it helps keep me on a healthy path.

    That said when I go off-plan it’s for something great, on Sunday I rejected an ice-cream van’s wares (despite the heat) and came across a stall selling home made ice-cream – ingredients: double (heavy) cream, raspberries, sugar to taste.

    I ate half the single serve container, after that it stopped tasting awesome so why finish it?

    • Christopher
      July 16, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      Well played :)

    • Amy Kubal
      July 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      You’ve got this DOWN!! Nice work!

  35. Aurelie
    July 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Great Article Amy – what kind of frequency would you say occasional is?
    Once a week – once every 2 weeks
    I have had trouble in the past – and had too many occasional treats

    • Amy Kubal
      July 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      It depends on you and your goals and health. Once a week can be okay – but if it’s going to push you over the edge then limit it to special occasions.

  36. Phocion Timon
    July 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    After a LOT of N=1 experimentation, I’ve concluded 95/5 is best for me. I eat no fruit, no starchy vegetables such as potatoes, etc. My menu is based upon, for lack of a better description, a man walking around the countryside carrying a rifle and a knife. If it comes in a package from a factory, I don’t touch it.

    I suffered gout for twenty years. Since having “gone paleo” three years ago my gout has disappeared except those times I cheat. I can eat a hamburger with the bun and maybe not get a full blown gout attack but a small joint, say at the base of a thumb, will be sore for a few days.

    I can get away with eating fresh berries (I am a blueberry freak) but I admit I am terrified of the fructose since it is the chemical seemingly most responsible for gout attacks. (Hence the rise in gout in the populace thanks to High Fructose Corn Syrup). I avoid fruits for two reasons: 1) the fructose content and 2) most fruits just don’t taste all that good. Especially apples, they almost always have a mealy mouth-feel.

    When I go the grocery store I get only veggies and meat. If the store carries 100% grass-fed meat, which most don’t, cool. I’ll get a package or two. I usually just buy fatty beef meat, whatever organs the store may have such as liver and maybe a heart. I will occasionally get a package of chicken hearts or chicken gizzards, both of which are seriously good when cooked over a wood fire. Eggs are of course on the menu but I do chicken flesh maybe once or twice per month and only the thighs when I do.

    Vegetables, harvested with the imaginary knife, are the usual dark green leafy items. I’ll often get the red or orange or yellow bell peppers. Cherry tomatoes go in my daily salad. Purple onions are definitely on the menu. In cold months I’ll indulge in one of the many squashes a few times. I “harvest” mushrooms, whatever the store may have, every time I go.

    The one, real regret I have is foregoing dairy. I love a tall, cold glass of milk. I have yet to find a cheese I wouldn’t eat. And butter? Man, is there anything better than an omelet cooked in real butter? The main reason I gave up dairy is my weight-loss comes to a screeching halt when I eat dairy. Since I still have about 60 pounds to lose, my attitude is if a food causes a stall in weight-loss, out it goes. Even my beloved milk kefir. (After a weight-loss stall, I quit drinking kefir and lost nine pounds in eight days.)

    The only manufactured food I eat is coconut oil and (unmodified) potato starch. I use “manufactured” describing the coconut oil only because the oil must be purposely created, regardless its final quality. The potato starch is a “resistant” starch that resists the digestive system until it gets to the colon, allowing quality fermentation products and a healthy colon.

    As long as I stick to the above scenario, I don’t suffer gout, I lose weight, and I live well. If I wander off the path, even a little way, I suffer the consequences. Like an alcoholic, if I stay on the straight and narrow road, I do well, feel well, and I sleep like a dead man. To put it in a nutshell, if it ain’t “paleo,” I ain’t-a gonna do it.

    • Amy Kubal
      July 16, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Great story and awesome realizations! :)

  37. Aubrey
    July 16, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    I disagree, or Im reading this wrong. Are you saying that eating 80%-90% paleo isnt a SIGNIFICANT improvement in immediate and long term health over the Standard American diet?! Because the way I read this, you’re saying that anyone not eating 100% paleo is fooling themselves. Not everyone is a recovering food addict or “intoxicates” themselves on a treat meal. I eat “90% paleo.” That means after isolating what causes me to feel less than stellar, I allow a Greek yogurt once/twice per week. I eat homemade hummus sometimes with my veggies I will have an alcoholic drink or an ice cream as my once per week treat. No gluttony, no severe crashes as a result. But not 100% and yet still looking good and doing good in the gym! And most certainly, enjoying the benefits of better health as a result of eating much better than I did a few years ago when I thought nothing of diet coke, an occasional trip to fast food, flavored creamers, and “100 calorie snack packs!”

  38. William L. Wilson, M.D.
    July 17, 2013 at 5:11 am

    In my experience people who fall off the Paleo wagon often do so because of their cravings for sweet and starchy foods. This is the lead symptom of a form of food-induced brain dysfunction called Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome.

    There are many effective ways to suppress these cravings, including some targeted supplements like L-glutamine, Cinsulin and saffron. In my experience people who have these cravings shouldn’t eat this type of food because their CARB syndrome isn’t adequately treated. Those who don’t have these cravings can cheat a little without dire consequences because their brain function is solid. These cravings are like a canary in a coal mine–it’s like a window into your brain function.

  39. Alicia
    July 17, 2013 at 5:15 am

    Thank you so much for this article. As an all-or-nothing type personality, I trend to fall prey to the glutton cheat days that snowball until I’m miserable at the end of the day and wasn’t eating to enjoy it, but eating junk because I “could” on that day. Thanks for the words of wisdom. I’m working to make Paleo my healthy lifestyle, but it takes time to break long-standing mindsets. I really appreciate this article!

  40. Kristen Friedman
    July 17, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Thank you so much for the kick in the butt. My hubby and I have been missing some of the tasty treats we used to have for dessert and finding ways to “cheat.” Plus, I hear the 80/20 all the time too and never actually thought about it and it totally makes sense. Thanks for some healthy food for thought. :)

  41. Spike
    July 17, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Just wanted to say, as both a <100% paleo eater and a regular ranter on a variety of subjects…
    Warm, funny, sharp, personal, lots of facts – excellent rant!

    • Amy Kubal
      July 17, 2013 at 10:29 am

      Rants are one of my 3 talents along with sarcasm and sleep… ;)

  42. Wandy
    July 19, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Hi Amy,

    Great article, totally agree with everything you said. I’ve never understood the point of having “cheat days.” My ultimate goal, aside from losing weight, is being healthy, and eating crap once a week is not considered healthy in my book; I’m still eating crap once a week!

    But anyways, I would like to address the fact that you stated eating clean paleo does not include paleo pancakes, etc. But in Robb Wolf’s Paleo book, which has the 30 day meal plan (I forgot the name, sorry), one of the breakfast meals is paleo pancakes. So what’s up with that? :)

    • Amy Kubal
      July 19, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Thanks Wandy! And the pancakes in the book shouldn’t be an EVERY single day breakfast choice. Once and a while though, they are totally okay!

  43. Christine Oakes
    July 19, 2013 at 9:37 am

    I am 80/20 Paleo in the sense that I removed the wheat, dairy, corn from my diet, but not all grains! We still eat rice, quinoa and other grains. We had to remove those foods due to my daughter’s tummy and I am eating the same as her and the rest of the family occassionaly. I am not a big “cheater”, but when I do I feel it for days! and it has only been two months since we removed those foods!

  44. Kevin Carvell
    July 20, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Logic is missed by most, but accepted by all. Well done!

  45. FitMomPam
    July 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    My off eating is paleoified version of SAD foods or gluten free foods. I do not “cheat” with any grains, legumes, or dairy because the pain, bloating and discomfort is just not worth it. I may have a glass or two of wine and some corn chips. That’s my version of off roading paleo. If that is the worst thing I eat, I think I’m doing pretty well.

  46. Kathryn
    August 12, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Recently there was an article published that had a link to finding grass fed beef by area. I lost the e mail and the link, could it be provided again please? I’ve been Paleo over a year and this is one big component I’m missing. Thank you so much.

  47. Timothy
    October 23, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Robb I really want to thank you for this post. I have been doing Primal/Paleo as best as i can and i would drink diet soda once a week. Then i would once a month say have a cheat day or a cheat meal. I really like how you explain this it gives me something to think about :)

  48. João
    November 2, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Great! I think everyone should do like that. It’s not a diet or something you do on ‘work days’. Rather, it’s a way of life, and it may sounds easy and well integrated to your whole life. Waiting for the next cheat moment isn’t a good way to be happy or healthy.

  49. Carl
    November 11, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    I can see what Robb is saying. Ultimately however I must disagree. The majority of people eat so much crap food. Cutting out even just 50% of that food and adding in Paleo alternatives would be hugely beneficial. Nothing more needs to be said.

  50. Miker030
    September 4, 2014 at 11:30 am

    I disagree. I’ve tried to be this restrictive before and it sent me off the rail. Now I eat whatever I want in reasonable quantities on weekends and it hasn’t hampered my diet/fitness at all. Over the course of a weekend I’ll probably have about 8 beers, a pint of ice cream, bagel with cream cheese, three slices of pizza, and a cheeseburger with fries (or the equivalents of these amounts in other types of junk food), and by Tuesday morning it’s like it never happened. I’d guess I’m a little under 10% bodyfat working out hard 3X a week.

  51. David
    October 6, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Holly shit!
    Awesome advice!
    Gratitude

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