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?”
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.