I am asked this regularly, mostly from people who have tried many different diets that were restrictive in the past or that left them feeling hungry all the time. I get it; nobody wants to be on a diet or meal plan for the rest of their life that keeps them hungry. I certainly don’t, and fortunately, the meal plan Sherry and I follow, the Paleo diet, allows us to eat well, be satisfied after each meal, and stay healthy.
Hunger is a hard-wired mechanism that we are all born with that, back when we were cavemen, motivated us to get off our butts in our caves and force us out to find food, whether by foraging or hunting. Now that we can get food so easily, it would be nice if we could turn off the intensity of the feeling, but we cannot. Instead, we have to make sure that the foods we eat fill us up and keep us from having cravings between meals.
Cheating is sabotage
I’ve mentioned before that I consider cheat days to be more like sabotage days. Cheating is defined as gaining an unfair advantage over a competitor or foe. When you’re trying to lose weight or regain good health, there is no advantage gained by eating foods not in the plan. What you are really doing is sabotage: intentionally destroying progress toward a goal. I understand that every now and then, you may have to eat food that either contains non-Paleo or Whole30 compliant ingredients, or you may find yourself presented with a slice of birthday cake at a social function and you have to partake. That’s not sabotage: that’s living. The difference is that it’s a single food item or a single meal versus throwing your hands in the air and saying, “Screw it! I’m going to eat whatever I feel like today!” That is sabotage.
Your body is really good at extracting everything out of the food you eat. If you are putting good food into your body for six days and pick the seventh day to eat a bunch of bad foods, your body will take everything, both good and bad, out of that food. If the food contains a lot of sugar or carbs, you’re going to pack all that fat into your body because our bodies make every attempt to store energy when we have an abundance of it. When we are putting in just enough energy into our bodies to fuel us, or just a little bit less, we lose weight, get rid of the fat that’s been stored in our bodies, and eventually we can lose weight.
I know that it’s hard for people who haven’t done a solid Whole30 or have gone full Paleo to imagine, but when you finally kick the sugar dragon (as my friend Chris calls it), it becomes easier to eat right. When you’re not having cravings after meals, you really feel liberated. The irony is that I have so much more energy now that I don’t eat foods with added sugars or high in carbs. I don’t feel groggy, and even if I can’t get a solid night of sleep (thanks to our puppy), I still feel good in the mornings. A little tired, perhaps, but not groggy. That’s huge!
The short answer to the question is NEVER. I never have cheat days. I do, every now and then, allow myself in social situations to imbibe some alcohol or to have a little bread pudding (shared with my wife last night at dinner with friends at Sageri’s in Houston; it was AMAZING!). This brings me to a survival technique I’ve found the past few times I knew I was either going to imbibe some alcohol or have to eat a dessert or some food with non-Paleo ingredients or added-sugar.
- I eat less in the meals before the non-Paleo compliant meal to offset the intake of calories (which I don’t track, but you get a good sense of what a light breakfast or lunch is based on how your body feels).
- I eat a more filling breakfast and/or lunch to make myself less hungry when the non-Paleo compliant meal happens. More filling isn’t necessarily bigger. I know that bacon makes me feel more filled up for longer times, so if it’s the lunch that is going to be non-Paleo, I’ll add a slice of bacon to my breakfast.
- I eat a small serving of whatever the non-Paleo compliant food item is, or I limit my alcohol intake to one drink per meal (two if it’s a long meal).
- If you’re just having a craving for something sweet even after weeks of no-sugar eating, you can make a Paleo compliant dessert, cookies, or cake and eat that after a light meal.
Ultimately, you will do best if you stick to the plan, whether it’s Paleo or Whole30. Minimizing the food items or meals that are non-compliant will ensure you meet your goals and make solid progress. It’s impossible to wean yourself from sugar through minimizing intake or moderation: cold turkey is the only successful way to do it.
In short, don’t sabotage your progress. You’re only making it harder on yourself, and you’re going to set back any progress you make in your weight loss or in regaining your good health. If you have any tips on how you deal with how you handle non-Paleo compliant meals, please comment below.