Cheats and Treats

Last weekend I was having dinner with some friends, one of whom had a plate full of french fries. I started to eat a few, when one of the other people at the table called out, “Don’t do it, Joanna!”  I gave him the finger.

Here at CrossFit Santa Rosa, we’ve recommended to each of you some specific nutrition guidelines, following the major principles of both the Paleo Diet and the Primal Blueprint. Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, puts it most simply in his World Class Fitness in 100 Words: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” We’ve told you about why grains are to be avoided, about the importance of keeping your insulin levels steady, and about balancing your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios to fight inflammation. We’ve defined what we believe is the healthiest way to eat so that you feel, look, and perform better.

But do you need to restrict yourself so much that you stop enjoying life? No. Are you allowed to “cheat”? Absolutely. In the end, whether and how you follow our nutrition advice is entirely up to you. Ultimately, we want you to define for yourself which foods help you and which hinder you in your efforts to look, feel, and perform better.

Most of our members who have fully adopted primal eating find that when they eat a formerly enjoyed food that isn’t paleo/primal- say it’s pizza or pasta – they get indigestion and bloating and end up crashing to sleep shortly after. And you know, I actually encourage you to try that out and find out for yourself what the effects are of eating these foods after eliminating them for an extended period. Once you do that, you’ll know exactly how you feel when you eat them, and will be better able to make the choice to eat or not eat them in the future.

So when is it okay to “cheat”? What kinds of treats are you allowed? It has to be up to you to make your own rules. But here are some basic guidelines, taken from my own experiences plus some wise advice from Mark’s Daily Apple and the Whole9:

-Treat yourself consciously, fully aware of what you’re doing and why. Having treats is an entirely normal and healthy and part of enjoying life. But you should be fully conscious of what you’re doing when you treat yourself. Dessert at your anniversary dinner, your best friend’s wedding cake, a homemade pizza your kids made? Those are special occasions, and if you want to treat yourself, go for it, completely aware of the negative effects it may have on how you feel and perform. Of course, you might be flying so high on the paleo/primal bandwagon that you choose not to partake! But if you do, it should be worth it, and an entirely conscious – not mindless – decision. Eating the donuts your office mate brings to work every week, grabbing a soda at a party or a candy bar in the checkout line at the grocery store? This is not treating yourself, and can often lead down a slippery slope to frequent “cheating” and completely falling off the wagon.

-Choose your cheats and treats wisely. They should be special, and you should enjoy every bite. Going back to those french fries I was reprimanded for eating. Let’s first remember that potatoes are not the worst thing to eat (covered in Thomas’s post about glycogen replacement). But you know, those fries were not even very good. And fries are just not a food that I care much about. I ate two and quickly realized they just weren’t worth it – a cheat, but not a treat. Fast forward to this weekend: I was dining out with some friends, and the server brought us a huge piece of chocolate cake, on the house. I tasted it, and damn if it wasn’t great. Furthermore, I had already decided that I was going to have some chocolate this weekend to satisfy the cravings I usually get around a particular time in my hormonal cycle (ahem). I ate as much as I wanted (more on that below) and it was gooooood. You should be able to really enjoy your treats.

-Don’t go crazy. I ate that chocolate cake until I was satisfied and knew that the next bite wouldn’t be as enjoyable as the last. Now, it can be hard to determine that point – especially if you’ve been eating “clean” and are so psyched to have a treat that you go crazy on it. If you find yourself binging, or you’re someone that has had that problem in the past, read Mark Sisson’s post on the 80/20 rule (linked below). Basically, you should aim to eat primally at least 80% of the time; give yourself a break 20% of the time if you need it. And if you crave foods, feel deprived, then binge uncontrollably, you DO need it. Give yourself permission to not be perfect, but still aim to follow paleo/primal eating the majority of the time. This can be a tough road to navigate, and I want to offer myself as a source of support for any of you walking down it. I’ve been there, and can help, so don’t hesitate to talk to me about what you’re dealing with.

The bottom line: having treats is entirely normal and healthy. But you have to figure out for yourself when the right time is and what the right things are. Be aware of the effects your cheating and treating will have on you. If you know you have a trigger food – the one that starts the snowball effect into mindless binging – you should avoid it. At the same time, don’t expect yourself to be perfect. Give yourself a break when you really need it and can enjoy it.

For further reading, check out:
Guide to Eating Dirty, Part I and Part II from the Whole Nine
Mark Sisson’s 80/20 Principle (read the comments section as well)
Primal Blueprint 101 on Mark’s Daily Apple