I’ve written before about “cheating” on the Paleo diet here, but I think it’s time to revisit this topic. It’s on my mind because my sister and a client have both been having cravings for old favorites lately, and so have I. For instance, here’s a text message from my sister, who’s been Paleo for 3 weeks now. By the way, she’s lost at least 6 pounds and has “been in a better mood for the last week and a half”:
“Can I make a milkshake with coconut ice cream and coconut milk?” and then a week or so later, “Am I a terrible person if I want to cheat tonight and get a pizza? I’ve been good for almost 3 weeks and just want some pizza…”
I bet nobody reading that can relate to those questions, right? My replies: yes, eat a milkshake made of coconut products and yes, eat a pizza, but know that you can make a Paleo pizza if you want to. Here’s the recipe.
So is eating a coconut milkshake really cheating? Well, not totally, but coconut milk ice cream usually has quite a bit of sugar in it, whether it’s in the form of honey, agave, cane sugar or all of the above. So for a person on a low-carb diet trying to lose weight, it’s not number one on the list of things to eat. But my sister needed something sweet – we all do sometimes – and I just think it’s better to eat coconut milk ice cream than go to Dunkin’ and get a caramel soy latte and some chocolate eau clairs. Know what I mean?
A client of mine told me the other day that she was craving something sweet, and in lieu of the oreo cookies in the cupboard, she opted for Paleo Mug Cake from www.thewannabechef.com, which is made from nothing more than the following:
- 1 ripe banana
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons almond butter (or any nut butter)
- 1 egg
- 2 heaping Tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons sweetener (optional)
- Chocolate chips, walnuts, dried fruit, or other mix-ins (optional)
I think she did herself a favor with this, and it totally satiated her craving. Check out this recipe here.
Stick to Paleo Treats
I think anytime you can find something not made with grains, dairy and refined sugar to feed your cravings, you’re doing yourself a favor. Eating old favorites – brownies, cookies, cake – is often how people “fall off the wagon”. It’s no accident that once you taste that divine combination of sugar and grains and that sweet, sweet butter, you never want to go back – no matter how good you feel on Paleo: grains are thought to actually induce an opioid effect on your brain and body, and opioids make you feel euphoric, sedated, and they decrease your pain perception. Common opioid drugs are morphine, OxyContin®, Percocet®, and Vicodin®. As you know, they’re addictive and can cause withdrawal symptoms, which look uncannily similar to the dreaded Paleo detox symptoms, when taken away abruptly.
I’m not saying that grains are as powerful as Vicodin! But almost :) I DO think that once you’re off the grains, many people should STAY off the grains so you can stay ON the Paleo wagon. Those people with more addictive tendencies (like myself) should be more aware of this than others who can seriously have a pizza once a week and then go straight back to being Paleo the next day. Once again, it all depends on the person.
Back to cheating. I really don’t even know how to define cheating on the Paleo diet, since there are so many iterations of the diet at this point, depending on the person – dairy/no dairy, white rice/absolutely no grains, sweeteners/no sweeteners. I know that when I eat chocolate I get acne, and I hate acne, so that to me is cheating. You may “cheat” by eating Dominos pizza once a week, and you know that night you’ll have heartburn and the next day you’ll be phlegmy, and therefore it’s a cheat. Or you may feel super anxious and then crash an hour after eating sugar – even fruit sugar – so an apple is a cheat to you. It just depends.
What I encourage you to do when you get that special craving is to consider whether you could make a Paleo version of that thing. There are so many Paleo recipes out there now that I don’t think that should be a problem. But if you can’t, say, find your Italian grandmother’s traditional lasagna recipe ANYWHERE in the Paleosphere and you MUST have it, then you should indulge. But my ulterior motive here is that you’ll find the more you indulge, the more you feel terrible, and that sick feeling will incentivize a deeper commitment to sticking to the diet. You’ll learn.
Here’s what I indulged my sweet tooth with the other day – sweet potato Paleo brownies (made with carob – not chocolate). It was a cheat because the carob had sugar in it, and anything that looks or acts like chocolate turns me into a raving lunatic. So it was a cheat. But it was delicious :)