The Importance of Cheating

I’ve been searching for a while for just the right scholarly study to demonstrate to you that too much deprivation in your diet will only lead to binge eating later.  I can’t find a good one.  Then it dawned on me that I probably don’t need to prove that to you since most of us are probably case studies of this very point.  We can all attest to the fact that when we feel deprived of something, we go after it with a vengeance once we let ourselves have it.

This post is to remind you of that fact, and to give you some encouragement in cheating on the Paleo diet every once in a while if you feel deprived.  Yep, the nutritionist just told you to cheat and eat some cookies once in a while.

Considering that about 2/3 of this country’s adult population is overweight, I’m going to assume that most people who are reading this have at some point thought to themselves, “Wow, I could really lose a few pounds.”  After noticing your bulging midsection, many people probably do some research to find the newest, most explosively popular, most unsustainable diet out there, wherein you will only be allowed to eat 500 calories per day.  Never fear, though, you’ll get an injection of hormones derived from the urine of a pregnant woman that will magically cure you of your hunger pangs!

If you haven’t caught on yet, I’m talking about the hCG diet, which a lot of people have embraced lately, even though there isn’t any scientific evidence to support the claim that the hormone will suppress hunger.  Most of the people I’ve heard of who’ve gone on this diet (except for one) have gained back all of the weight (or more) that they lost on it.  Who wouldn’t eat like crazy after only being allowed to eat a fraction of the minimum recommended daily calories for months on end?

The hCG diet is a really extreme example of deprivation, and I’m not saying that the Paleo way of eating is totally comparable.  However, almost all of us grew up on grains, legumes, dairy and refined sugars (some of us almost exclusively), and when you remove these things that you’re so physically and emotionally attached to, there may very well be some feelings of deprivation.  Followed by a gluttonous backlash.

Fortunately, when you do it right, the Paleo diet is satiating, full of nutrients and it provides us with all the carbs, protein and fat we need, so it’s really sustainable in theory.  In this modern world, though, we have to watch people every day eating all of our most favorite, doughy, non-Paleo foods.  In order to avoid being totally stressed out by that and tempted to quit the diet altogether, I think it’s more sustainable to eat those foods once in a while. Or more often than once in a while.  I’d rather see you eating Paleo 50% of the time than 0%.

The Paleo diet, in its purest form, is incredibly good for you.  It’s nourishing.  What isn’t nourishing is stress, though, so if that bowl of refined semolina pasta is what’s going to relieve your stress once a week, dig in.

And remember that Paleo Plan offers the option of having a “Flex” day on your grocery lists, for those people who want to eat their old favorites once a week.


  1. I would never recommend that someone cheat. That is like telling a recovered alcoholic that it is okay to cheat once in a while. It isn’t. Gluten and casein can be addictive. They should be removed 100% from one’s diet for the rest of one’s life. When eating out, one can be flexible and simply be gluten and casein free. And one can do one’s best on the other parts of the diet. But when at home there is no reason to ever cheat.

    1. I appreciate your comment, but I have to say that for some, it’s better that they do the Paleo Diet in moderation rather than have an all or nothing eating regime. It just doesn’t work for some people, and they give the diet up altogether. There is a spectrum of addiction, and there is a spectrum of how badly grains, legumes, dairy and refined sugar affect people. Some people can handle them much better than others. For many, yes, these things should be removed forever if possible, especially if there is a food allergy or intolerance involved. For others though, it doesn’t have to be like that.

    2. I have to agree. I have been paleo for 8 years and I try to cheat with wheat or sugar.. it is ALWAYS a disaster. I am totally ADDICTED to sugar. I can never ever ever have just one bite or dessert. It someone always turns into 5 pound weight gain, bloating and more over the week. Then I have to get rid of it all over again and go through withdrawal complete with anxiety for 3 full days getting it out of my system. I have figured out I can safety cheat once a week with sushi and gluten free pizza but I cannot do sugar or wheat or it ends badly.

  2. Wow this article gave me a lot of in site, for me I am a food addict and in the past the diets I have done, almost all I have quit on because I had lost my comfort and there was nothing else that I could think of at the time to help console me. I am actually going to start the paleo diet and I am excited, and this article has helped to realize that when I have those days no one is going to put me in the corner. I will say changing something in your life is hard especially when something has been a comfort zone for so many people in there lives, and I’m only going to take one step at a time and make small changes to lead me up to a greater life and be healthier. I am learning that food is not always what will comfort you, it can be your enemy. It has been a love hate relationship between us most of my life, and I know I need to slowly start cutting the ties. Thank you again for this article it has really helped. ;)

  3. I figured I would throw my two cents in as well! My husband & I started the Paleo Plan about 3 weeks ago. We were looking for a way to change our eating habits as we were starting to come home from work & have a bag of chips because it was too complicated to figure out what to cook. Thats when I started noticing the dreaded muffin top! I think initially, losing weight was the initiative, however, after just one week the difference that I felt on the inside made any food sacrifice completely worth the change in my diet. Not to mention having a food plan made this transition so much easier. I also noticed that it’s not actually a craving for ‘those’ foods, it’s more of a psychological thing. You think you should have it, because you always have. There was one blog I read in here about the flex day, and it said by all means go ahead, but when you end up feeling bloated & tired from that cheat, you will realize it wasn’t worth it. (That’s not an exact quote, just what I got from it) And to be honest, that second week when I had the bun on the hamburger, that’s exactly how I felt. Not fantastic because I got that yummy bun, just kind of icky. So now I’m pretty much cheat free (I do like my glass of wine once in awhile), and I feel better than I’ve ever felt. And I’m really glad I found this website.

  4. Here is my opinion on cheating. Cheating is good for you, but only because it’s purely psychological. Face it, humanity’s two most primal needs (aside from like, water and oxygen) are Food and Sex. Basic Micro Economics tells us that we are happy and feel rewarded when either of these two things are increased. If you’re single like me, a hamburger (increase in quantity: food) is really damn good. This is a common philosophy known as “comfort food”. Now if you’re happily married and you and your spouse are embarking on the Paleo Diet together, then there’s no need to cheat. Why would you? You have a team mentality and automatic camaraderie boosting your morale higher than it was before you started any diet and you’re going to notice vast improvements in your body so you’re going to be even more motivated. If you’re not stressed, why cheat? But if your spouse is on a business trip and you get in a car crash, I think someone might be having some (insert your comfort food here) tonight.

  5. I did not gain back all the weight I lost on the HCG diet. I have gained back some, but I am still mailtaining a 40 pound weight loss after a year. Not too shabby after 10 years of other attempts to loose and keep off that weight. I did the homeopathic version of HCG, not the shots. I have to share that the biggest thing that helped me handle the carbo cravings was to take anti-candida support while on HCG. I cannot say enough about seeing a nutritionist or health practitioner and seeing if you have a candida overgrowth. For me that was THE thing that kept me craving dairy and wheat, and made it impossible to lose those pounds. After addressing candida overgrowth in my system cravings went from HORRIBLE to little or nil. Everyone’s system is different, but I recommend checking out this factor. It was the make-break point for remaining on a weightloss protocal. Now I am on the Paleo diet and I love it. And I will do another round of homeopathic HCG when I’m ready to loose the next 40 pounds.

  6. One of the reasons why we don’t go 100% Paleo is because people should still enjoy life a bit. Having pasta or cheeseburger, once every week or two is not going to kill you! Live a little!

    Also, I’ve personally found that if I have full on cheat day, I feel the effects of eating poorly very quickly. This reminds me why my family and I are eating Paleo. Paleo is not always easy to follow when there is so much social pressure to load up on carbs, sugars, etc. so it can be helpful to remind yourself how depleted of energy non-Paleo foods can make you feel.

    Thanks for the article.

  7. I have recently found this web site. So, I’m glad to know about other things I could try. Cheating isn’t an option for me. While I am not celiac positive, my insides can’t tolerate wheat or niacin or other foods. I have been on a gluten free lifestyle for a few months now. The pounds are melting away. My nutritionist loves it, but the mental stress or rather the distress knowing I will never be able to just have a slice of bread with butter on it was well very depressing. I had to come to terms of a new diet that filled with deprivation that I cannot control. In the event I have a break down and eat this food, I suffer for it for days on end. I am forced to come to terms with a new lifestyle if I want to be pain free. While the mental part is tough, its easier to make the decision on whether or not to have cookie or bread. My resolve to be pain free is strong than my craving for a cookie.

  8. I am really appreacative of this article. I started being 100% paleo last week. On monday to be exact and I began it mainly for weight loss. As I have done shopping and started reading the ingredients on some of my favorite items and I am disgusted with all the chemicals in so many foods. Anyway I am having a hard time imagining never eating some of my favorite foods again (pasta, desserts, and popcorn) it gets a little depressing. It makes me feel better knowing a little cheat hear and there isn’t necessarily a horrible thing. For now I won’t because I am focusing on weight loss but I know once in a while I will need some popcorn at the movies or a piece of apple pie. I have no allergies or problems with food so I’m not worried about the cheats destroying my insides but I know that some days I will just need a taste of the “old days” lol. Thanks so much for writing this and letting me know I’m not alone in my struggles.

  9. Hi, I really LOVE the recipes on this site. I gave up wheat over a year ago, and have lost 50 pounds through diet alone. I am starting to incorporate strength training and walking as a way to continue to lose the last 50 pounds or so, and last month I did a Paleo Challenge with my sister. I gave up eating some of those pesky treats, dairy, and the oats, rice and corn that were still in my diet. I felt AMAZING. I did have a couple of cheats and discovered that as much as I love cheese, it makes me gassy, bloated, and very uncomfortable. I did more of a 90/10, with my “cheats” being a few pieces of candy and some dairy from time to time. The cheats for me are tasty, but they also remind me of why I choose to eat this way most of the time. I do not cheat on wheat. It has horrible effects on me, and although I am not celiac, I would hate to know what they go through…cheating on wheat for me is BAD. I do enjoy rice though, and sometimes a burger on a gluten free bun with some fries is just awesome! I don’t ever consider it a cheat though. I allow myself room to enjoy the foods I love. I have significantly changed my habits, and as I incorporate more from the Paleo way of living, I desire those processed things less and less.

  10. I am just in the process of finding out what gives me bad stomach pain and have been on a Paleo diet for almost two weeks now and cheated yesterday.
    But only for the sake of medicine :)
    Some of you might think that was early but I am not doing it to lose weight, I just want to find out what is upsetting my stomach.
    It felt so good eating bread and beans and some chips (yes, I went for it all).
    Usually I would feel bad right after eating but I only had some stomach ache when I woke up this morning. Which is quite an improvement.
    But then I felt really bad so that has put me off cheating for a while now again. But it also helped me in the process of identifying foods I react to badly.
    I think it is important that everyone finds out what works best for them. There is no one rule fits all, I think.
    I’d say, if you want to cheat do it, but do it conciously and think about what you are doing and the consequences for your body.

  11. I have had stomach issues my entire life. I’ve gone to countless doctor’s. Had a countless number of tests and scans done and no one could tell me what was wrong. Why I would wake up at 3am randomly to horrible stomach pains. Many times I would have to go to the ER because of them…

    Finally about 6 months ago, I got fed up and said I need to figure this out on my own if no one else is going to tell me. By this point, I had been getting “sick” about 2-3 times a week. The ER bills were stacking up.

    My father had recently been diagnosed with cancer and he was trying a combination of things to see if he could get the tumor to shrink. One of which was diet. He started doing Paleo – and since I cook for him a few times a week, I had to learn how to cook Paleo. Then my interest was peaked. Why not try it myself? So I finally took the plunge and found this wonderful website (which makes grocery shopping and meal planning so much easier (I have very little spare time)). After the first two weeks of withdrawal – I was great. No stomach aches. NOTHING! That hadn’t happened in nearly 10 years.

    But then the cravings came back in full force. I wanted those foods. The fats. The sweets. Even though the withdrawal from those foods was over – I still felt like I needed them for comfort. So I cheated. I felt so bad until I read this article.

    I know now what foods I can and cannot have even if I “need” to cheat. I really appreciate all this site has done!

  12. I agree that being allowed to cheat once in a while is 100% ok. despite being diagnosed as both gluten and casein intolerant, on occasion I will eat some cheese (never gluten, though) because i just really love it and want some. It’s easy to get back on track though after experiencing how much better you feel eating paleo, but cheat days (for me at least) are necessary.

    1. Hi Simone,

      Air popped popcorn, like many other items, isn’t Paleo but is fine for an occasional treat! Make sure it’s non-GMO, organic corn, though!

      – Aimee McNew, MNT

    1. Hi Deborah,

      One of the hardest things to do when going Paleo is giving up dairy. It’s fairly recent in history that humans started consuming dairy and many of us have not developed a full ability to tolerate it, As for whether or not you can ever eat cheese, that is up to you! Try going dairy-free for a few weeks and see how you feel. Are you less bloated? Is your skin clearer? Have any persistent health issues resolved? If after eliminating diary you can answer yes to any of these questions you are likely reacting to it on some level. If you decide that you tolerate diary well enough to include it your diet, and you’re following the 80/20 rule of eating Paleo 80% of the time and non-Paleo foods 20% of the time, you’re health should hold up even with occasional dairy digressions. Choose grass-fed diary when possible.

      If you don’t want to drink it black, try your morning coffee with coconut milk, almond milk or a mixture of the two. It’s worth it :-).


  13. I started Paleo about a month ago in hope to lose weight for the United States Coast Guard. I have not cheated in a month, and have lost 13 pounds. The only concern I have is I will miss a meal because I didn’t have time to cook, and I’ve noticed since I started missing meals my weight loss has kind of stopped. One thing that has kept me going to the whole month is knowing I will have a cheat day, so I think having one cheat day won’t hurt you, but missing a meal will.

    1. Hi Dana,
      It’s common for weight loss to naturally plateau in the first few months on Paleo, so it’s difficult to know whether or not this is related to missing meals. Many people do fine with skipped meals (and several people in the Paleo community actually recommend skipping meals to mimic the eating patterns of our Paleolithic forebears and to maximize hormone production). I personally eat 1 -2 meal(s)/day and eat within a small time window each day, as I’ve found that this is what maximizes my energy levels. If I eat a cheat meal, I experience a return of my diseases which I control by eating strict Paleo. Each person is so different, and so it’s important to experiment to see what feels best for you. I will mention, that stress (such as too much exercise, not enough exercise, not enough sleep, psychological or physical stress, etc etc) can all halt weight loss (even when eating a perfect diet), due to the production of excess cortisol. Thus stress management is also a key component to achieving a healthy, ideal weight. I hope this info helps!

      In good health,
      Kinsey Jackson, LMP, MS, CNS®

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