If You’re Gonna Cheat, Try to Cheat Paleo

PizzaI’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:

Paleo Mug Cake

      • 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.

Defining Cheating

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.

Parting Thoughts

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 :)

carob sweet potato brownies


  1. Very practical post…so many people hate the word “cheating” because it brings negative connotations and guilt to the choice you are making…but I believe we should call it what it is…a cheat is a cheat. I also believe in healthy satisfying of cravings and with all of the fabulous recipes in the grain/dairy and refined sugar-free world people can choose to indulge sensibly and guilt-free. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement!

  2. I am just starting into a Paleolithic style of eating, and one of the first things I did was print out a bunch of paleo dessert recipes because I know those cravings for Tastycakes are coming! I like to have something after dinner that feels like a dessert. So far I’ve loved blueberry cobbler and apple cinnamon cookies. I’m trying a cocoa/coconut roll that I found on this site as well. I’ve found it easier to make my lunches for work on Sunday. I pick one recipe and make enough to break into 5 lunches so I don’t have the opportunity to miss a day due to a hectic lifestyle. Good luck everyone!

  3. I have been eating Paleo for about 10 months now and have, for the most part, felt more healthy and fit. I was having “cheat” meals with normal desserts and was finding that I just didn’t feel great the next day but was struggling with kind of feeling like I “needed” a cheat. I was trying to figure out if Paleo was right for me since I was somewhat feeling a relief when I would eat something non-Paleo (well, a temporary relief). I’ve been reading a bit more about different healthy cultures and what makes them healthy. For some, it’s not necessarily the food but the mindset towards food such as the focus on the social aspect of meals and really savoring that in addition to the food. Japanese cultures are incredibly healthy, and they eat a lot of rice but also get lots of Omega 3s and veggies in all of their meals. So, I was feeling a bit torn on the “right” way to eat. I started reading a book called “Mindful Eating” and just kind of found something that feels right. As many have mentioned, you feel better on Paleo so avoid those foods that tip our homeostasis, and I definitely agree with that approach. But, the mentality of food being good or bad is such a subjective thing. In “Mindful Eating”, it talks about how many negative emotions are associated with food such as guilt and regret. Here we are trying to eat healthy but the negative emotion that goes along with possibly eating something we have considered “bad” or “cheating”‘ is just as unhealthy as the “bad” food we just ate. I would recommend this book b/c although I will continue eating Paleo b/c grains certainly upset my stomach, it’s a book that helps us get in tune with the beauty of all food, the nutrients, the interconnection of people who put so much work in getting the food to us. I think it helps bring the healthy emotion to eating. I completely agree in eating what makes your body feel good, but I think we need to get away from coining foods as inherently good or bad b/c that breeds the negative emotion that somewhat negates the idea of healthy eating. Through mindful eating, we can bring gratitude and positive emotion along with the physical health of eating Paleo. Just a suggestion :)

  4. But, I cheat soooo good. Man you can just about make anything paleo. It makes it very hard not to cheat. Even dehydrated fruit and veggies can become a burden.

  5. FYI, it’s really, really easy to make ice cream with coconut milk. More or less the recipe I used last from epicurious:

    Four egg-whites
    2 cans coconut milk
    1/2c sugar (I cut this, could skip easily)
    Vanilla extract to taste (for vanilla ice cream)

    Heat over low-med heat until starts to thicken, about 10 minutes. Chill, then follow ice cream maker instructions.

    I haven’t started paleo yet, (soon!) but the batch I made from this I added some cinnamon and cocoa powder. I also added some melted chocolate chips, which I will skip once I “go paleo”, and I’d cut the sugar to an absolute minimum. You can taste your concoction while it cooks to see if you even need any at all. If you substitute raw honey, I’d wait to add it until your mixture cools to ~100-120 (hand washing temperatures).

    Once in the ice cream maker, I added about 5 ozs of toasted, chopped hazelnuts. (I was going for a Nutella ice cream here.) 5 ozs was too much for one batch, but it’s delicious, and would be without the chocolate chips and the sugar. If you want strawberry, add that instead of vanilla. You can also use shredded vanilla bean, cocoa + chile powder, or whatever other flavors float your fancy.

    Paleo or not, I used too much chocolate chips and cocoa powder, but I end up satisfied with a 1-3 oz serving, which is a huge improvement over my normal one-half or one pint serving :)

  6. Hi, just started modified paleo to heal leaky gut and it’s even more restrictive than regular paleo. I find myself haunting the kitchen eating mass quantities of whatever is “legal” for me to eat and never feeling satisfied. So tonight I tried Trader Joe’s coconut cream and simply ate it with a spoon with green grapes and coconut flakes which was DELICIOUS and satisfying although i think i ate too much! Anyway i am guessing i needed fat, having cut out my 1/2 pound per day cheese habit and butter and milk, etc. Because i finally feel full or satisfied or something of that nature. Cheers, Jillian

  7. @Jillian
    I found that I was doing the same thing and then I started eating 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil about 30 minutes before each meal and I stay full, eat way less and have no cravings for continued eating…There is A LOT of good info on how much using coconut oil helps so many different things in the body!

    @Neely…I read one of your posts on your eating smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs, and an orange everyday for breakfast…I tried it and basically have been eating that for breakfast just about daily for the last couple of months!! I cant believe 1. how GREAT it tastes, 2. that is takes me through my morning workouts with good energy, and 3. how quick and easy it is as a snack if I need an afternoon snack…THANK YOU!!

    I have embraced the Primal/Paleo eating lifestyle and have flourished with it since last Oct 2013. I have lost 17# of fat, now workout 5 days a week and sleep VERY soundly. One trick that helps me with any sweet cravings at ANY time of the day is teas….with a little raw cream….and sometimes raw unflitered honey, but I keep that in check…Good Luck everyone!

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