Last year when I was following The Abs Diet from Men’s Health Magazine, the one thing that was always encouraged was a “cheat meal.” In other words, focus for 6 days a week, and on the 7th, rest…er….cheat, but just one meal. I loved this rule! I love the thought that I could eat on a strict plan for most of the time, but then take a cheat meal.
Of course, leave it to me to screw up the concept of the cheat meal. I often turned it into a “cheat gorge” where I’d eat a big, greasy cheeseburger and fries, often well over 1,000 calories in one meal. Now, I still lost weight (7 pounds in the first 4 weeks of P90X using a cheat meal) but then it started slowing up.
As I’m sitting here evaluating how to do things differently in the new year, I find myself revisiting this thought of a cheat meal. And I’ve come to a conclusion:
I had to have a cheat meal because most of the foods I ate where fairly bland and not mentally satisfying.
Sure, I ate well. When you eat “healthy” (or the mainstream version of healthy) you eat a good portion of food. 4oz of chicken is only around 110 calories. You could eat half a pound for only 220 calories, and that’s a lot of protein! Of course, veggies have little calories, and little flavor.
I love cheat meals. I looked forward to them. They were my “reward” and something I had a hard time not doing. If it was not a burger, it was pizza. Those were staples. There were two burger places here in town I visited frequently for these meals and enjoyed every bit of it.
Of course, I can now ask if it hurt my progress, and my answer should always be yes. And looking at Primal Blueprint eating in 2012, I have to wonder what a “cheat meal” would look like? I’ll explain in a bit…
The other philosophies around this are the thoughts of 90-10 or 80-20 eating, or just 80-20 in general. Tony Horton of P90X fame talks about a progression to healthy eating that involves starting 50-50, moving to 70-30, 80-20, and finally 90-10 as the ideal sweet spot (although Mr. Horton would be the first to tell you that 95% or better is ideal, especially during P90x).
But how does all of this fit into Primal eating?
First, let me talk about the cheat meal. I do not feel I’ll take any cheat meals. I’m not saying I will eat 100% primal, but there is no real “cheat” that makes sense on this diet other than a dessert. And even with desserts, there are plenty of options of making primal style desserts without sacrificing the premise of the plan.
Nor do I see myself thinking of 90-10 or 80-20. Mark talked about the idea of 80-20 being “aim for 100%, you’ll probably hit 80-95%.” I like this theory. It’s near impossible to be perfect unless you have unlimited time and deep pockets. For instance, condiments will fall into a gray area for me. I do plan on making my own Primal BBQ Sauce and possibly my own salad dressings, but mayo is a harder thing to avoid. So I allot for it.
But when I would follow 90-10 before, it was literally 90% healthy calories, 10% whatever. When my food was restricted to whole grains (near tasteless), low fat or no dairy, lean meats only, very selective fats, etc, that 10% of whatever became cherished. It was what kept me sane.
On the primal plan though, my goal is closer to 100% than 90%. I get to eat things with flavor. I get to experiment more. I’m finding more and more recipes that I am wanting to try that fit well with the primal lifestyle. All of the sudden, I’m not thinking how I’m looking forward to that cheeseburger (which, is primal, once I ditch the bun). Instead, I’m more looking forward to cooking my own food, using ingredients I select, putting as much flavor in as I can.
And amazingly, the Primal/Paleo community is HUGE. Need an idea for a recipe? Simply Google and you are likely to turn up something. Think you have something that sounds good? Make it! My brain has been spinning with different sautes and sauces to make for various meals.
I’m not saying that cheating is wrong. If it keeps you accountable and focused more than not, by all means do it. I did it and still lost weight. But be willing to find ways away the cheat meal. Go primal. Find ways to eat within your nutritional plans and make things that will satiate you.
(Shameless Plug for a friend: See the burger posted at the top? That’s from Wimpy’s Burgers and Fries in Conway, Arkansas. My good friend Cotton is one of the owners. Great cheat meal location. I’m able to get a bunless burger there, so it is not off limits! And if you really want to cheat, get the onion rings and milkshake….best around!)