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How to Have a Paleo Friendly Cheat Day

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Four fucking awesome recipes to satisfy any sweet tooth

A few years back, cheat days were all the rage.

Initially the idea of “stepping out” on your diet was met with skepticism, but as research emerged supporting the idea that taking a day off could actually speed the rate of fat loss, people increasingly jumped on board.

Cheating isn’t a new idea by any stretch, nor is it going anywhere. Way back in the 20th century (1999, to be precise), Bill Phillips, borrowing an idea from T-Nation editor-in-chief TC Luoma, put forth the idea of the “free” day in the bestselling newbie bible Body-for-LIFE.

More than a decade later, in his own bestseller The 4-Hour Body, author Tim Ferriss again extolled the virtues of the cheat day. And more recently, another bestseller has popped–my own magnum opus Engineering the Alpha, which I co-wrote with Adam Bornstein. My book features cheat days as part of a comprehensive plan that incorporates a variety of cutting edge methods like intermittent fasting and carb-cycling—approaches that we know can be effectively used within the context of a Paleo diet.

However, in recent and past times, cheat days have come under fire. A number of respected coaches, including a few industry top guns, have spoken out against cheat days, despite their extraordinary popularity.

To add fuel to this fire, the emergence of the paleo diet among physique enthusiasts has pushed cheat days further into submission.

Of course, what’s popular isn’t always right, but to dismiss cheat days completely out of hand seems a bit rash. And to dismiss cheat days simply because you think it conflicts with the Paleo diet is both short-sighted and SAD.

This is especially true when some of the arguments against cheat days are founded in illogical reasoning and sensationalist statements–which is what’s been going on. When talking in the context of a “Paleo cheat day”, it’s often touted impossible to shovel in the amount of fast-acting food needed to illicit the metabolic response associated with cheating.

The main purpose of this article is to defend cheat days, and show you how to introduce an entirely Paleo-friendly menu. But rather than present a stack of before and after pictures or testimonials supporting their efficacy, we’ll just give you recipes you can use NOW, and show you exactly WHY you need to be cheating in certain circumstances.

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But Why Cheat? And Can it be Done Paleo?

Let’s first cover the theory behind cheat days and why they truly are worth all of those calories.

The 3 theoretical benefits of cheat days are:

1. Increased thyroid hormone output.
When in a caloric deficit, underfed individuals produce less T3 and T4–both important thyroid hormones that play roles in the regulation of metabolic rate. A cheat day or strategic overfeed is used in part to increase these hormones.

Now, when using a Paleo approach this often (not always) means also adhering to a lower carb diet. Low carbs also contribute to thyroid down-regulation, so giving yourself a surge with “Paleo approved” carb sources is a much needed kick to your metabolism’s ass.

2. Increased 24-hour energy expenditure. A caloric surplus from a cheat day causes the body to upregulate basal metabolic rate (BMR). Some studies have shown an increase of 9% above baseline, and it’s hypothesized that more is possible.

3. Increased serum leptin levels. This is the big one. See, leptin is a hormone that dramatically influences a number of mechanisms related to fat loss because it controls a few other hormones that also affect metabolism and fat loss, in particular the aforementioned thyroid hormones. Put simply, when leptin levels are high, fat loss happens faster than when leptin levels are low–and your leptin levels will drop while you’re in a caloric deficit (even one lasting as little as 72 hours).

But the best way to remind your body that, in fact, you’re not in a famine and there’s still enough food around that you can afford to keep losing fat, is to deliver a periodic surplus in calories–this is what’s known as a “cheat day.” This results in several benefits, including  in more leptin, increased thyroid output, increased energy expenditure and BMR, and overall increased thermogenesis.

Those are the physiological and hormonal benefits of cheating. Of course, there’s the psychological benefit of being able to take a day off from your diet; eat whatever you like and be comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll still get lean. It’s hard to quantify how much that actually helps, but the majority of folks who opt to use cheating protocols cite this as one of the most significant benefits.

Often, though, this psychological benefit is shattered by the guilt some feel from eating outside the Paleo realm. If this is you, fear not.

EVERYTHING above can be accomplished by taking a Paleo approach. Staving off the dreaded gastric upset, inflammation, food allergies and performance inhibitors some feel when indulging in “junk”.

The following recipes are some of our “go-to” dishes to help bump that carb and calorie count, while staying “clean” throughout the process. Eat big, feel good, get results.

Fried Honey Banana

Paleo Fried Honey Banana

Why You Need It:

Simple, delicious, and just dirty enough to satisfy almost every craving. Bananas–when extremely ripe–are an excellent source of fast-acting carbs, while packing a nutritional haymaker at the same time. Add in some organic honey or maple syrup, and you’ve got a winner. Topping it all off with cinnamon will add flavor, while attenuating the insulin response to all these fast-acting carbs. Lick those lips. Go ahead.

What You Need:

  • Bananas
  • Cinnamon
  • Honey/Maple syrup

What You Gotta Do:

Cut banana in 1/8 inch slices. Use a high-heat friendly oil, like coconut oil, for the pan. Drop in the slices. After 1-2 minutes, flip the bananas. Turn off the stove. Mix 1-3 tablespoons of honey and 1/2 tablespoon of water and add it over the bananas. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.

Additions to this can be apple sauce, coconut milk, or combined with one of the other recipes in this article. Read on!

 Roasted Caramelized Sweet Potato

Why You Need It:Paleo Roasted Caramelized Sweet Potato

This little powerhouse of a recipe is so simple, and incredibly delicious, you’ll find it hard to wrap your head around the fact that this is, indeed, Paleo.

Melt-in-your-mouth, sweet, salty, caramelized goodness. All waiting to HELP you toward your physique goals by satisfying your need to “cheat” while eliminating any gastric upset and inflammation.

A win for your digestion is a win for your physique. And, in this case, a big fat WIN for your tastebuds.

What You Need:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Honey/Maple syrup
  • Cinnamon
  • Real Vanilla
  • Dates (optional)
  • Flaked unsweetened coconut
  • Sea Salt

What You Gotta Do:

Cut sweet potatoes into 1/4’s, and place on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Bake on high heat (375-400) for about 45-60 minutes. Remove pan from oven, top with maple syrup or honey (OR BOTH), cinnamon, vanilla, and shove the dates INTO each slice. Finally, top with flakes of coconut and salt, and place back into the oven until all is melted (about 15 minutes). Remove, let cool, and enjoy.

Almond Butter Cookies

Paleo Almond Butter CookiesWhy You Need It:

As a HUMAN, you are obligated to love, cherish and covet the beloved cookie. The ability to appreciate it’s simplistic beauty is necessary to go along with your love for steak and (Paleo) cake.

Turn your attention to the following recipe. Once again, using ingredients following a Paleo approach. And, once again, altering your idea of what’s “healthy.”

My pro tip, is to save a quarter of the recipe to eat as just the dough. Cookie dough, is the steak of the dessert world. Well, steak is the steak of the dessert word–but you know what I mean.

What You Need:

  • 2 cups almond flour (or 1 cup almond flour, 1 cup vanilla protein powder)
  • ½ cup raw almond butter
  • 2 organic cage free eggs
  • ¼ cup honey (or truvia for calorie free)
  • tsp baking soda
  • tsp vanilla
  • tsp salt
  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips (Enjoy Life is dairy free and is my favorite brand.)

What You Gotta Do:

  • Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.
  • Roll dough into small balls and smoosh lightly onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

HIGH PROTEIN ALMOND BREAD

Why You Need It:Paleo High Protein Almond Bread

Bread. Traditionally off limits completely in the Paleo arena.

Now, times have changed, and there are recipes that allow you to eat loaves of bread without gumming up your system.

Yes, you can have your bread, and eat it, too.

You asked for it, you got it. This almond bread is awesome and not overly difficult, so even first time bakers will be able to hang.

What You Need:

  • 4 cups almond meal
  • 2-3 heaping scoops of your favorite Paleo protein powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp celtic sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar

What You Gotta Do:

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.
  • In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and add remaining wet ingredients.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix thoroughly.
  • Transfer the mixture to a 5×9-inch standard loaf pan, lightly oiled
  • Bake for 60+ minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Cool and slice.
  • Burn hands and mouth. I TOLD YOU TO LET IT COOL. You never listen. You always have to try it before it’s cooled and now you burned yourself. Serves you right.

As you can see, there is a lot more than immediately comes to eye when working within the confines of a Paleo approach. Sweet, savory, crunchy, smooth–whatever your craving, it can be had while sticking with Paleo ingredients.

On top of that, you can achieve the same positive hormonal and physiological response as when you eat “junk” cheat foods. So, protecting your body, enhancing fat loss, AND having a gourmet indulgence-fest is easier than you may think.

That is, if you know what to use, and where to look.

Now, I need to preface this by saying I don’t keep Paleo 100% of the time and wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “Paleo guy.” (Hey, I’d wither and die without Ben & Jerry’s.)

But I do keep the majority of my meals Paleo-friendly because they’re nutrient dense, easily digestible, and very physique-friendly.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of this recipe book from my friend Pete Servold and the team over at Paleohacks. This awesome recipe book that’s FREE right now (just pay a nominal shipping fee) contains over 80 amazing recipes from breakfast, to snacks, to dessert, and more. 

If you spent most of this post salivating in anticipation of digging in to the recipes above, I highly recommend Paleo Eatsespecially because the whole thing is on sale right now for FREE – just pay a small shipping fee. 

Alright — What’s your favorite way to cheat “clean”? Sound off in the comments below!

A version of this article previously appeared on Paleo Hacks.

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • Jay

    Ever try almond butter banana pancakes?

    – 3 eggs
    – 1 ripe banana
    – 1-2 spoons almond butter
    – sea salt
    – cinnamon
    – stevia
    – Could even throw in 1-2 scoops of protein powder if you want

    Mix all together in a food processor until it’s a batter consistency then cook with either butter or coconut oil like normal pancakes. I sprinkle a little more cinnamon and salt on them while cooking too.

    I make these with a blueberry “sauce” which is basically just melting some blueberries, butter/coconut oil, and honey/stevia for sweetness. Throw it on the pancakes when done.

    It’s good shit.

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