The Whole9 Guide to Eating Dirty (Part II)

by Melissa Urban, who doesn’t even LIKE donuts

If you haven’t read yesterday’s Part I post yet, do that now. You really do need the background to understand where the below recommendations are coming from. If you’re all caught up, let’s continue with The Whole9 Guide to Eating Dirty.

1. Eat cheat meals or snacks throughout the week, instead of having a full cheat day. For one, it’s more practical and sustainable in real life. Opportunities for good food and socializing come up at different times. So allow yourself to have a drink on Tuesday night, a slice of cake on Friday afternoon and French toast with Nutella on Saturday morning. Think about this… if you eat/snack 4-5 times a day, and incorporate four cheat “meals” or “snacks” a week, you’re eating clean almost 90% of the time. Good lord, I’ll take that. In addition, your insulin sensitivity, GI tract and mental health and wellness will take far less of a hit if you eat clean, slip in a bowl of ice cream and then go back to eating clean… versus an entire day of Carb-a-Palooza. You’ll recover from your cheat faster, and you’ll feel better about yourself if you surround your cheat with good, clean eats.

2. Eat something because you want it, and because it’s special… not just because it’s there. Say someone brings donuts in to the office. I look at the plate and think, donuts are here. I could eat a donut. But I can have donuts any time I want. So if I really want one in an hour, or a day, or next week… I’ll just go get one. The fact that it’s sitting there does not make it special enough for me to go off-diet. But if my Mum (or anyone else, for that matter) shows up with freshly made snickerdoodles, I’m eating one. Or three. Those are SPECIAL, and I will really WANT one. So the next time you mindlessly pop a bagel, slice of pizza or piece of candy in your mouth just because it’s there… Pause. Think, do I really WANT this? If the answer is no, pass it up. If the answer is yes, proceed to numbers 3 and 4.

3 (to be performed in conjunction with 4). Eat only as much as you must to satisfy your craving. If you are dreaming about chips and salsa, break out the blue corn chips and get some. But now go back to #2, because you don’t have to eat the whole bag just because it is there. In addition, if you are also properly working step #4, you should have plenty of notice that your mental fix has been achieved. When it has, stop eating. Maybe that’s four peanut M&Ms. Or maybe that’s an entire pint of Chubby Hubby. Both are okay, as long as you are mindful of the process.

4. When you do go off-diet, SAVOR IT. There’s nothing worse than filling up a bowl with Blue Bell chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and then hoovering it mindlessly in front of the TV. That is a shameful waste of a cheat. So when you finally get that drool-inspiring forbidden food in front of you, spend some time with it. Take small bites. Enjoy the flavor. Make it last. Since we cheat as a means of providing mental satisfaction, squeeze as much satisfaction as possible out of what you are eating.

5. Finally, a more complicated recommendation – cheat smart. There are off-diet foods you can eat with little perceived negative physical effect, and there are others that will absolutely wreck you if you eat even the tiniest amount. The catch is, these things are different for everyone. For me, French toast (grains) and syrup (sugar) in reasonable amounts (one good sized piece) are 100% okay. Last weekend, I ate my Nutella French toast, and immediately hit the gym and pulled a 10# clean PR. But had I eaten just a few bites of goat cheese (dairy) in an omelette, I would have had a stomachache for hours. Mathieu Lalonde tells a similar story. “After eating strict Paleo for two months, I cheated with a pizza for dinner. I woke up the next morning with a huge headache, blurry vision, and lethargy. I wondered if the insulin spike from the white bread and cheese was the problem or if there was something else involved. The next time I cheated, I ate a banana split and a pint of ice cream. I woke up feeling a little bit fuzzy the next day, but nothing compared to the gluten hangover from the pizza.” So, cheat smart. Figure out what foods are okay, and what are not. You will eventually figure out that the not okay foods are simply never, ever going to be worth it. Stay away from those cheats, and find other foods to satisfy those cravings.

How do you figure out what foods are okay for you, and what foods are not? I’ll tell you exactly how to do that… next week. I’ll give you an easy to follow, step-by-step plan to cleaning out your dietary closet and cheating smart. But be prepared… this helpful advice comes with a healthy dose of Tough Love. You’ve been warned.

So there you have it – my official and decidedly opinionated Guide to Eating Dirty. Post questions, responses or controversies to comments. I’m off to cover something in syrup.

My Nutella-fueled 115# clean PR, at Guerrilla Fitness CrossFit Montclair. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Arsenuk.)

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  1. Bob Guere says

    Blog posts don't get any better than this… and Part 1. You're bombastic and I also give you +1 for "Carb-a-palooza".

    My blog post today, while equally opinionated, will no doubt p*ss people off…. but I don't care.

  2. James says

    Great post! I have been pretty sucessful with the paleo diet, I don't zone it, but started with eating the right foods, and now am getting better with portions. Since I started, I am about 30 pounds lighter, yet much stronger. My cheat might be a piece of chocolate or beer. I do not really EVER cheat with processed grains. I don't like how they make me feel. I am now making my own rubs and marinates to stay away from HFCS. I do cheat here and there, but I mainly focus on eating what I like, eating the good things. I don't think paleo/primal eating is such a sacrifice, I do not think of it as a diet, it's just great food that makes me feel good! Great post! Crossfit South Brooklyn in the house.

  3. Melicious says

    Moxy-Boss, these blog posts should be required reading for anyone who wants into a CrossFit gym or a Weight Watchers meeting or a grocery store, or …. you get the idea.

    AWESOME! Thank you. I'm printing it out for easy emergency reference.

    Your tough love is the best love ;-)

  4. Chelsea says

    Melissa – thanks so much for this pair of posts! It's definitely given me a clearer vision of how to go about my 'cheating'. In addition to this, since you obviously have a thing with maple syrup, I tried this recipe last night (with the addition of banana chunks) and it was the best paleo food I ever did dip into tree sap.
    Paleo Pancakes
    1 egg
    1/4 cup of ground almonds
    1/4 cup of coconut milk
    Cook as regular pancakes in a little bit of coconut butter or other fat. OR Preheat a cast iron fry pan in a 425F oven, pour in mixture, cook for 8-10 mins (no flipping necessery). Makes 1 pancake.

  5. Thor! says

    AMEN!!!! Although cheats are few and far between these days. Sadly this 40lbs. isnt going to melt itself away.

  6. maguidn says

    Long time reader. First time poster. Really glad to be on the show.

    Anyhoo, I like the balance you try to achieve between "fitness", or CF fitness, and overall health, which includes mental well being.

    It's a fresh breath of air in a community whose machismo with regards to dieting and peak performance can sometimes be stifling.

  7. Drew says

    Just dicovered your blog yesterday and I am an addict! I agree with maguidin above–sometimes the pressure to eat perfectly is stifling! Glad you're preaching about making paleo truly "lifestyle" and not "life stifling!"

  8. Aaron says

    Great post(s)! "Cheating smart" is the way to go! As long as you don't let it get out of hand…

  9. Robin says

    I linked your part I and II to our blog today. Great posts.
    Robin & David Tillman
    CrossFit Tillman Training in Cedar Park

  10. kat mcguire says

    Thanks for the GREAT posts. As I sit here after a "Carbapaloosa" day at work (almost the best word EVER). I realize why I feel so crappy and vow to use some common sense and your tips next time the pizza and chocolate covered jubes take the stage!

    Looking forward to your cheat smart tips (I'm just a fickle gemini and know I can not NOT cheat)

    Kathleen :)

  11. rizzo says

    I'm looking forward to the post on how to cheat and not lose your sanity (or maybe there should be a special article for moi on that one).

    Oh btw I'm getting published in PMenu, so I'll send you a copy when it comes out!

  12. Justin says

    I've been given a hard time for eating 4 or 5 mouthfuls of Ice Cream and putting the rest back into the freezer. It takes off the edge, but doesn't put me in a coma.

    Now if I could do the same with pizza and beer…

  13. Erin says

    Great post! Please help me break the bowl of ice cream before bed habit…i really want to cheat smartly and shake these last few pounds!

  14. Laney Peach Coyne says

    Nice, Byers. My BF and I prefer to call "cheat" meals "choice" meals.. That way it's not such a negative connotation- cuz the choices are ours and they are awesome! I completely agree that you should mix in a few "choices" throughout the week, that way you don't behave like a heroin addict when you finally do let yourself loose. I went to Robb Wolf's cert yesterday and feel super empowered to finally kick the last little bit of gluten out of my world. It's definitely helpful to kick the habit when, if you eat it, it makes you feel like "sucking on the barrel of a gun" (one of my favorite Robb Wolf-isms).

    Def linking my blog to this post.

    PS- My max strict pullups went from 9 to 11 last week:)

  15. Kevin Daigle says

    Another great post Mox….and way to rock the CFNE shirt, I LOVE THAT SHIRT…its my favorite one.

    PS I miss you.

  16. Jason Struck, RKC says

    since adopting 'paleo' principles many of my 'cheat days' are simply gorges of good stuff in far too great a volume.

    BBQ and Sausage and Salami type meats mostly. And Cashew and Pistachios out the wazoo.

  17. MarcusH says

    Melissa, great couple of posts–even if you are the bearer of bad news :). I had been taught the leptin/metabolic boost justification for cheat days and have been guilty of spreading that flawed logic to others. To ensure I'm understanding this right, the takeaway is that you may see progress with cheat days but nowhere near as great as you would if being more strict, correct?

    There was one other rationale that made me think the cheat day was better that occasional cheats. I figured that you get the whole insulin roller coaster when you cheat, so setting aside one day to wreak havoc on your system was better than multiple dips during the week. Personally, I also find that once I get off the rails the rest of my day is shot due to lethargy and my appetite will be mucked up. Seeing how Mat says you can be screwed for TWO WEEKS off an all-day bender, I obviously must have been wrong here too.

    I discussed your posts with a friend of mine and some additional questions came up, hopefully you can help us out. From the sound of things, one should optimally aim for no cheats. However, for the mental aspect would you advocate scheduling your 10% cheats? For some, this can keep them on track rather than trying to NEVER cheat and binge eating when they finally break.

    Secondly, how does this work with someone on CLC and/or IF? Random cheats would seem to derail the benefits of CLC so would it be best to only do so on the "refeed" window? Similarly, with IF the time you'd be most tempted to cheat would be WHILE fasting and you have fewer meals to contribute to your 10%.

    I'm probably overthinking this, but I appreciate any knowledge you can drop on me!

  18. A Quilting Fool says

    Great couple of posts – my strategy on opportunistic food offers is to someone who is eating the cake, cookie, whatever whether it is THE best cake, cookie, whatever they have ever eaten. If they say yes, I might try it. If no, I pass…seems to work.
    btw I was lead here from the CF Vallejo, CA site.

  19. Dori says

    Loved this. However, having Celiac disease, dairy & corn allergy, it doesn’t leave much room for cheating (unless I want to be ultra sick for days). My favorite cheat is simply a gluten/dairy free doughnut every Saturday in bed with my tea and the newspaper. And I TOTALLY agree about savoring…AND about little cheats here and there! Spot on…thanks!!