As the headline states, what exactly is a cheat meal? If you asked me this question six months to a year ago, my response would have been “anything other than meat, vegetables, some fruit, and some nuts.” My response to that same question today is “it depends.”
Today my diet includes corn tortillas, white rice, and potatoes several times a week. My diet nowadays would seem like a travesty to my hardcore Paleo mindset of a year ago. The theory being: our ancestors didn’t have these things so neither should we. Also, our macronutrient percentages should resemble the high fat, low carb diets of hunter-gatherers because carb intake is directly correlated with fat gain and insulin resistance.
The beauty of the Paleo/Primal movement is our minds our open (or they should be) and we don’t dogmatically stick to our guns in light of differing viewpoints/evidence. A society such as the Kitavans, whose daily intake is comprised of as much as 60% carbohydrates without the incidences of obesity, heart disease, etc, forces us to take a second look at our entire premise. As Kurt Harris has written of, the true issue isn’t the carbohydrate intake, but the so-called “Neolithic Agents of Disease.” We want to avoid gluten, lectins, industrial seed oils, industrial levels of fructose and Omega-6 PUFA. The strict Paleo diet prescription works because it happens to eliminate all of these. In other words, pure glucose as part of a sensible diet is not, in itself, a challenge to a body functioning properly. It becomes a problem if you’re metabolism is already dysfunctional and your ability to handle carbs has been compromised due to insulin resistance. In these instances, low carb Paleo combined with an intelligent exercise program is a fantastic method to regain insulin sensitivity and metabolic regulation. But once your lean and mean, one need not fear carbohydrates.
So therefore, cheat meals, it stands to reason, are as follows: Anything that has a measurable, negative impact on your goals or well-being. If you are suffering from an autoimmune condition, then for you potatoes, legumes, rice, wheat, etc are all off your menu depending on your individual tolerance. If you are overweight and/or insulin resistant or diabetic, then a large bolus of starchy carbs would constitute a cheat meal. But if you’re a hard charging athlete, then really only meals containing the Neolithic Agents of Disease are cheat meals. And even still…how gluten sensitive are you? Do you notice any appreciable effect from eating glutenous foods or foods prepared with seed/vegetable oils? We logically know these are bad for us based on evidence, but is a single meal containing these NADs within an otherwise strict week going to present any sort of appreciable change? For me, I feel an immediate “gross” feeling after consuming seed/vegetable oils, but little to no immediate effect from a single dose of gluten, even if its a fairly large one. So I don’t really consider a single meal that includes bread as a “cheat.” I feel more as if for my particular situation, there are only “cheat trends.”
I realize this is less cookie-cutter and harder to follow for people who just want to know, “what can I eat?” But if you’re sick, reclaiming your health requires your full involvement. Once you’re healthy and (relatively) lean, just concentrate on eating nutrient dense, REAL foods and everything will work itself out.