How To Have A Paleo Friendly Cheat Day

How To Have A Paleo Friendly Cheat Day

A few years back, cheat days were 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. In 1999, Bill Phillips, borrowing an idea from sometimes employee sometimes partner TC, put forth the idea of the “free” day in the bestselling newbie bible Body-for-LIFE.

almond bread

More than a decade later, in his own bestseller The 4-Hour Body, author Tim Ferriss again extolled the virtues of the cheat day. Most recently, another bestseller has popped–Engineering the Alpha, by John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein, features cheat days as part of a comprehensive plan that incorporates other 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 apparent 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 them simply for the reason of staying within the confines of a paleo approach is both short-sighted and SAD.

This is especially true when some of the arguments against cheat days are founded in illogical reasoning and sensationalistic 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.

To Begin at the Beginning – Why Cheat? And Can it be Done Paleo?

Let’s first cover the theory behind cheat days and why they’ve been included in nutrition plans to begin with.

The theoretical benefits of cheat days are:

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.

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.

Increased serum leptin levels. The big one that most harp on. Leptin levels drop while in a caloric deficit (lasting as little as 72 hours), and a periodic bump in leptin coming from a cheat day has several benefits including 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.

Paleo Fried Honey BananaFried 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, or any fat like coconut oil for the pan. Place slices. After 1-2 minutes, flip the bananas. Turn off the stove. Mix 1-3 tablespoons of honey & 1/2 tablespoon of water & add over 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.

 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 wit 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 60-75 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 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, savoury, 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.

Luckily, Man 2.0: Engineering The Alpha has just recently been released. When you order through the site, not only will you receive the book itself, but you’ll gain access to a plethora of bonus content, INCLUDING a complete cook book that follows paleo principles. Yes, there are desserts. Yes, they are delicious.

Pick up a copy here, and expand your palate.


John Romaniello

John Romaniello is an angel investor, author and ranks between journeyman and expert in fields ranging from fitness to writing to marketing. He is the author of hundreds of articles, dozens of e-products, and the recently released New York Times Best Seller - Man 2.0: Engineering The Alpha. You can also find him on Facebook.

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  • Alysia

    How often should you have a cheat day to experience these theoretical benefits?

  • Virginia Bostock

    When you say “Cut sweet potatoes into 1/4’s, and shove the dates INTO each slice, what do you mean? Cut the potato in 4 discs or in 4 lengthways? And, how exactly does one shove a date into the potato without smushing it?

    In the Almond Cookie recipe, is that 1 tsp each baking soda, pure vanilla extract as well as salt? (real dark chocolate does not have dairy in it)

  • Tom Denham

    Telling people what they want to hear is good for your income, but let’s not pretend you shared any real science or psychology; you created a straw man and knocked it flat.

  • VJVousden

    Love! How about a Paleo ice cream we can make (we don’t have an ice cream maker so one we can do in the freezer?) mixed with bits of that yummy cookie dough? Thanks for these. I am currently having a carb craving something AWFUL and have put it off but it’s not shutting up. You may have kept me on the wagon. Thank you!

  • Nicci

    Nice article. Two great websites for more recipes are where Juli posts some great ideas and food stuff. great site for baking and other bread recipes. Keep up the good work you guys!

  • Will

    Love it! Thanks so much for sharing
    Question for you.. some of my friends that “are in the know” tell me that fatty dairy products (specifically heavy whipping cream, butter, and even half n half) are all very much suited for the 60% fat caloric intake of the paleo pyramid. Even ultra pasteurized creams and alike. Do you agree?

    I have been pretty strict for 9 months now and love the results. I have even got a half dozen friends eating clean now. As they ask me for information i want help them as best i can with good input.

  • RC

    He-llo? What are the QUANTITIES for the Baking Soda, Vanilla & Salt in the Almond Butter Cookie recipe? Are they all 1 teasp.?

  • Jake

    A couple of criticisms:

    1. The authors is John Romaniello. I’m fine with repping your products and books in blog posts, but don’t do it in the third-person.

    2. Citations? This is a fairly scientific community (or it used to be). You provide the (theoretical) benefits: cite them.

    3. “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.” Where is the logic in this? Roughly translated: “Instead of providing real world experience and efficacy, as attested by X, why not just eat the stuff and listen to what we say?”

    4. This is basically just a rehashing of his T-Nation article published two years ago: which includes such bro-science as: “The Fact Is…
    Cheat Days WORK. They just work. Even if there is evidence to suggest that cheat days or periodic overfeeding doesn’t enhance the rate of fat loss, at this point there’s too much anecdotal evidence to say that they slow fat loss.”

    Tim Ferris already walks the line between data-backed scientist and Dr. Oz like diet-magic-floof-guru. Romaniello feels like a version of that aimed for 17-year-olds. But I’d actually place less of a criticism on Roman, and more on the trajectory of Paleohacks in general. There are some great debates that go on in this community, but more and more it seems it’s evolved into a paranoid-derivation of Yahoo! Health or AskMen.

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  • Ben Joven

    I can vouch that the ALMOND BUTTER COOKIES are ADDICTING!

  • Deanna

    Can someone insert the measurements for the baking soda, salt and vanilla for the Almond Cookies please???

  • Rayca

    Yep, cheating has been around for ages. Whenever I can’t stand dieting anymore, first thing I do is cheat. Stuck in a dieting rut? Cheat. Feeling down? Cheat. Yep, I can think of tons of reasons to cheat. Been around for long, long time. Maybe as long as paleo people!

  • livre

    Magnificent issues altogether, you just gained a new reader. What might you suggest in regards to your put up that you made a few days in the past? Any positive?

  • Shana


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  • house cleaners weston

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It is the little changes that produce the most significant changes. Thanks for sharing!

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