Sometimes Paleo

We make no secret that our desire here is to balance a “normal” life with eating the paleo diet. For us, that means adhering to the principals some 95% of the time. We’ve seen so much health improvement from the lifestyle that the decision to stick with it has become easy. Occasionally, though, for convenience or pleasure’s sake, we go off plan a bit.

For example, it is much easier for me to make jerky if I don’t slice it myself. Our local butcher sources antibiotic and hormone free beef that is grain finished, but he saves me a lot of frustration by slicing meat into jerky pieces.

When people ask us about “cheating” and eating non-paleo orthodox foods, we always tell them to strive to be as 100% as possible, but don’t beat yourself up for mistakes or making a different choice on occasion.

Sometimes, at most once a month, we will go out to a nice restaurant and relax our rules on minimally reactive foods like dairy, rice or corn. We do these things knowing that we are making a choice that isn’t perfect, but we also stick to our own rules of never eating HFCS, beans or gluten – because those foods are absolutely toxic for our family. We won’t throw our friends under the bus, but we happen to know quite a few paleo-super-stars who also choose to live their lives that way. Heck, Mark even has a philosophy written on it!

Photo Credit: BandoleroDC.com – the infamously troublesome (but amazing) crispy goat nachos

Certainly, no one would mistake our recent meal at Bandolero’s to be a caveman special! At a restaurant of the utmost quality (think crispy goat, lamb, pork cheek and hand-crafted corn tortillas), Stacy firmly declined anything with gluten or beans but enjoyed a single meal with some dairy and corn (the first time in months or years).  Afterwords, Stacy found herself reacting strongly to the corn in the meal, something we’d also seen on the cruise but never otherwise.

Trying to determine if the swollen limbs and sickness could be associated with corn, we turned to our Facebook followers to try to learn if this is a common reaction. We did find out that it was likely the case from helpful friends, but what we also got was a bunch of people telling us that corn was “not paleo or allowed”, that it “contained anti-nutrients” (people trying to help, I know), and, most surprising of all, this:

You should change your blog to Sometimes Paleo. It’s not okay for some people to cheat ever.

Whoa! Slow down! I completely agree that some people need to be more strict than others. Some people have an auto-immune issue (or like Stacy, Celiac-like reactivity to gluten) and so any straying could have dire consequences. But for most people, it doesn’t have to be that way!

Take one of our best friends who we went to dinner with on the night in question. She eats anything she wants on these special occasions, including wheat. The rest of the time? She’s pretty hardcore with farm fresh eggs, raw grass-fed milk and pastured meats – no grains or processed foods of any kind in her home.

Want a more exalted example? Robb Wolf has talked several times on his podcast about indulging in rice or corn, especially when living in New Mexico. More? NomNomPaleo has even documented gluten and sugar consumption on her blog when she eats out at fancy meals. *gasp* We’ve met quite a few, and can’t think of a single paleo luminary that is 100% perfect all the time.

My point is, just because these people have occasional off-plan foods doesn’t mean these people are unhealthy and no one would call them that, despite the occasional slip up or treat.

One of my favorite sayings is Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. Any improvements you make to your diet will impact your health. Any slip ups will detract. But this is a very complicated equation and it’s unique to everyone. You must weigh all this together.

For Stacy, eating wheat or legumes (or now also apparently corn) will give her lots of health complications and might truly derail her progress. For me, eating dairy or corn or even wheat gives me a much less severe reaction. I can take those precautions less seriously than she can and I can eat a corn tortilla and not feel too badly about it. She can have 1 bite of a sweet and walk away; she can leave treats in the pantry for weeks. If I indulge in sweets, I am soon abusing them, and simply cannot leave them alone if they’re in the house.

The point is, if you make perfect the only acceptable way to live this lifestyle, you end up making people quit after only 3 days “because it’s too hard” or simply not even beginning at all. Diane from Balanced Bites does a much better job of describing this downward spiral in her recent, “Are You Paralyzing Others With Paleo Perfectionism?

Remember, every step taken towards healthy is great and we need to encourage our peers positively and not over analyze every little choice. We also need to not demonize the occasional bad choices we make, just hope we learn from them and make them less often going forward. Paleo is a term to describe a lifestyle choice, it’s not a badge of honor you earn or lose.

Not being Paleo Perfect doesn’t mean you’re not paleo. It certainly doesn’t make us, “sometimes paleo” and we hope you don’t beat yourself up, since stress isn’t good for you either!

You Might Also Like

  • Bravo…great post. The problem is, some people look at all of the bloggers (you guys, sarah fragroso, melissa & dallas hartwig, robb wolf, etc.) as Paleo gods and since you are ‘role models’ you should always be 100% perfect. When anyone posts about going ‘off plan’ (but really it should be called ‘being human’) these people feel you have failed them on some level. I, however, disagree. I think, if not for your sanity alone, eating whatever you want occasionally is certainly acceptable! And i think it shows a good example for  HOW people should go off plan. You don’t grab a fast food hamburger, you indulge in a savory meal with lots of good and a couple bad components. I think it is fabulous. keep on rockin’ on. 

  • Nina

    Good for you guys!! I have no idea why people get to mean about this kind of thing. 

  • Celia O

    Well said.  I don’t really consider myself paleo, mostly because some people have gotten too crazy about what you can cheat on, what you can’t ever eat (ever), and subscribing to a holier-than-thou-because-I-don’t-ever-touch-ingredient-X attitude that’s getting as pervasive in the paleo community as in the vegan community (and elsewhere, really). Point is, we’re not perfect. We ALL make choices. I don’t see why people should expect YOU to be perfect when they clearly can’t be mature enough not to judge you for your choices. I’m sure that if those people were to look at their own lives there’d be something another person could judge. We don’t live in a vacuum. Have a lovely weekend! Your meal (above) looks like it was amazing, even if you had some reaction after.

  • Good timing! I’ve been having terrible reactions to dairy and corn lately. Granted I’ve been allergic to both all of my life (whoops) but they’re the thing that I occasionally want to cheat with when eating out. I learned early on eating this way that I don’t do well with rice and I always avoid gluten but have accidentally had it and gotten really sick. So now I’m seeing that there aren’t really any cheat options for me :-(. We need to find our own balance with all of this and not condemn others for their choices. Everyone is going to figure out their own path one way or another. They probably don’t need our judgement along the way. I’ve finally decided not to have that stuff because I don’t want to feel terrible or damage my gut but it’s taken a year and half experimenting to realize that. Great post guys!

  • That’s for sure! I think knowing what’s actually good for you is what is most important. “Cheating” by having some corn at a restaurant is a lot better than feeding corn to your kids several times a week (as I used to do) because it’s a “healthy vegetable.”

  • Linda195720769

    such a good post, that I’m going to share with a friend, who is moving towards Paleo and asked me some questions last evening right along these lines.  thanks!

  • Just had to let you guys know – I’ve hit a new milestone in my walk to health. Thanks so much for your encouragement and advice!

  • Apreynolds25

    Here here! I totally agree! 100% perfection in anything is just setitng yourself up for unhappiness. I feel sorry for that person who made the comment. Their life must be such a small, tiny, boring box to live in!

  • Thanks for sharing! A few days ago I found this on the same subject:


  • Lora

    Going back to the original question: I react to corn with joint inflammation and significant depressed mood/negative thinking. Definitely possible.

  • I try to focus on helping a lot more new people than stressing over helping the more well-versed paleo-eaters in managing the minutia of their own diets. It’s not productive and, honestly, it doesn’t matter much. If someone is sick, that’s different, clearly. But tweaking and optimizing and hacking someone’s diet who is stressing over their n6:n3 ratios every day is definitely not what I signed up for, nor what interests me. I am here to help sick people get better; to help the unhealthy find health; to help someone who doesn’t feel well to feel better  – that’s it. I’m not a “God” or a “guru.” I’m just a person – a nutritionist and a coach – to help people learn whatever I can teach them on their journey. 

    Detach yourself from the outcome of every blog reader or commenter’s emotional reactions to your work and you’ll be a lot better off mentally/emotionally yourself. Haters be damned- delete their comments 🙂 It’s your blog, right?

    • It was helpful to detach by addressing how the comment wasn’t a fit for us, rather than deleting – since that would just eat at me for months. We’re all human, D. I just like some humans more than others – like you! 🙂

  • Regarding the corn thing: After clearing out all the corn products from our diet over a year ago, I recently indulged in a bag of Doritos. The next morning, my guts exploded. It was ugly and painful. But, was it the Doritos?  A few weeks later, I’d forgotten about my morning in the bathroom and again indulged in Doritos – I must have been going through a massive craving phase, it happens, I paid the price – and again, the next morning I was sick, sick, sick.

    For me, corn is a definitely no-go food. And it makes sense, most of the corn is indigestible (cue jokes about kernals in the bowl…) and in order to render it digestible or usable, it has to be processed with lots of chemicals.

    Maybe taco salad next time?

    And, you already know it but those paleo police are jerks. *sigh*

    • Tara S

      I notice that too Leanne. Now that I’m eating more Paleo foods, that old junk food I use to eat is not being  tolerated in my system so well anymore.  Our gut has been cleaned out of the bad stuff or just perhaps we were so miserable and bloated before we never realize how much better we feel since we changed what we eat.

  • What a great post! I think the mistake people make is thinking that there actually IS a “perfect” way to “paleo” when there isn’t. While there are solid guidelines, everyone is different metabolically and everyone requires different fueling for their various activities. Not to mention that we’re all at a different place on our paleo journey and our needs will change over time. Maybe extremely low carb worked well when you were losing weight, but now that you’re at your goal maybe you feel better when you up your carbs. 

    I recently wrote a post that spoke to a lot of this “paleo perfection” here: http://ispeakpaleo.com/2012/06/23/another-blogger-gets-paleo-wrong/

    Keep up the great work.


  • Cat @ NeoHomesteading.com

    You guys are always a breath of fresh air. We truly are “sometimes paleo” we eat corn/rice/wheat based on nourishing traditions principals. We are 98% whole foods, and what I call paleo template. Some weeks we are pretty good with the majority of our meals others we are more starchy/ricey/casseroles. What suits one person does not always suit another, my boys need the carbs while I SHOULD probably avoid them and stick to my plan.

    Critical nags linger everywhere, whether whole food, vegan, paleo or whatever someone always has to be “right.” Unfortunately the internet seems to be where jackasses linger to say things they wouldn’t normally say to a persons face. I have a hand full of vegetarian neighbors that live on the notion that eating animals is bad but processed stuff in a box is ok… something inside me screams every time they start blah, blah, blahing but I keep my mouth shut and don’t argue. Live and let live!

  • A perfect and most timely post!  After finishing my Whole30 in February, I struggled with getting back into just a normal liveable Paleo routine.  After the 30 days, if it wasn’t perfect Paleo, it wasn’t good enough and I ended up going completely off the rails.  Now I’m back and remembering what it was like PRE-Whole30 and that I didn’t have to be perfect all the time… I was still rewarded with all the health benefits of the lifestyle.  Fantastic topic.  Thank you so much for writing!

  • Great post! I so appreciate what you do and how real you are. I can’t do perfection, doesn’t happen in a house full of 8 people…

  • Marionpowder

    I like your blog because you’re normal people helping other normal people make extraordinary changes. I have a hard time following the blogs of paleo-ebrities that somehow have time/the tastebuds to prepare a walk-in fridge’s worth of chicken seasoned with spices I’ve never been able to find.

  • BTEmom

    Thanks for posting this. I recently commented on FB that my son was eating bacon and what followed was a bunch of comments by relatives about how our ancestors didn’t have bacon. I was furious and it often makes me feel like I have to hide if I stray from the diet at all. I can’t imagine the stress it puts on a family that is a role model in the paleo movement. I think if you talk about paleo as an all or nothing lifestyle, you will lose many people that could have experienced life changing benefits.  Since most Paleo bloggers are out there to encourage and educate others, you certainly don’t want to scare them away.
      I have recently found myself wondering if this is all worth it as my health benefits are minimal from it and I’m not bothered by other foods.  By allowing myself the occasional stray, I can then refocus on how I do feel better eating paleo.  If it was an all or nothing lifestyle, I would have exited a long time ago.  It helps to see that others in the Paleo movement experience the same temptations as we do and learn from experimenting with forbidden foods.

    Thanks again for addressing that comment from a closed minded individual.

    •  Our ancestors invented salt curing meats – it’s how we survived winter! Just not Hormel bacon is all… 🙂

  • Bquinby86

    Love this post…so may people turn ways they’ve adapted their life to be better into tools of judgement.  It’s really sad.  So great job defending yourself…it’s too bad they are wasting all the energy they are gaining from being Paleo on negative demeaning comments toward others who are just trying to be the best versions of themselves!

  • Kris

    Terms like “cheating” and “legal” actually scare me quite a bit for the Paleo community (GAPS too).  I think that there are a lot of people drawn to the lifestyle change who suffer from I would call “orthorexia.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthorexia_nervosa  I read a lot of bloggers who stress over whether they are “paleo” enough or worry and fret over these perceived “cheats.”  I am fearful that many of these folks – and their readers – suffer from disordered eating that is taking the guise of health.  

    I love the philosophy Chris Kresser has been espousing lately which really stresses the individual’s tolerance for certain foods.    For me, that means strictly eschewing gluten, dairy, corn, nuts grains save for white rice, bananas and nightshades.  Some of those foods are “Paleo legal” but do horrible things to MY body … with it’s baggage and own personal history.  Through trial, error and self-awareness I have developed a healthful diet for ME.  

    I am so glad that you wrote this post and hope that you will continue the dialogue, putting personal health and experiences first over some loyalty to an eating orthodoxy.

    • Kristin

      Love this comment Kris, and I totally agree! It does seem that people with Orthorexia issues are drawn to this type of lifestyle. I have struggled a lot with eating disorders including full-blown anorexia and also orthorexia, and making sure that I don’t let perfectionism take over my diet (and then totally derail my diet by sending me into a bag of potato chips and/or candy) is so hard. My fiance has no “food issues” and easily eats a mostly paleo diet, but makes choices to eat foods that are not considered “paleo” when it is truly worth it to him. For example, we are at the beach today and he chose to eat his favorite donuts that he ate all the time growing up and some root beer (one of his favorite treats ever) and some potato chips. Obviously these are not even close to being paleo choices (or even probably real food choices) but that doesn’t make him any less “paleo” – he still eats paleo foods almost every meal he eats and has never looked or felt better from this way of life. It is still better to mostly follow a paleo framework and let these types of foods be an indulgence instead of giving up on paleo and just eating these things all the time just because you can’t always be perfect. Since I have autoimmune issues and should probably be super strict, but its just not possible for me right now – I really have to take baby steps or I just get totally off-course – baby steps being eating mostly paleo foods, sometimes eating non-paleo foods and letting that be OK. The point is, we are all just doing the best we can and should be encouraging each other along the way. It is helpful to remember why we started this lifestyle anyway (for me, it was for health benefits), and to remember that stress and disordered eating behaviors are WORSE for your health than having an “off-plan” meal. Thanks so much for this post Paleo Parents, it was very encouraging for me 🙂

    • Melisa Anderson

      I also like your reply Kris for the reason that even gurus like Chris Kresser change stances and opinions when presented with different information previously unreviewed or new information previously unresearched. These men and women don’t pretend to be the ‘end-all’ of the Paleo movement, so what makes other people feel their opinions should be? Even Robb Wolf changed his stance on Omega-3 supplementation once he reviewed new research.
      My point is, Paleo is supposed to be a lifestyle based on what paleolithic man ate when in reality, even that differed by region. For this lifestyle to be effective for EVERYONE, which I think it can be, people need to be encouraged to find what works for them and what doesn’t. It goes far beyond what ‘rules’ are layed out by ‘experts’. Perhaps it’s my personality to resist someone telling me I HAVE to do something or risk not fitting into a group, but if that’s in fact what is going on with the Paleo community (not on this blog thankfully), I don’t want any part of it.

  • sugar

    thank you so much for this! I have been getting attacked on my blog by someone that apparently expects me to be perfect.. ugh! I don’t think anyone is perfect. we are human after all.

  • I couldn’t agree more. This is such a great post. I was intimidated by the paleo lifestyle and community because it seemed so strict, perfectionist and hardcore (I think of everyone doing crossfit and running around like maniacs). Then I found your blog and realized what a good lifestyle choice it is for people with lots of health problems. I actually think I lean more toward the “primal” side because I consume moderate amounts of protein and more good, natural fats. But you know what, who needs categories anyway? We are all getting healthy in our own way. If indulging in some rice once in a blue moon keeps you on track, that’s great. The trick is making sure you never eat food that is damaging to your health like Stacy, and indulging in something without feeling “guilty” or “cheating”. Associating food with those negative emotions is really stressful. I believe if we contemplate how we will feel after eating food, rather than thinking about it so much, we’ll be able to find what is right for us. For me, I know if I see something sugar-y and think about how terrible I know I will feel afterwards, that pretty much kills any craving my brain might have for it. I know it’s just not worth it. I’m not sure why there is so much judgement out there though. We should all focus on being healthy, not perfect, and support everybody on their journey to good health.

  • Melinda

    And it’s people like you guys who helped me even take the first step towards eating more healthfully, because when I was first introduced to the concept of paleo, it was the “paleo perfect” that overwhelmed me and turned me off. So, thank you for being here! And thank you for posts like this! My mom used to tell me that the things we criticize about others are the things we hate about ourselves. So, I’m guessing the people that are criticizing you are actually pretty unhappy. Whereas, you guys seem very balanced and happy and just downright good souls. So, again, thanks, and keep up the good work!

  • Carol B

    hear hear! The voice of reason, well said. Paleo is the means to improve health by embracing our ancestral way of eating, not some bizarre cult for internet trolls to point fingers and shame people who aren’t ‘paleo enough’. How sad they are. You can only make big life style changes at your own pace, not someone else’s. Let the supportive, positive voices reign! I applaud every recipe, every blog post, every book, every public talk that helps get this message out there. The more voices, the bigger the chorus 🙂

  • I wish people would understand that different folks are Paleo in different ways for different reasons. *sigh* So frustrating. It’s called projection, people! Let’s all acknowledge that we have our own way of eating and that someone else may have their own way of eating. I think it’s madness to have a scheduled cheat day every week, but you know? It helps some people stay on track the other 6 days of the week. And so on. Someone might not agree with the bag of plantain/sweet potato/cassava chips I just bought for a BBQ tomorrow to go with my guac, but I just didn’t see any benefit in killing myself to make my own with everything else I have to do tomorrow. These are the daily choices we make in this world.

    And I think that’s part of the problem. The gurus have to shout the guidelines from the rooftops and there are scores out there who would cry “HYPOCRITE!” if they admitted to their off-plan food choices. But I think it might actually be helpful to see a week’s worth of menus from lots of Paleos out there to see what this looks like in the real world, not the ideal world that doesn’t exist.

    Your “non-Paleo” choices sound just like mine. And those nachos? They look like pure awesomeness.

    Keep on keepin’ on. 🙂

  • Amen and Amen!  I totally agree.  we are about 95% paleo around here too and don’t sweat if we eat a few things “not on the diet”.  Thanks for this post!  

  • Hey, Stacy and Matt, I had to post a comment to let you know just how much I appreciate your blog.  

    My family doesn’t call ourselves “Paleo” because of the very perfectionism issue you describe here — but four years ago, when my husband (and then my son) was diagnosed with celiac, we went on the SCD to try to heal his gut.  We went as a family because that’s how we do things…but once, when we risked eating out, I indulged.  (I think it was a sandwich, but I’m not sure anymore.) I got SOOOO sick — and only when it returned with a slam did I realize that my chronic arthritis had waned while we were on the SCD.  

    Over the next four years, we experimented with adding foods back to our menu, and kept the ones no one reacted to.  My honey can eat rice and corn without too much drama, but all grains give me serious trouble — even the pseudo grains, though those are better.  I can drink raw dairy, but my honey reacts badly to that.  I can eat legumes, he can’t.  In the end, we ended up pretty much “paleo” — but the contentious dialogue on many Paleo blogs about what is or isn’t “real” keeps us from adopting that name.

    All that so say,  I truly appreciate your common sense, non-extremist point of view.  Thank you!

  • Mel

    Sometimes having the choice to “cheat” makes it easier to not stray. It’s a choice over and over and knowing that there is a choice makes the compliance easier, makes you feel less trapped.

  • people need to lighten up. what’s life without a little icecream???? 

    • Tara S

      Agree Heather, although I cheated the other day with Ice Cream and boy did my stomach tell me afterwards.  I think sometimes we cheat because we miss some of the old things we use to eat or feel obligated especially at a social events.  Needless to say, I’m not eating Ice Cream anytime soon because the pain in my belly was enough to keep me away from it awhile.  LOL

      Stacy and Matt, thank you for all the support you do provide to us cheaters,you are indeed a big inspiration!

  • Rebecca

    It really is a shame that you are always having to defend yourself to the “holier than though” members of the paleo community.  I had a cheat filled weekend and was feeling pretty guilty about it this morning.  Thanks for this post.  It reminds me to lighten up and not be so hard on myself.  Just know that there are people like me out here that actually appreciate you and follow your blog for help and inspiration – not to critique your every move.

  • I love how tactful this post was. I appreciate the kind way you went about explaining and sharing your ideas. I have a lot of respect for you and your family. Great job! 

  • Thanks for sharing your take on “cheating.”  I do not personally suffer from severe food reactions when not eating 100% paleo, BUT the health benefits I have experienced eating paleo and the slow sluggish bloated feeling I get when I go off course is enough for me to stick with it the majority of the time.  Everyone is different, and everyone’s motivation for eating this way is different too!