How Treats Fit into a Paleo Diet Plan

Eating Paleo-approved foods 80 to 90 percent of the time helps you feel your best, but you can incorporate non-Paleo foods (and even Paleo treats) into your habits with intention and to eat them occasionally and mindfully.

Choose treats, not cheats when living Paleo

If you've ever followed a traditional diet, you're probably familiar with the idea of cheating. A diet is defined by its food rules and any time you stray away from those requirements, you're cheating. With most diets, a very clear division exists between "good" and "bad," both in foods and behavior. But nourishing your body shouldn't involve judgment.

Although the Paleo diet does outline "yes" and "no" foods, it's a flexible framework that allows you to customize your approach based on your needs. In addition to giving you lots of latitude to eat the foods you like and avoid the ones you don't, this framework also allows you to remove the guilt associated with cheating on a traditional diet.

When you're living Paleo, you don't have to cheat. Instead, occasionally, you may decide to enjoy a treat.

Treats can be divided into three broad categories:

  • Non-Paleo foods: Once in a while, you may mindfully choose to enjoy foods and drinks that aren't on the Paleo-approved list, such as a favorite holiday cookie, champagne to celebrate a special occasion, or even a middle-of-the-week fiesta with corn chips and salsa.

  • Technically Paleo treats: Baked goods made with almond or coconut flour, nut butters, and dried fruit are healthier choices than conventional baked goods. These Paleo versions, made without grains and refined sugar, are still treats, but they deliver the taste sensation of traditional goodies without the problems of gluten and refined sugar.

  • Larger quantities: Sometimes, you may decide to eat more than you need — maybe a double serving of sugar-free bacon at breakfast or an extra lamb chop. Consuming a little extra Paleo-approved food in this way can also be an occasional treat.

Punishing yourself with guilty feelings or self-recrimination after enjoying a treat is counterproductive to your success. Plan in advance when you'll enjoy a treat so the decision is intentional and celebratory, and banish the word cheat from your vocabulary.

Decide when a treat is okay on the Paleo diet

Deciding when it's time for a treat is a personal decision based on how you're feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally. So how do you decide when it's the right time for a treat, and how do you determine what that treat should be?

The most important factor in enjoying a treat is making the decision to eat it. Mindlessly grazing at work parties or family celebrations and eating sweets or snack foods that don't even really taste very good are easy traps to fall in to. In restaurants, the bread or chip basket can suddenly empty out and into your body before you even realize it.

Eating in these kinds of social situations can be a mindless habit and are the worst use of a treat because, in reality, you often don't enjoy that food. It's a rote action: Reach for food, shove in mouth, chew, and swallow; repeat.

Be sure to mindfully choose when you'll enjoy a treat. Make the decision to eat outside the Paleo guidelines and take the time to think about why that food or that occasion is worth straying outside the Paleo framework.

You may decide that you're going to limit yourself to a certain number of treats per week or per month. Track them on your calendar and when you've used up all your "treat credits," eat only from the Paleo-approved foods list until it's time for a new batch of credits.

After you've enjoyed your treat, jump right back into eating Paleo-approved foods at your very next meal. One meal "off track" won't do too much damage to your body or your mindset.

If you have a diagnosed illness, like celiac disease, or a known allergy or sensitivity to certain foods, choose your treats wisely. For many people, gluten is never a good idea, and even treats must remain gluten free.

Savor your food on the Paleo diet

You deserve the best, so when you choose to eat a treat, make sure you pick the very best version of that treat you can find.

If it's a cookie you crave, go for freshly baked from your oven or your favorite bakery, instead of grabbing a packaged cookie in the work break room. If you must have pizza, bypass the processed, frozen stuff in the grocery aisle and treat yourself to the best pie in town.

When it's time to dig in, eat slowly, use all your senses, and mindfully enjoy every bite.

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