Cheat Meals on Paleo: Is Paleo 80 / 20 Good Enough?

graph image: cheat meals on Paleo - is the percentage 80 Paleo Diet and 20 cheat meals week good enough? The Paleo 80 20 plan is something for everyone to consider, but especially those who are simply trying to lose weight on Paleo vs someone trying to correct a major health issue or autoimmune disease. In which case I might consider you going strict 100 percent paleo
Is eating 80-85% Paleo per week (i.e. percentage wise: 80 Paleo Diet Meals / 20 Cheats) a reasonable strategy? This article from Elizabeth Connolly, Co-founder of Trifecta Nutrition, covers whether eating cheat meals on Paleo is a reasonable idea.

The following article was contributed by Elizabeth Connolly, Co-founder of Trifecta Nutrition, a meal delivery service and part of the Paleo community.

The Paleo Diet. Like any new diet, the Paleo diet has been scrutinized on whether it is a fad or life changer. But what a lot of people don’t know is that the Paleo Diet concept has been around for quite a while. The Paleo Diet was published in 2002 and started gaining major traction in 2010. Or if you want to go with the caveman origins, more than 2.6 million years. But that’s neither here nor there. Fast food has been around for almost 100 years, and we all know it is taking people to a (deliciously) early grave.

The real question is whether the Paleo diet is a healthy diet to follow. And if it is, do you have to commit 100 percent for it to work?

Doing something 100 percent, 100 percent of the time is fairly impossible for the average American.

According to Dr. Cordain, Founder of the Paleo Diet, a long term Paleo lifestyle should be 85/15.

Ultimately, there’s a difference between being healthy and being Paleo. Eat only steak all day? Probably not healthy. Cheat and eat some rice? Probably not the end of the world. The goal is optimal health and happiness – not meticulously watching every single thing you eat and letting it take over your life.

Sticking to something consistently– especially a diet, is the key to success. The 80/20 rule makes the diet easy to stick to both mentally and physically. If you successfully eat Paleo 80 percent of the time and loosen the leash the other 20 percent of the time, leaving room for those small “cheats”, you are more likely to stick to it. If you commit to something 100% without any room for error, you will most likely fail. Imagine people who eat clean all the time, without leaving room for any cheats. Do you think they crave their favorite dish they grew up eating? Definitely. Would it completely throw off their diet if they ate it once in awhile? Most likely not.

How to optimize the 80/20 rule:

  • So you’re ready for a cheat meal? There’s 21 meals a week which means roughly 4 of those meals can be off Paleo. Or you can do snacks, whatever works best. The important thing to remember is not to overdose on those cheat meals. 200 calories of ice cream? Not Paleo…but no big deal if it’s every once in awhile. Stopping at your favorite fast food restaurant and getting a burger, fries, and a soda that has you consuming North of 1000 calories in one sitting… definitely will add up even if it’s every once in awhile!
  • Shop around the border of the grocery store instead of going down every aisle. Why, you might ask? Because most grocery stores put all of the fresh foods (produce, meat, etc.) on the border, and the processed foods in the center. If you have to make a stop down the frozen vegetable aisle, that’s acceptable, but going down the pop-tart aisle is setting yourself up for failure. Avoid putting the temptations in front of you to prevent buying things you shouldn’t be eating. It takes a ton of self-control to resist buying unhealthy food– that is typically delicious (and NOT nutritious)
  • Make an effort to make sure you don’t have any “junk” food or food that isn’t considered Paleo in your home. If you live with people who aren’t on the Paleo diet, designate a cabinet for their food to optimize your success and prevent temptation. If you don’t have any cheats in the house, then you have nothing to cheat with: easy as that.
  • Try to cook at home during the work week (M-F) and play weekends by ear. Eating at home has many benefits, including saving money and knowing exactly what’s going into your food. Keep paleo-friendly food stocked in your home at all times, because you are less likely to go out for food.
  • Research creative and delicious Paleo recipes. Eating plain Paleo food may throw you off and make you crave the more flavorful cheat food instead. You can get really creative with the diet, whether you’re creating bread substitutes from things like cauliflower or making fudge with coconut oil. There are tons of ideas out there, especially from Paleo blogs and communities. You can also research several substitutes for things you ate previously, to make the transition smoother.

We are all human– and have special occasions such as birthdays, holidays, family/friend events, etc. Restricting yourself during events like these is harder than it seems. How are you going to reject a cake on your birthday? If you know that one of these dates is approaching, save a cheat for that day. Don’t miss out on important activities because of your diet. Being healthy is important, but engaging in social events is just as crucial.

Sticking to the 80/20 rule (or 85/15 if you prefer) will create the Paleo diet into a lifestyle rather than a temporary diet. Staying on track for the most part and having a little bit of wiggle room is more realistic than eliminating non-paleo foods from your diet or the rest of your life. What’s even better is that you can enjoy life without missing out on things, with that 20% room for error. Eat clean for the majority of the week? Reward yourself and get back on track to earn another reward. It’s a simple concept that goes a long way, with diets of all kinds.

Elizabeth Connolly is the Co-founder & CEO of Trifecta Nutrition. She left an executive job at major software leader Intuit to follow her passion of healthy eating and to help bring healthy food to busy American’s nationwide. She has a lifelong love of animals and wanted to provide food for people that was Organic and Animal Welfare certified at or above level 5. In her free time, Elizabeth loves to volunteer at animal shelters, get in a solid workout at her local CrossFit box, or head out to the beach and do some paddle boarding.


My goal with this website is to help get the message out about grain free diets such as the Paleo and Primal diets, SCD diet and GAPS diet, so that more people might benefit from them. My other main goal is to help everyone transitioning to these diets, which can be challenging when first starting down this path. It definitely was for me.

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