Good Thing it’s Not the Church of Paleo!

For the second or maybe third time since I began this blogging adventure, a reader came up to me in the street, just a bit ago. Now, the first time was in Whole Foods and man was I proud. Cart with veggies, eggs, butter, some raw milk, yogurt and some sort of quality meat…

This last time was breaking a fast with a cheat meal — just now. As I said in my yet-to-be aired interview with jimmy moore, if you are going to cheat, then cheat! If it’s going to be a burger, then go ahead and make it a double — with cheese — and get the fries too and use catsup if you like it. The one thing I won’t do is get a regular soft drink. It’ll be either a diet soda or iced tea. But I was never a sugary soda drinker, even before.

So while it would be nicer for a reader to run into me when I’m preparing and enjoying something like this — a sous vide salmon with lemon butter dill sauce and roasted asparagus…

salmon sous vide
Salmon Sous Vide

…nope. Rather, it was a fast food joint. Sure, I could have shamefully walked on by after our conversation, but instead, I simply said, "well, I’m going in for a burger." And I did.

Now, mind you, this wasn’t a McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, or even the higher quality Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s in the east). This was In-N-Out Burger, a privately owned family operation on the west coast for 60 years with no plans to ever franchise or go public. They have no freezers, no microwave, no heat lamps. Everything is fresh and high quality. They even cut their own potatoes for fries at each location. They have their own meat processing plant where they cut & grind their own beef from chuck that they purchase and inspect for quality, piece by piece. As fast food joints go, it’s the creme of the crop. Here, you can read about the history and the quality. So, while I don’t think any fast food — or restaurant food, for that matter — should play a daily or even moderately important role in anyone’s life, it is gratifying to know that some places still care about quality.

So, cheat, but go for something reasonable and tops in quality in its league. Want pizza? Then go to a gourmet joint. A cake? Go to a French pastry shop. Meat loaf, brown gravy and mashed potatoes? Go to the famous local mom & pop diner that’s always packed.

And above all, do it guiltlessly. Remember, while "paleo" is indeed an effective mythology, a principled framework we model and use for guidance, it’s neither authoritative, dogmatic or religious in nature. What you need to do is to get things 80-90% right, pay attention to how you feel primarily, and lift your head high when you go for a splurge.

Unearned guilt is for losers like this:

epic fail reading material fail
Epic Reading Material Fail –

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Kyle Bennett on February 11, 2010 at 14:50

    In ‘n’ Out does “protein style”, wrapped in lettuce. I usually get the triple. I actually go there more often when I am watching carbs than when I am not.

  2. Chris G on February 11, 2010 at 14:08

    Amen, brother Richard! Preach it to the bretheren……

  3. Jeanie Campbell on February 11, 2010 at 14:09

    Oh man, I miss In-N-Out so much. Wish they would expand to Northern Colorado. *sigh*

  4. Matt on February 11, 2010 at 14:44

    I can’t really see much reason to apologize for In-N-Out. I spend a lot of time at Five Guys, a similar east coast joint. Bunless of course.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 11, 2010 at 14:48

      I had the bun, since it’s a cheat and I almost never go to a fast food joint unless it’s a cheat — except for El Pollo Loco, a joint that does flame grilled chicken, and they have a fresh salsa bar. Flame grilled chicken and avocado salsa and I’m set, in a pinch.

      Hold the tortillas, hold the beans.

    • Erica Douglass on February 12, 2010 at 21:55

      Well, you are luck you can “cheat” without severe consequences, I suppose. I have full-blown Celiac and cannot “cheat”. But I love their protein-style burgers and eat probably one a week. I always tell them “wheat allergy” and they are very friendly about it. The “wheat allergy” tag means they will change all their spaulas and clean the grill before they make your burger.

      Hopefully folks who are reading this understand this isn’t an option for Celiacs.

      BTW, I found your site because I was still feeling exhausted even after giving up gluten, and my doctor thinks it’s a corn intolerance. No gluten or corn means I’m pretty close to a Paleo diet.


    • Nicole on May 20, 2010 at 07:28

      I have a friend with adrenal fatigue who has been diagnosed intolerant to both wheat and corn. She is finding it difficult to avoid both. Maybe the two intolerances are more common than we think.
      Good luck to you.

    • Matt on February 11, 2010 at 16:18

      Yeah 5G is my pinch place, helps that it’s right outside the office. I ask for a lettuce wrap and I get at least 5 leaves on top and bottom, and the manger stopped by one of the first few times I got it, and asked if it was to my satisfaction. Apparently the region has been seeing growth in folks asking for lettuce wraps which was great to hear. That plus the toppings and the fat dripping off the buger and I’ve got a great burger salad!

  5. John Campbell on February 11, 2010 at 14:58

    Richard – I love it – you are so right. We have to remember why we are doing all this – for life – for the sheer joy of drawing our healthy breath for as long as possible while enjoying the ride as much as possible. Consuming great food, even if it is not always paleo is no sin or sign of moral weakness, let alone depravity. Life is short – the paleo lifestyle is designed to enhance and lengthen our lives – not make our lives just seem longer.

    Your picture illustrating this is awesome. It reminds me of the punch line to a long joke about religious intolerance – gives examples of one religion not recognizing another because they are not correct etc etc, finally – Baptists do not recognize other Baptists in adult bookstores. That picture makes me laugh.

  6. Aaron Blaisdell on February 11, 2010 at 15:22

    Ah, every Saturday I take the girls to the park for a picknick. We always stop by In-N-Out for the burgers and fries. My wife and I each get the double-double protein style and light on the sauce. My 4 year old still wants the bun, but hey, so did I at her age. Now I actually enjoy it more wrapped in lettuce. Something about lettuce and onions and grilled meat just makes my mouth drool! Sure, the fries are cooked in rancid, oxidized omega-6 filled vegetable oil, but I eat more strictly paleo the rest of the time, including my daily cod-liver oil that I don’t sweat it.

    El Pollo Loco is our other paleo-friendly fast food joint of choice. And I’ve never had any trouble getting my kebab served on lettuce instead of rice at the local mall food court. In fact, they recently started advertising this combo as their “low carb” option! I think paleo (or at least anti grains) is starting to catch on in the general community. Well, this is California, so things usually first start going mainstream here.

  7. Tim Starr on February 11, 2010 at 15:31

    I’ve been a big fan of In&Out for a while, and was thrilled to discover their protein-style burgers after I ditched carbs. Now I get two protein-style double-doubles for lunch almost every Saturday after my martial arts workout. My wife & I have also been going to Hooters on a lot of Wednesdays to get their Wingsday special. It’s supposed to be boneless wings & fries for $5.99 each, but they let us get a side salad instead of the fries. Yummy!

  8. Patrik on February 11, 2010 at 15:33

    Hi Richard,

    Great post. For fast food, I too like In-n-Out and El Pollo Loco — although I suspect (but have no proof) that El Pollo Loco laces their chicken with some sort of food enhancer (i.e. MSG).

    I love the recommendation as to if you are gonna cheat, do as Richard says and cheat with quality.

    My kryptonite is pizza, and given that I am sensitive to gluten and avoid grains, I rarely have it, but when I do, I know I will likely feel hung-over-ish the next day, if not subject to an actual full-blown migraine.

    But for those Paleo folks in the LA/OC area, who like to cheat with quality pizza, I recommend Pavich’s Pizzeria in dirty ol’ San Pedro.

    Pics here:,0,1146241.photogallery

    Literally, a hole-in-the-wall. Croatian pizza. Amazing. Cannot say enough good things about it. If I am gonna blow myself up with a bolus of gluten-cum-carbs, I go there.

    BTW while I am on food-cheat recs, if you are gonna rock the bun with a hamburger and happen to be in the LA/OC area — rock the Father’s Office burger. The quality of the dry-aged meat is unparalleled.


  9. Organic Gabe on February 11, 2010 at 15:42

    Funny picture…. the second one.

  10. CFS on February 11, 2010 at 15:54

    What’s worse than cheating? Cheating on bad food. If I am going to cheat, I want to have the best too.

  11. Kim Williams on February 11, 2010 at 16:55

    We don’t have In-n-Out, but we do have 5 Guys!
    Chipotle is a good choice – 100% chicken & pork and 60% beef naturally raised. Produce from local growers when available.

  12. Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life on February 11, 2010 at 17:22

    I definitely cheat when I cheat. I gave up soda a long time ago, and I still rarely more than a couple french fries, but damn, if there’s something I really want – even if it’s fettucine alfredo with tiramisu after – I’ll get it without regret. I just don’t do it every day. I refuse to cripple over in guilt if I want a couple slices of pizza or some chicken wings. Sometimes this stuff just tastes good. But I’ll tell you one thing: I wouldn’t want to live off this stuff any more. There was a time when I craved it every day of the week, and now it’s a more infrequent desire. And in between I seriously love the real food I cook at home. So I figure I’ve got it made: awesome traditional foods at home, and an indulgent cheat meal once in a while. What more could I ask for?

    That picture is priceless, btw. Thanks for the laugh. 🙂

    • Richard Nikoley on February 11, 2010 at 17:40

      Amen (since we’re on the subject 🙂 Elizabeth.

      Actually, to the extent you make well-rewarded efforts to source and prepare your own delicacies is the the extent that the cheats are pretty rare. Sometimes I’ll go 2 months wothout a single significant cheat, and other times I’ll do 2 in a week, but that never lasts more than a week.

      I’ve been a bit more lax since realizing I’m so close to goal and cheats don’t put on any pounds beyond the normal fluctuations (never panic! and splurge for that reason). On the other weird hand, when I travel and have no choice but restaurants for days, I never cheat, because I know I’m getting some junk via n-6 in dressings, hidden wheat, general cross contamination and so on.

    • Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life on February 12, 2010 at 06:38

      Funny you should say that. Whenever I’m in a pinch and I *have* to eat out, I usually go for something healthy, because like you said, I’m probably getting in a bunch of hidden garbage whether I like it or not. When I cheat, I cheat, but when I’m forced to eat out it all looks gross to me!

  13. Danny on February 11, 2010 at 17:30

    I’m in 5 guys territory, but there is no Chipotle nearby. SalsaRitas is pretty good. When out west I go to El Pollo Loco, and I’d have to agree that it tastes suspiciously better than it should!

  14. Matthew Odette on February 11, 2010 at 18:15

    There’s definitely no need to apologize for ‘cheating’. You still only live once, following the Paleo diet shouldn’t prevent us from occasionally going out with the family (or friends). Nor should it stop us from celebrating holidays properly.

    My weak spot is a meat lover’s pizza paired with a Magic Hat Number 9.. or two (Vermont micro brew, try it sometime)

    • anand srivastava on February 11, 2010 at 21:47

      I also love pizza, but now I make it myself. That way it is better than the restaurant one ;-). It doesn’t contain any n6, and I decide what to season on it.

  15. Tom on February 11, 2010 at 19:30

    The protein-style at In-N-Out isn’t just an adequate substitute; it’s miles better than an already-magnificent burger.

    A bit messy, yes, but try one — you won’t believe how juicy and flavorful it is without the bun.

    After you get used to protein-style, a regular burger is like eating meat between a couple of slices of polyester fleece.

  16. Naomi on February 11, 2010 at 22:48

    I had one of those when I was in california, they’re really good 🙂

  17. Steve Carter on February 12, 2010 at 01:08

    I have fond memories of In-N-Out from a holiday in LA, 8 or 9 years ago. That place made the roadtrip from LA to SF. We had to head up the motorway (interstate?) rather than the coast road as we had a deadline. The only other memorable part of that trip was the whiff of shit as we approached and passed the biggest herd of cows I’ve ever seen (or am ever likely to see) in my life.

  18. Trish on February 12, 2010 at 04:11

    An In-N-Out double-double with Five Guys fries is pretty much the perfect fast food meal.

  19. Darrin on February 12, 2010 at 07:47

    Hell yeah In-N-Out burger! I’m moving to California soon and am looking forward to “cheating” there every now and again myself.

  20. Anna on February 20, 2010 at 09:56

    In-N-Out is one of my favorite “cheats” when we need to make a quick chow stop on a road trip. I keep an In-N-Out map in the glove box, but I suppose I can recycle that now that there’s an iPhone app ;-). Everyone in the family orders a triple burger without cheese with our preferred toppings (the “special sauce” is for sure the biggest cheat of all), protein style (bunless), with a cup of water. Mmmmm. Plastic forks & knives are nearly always required, as is a cardboard box “plate”. My son gets an order of fries; we steal a few.

    I’d drop INO in a heartbeat if there were more Burger Lounges.

    When we have the time while traveling, I try to find local eateries that aren’t fast food (Squeeze In!, Moo’s Creamery, and so on). It gets tiresome eating out of a cooler on the road but we do that, too. But I’m unapologetic about having an INO triple burger a few times a year.

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