There are different levels of cheating depending on how strict you are to begin with. But in your mind how often do you cheat and give-in to an urge?
For me, the big cheat is eating a whole bar of 85% dark chocolate once a week or so. Theres really not that much sugar, so it's not a major cheat.
I have had pizza about once a month since going primal but that might start to get even more spaced out. Alcohol is also hard to avoid,which I am indulging in less and less over time, maybe 2-3 drinks a week now (and never beer). I ate ice cream once in the past month but I've realized that dairy really is not good for me so I'm avoiding that going forward.
I don't cheat, I cut myself slack. The world is not perfect, and while I strive to excel at eating this way, I'm not interested in punishing myself.
As long as I strive, I'll keep on improving, if I cut myself slack, I cannot fail. If I cannot fail, there is no reason for me to give up my long slow pursuit of perfection.
First of all i'm not fond of the word cheat. If I decide to eat foods I normally don't I strive to do so joyfully. Cheat=guilt. I find I rarely make exceptions, I I'd imagine it is because I look at it the way I do. I find that I actually do not want to eat the things I used to crave. Now that I have started eating with nurishment as my goal, rather than pleasure everything has changed.
This probably depends a lot on why you're doing it in the first place. For myself, I'm trying to fight Crohn's Disease, so avoiding "real" cheats has been pretty trivial, since all I have to do is think, "would this keep the disease going or not" when looking at a food. And now that I'm off my medication, I have an additional whip cracking every time I look at a food - there's no, "Well the meds are working" excuse anymore.
For people trying to lose weight or fight more undefined problems it's probably much harder to be super strict since the stakes are lower. Cheating every now and then probably won't screw up your weight loss goals all that much, so that pizza slice or whatever (unless it gives you an immediate symptom) is much easier to see as harmless. Even if you do have a long cheat week or something and gain some weight, you can get back on the horse at any time. In a way, while this makes cheats easier to justify, it also could help people in the long term; if they've made a real commitment to health, they've made a long term commitment, and so a bump in the road won't look like such a big deal in five years time.
I prefer to think of it as "reward" versus "cheat," especially given how hard it can be sometimes to stay true to this lifestyle despite the barrage of unhealthy options made so easily available, you know?
That being said...
As a pastry chef, I have to sample my work. I'm talking a small bite here and a spoonful there, and in very limited frequency. Yesterday I had to sample three different desserts (a cake and two ice creams) to make sure they came out right. Unfortunately, it's the sort of thing I can't have someone else do and then be told "what something tastes like." I have to do it myself. Do I feel guilty? Eh, a little, but that's a conversation for another time.
The way I look at it, I'm sticking to Paleo at a very high percentage of the time. So to occasionally put something in my face that's not on the diet...I'll live. I really don't sit down and have an entire meal that's unPaleo, although the thought has crossed my mind.
I think cheating is a two headed monster, especially from person to person. And then there is the whole debate on whether your are "Paleo" or "Primal" and all that rhetoric, and there are some areas where the communities clash.
No soap box to stand on, but I rarely cheat. But I guess I consider myself Primal+Dairy per se.
If a strict Paleo person looked at my diet, they probably could light me up on many different things. I have grass-fed cream in my coffee nearly every morning, I drink 10oz of grass-fed milk post work out ( 3x a week), I still use a bit of condiments that have cane sugar in them, sour cream with mexican dishes, a bottle or 2 of wine per month, and I have the occasional handful of berries once or twice a week.
I do not have any immunological diseases or any negative reaction to the dairy that is currently in my diet, so I continue to supplement with it, smartly of course. BUT, there are some things I have cut out of my diet for good and will never go back to: ALL grains, ANYTHING with HFCS/CS, all diet sodas, most nuts, legumes.
So, in the end, when I do cheat, its usually with things that are still Primal/Paleo, I just have a little bit more of them. So if I feel like I need a reward, I'll eat more berries, or have more sweet potatoes, or have a little bit more wine.
I've been following this path for just a little bit over 10 months, with fantastic results. Could I be further along without the dairy, wine, or fruit? Maybe, maybe not. But my meals taste great, Im in ketosis on a daily basis, its convenient, and there isn't much thought involved.
Eh, cheat, shmeat. Once a week I get a Lake Champlain chocolate/maple thingie at the checkout. One. That's my treat since I pretty much cut out alcohol and most fruit (the latter temporarily as I need to cut body fat). Won't hurt me.
In the 4 years I have been on this path I have not "cheated" once. When I made the decision to get my weight and health back in my control I have kept a clear vision of what I want to achieve. I know that my previous lifestyle was the cause of my problems so why on earth would I want to return to those ways even for a second? Foolishness! I'll bet you don't put substandard fuel or oil in your car for a "cheat". Well I won't put substandard fuel in me either. Besides in all that time I have felt absolutely no compulsion to cheat. YMMV.
I maybe 'cheat' once a week when it comes to food and it may come in the form of eating organic chocolate or a pizza night. And even then it is minimal as far as quantity of consumption and I don't feel guilty because that just won't help matters any. ;-)
I do indulge in a couple of ounces of scotch, bourbon, or wine a couple of times a week if that's considered 'cheating'. Since going Paleo about a year ago the 'cheats' aren't as extreme because my body just doesn't crave the bad stuff anymore. Clean eating and simple eating seems to have gotten rid of those pesky craving monsters that have a tendency to lurk somewhere inside..especially for a female. ~Cat~
Dr. Eades has an interesting post on this idea, from just the lowcarb viewpoint. Carb spikes cause a lot of free radical damage.