It's funny that this thread just popped up, because I got to thinking of a question in the same general bucket just last night.
On occasion, you may find yourself eating something that doesn't jive with the whole Paleo/Primal thing. I know I've had to eat things (see above linked thread) that don't -- and I've had no ill effects, no stomach problems, no weight gain, no headaches, nothing.
Would it stand to reason that once in a rare while, it's a good thing to go off the path, even in a small dose, so the body is used to it? Not from a psychological standpoint, i.e. needing to reward oneself or satisfying a craving, but to let the body maintain the ability to process the (sugar/grain/whatever) without causing you discomfort?
(This is not to say you should scarf down a "Tear and Share" package of peanut M&M's in the name of being able to process milk chocolate later without a 20-minute trip to the loo.)
Interesting question. What you're suggesting is analogous to the "maintenance" phase of immunotherapy, where you may be injected with an occasional dose of bee venom or tree pollen to keep your allergic reactions at bay. Since reactions to neolithic foods are not usually allergic, I don't believe this would work for most. Some on paleo/primal diets report that their reactions to sugar or grains get worse the longer they're on paleo. However, for some the reactions get less severe as their metabolism heals itself. For me, my cheats are getting less frequent, but the symptoms from over-indulgence in carbs (mainly diarrhea) are neither more nor less severe than before paleo.
So the severity of symptoms from an occasional cheat probably depends more on an individual's metabolism rather than the frequency of cheating.
I heard an interesting bit about this topic in an old paleolithic solution podcast actually: the point was for soldiers going to iraq, etc. How if theyre too paleoprimal now when they are living on MREs theyre going to have digestive issues. So, just the idea that for those guys, they might do well to keep an element of processed carbs, etc in their way of eating now so they dont get all messed up in the field. By extension, i suppose itd be good to keep some unPaleo in your way of eating if you know youre going to be stuck in an environment that will not offer you good food options. Traveling may qualify, workplace maybe, etc.
I absolutely cannot eat gluten, because thanks to paleo I realized I have a serious gluten sensitivity. But I'm glad I've maintained my insulin sensitivity so that things like fruit or some occasional grits don't throw me off.
In Robb Wolf's seminar he also gave the perfect example of someone who needs to maintain a tolerance: people in the military. He makes sure his military clients cheat because they need to be able to tolerate MREs.
I think I know what you mean. It reminds me of the priciple of hormesis (wikipedia page here): a mild stressor that causes a healthy adaptation afterwards. Like exercise, cold or heat, maybe fasting, possibly alcohol.
I don't know however if this also applies for grains and other neolithic agents.
I would probably cheat less if I did have a reaction, but I don't. Well it's hidden, in any case. I just think in the real world, it helps to maintain a level of flexibility, so you don't go all weird and dogmatic.
I think it depends on the situation. If your gut if all torn up, then it may not be worth touching anything that might throw it off or make it worse. However, if you have no apparent probs with an occasional cheat, that might be another story.
The first time I went on lowcarb, I was absolutely diehard obedient for many months. Then finally I broke down and made a big cheat with a bunch of cake. End result was a few hours later, my gut started on a 3 day long purge of confusion. My gut if usually pretty tough and I had no idea that was going to be the outcome! Lesson for me is small cheats once in a while are not a problem but a big cheat after a long while of no cheat is something my gut can't handle.
I think sometimes people attribute reactions to cheating as being more sensitive but I suspect for many, it's simply a matter of your system adapting to what it usually eats and not being prepared for something radically different. Many people experience constipation when they first go on lowcarb but given time, the system adapts and the problem is gone. Some say it's because with high fiber, the gut no longer needs to physically push the food along so it gets lazy and no longer works as hard. But if you suddenly stop the fiber, the gut is left flat footed and takes a while to get back to work moving the food along via those contractions it does (forgot name of them).
I don't know if a bite of wheat now and then is a big deal in the long run for many people. I suspect if we just ate a bite now and then and never over did it for our whole lives, then very few people would have problems. But once the whole immune reaction kicks in, metabolism and insulin response is screwed up, etc, then the margin of safety is a lot smaller and the risk less worth it. But how dangerous is an occasional bite if no problems have yet come up? Hard to say..