When I applied to my dietetics program my opening line was “Hi, my name is Brigitte and I’m a chocoholic.” It was true almost 10 years ago, and it is still true now, nice to meet you! To be clear, I don’t just mean the dark chocolate 72 percent cacao stuff (which I do eat, frequently). I’m also all about any kind of chocolate dessert: chocolate chip cookies, chocolate peanut butter cups, chocolate-dipped fruit…I can go on and on, but I think you get the point. You may be thinking, “Wait, isn’t this chick supposed to be a registered dietitian?! She’s eating what?”
Yes, believe it or not, as a registered dietitian I eat and happily enjoy dessert daily. In fact, I think it is crucial to a healthy lifestyle to have a little treat each day, and that’s is exactly what I teach all of my clients.
By working in a little bit of what I love (chocolate) into my daily routine I never feel like I am depriving myself or restricting myself. There is nothing about deprivation or restriction that leads to long-term sustainable healthy eating or living. Depriving yourself of the foods you love almost always guarantees you will binge on them sooner or later. That binge will likely lead to you feeling guilty about eating something you should be enjoying and can snowball into even more overeating because of those guilty feelings. Instead, giving yourself a little bit of what you love each day allows you to feel good about your choices and prevents you from overeating it. So, that’s restriction, and we’re not into it.
Cheat meals are a popular strategy to avoid deprivation and enjoy foods you love, but they can backfire.
Cheat meals are pre-planned meals where you purposely let yourself eat whatever you want, including your favorite unhealthy treats. The theory is that this will ward off feelings of deprivation while allowing you to reach your healthy eating goals, since you’re eating nutritious foods the rest of the time.
The concept of a cheat meal can quickly backfire for a couple of reasons. First, you are likely to overeat at said cheat meal, because you have been “saving up for it.” With this attitude, portion control goes right out the window, either unintentionally (because, cheat meal!) or unintentionally because you’ve been too restrictive you can’t help but binge out. Either way, you’re overeating, which is not the healthiest way to incorporate that food into your life.
You’ve saved that food as a cheat because you love it, so shouldn’t you be eating it in a way that is enjoyable where you can savor every single bit without those inevitable sluggish feelings that come along with overeating? In addition, having too much of a sweet cheat can lead blood sugar spikes and dips that ultimately have you craving more sugar throughout the day and week. This is why so many cheat meals turn into cheat days—the opposite of what your cheat meal was supposed to prevent. And why didn’t it prevent it? Because cheat meals don’t work. What does work? Having a treat every day.
Enjoying a daily dessert helps you get ahead of your cravings and approach food in an emotionally healthy way.
By allowing yourself to have dessert every day you are making the healthy choice to prevent overeating, to prevent binging out, to say goodbye to those sluggish feelings weighing you down, and to stay in control of your food cravings. By giving yourself a little bit of what you love everyday, you are ahead of the craving game by preventing them before they even start—and if you do have them, satisfying them does not feel like a cheat or guilt-ridden choice.
It’s important to follow a few basic principles if you want to eat dessert daily and keep your diet relatively healthy overall.
So how do I stay healthy while eating dessert on a daily basis? First, it is all about everything else going into my body that day. My goal every day is to fill up on as many fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins as I can.
The beauty of dessert is that it is not pretending to be healthy, it is not pretending to be anything other than what it is: a sweet thing to enjoy. In contrast, sneaky sugars that are hiding in some packaged foods, cereals, protein bars, juices, and bottled teas or coffees, that disguise themselves as healthy but really have just as much sugar as a slice of cake. It is these added sugars that we need to pay attention to (by reading nutrition labels) and avoid. I am very mindful to be conscious about where my sugar is coming from during the day. I want to be in total control of when, where, and how we take in our sugar, for me that will always be a chocolate chip cookie over a cereal or granola bar.
The second part to eating dessert every (single) day, is the amount. Yes, portion control is key. I know that there are a lot of “healthier” versions of your classic favorites treats out there today, but I find that a little bit of the real stuff is always much more satisfying and prevents additional cravings later than having a larger portion of the fake, slimmed down version.
As you eat dessert, savor each and every delicious bite without feeling guilty or like you just blew the whole day. Trust me, it will hit the spot in a healthful way that will have you feeling satisfied and energized to keep reaching for your health goals. If you’re not a sweets person, your indulgence can de something salty or savory, but the same principles apply: keep your portion in check, and choose mostly nutritious foods the rest of the time. Want more of it? No problem, you can have some again tomorrow!