I’m a Dietitian and I love dessert. Yes, Dietitian and dessert were in the same sentence. Here is what I believe about dessert:
- Desserts are meant to be enjoyed.
- You should not feel guilty, bad about yourself, or regret after eating dessert.
- Make dessert health conscious when you can. If it’s not, that’s okay, too.
- A healthy lifestyle always has room for dessert.
Here is the thing, all too often people view desserts as “off limits” and “bad”. Desserts are put on the “restricted” list and there is this general acceptance that we need to stay away from them in order to stay healthy or reach a “diet” goal.
How often have you taken a bite of dessert only to be riddled with guilt and shame that comes snowballing down as if by default? And when deprivation has gone for too long, you may find yourself eating your way through half a cake wondering what magical powers you suddenly posses to consume that much cake in one sitting?
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. In fact, years ago that used to be me. I would, on a certain level, actually fear dessert. I would stress out over going to any occasion that may have dessert and “tempt” me into breaking my “diet”.
I feared losing control, that if I even took one bite I wouldn’t be able to stop. It was an all or nothing relationship. I either did not touch dessert or devoured them to the point of nausea.
The after effects were not pretty as the feelings of frustration, exasperation, guilt, and self-criticism poured in.
Needless to say, it made me miserable and I did not achieve the results I had hoped for either way.
The thing is, the more I learned about health and nutrition the more I understood that dessert is not the one to blame.
Because you see, it isn’t one singled out food item that will determine your health rather it is the overall dietary pattern that counts the most. Demonizing one food or food group is not the solution to reaching your health goals.
Fearing food is not the path to a happy and healthy life.
Foods should not be labeled “good” or “bad”. Health and nutrition is not black and white.
All too often we tell ourselves what we can’t do. Your brain sings the following mantra:
“You can’t have cake. You’ll get fat.”
“You can’t have ice cream.You’ll ruin a perfect dieting day. ”
“You can’t have cookies. You’ll be so unhealthy. ”
This restrictive mindset just make us want it more (you can read more about that in my post Why Willpower Is A Myth). And it makes us unhappy. It feeds into a toxic relationship with food. There is nothing healthy about that.
Now you may be thinking: Okay, Rachel, I get it – dessert is not the devil. So what do you suggest I do then? How can I incorporate dessert into my life without fear, guilt, shame or going on a bender?
Good question, and to be perfectly honest, the answer does not lie in one blog post. Creating a healthy relationship with food is an evolving process. It takes time to undo a restrictive mindset and to find balance.
But! Let me help you get started with these tips:
Do not make dessert off-limits.
By lifting the restriction you automatically make it less appealing. It’s just how your brain is wired- we want what we can’t have. This doesn’t mean you have to have dessert. It just means it’s an option if you do want one.
Make dessert worth it.
Indulge in desserts that you really love and will appreciate. Think: week old cookies in your pantry vs. creme brulee at a restaurant. Wouldn’t you rather to savor every bite of the creme brulee than eat old cookies? Um, yea. I vote creme brulee any day.
Share your dessert.
Serve a slice of cheesecake with 2 spoons and dig in with your significant other or a friend.
Pre-portion your dessert.
Rather than nibbling, in an attempt not to eat a whole slice – because let’s face it, those nibbles usually end up in more than a slice – portion out your serving and enjoy it sitting down in a relaxed state. Designating yourself a portion will leave you satisified vs cutting off pieces of cake inch by inch until you’ve eaten more than your fair share without even properly enjoying it.
Listen to your body.
This may be the most important one. And the most challening, because it takes time to learn. It means that you should start to get in tune with what your body is telling you. Are you feeling heavy after a large ice cream cone? Then perhaps you can have a smaller serving next time. Are you really in the mood of that candy or are you just thinking about it because it’s in front of you? Honor what your body is telling you. Start to create awareness of how your body feels before and after eating. After a while you will be surprised to find that you may be saying “hey, I’m actually not in the mood of cookies right now, maybe later. Thanks anyway.” Or you may take 3 bites of cake and feel satisfied. Yes, I promise that’s possible!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying have all the sugar you want. Yes, too many desserts is an unhealthy lifestyle. But your body won’t steer you wrong. Start to listen to it and it will tell you when the sugar load is too much in the form of fatigue, nausea, feeling heavy and sluggish, and even headaches – feelings you will want to avoid. Trust your body to tell you when you’ve had enough and, most importantly, HONOR that message by responding accordingly.
It takes time to rewire your brain from the restrictive thought pattern you have become accustomed to. Resolving the negative emotions, such as guilt and stress, that you associate with foods you view as “bad” or “off-limits” is a process. But it can be done. Trust me, I’ve been there. You just have to take the first step in the right direction.
So bottom line message to you is….
Instead of restricting desserts start to become mindful about them, increase awareness of how you feel before and after eating, pre-portion your desserts and try to share when you can. Incorporating dessert into an overall healthy diet made up primarily of whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, etc. is perfectly acceptable and, even more, will contribute to your happiness which is a very healthy thing indeed!
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