I have good news: Dessert doesn’t have to be off limits! In fact, it actually can be a rewarding part of a healthy, happy lifestyle. How? Well…
What if you were a kid raised on a farm out in the middle of nowhere, where the only meals you ever ate were the ones that your mama made from scratch with her own two hands. All of the fruit, vegetables, meat and grains used to create each meal came from the land right outside your front door, or, from the small general store in town several miles away. You knew nothing of Doritos, 100-calorie packs or diet soda – just pure, simple, whole foods.
Each start to a new season was exciting because that meant the garden would then offer a new variety of fruit and vegetables, which also meant that the desserts offered after dinner would change, too. Apple or pumpkin pies in the autumn and winter transitioned to fresh berry or peach cobblers during spring and summer.
Any free time during the day was spent on your feet working on the farm with your dad, playing outside, or by helping your mom in the garden or kitchen. No one really sat down for long periods of time until the evening hours.
The holidays that came and went throughout the years always included treats, such as a peppermint stick in your Christmas stocking. Having candy was rare and special, so you made that peppermint stick last as long as possible. To go along with this idea, what if there was no such thing as social media, beauty magazines, quick-fix diet books or even television…? What if the word “diet” didn’t even exist in your vocabulary? No one you knew complained about being fat or having the desire to lose weight…and there was no one telling you that those homemade pies and cobblers were “bad” foods.
If this were how you were raised, how would you then feel about food as you got older? Would you turn down a slice of bread from the loaf baked fresh that morning, simply because you thought carbs were bad? Or would you feel guilty after eating dessert because foods like that make you fat? Not likely, because you never learned such ideas.
If the above scenario were your reality, then you were never taught to fear food or feel guilty for eating any type of food. The only thing that would ever determine whether you took a bite of anything would be the voice coming from your stomach called hunger. That’s it. Your stomach either tells you to eat or it doesn’t. You’re either hungry enough to accept the piece of pie after dinner or you’re not. And even if you do accept it, it’s easy to set down the fork after just a few bites for no other reason other than you’ve had enough.
Oh – I forgot to mention, this farm-raised version of you never endures a weight problem. Yep, that’s right – slim and trim for all of your days, dessert and all!
Can you imagine such a life? Eating dessert on regular basis without feeling bad about it or having a weight problem…. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Well, I’m here to say that it’s possible to live life like this, but it does require some time and work.
Here’s how to change your lifestyle to more resemble that life on a farm described above:
- It’s time to rewire your brain and let all of the crazy diet rules go. We live in world completely saturated with diet rules, and when you buy into them, many times it creates an unhealthy relationship with food. Here’s a common “rule”: “Avoid eating carbs, especially desserts. These foods make you fat.” “Rules” like these won’t do us any favors.
- When immense guilt or fear is attached to a food you love, usually because of the latest diet you’re following, you’ll fight with all of your might not to eat it. But then a day will come that you finally give in to temptation, and instead of having just one cookie, you eat several. Once you’ve finally decided you’ve had enough, you then feel terrible about yourself and promise that you’ll start your next “diet” the following day. The vicious cycle starts all over again.
- It may take weeks or several months to let go of all the diet rules you have disrupting your relationship with food. Be patient with yourself as it may take some time.
- Stop yourself whenever you find that you’re mentally or verbally hating on carbs or desserts. Instead, admire them for what they are – beautiful treat foods that serve a purpose in this world.
- Eating bread or dessert doesn’t make you fat. It’s the over-consumption of food in general that packs on the pounds.
- Really listen closely to your hunger pangs that signal when it’s time to eat. Many times we eat because we’re procrastinating, bored or stressed. Eating when you’re not truly hungry leads to consuming more calories than you need.
- Pretend you really do live on a farm with no access to processed foods. Instead, revolve your diet around unprocessed whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and lean protein. Make this the majority of what you eat, as these foods are loaded with fiber, nutrients and protein. Foods like these are very filling and keep cravings at bay, which means you end up eating less overall. Processed foods, on the other hand, offer very little nutrients and fiber, which after eating leaves us feeling unsatisfied and hungry for more.
- Be as active as possible. Walk as much as you can. Choose to stand instead of sit. Ride a bike to work. Take the stairs. Meet friends for hikes or walks instead of lunch or coffee. Every extra bit of movement counts. It all adds up!
- And finally, when it comes to dessert, listen to your body. Eat it when you really want it. You’ll know it when you do. If you do decide to have something sweet, fully enjoy it by involving all of your senses. Pay attention to the smells, tastes and textures of the dessert. Take your time and savor each and every bite without any distractions such as TV or phones. After about 3 – 5 bites, you’ll probably notice that the dessert has lost it’s sparkle, or pizzazz, if you will. That’s a sign that your body has had enough. Set the fork down and let it be, knowing that you can have dessert again in the near future if you want it. If the dessert hasn’t lost it’s sparkle after a 3 – 5 bites and you still truly want more, that usually means you’re eating something really special and rare. As you continue eating, just be sure to truly enjoy each and every bit until you’ve had enough. Once you’re done, ignore any guilt that may creep up. Instead, think or say out loud, “Wow, that was SO GOOD!” and continue on with your day. Be sure to listen to hunger queues and only eat again when you’re truly hungry.
- Pay attention to how that dessert makes you feel afterward. High sugar foods tend to make our hearts race, bring on slight headaches and cause energy crashes shortly after consumption. Really focus on that, as attaching these negative feelings to dessert foods make them less desirable to eat on a regular basis. However, the smaller the amount you eat, the less likely you’ll experience those negative side effects.
- If you have a major sweet tooth and find yourself wanting something sweet every day, then find the best options for yourself and keep your portions appropriate for your lifestyle. Jeff and I keep dark chocolate with almonds bars in the house. We keep them in a drawer separate from the rest of the food so they don’t temp us throughout the day. When we’re really in the mood for a square or two of chocolate, we know where to find it. Sometimes I’ll chase that bit of chocolate with a few cashews just to “change the subject” on my taste buds and in my mind so that I’m not tempted to go back for more. I’m a big sucker for a good chocolate chip cookie every now and then, too. Only on special occasions do we eat larger desserts such as cake, bowls of ice cream or pie. We’re not on our feet for 12 hours a day working on a farm, so we try not to eat like we do! It’s important to eat according to your lifestyle.
Bottom line: Let’s love dessert again! Dessert is not responsible for our weight or health issues, our overall lifestyle choice are. Pick and choose the moments that you enjoy decadent treats carefully. The rest of the time, eat whole, unprocessed foods that come from the ground. And lastly, be as active as possible. It’s important that we all find that balance for ourselves so that we never have to completely swear off the foods that we love.