Have you heard the bad news about sugar? If not, a quick Google search will outline all the horrible side effects of sugar consumption. It can kill you, so they say, or make you fat.
No doubt, too much sugar can harm your body, but so can too much of most anything else that tastes especially good (think pizza, bacon, butter, cheese, and wine). Quite frankly, I can think of worse ways to die than having dessert. And while I am prepared for the backlash and hate mail from medical professionals, nutritionists, dieticians, health coaches, and others who will disagree, I believe life is too short to give up sweets. Here’s why.
I was a chubby child—always one of the fattest girls in the class and the victim of many childhood taunts. I started dieting at age 12 and stopped that nonsense at about 30. As an adult, I finally figured out a way of eating that works for me, and that includes dessert once a day!
I am not overweight. My bloodwork is textbook “normal.” I’m not blessed with a naturally high metabolism, but I do make regular exercise a habit—not an obsession. I have simply learned to incorporate the treats I love into an otherwise healthy lifestyle. So, what’s my secret?
It’s all about everything else going into my body. My goal every day is to fill up on fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. That’s the basis of any healthy eating plan. But if you look into most every popular “diet,” what’s missing or lost in translation is the pleasure of eating. If you are happy living without dessert or have a medical reason or moral obligation to deprive yourself of sugar or any other particular ingredient or food, God bless you, and may you live to be 110. But if you are like most people I know, an occasional treat (or a moderate treat daily) is the stuff that makes life worth living. Fill in the blank: I can’t imagine a world without _____. Maybe it’s cheeseburgers, French fries, or nachos. If you’re lucky, it’s spinach or kale. For me, it’s cookies, buttercream frosting, and coconut pie.
If you need to drop a few pounds, sugar may not be your best friend, but it doesn’t have to be your mortal enemy. When trying to lose weight, one of the worst things you can do is ban all indulgences, which creates a feeling of deprivation. Remember when you were a child and you were told not to touch something? What was the first thing you wanted to do? Touch it, of course. It works the same way with food, even for grownups. The more we tell ourselves that a certain food is off-limits, the more we will crave that food. And cravings almost always lead to a binge. (While following a particularly restrictive diet in my early 20s, I fell off the wagon and ate a whole batch of cookie dough without baking a cookie. I gained five pounds overnight!) Some diet plans recommend a cheat day, but this strategy often backfires, too. Because one day of gorging can effectively undo a whole week’s worth of healthy eating, setting you up for more cravings, not to mention the sense of failure and self-loathing. Who needs that?
A more reasonable plan—one that will work long-term—allows you to forgo the misery and satisfy your cravings in controlled portions. The key is limiting the amount you consume so that a cup of ice cream doesn’t turn into a whole carton. Going from a small portion to an all-out binge is much less likely when you don’t feel like the food is forbidden. A trick that works for me is not keeping the most tempting foods in my house. Therefore, I have to go out someplace for my splurge. This allows me time to decide if it’s worth it and a chance to get out and have something truly delicious without fear of losing control.
To my surprise and delight, since giving myself permission to have dessert every day, my health has actually improved, along with my attitude and disposition. I attribute it to the fact that I no longer feel the need to sneak my treats or fear that I will overindulge. By enjoying a little bit of what I love every day, I can stay ahead of cravings by preventing them before they start. And when I do indulge, I can skip the side of guilt and shame, because nothing I eat feels like a cheat. There’s always enough, and I can have more if I want it with no fear of punishment or impetus to atone. When taking this approach, more often than not, a small cookie, a scoop of ice cream, or an individual chocolate square is enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. And when I do have something more decadent, I eat until I’m satisfied, not stuffed. This little mind game not only saves my sanity and my waistline, but it really does make me a more pleasant person to be around.
The second trick is always eating what I want—no substitutes. An apple (or three apples, for that matter) will not lessen my desire for an apple fritter! Nor will the modified sugar-free option. While there are many “healthier” adaptations of my favorite treats, I find a small portion of the real thing more satisfying than a larger portion of the slimmed-down version.
The beauty of dessert is that it does not have to pretend to be healthy. It’s simply one way of adding a little sweetness to life. Go ahead and have the cupcake with extra sprinkles, the deep-fried doughnut, the creamy gelato, the warm cookie, the fresh fruit cobbler, the delicate soufflé, the decadent chocolate lava dessert, the refreshing ice cream cone, or the Snickers bar at the checkout counter. You will eventually die of something; meanwhile, why not live a little? Enjoy your desserts!