Want to have your cake and eat it, too? Create a mindful strategy for enjoying guilt-free treats.
To splurge or not to splurge? That is the perennial weight-loss question. Should you allow for occasional indulgences in your healthy-eating program, or say a firm “no” out of fear they will sabotage your results? Once you start a new regimen, it can be scary to stray from it. So how can you navigate the path of progress without veering into perfectionism? Here’s some professional counsel.
Differentiate Between Everyday Eats and Indulgences
“I had pizza last night — I know it’s bad!” As a nutrition coach, I often hear this from my clients. As a food lover myself, I’ve never been a fan of labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” since it can associate emotional negativity with eating. I worry it can also promote impossible expectations — the idea of needing to eat “perfectly” to be successful in weight loss.
Instead, I like to identify everyday foods and indulgences, with the understanding that both are important.
Everyday foods are your whole foods, including non-starchy vegetables, fruits, high-quality meats and cheeses, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and whole-kernel grains. We should all be striving to make these foods the center of our eating because they provide optimum nutrition.
Indulgences are pizza, pasta, ice cream, cookies — foods that are generally higher in refined carbs and lower in beneficial nutrients (although homemade versions can be healthier).
Differentiating between foods in this way clarifies which ones promote health and which do not. But it also gives us an opportunity to consume something “special” and not instantly feel guilty or bad about it. Instead, own each choice, and balance indulgences with more everyday foods at your next meal.
Take A MINDFUL Approach
We all differ in how often we can include indulgent foods in our routines. Some of us have unhealthy behaviors with specific foods. Even if we eat the smallest portion possible, consuming it spirals us off our healthy path and submerges us in guilt.
If you have strong emotional connections with certain foods, it might be best to avoid those foods, particularly until you feel more confident.
It’s also important not to use indulgences as a reward for eating healthy. It’s better to own the reality that you consumed an indulgent food and that it has an assigned place in your healthy life than to justify its consumption because you ate well all week long. If indulgent choices still elicit guilt, you might ask yourself if your eating plan is too restrictive.
It’s not about earning a privilege. It’s about living a balanced life that fosters good health. Here are some supportive strategies for doing just that:
Limit the indulgence to a meal or part of a meal. This way, your day still includes ample nutrition versus having a “cheat day” of indulgent foods and no nutrients. You’ll be more likely to follow up the next day with a full routine of everyday foods and not feel like you fell off your program.
Plan for it. A lot of people plan for pizza or pasta nights each week. It’s something for them to look forward to. And because it’s planned, that does away with the guilty feeling.
When you plan for an indulgence, it also allows you to thoughtfully select and prepare the food. Many people make their own pizzas and choose the crust and toppings, including a gluten-free crust or pasture-fed meats. They end up feeling even more satisfied because they’ve gone through this intentional, self-nurturing process. And their version usually tastes better, too!
Know what a true craving is. In the beginning, this can be challenging. Especially if you’re eating a diet filled with processed foods, cravings are often provoked by biochemical “addictions” to the foods you are eating rather than from an authentic sense of what you’d most enjoy.
If you’ve been thinking about pasta, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, own the craving and plan to allow yourself that pasta the next day. You’ll avoid feelings of guilt by not giving in spontaneously to the craving. Plus, you might find the craving subsides by the time the next day comes.
Use the 80% rule. If you can practice good habits 80 percent of the time, you’ll succeed. You need to enjoy what you are eating. Otherwise, you won’t stick to the plan over time.
Choose your splurges. Sometimes you’ll be faced with indulgent foods in the moment, say, at a family event or social get-together. Strive to differentiate between your everyday foods and your indulgences, and then determine which splurges will be most satisfying. Couples may want to talk about this decision at dinner and choose either a dessert or an alcoholic beverage, but not both.
Make it worth it. I’m a foodie. That means when I indulge, I make sure it’s worth it. If ice cream sounds like a good idea, I don’t buy a diet or low-sugar brand. I’m going for the gelato. And I choose a brand that has a short ingredient list of real foods — not junk and chemicals.
Go for the good stuff that will truly satisfy. And allow yourself the chance to relish each and every bite.