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Why You Should Say Yes to Dessert

MAC Nutrition Team - Friday, November 16, 2018

The Sneaky Psychology of Dessert and Why You Should Enjoy It

For many of us, the holiday season can pose a challenge when it comes to food and nutrition. Perhaps you’re trying to be “good” and stay away from sweets, or you have weight-loss goals, or you’re trying to cut down on the carbs. Whatever your nutrition-related goals might be, the abundance of desserts, heavy and creamy dishes, holiday drinks, and other “bad” foods during the holiday season may seem like they’re throwing a monkey-wrench into your plans. You might end up having an internal struggle at every holiday event. Or, maybe you end up cutting entire food groups out of your diet to maintain some sense of control. Or you might give up altogether until January.

However, this holiday season, perhaps this food struggle doesn’t have to happen. Instead, you might be able to flip the holiday diet script and end up feeling free to eat whatever you want without feeling “out of control.” It may take some time to get there, but feeling a sense of freedom around food, like you can eat any food you want without feeling like you’re “overdoing” it, is possible, and the holiday season is a great time to practice the steps to getting there.

First, try stopping yourself whenever you refer to a food as “good” or “bad.” There are no good or bad foods; all food is just food, and there are times and places when certain foods are more satisfying or feel better than other foods. This is even true during the holiday season. Holiday cookies and cakes and pies are not “bad.” It is possible to eat so much pie you end up feeling sick or to eat past the point at which the pie is satisfying or even enjoyable anymore. It is also possible to eat pie so often it no longer feels special, and you don’t appreciate it as much. None of this makes pie “bad,” it just means there is a time for pie, a place for pie, and an amount of pie which works best for you.

This question of time, place, and amount is different for everyone. You might enjoy a cookie every day, while your friend might find having one every day takes the joy out of the experience. She might prefer to have cookies only on special occasions. In this case, you prefer to savor a cookie every day, while your friend prefers to wait for her favorite cookie that she only enjoys once a year. Neither approach is “bad” - it's all about what works for each person.

The question then becomes: How do you determine your own personal answer to these questions of time, place, and quantity? The answer lies in listening to your body. Pay close attention to your hunger and fullness cues to learn when and how much to eat. If you stop putting food in “good” and “bad” categories and feel permitted to eat any food at any time, there will no longer be a sense of urgency around food. Thoughts like: “I didn’t let myself have sugar all month, so now I get to have as much cake as I want,” which may lead to having half the cake, become transformed. Your thoughts might instead become: “I can have cake whenever I want, so let me start with a piece and see how I feel.” This way of thinking lends itself to making choices that feel a lot better in the physical sense, and also a lot more balanced emotionally.

You also get to decide for yourself how important certain treats are for you. The everyday grocery store cookies at the next office meeting may not be important enough to you to eat, while your favorite cookie recipe at the next holiday party might be something you don’t want to miss. This distinction is up to you, so check in with yourself to discover the answers.

The bottom line? Go ahead and have dessert at your next holiday party! Celebrations are the perfect time to enjoy your favorite pecan pie or your sister’s amazing brownie recipe. If you follow these steps, chances are the pecan pie or brownie will be purely enjoyable, rather than something to feel guilty about.

Today's holiday-survival post is from Louisa Paine, Registered Dietitian at The Mount Auburn Club.

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The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your registered dietitian regarding any dietary modifications or nutrition-related questions.