Dessert and weight loss: The two don't have to be mutually exclusive! In fact, we'd argue that if you love sweets, cutting them out altogether could hurt, not help, when it comes to losing weight.
Yes, we're saying you can have your cake and eat it too (and still lose weight).
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The key is to make healthier choices when it comes to eating dessert, whether it's what you're eating, how often you're eating or how much.
Why Enjoying Dessert Can Help You Lose Weight
If you have a serious sweet tooth and are trying to lose weight, skipping sweets altogether could backfire. Enjoying dessert may actually help keep you on track — here's why:
You’ll Feel Less Deprived
It's incredibly difficult to maintain an all-or-nothing mentality 24/7. If you attempt this approach by banishing all "bad" foods and trying to sustain yourself on only "good" foods, it's likely you'll end up feeling deprived.
Deprivation is not fun, and the feeling can make it even more difficult to stay away from the things you enjoy. Worse yet, totally depriving yourself of dessert may increase your cravings, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You’re Less Likely to Overdo It
If you allow yourself to enjoy dessert as part of your weight-loss journey, you'll be less likely to "fall of the wagon." How many times have you eaten a piece of cake right before starting a diet and said to yourself "this is the last bite of dessert I'm ever having" only to finish a pint of ice cream three days later?
Deeming certain foods as off-limits and depriving ourselves of their enjoyment only increases our chances of seeking them out later. This is called the restrict-binge cycle, as explained by the Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association. In other words, bingeing can actually be a symptom of overly restricting yourself.
Instead, if you know you have a consistent hankering for the sweet stuff, factor that into your weight-loss approach. By incorporating dessert into your diet, you'll be more likely to stay on track in the long run.
Avoid Making These Common Mistakes When It Comes to Dessert
Giving yourself permission to eat dessert is a step in the right direction, but it's not a foolproof path to weight loss. When you are enjoying something sweet, be sure to avoid these common mistakes, which can derail your weight-loss progress.
1. Overdoing It
"Overdoing it" can look different for everyone. For some, mismanaging portion size can get in the way of your weight-loss efforts. Enjoying a chocolate ice cream cone is a delicious treat (about 400 calories), but sitting down with an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's is another story (about 1,200 calories).
The frequency with which you indulge may also keep you from your goals. If you're eating that same chocolate ice cream cone a couple times a week, it will likely stall your weight-loss efforts. The key is to keep portions in mind (being overstuffed doesn't feel good anyway) as well as how frequently you're eating these types of desserts.
If you feel you need something sweet every day, this is totally doable — again, it just comes down to portion size. A square of dark chocolate, a mini ice cream sandwich or a small cookie are all prime examples of a daily dessert that most likely will not sabotage your weight-loss efforts.
While everyone's needs are different, aiming for a dessert that's capped at 100 calories or less is a good place to start. Pre-portioned sweets like one cookie or a square of chocolate are also helpful in keeping your intake in check.
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2. Feeling Guilt or Shame After Eating Dessert
Giving yourself permission to enjoy dessert only to feel guilty about it afterward is counterproductive. If you feel this way, it means you still view dessert as a "bad food" and haven't fully accepted it as something that can be a healthy part of your eating plan.
When we deem foods as "good" or "bad" we're implying mutual exclusivity, and this just isn't how food works. This mentality associates foods with morality, and this line of thinking can backfire.
A March 2014 study in Appetite found people with a weight-loss goal who associated chocolate cake with feelings of guilt were less successful at losing actual weight than those who associated the dessert with feelings of celebration. In other words, how you view certain foods can have an effect on your weight-loss success.
Working to fully embrace and enjoy dessert — before, during and afterward — will help you have a healthier mindset and approach to your weight-loss goals.
To prevent feeling guilt or shame, pay attention to how you view food. If you find yourself labeling foods as "good" or "bad," try reframing your thoughts and language around food. Try thinking of "food is fuel" instead. You may also want to work with a dietitian or therapist to address your relationship with food.
3. Feeling Compelled to 'Burn It Off'
This is in line with feeling guilty or ashamed about eating dessert. You view dessert as "bad" and therefore you need to rid your body of it. This mentality means you haven't fully given yourself permission to enjoy dessert while trying to lose weight, and you feel the need to correct the misstep by burning off the calories or "punishing" yourself through exercise.
Try reframing how you view food and/or exercise independently and as they work together. If you find yourself struggling with this, you may want to work with a dietitian or mindfulness coach to reframe how you view food and exercise.
- Mayo Clinic: "Weight Loss: Gain Control of Emotional Eating"
- Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association: "Is it Binge Eating Disorder (BED) or are you stuck in a vicious cycle?"
- USDA: "Ice Creams Chocolate"
- Ben and Jerry's: "American Cone Dream"
- Appetite: "Chocolate cake. Guilt or celebration? Associations with healthy eating attitudes, perceived behavioural control, intentions and weight-loss"