You probably think that nutritionists have it all figured it out when it comes to health and nutrition. But even the savviest of nutrition experts have to learn to manage their food vices. (Yes, we all have them!) Ten nutritionists shed light on what they struggle with and provide tips on how to indulge while maintaining a healthy diet.
1. Late-Night TV and Snack Binging
We've all been there. You binge-watch a TV series far into the night, telling yourself over and over, "Just one more episode, and then I'm going to bed." Dinner was hours ago and you're feeling a little hungry, so it's time to rifle through the pantry for something fun to eat. This is an issue Carolyn O'Neil, M.S., RDN, author of "The Slim Down South Cookbook," says she's struggled with. "Two bad things are happening here: not getting enough sleep and consuming excess calories. So when I watch a TV series now, I brew a pot of chamomile tea and sip it slowly while the drama unfolds. And maybe I'll have one small cookie," she says. "The chamomile tea makes me feel sleepy and helps me save that next episode for tomorrow."
Read more: Healthy Before-Bed Snacks
2. Wine While Cooking Dinner
Sipping wine and cooking dinner seem to go hand in hand. But what happens when that wine glass gets topped off multiple times? "Over the years my 'one' glass of wine while cooking dinner started becoming more. While I certainly don't regularly drink to excess, even four ounces (half a cup) more of red wine is a whopping 100 extra calories," says Regan Jones, RD, founding editor at HealthyAperture.com. "This year I've let go of the idea that I 'need' a glass of wine to enjoy while cooking dinner. Instead, I focus on talking to my kids about their day, snacking on something healthy or even sipping on sparkling water. I save the wine — and the calories — for nights out with my husband and friends. I see a difference around my waistline and have even noticed improvement in my sleep."
3. Chocolate Anything
When it comes to food vices, one of the first things that comes to mind for most people are sweets. "I can't go a day without some sort of chocolate, including low-fat chocolate milk, chocolate ice cream and chocolate candy. I know my milk-chocolate habit provides me with not only excess calories, but few nutrients," says Elisa Zied, M.S., RDN, CDN, author of "Younger Next Week." While total deprivation of chocolate (or sugar in general) can lead to overindulgence, a small amount each day can satisfy you while still being part of a healthy diet. "I limit myself to one low-fat chocolate milk a day and buy only mini-size chocolates instead of whole candy bars. Oftentimes I'll opt for a few chocolate-covered almonds or cashews so that at least I'm getting the protein, fiber and healthy fats from the nuts. And when I want chocolate ice cream, I serve it in a Dixie cup for portion control."
4. Baked Goods
Fresh-baked treats are pretty much impossible to resist for most of us. "I love the aroma of baked goods in my home; it always brought my kids to the kitchen. But my three growing boys were able to afford the calories of seemingly unlimited muffins and cookies. While I, on the other hand, had to keep an eye on portion sizes," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of "Read It Before You Eat It." In addition to portion control, improving the quality of the ingredients is key to turning a dietary disaster into a somewhat healthy snack. "I swap in whole-wheat pastry flour for white bleached flour and mashed avocado for butter," Taub-Dix says. "I also make mini muffins instead of gigantic ones so that I don't overindulge."
Read more: 8 "Bad" Habits Science Says Are Actually OK
5. French Fries
While some people go weak in the knees for sweets, others are temped by savory delights. "I have never met a french fry I didn't like. For years, I tried to avoid them because I struggled with the ability to have just a few," says Keri Gans, RDN, nutritionist, certified yoga teacher and author of "The Small Change Diet." "Then I started to purposely include them in my meal, and the more in control I became. For example, instead of toast and home fries I will order french fries with my eggs when at a diner. If I am enjoying a burger, I lose the bun and make room for the fries. It was only once I made peace with my love of fries that I could eventually just eat a few."
6. Afternoon Munchies
It's all too common — that afternoon energy slump that makes us reach for a pick-me-up. "As my attention span wanes in the afternoon I feel like grabbing a snack, even though I am really not 'hungry' in terms of my body needing fuel. It's more that my body needs a break from my work routine. As I get older, I need fewer calories, so I can not afford to take in those extra foods that I really don't need," says Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, author of "Plant-Powered for Life." The best thing to do if you're not physically hungry is to give yourself a break in other ways. "I'll often have a nice cup of tea, a short stretch and walk for 10 minutes as a pleasant diversion," Palmer says.
7. Minty Desserts
The soothing taste of mint brings out the best in creamy chocolate, which is why it's such a popular combo. "Unfortunately, most minty desserts are sources of boatloads of added sugar, especially if you can't stop at one serving," says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of "The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook." So how does she combat her love for this classic duo? "I've found a couple of ways to curb this craving without going overboard on calories. One is visiting once a month or so my favorite ice-cream shop and slowly savoring just one scoop of vegan mint chip 'ice cream' in a cup. The other is regularly enjoying a planned snack, such as a KIND Nuts & Spices Dark Chocolate Almond Mint bar. It's an excellent source of fiber, has only has four grams of added sugars and tastes like dessert."
8. Chicken Wings
While most dietitians enjoy healthy eating, there are certain foods that lead even the most nutritionally educated down a slippery slope. "My unhealthy addiction would have to be wings. I once won an all-you-can-eat wing-eating challenge by putting down 59 wings in 30 minutes," says Jim White, RD, ACSM EX-P, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. But each fried wing packs in about 100 calories. Plus, they come with high-calorie dips like blue cheese and ranch. "I now make my own wings. And instead of frying them, I bake, broil or grill my wings," White says. "I also use more low-fat sauces, such as soy sauce, buffalo and hot sauce. Finally, I stick to around four to six wings per serving and try to add some veggies to make my meal more balanced."
9. After-Dinner Food Jags
For many, eating healthy during the day comes pretty easily. But once dinner is over, an evening "food jag" kicks in that does not mesh well with their healthy eating habits. "Lately, every night after a filling dinner I love to sit down with a mini bowl of ice cream topped with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and whipped cream," says Misti K. Gueron, M.S., RDN, medical nutrition therapist and food coach for the Khalili Center. Since this food jag has nothing to do with hunger, but rather provides emotional support, Gueron has figured out a few ways to tackle it. "Sometimes I will do a different activity to replace the comfort eating. This includes calling a girlfriend, taking a bath or reading. Other times I will replace my ice cream with something a bit healthier — like a cup of light hot cocoa," says Gueron.
While eating one serving (half a cup) of cooked green beans might feel like plenty, having the same serving of cake might feel like deprivation. "I'm pretty good about listening to my body and eating when I'm hungry and stopping when I'm full, but that mechanism 'shuts down' when there's cake involved," says Kelly Plowe, M.S., RD, Philadelphia-based dietitian. "Today I indulge only once a week. And when I do, I look for a really delicious dessert like a slice of tiramisu or a cupcake. Also, I try not to eat desserts when I'm stressed (no sitting on the couch with a pint of ice cream). And if I'm out to dinner, I share with my husband or friends."