Healthy Series: Sweets, Treats and Cheats

Welcome back to my “healthy” series where I try to determine what healthy really means.
In this post I want to discuss those sweets, treats, and cheats that we all indulge in from time to time.

Our country has an obvious problem with over-indulgence in blatantly unhealthy foods. You know what I’m talking about… we’ve built an entire industry on making “food” quick to receive and quick to eat — ie. FAST FOOD. Yeah, that stuff should not be your major food group. We also have frozen yogurt shops (b/c if you throw the word “yogurt” on it, it must be healthy) on every corner and need I even mention the cupcake/donut/cronut/etc fads that buzz through every 6 months or so?

My point is this, all of these things exist and are staring us in the face and enticing us with their deliciousness on a daily basis (if not during every commercial break on TV — a plug for DVR’s here on how awesome to fast forward through commercials). I will openly admit that eat at these sorts of establishments on occasion. I even indulge in the less healthy items on their menus. But, its not my every day, every meal, go-to food. It’s usually a last minute, I’m starving or I feel like crap and I just want something that is convenient and easy. Oddly enough, fast food typically doesn’t upset my stomach, whereas sometimes “healthier” options do…so yeah.

Anyway, onto the post — Sweets, treats and cheats.

I do love my desserts — especially brownies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (my own homemade…not store bought), and ice cream/frozen yogurt. Those are def my guilty pleasures. I believe strongly that there is a place in every diet for some dessert and sweet/sugar based foods. BUT! It’s not at every meal, and probably shouldn’t be every day either. So yeah, you shouldn’t have waffles piled high with whipped cream and syrup for breakfast, a piece of cake at lunch, a cookie in the afternoon, and some ice cream for dinner. Nah…not good (although I’ve lived like that before). For me a nice balance is to have dessert about every other day. I have a sweet tooth and this curbs it without being too much. I also try to make smart choices with desserts, like eating homemade foods instead of store-bought and eating half a slice or two cookies instead of a large slice or six cookies. You get the picture.
Something else to consider with “sweets” is your beverage choices. Soda, juices, and many other beverages are LOADED with sugar. When I’m in a “good diet” mode I limit my soda intake to once or twice a week. When I’m bad its like once or twice a day…i may be in a “bad” mode right now… but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, just consider what you’re consuming through drinks when you’re looking at your whole diet b/c excess sugar could be lurking in your beverage choices.
I do not like most sugar substitutes, but do often opt for some more natural versions (maple syrup, honey, etc) in place of refined sugar. But, you have to make your own choices and educated decisions when it comes to that.

Treats are those special foods you indulge in on rare occasions. Again, i think there’s a place in your diet for these foods, but you need to do so carefully so they aren’t your every day foods.
For me, treats are the sweets mentioned above, but also include those “extra special” foods” that i eat on even more rare occasions. I’m talking about the Tonga Toast at Disney World. I’m talking about the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake (once a year) or Chic Fil A’s peppermint milkshake (again, once a year). I’m talking about Thanksgiving mashed potatoes and stuffing. Yum…these wings we get at the Lebanon farmer’s market…I’m talking about birthday cake, wedding cake, etc. I could go on forever.
It’s OKAY to enjoy a small piece of cake at your co-worker’s birthday celebration if you want and not feel guilty about it.
I tend to weigh these foods as “worth the calories” or “not worth the calories.” If you’re eating it, just to eat it or to be polite, then politely decline or take one bite, etc. But those good ones… the delicious ones…the ones you think about later as you go to sleep, those are the “worth the calories” treats and I say GO FOR IT. Enjoy it! Savor it! But not every day or even every week. Keep those indulgences for really special occasions. You will appreciate them so much more this way. And, from experience, I will tell you that these things taste much better as treats than as every day foods. They just taste better b/c they are “special” in your mind too. Trust me…

Cheats differ from sweets and treats because they are not necessarily sugar-based and probably happen more often than your treat foods (kudos i I’m wrong on that). I try to follow a low glycemic index/impact diet. That means eating mostly vegetables and fruits, lean meats, and limiting carbs (especially simple carbs and low-fiber carbs). I try to follow this most days (I’m off the band-wagon right now). While the diet is fairly easy to maintain, it does sometimes leave me craving a slice of bread or wanting pasta, rice, steak, pork bbq, etc…you get the picture. So, I try to live this diet about 80 percent of the time and then give myself a break the rest of the time. If you eat 3 meals a day, that’s 21 meals a week…so roughly 4 meals a week can be a “cheat” meal. I like to try to mix it up so its not an entirely “cheat” meal, but a cheat item. For example, I might make homemade Indian food (tikka masala or jalfrezi), with some brown rice or other low glycemic grain, and have some real naan bread (cheat item). Or, I’ll do spaghetti with homemade sauce and steamed broccoli (like 1 cup broccoli with 1/4 cup pasta). I feel like you can cheat and still get the feeling of cheating or indulging, while balancing it out. Not gonna lie though…I totes had a Five Guys burger and fries with a pepsi for dinner (yea, i said I was off the wagon). My advice for “cheating” is two fold…1) I don’t consider it “cheating” I considering it balancing and 2)Do so consciously. Don’t just mindlessly nibble on junk food, make smart choices.

How do you balance a healthy diet with your favorite indulgences??

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