Never trust anyone who believes dessert isn’t an essential part of life.
There may be some small, joyless percentage of the population who can live indefinitely without sugar, but in my experience those who attempt it are kidding themselves and will inevitably fail.
Sugar is wonderful sometimes, and in general it is easier to find a way to live with it than without it.
But I’m not here to propagate any illusions either. The scientific literature makes it is pretty clear that sugars, specifically sucrose (table sugar) and fructose (the sweet stuff in fruit and corn syrup), are some of the worst foods you can eat and should generally be considered dangerous.
Sugars promote aging, weight gain and most chronic diseases. Sugar is also regarded as addictive by many in the field of obesity and weight loss.
So how should you deal with it?
Keeping desserts in perspective goes a long way to helping you make smart choices.
Keep these tips in mind to make sure the desserts you choose are worth it.
6 Tips To Optimize Your Dessert Choices
1. Make it formal
Self-control is not the easiest thing to practice when dessert is involved. You probably know this from experience.
Make a rule for yourself to not eat dessert in an informal setting. That is, do not eat sweets between meals and always sit down and be fully present when you eat treats.
Resist the piles of cookies, brownies and candies set out around the house. If you do choose to eat one, do not make light of it. Sit down with a chair, table and napkin and enjoy every bite.
Try to wait until after a meal so you are eating for indulgence and not to satisfy your hunger. Trying to feel full from dessert is a losing battle (see tip #4).
2. Size matters
Dessert has an obscene amount of calories. I know this is not fun to think about, but you should be aware that if you are eating something with sugar and fat there is an excellent chance you are putting down 50-100 calories PER BITE.
A single Godiva or See’s truffle runs at about 100 calories. A slice of Oreo cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory has 600-800 calories. It is hard to overemphasize how huge this really is. If you eat a reasonably healthy diet, this is likely more calories than you consume in an entire meal.
When you do sit down and eat dessert, remember that you do not have to eat everything that is put in front of you. The first two bites are always the most satisfying. There is no need to test the hypothesis that the 12th bite doesn’t live up to them.
3. Make an allowance
You should keep tabs on how often you eat dessert, and one or two per week is a reasonable goal for someone looking to maintain their weight. Zero to one serving is best for someone trying to lose weight.
For most people, weekly allowances are easier to manage than daily or monthly allowances.
Rules likes this help you make smarter choices. Do you really want to waste your only treat this week on a cookie from a box or a cake from Costco?
If you are ever going to be a picky eater, dessert is the best place to turn up your nose.
4. Don’t treat yourself when hungry
Sugar does not satisfy hunger. In fact, repeated sugar exposure creates spikes and dips in blood sugar that make you feel hungry again sooner than you should.
For this reason, sugary foods should never be substituted for real food and you should not rely on them to satisfy your hunger. Not only is this ineffective, it also makes it more likely you will overeat. Remember tips #1 and #2 and eat your small desserts after a real meal.
5. Eat healthy meals
Having an overall healthy, balanced diet is another effective way to avoid dessert binges. If you already feel satisfied with what you have eaten, dessert will truly be a treat and not an overcompensation for poor nutrition.
Healthy meals can also go far to prevent emotional eating, since they help create a feeling of fulfillment, comfort and satisfaction.
6. Stay on the bandwagon
Slip-ups happen with dessert, and it is not the end of the world.
Remember point #2, that size matters.
Just as 5 bites of dessert is much, much better than 10 bites of dessert, one slip-up is better than 3-4 slip-ups. Don’t let one holiday uh-oh send you into a week of unbridled gluttony.
When it comes to sugar, less is always better. Avoid the temptation to throw in the towel.
Are your desserts worth it?
Originally published December 21, 2009.