How to Eat Half a Donut

by | Jan 6, 2014

Photo by rpavich

Donuts are tasty, and foodists eat things that are tasty. I, therefore, eat donuts.

Although I’ve explained extensively what it means to be a foodist, people are often surprised to learn that I really do eat donuts and other indulgent foods. And I eat them whenever I feel like it.

But I’m so thin, how is this possible? If I can eat something so good at any time, why am I not currently lying in a pile of donuts and stuffing my face with glee?

This is an important question, because one of the most common concerns I hear from readers is that they feel out of control around snacks and other indulgent foods, and don’t know how to reign in their habit of overeating.

If you often feel helpless and out of control around certain foods and wish you could change your behavior but don’t know how, put away your phone and close your email. This one will require your full attention.

The first thing it’s important to realize is that the assumption you’re making is that more control over your impulses is what’s necessary for you to stop overindulging and finally get healthy. In other words, you believe you need more willpower to succeed.

Of course, this isn’t true. Willpower isn’t the answer. In fact, if you’re afraid to stop dieting because you’re afraid of losing control, it will be almost impossible for you to embrace real food and form the habits necessary to get healthy forever.

But if it isn’t willpower that’s holding me back from a donut free-for-all, then what is it? What is keeping my behavior in check?

To understand the mental process that keeps me from gorging on donuts 24/7 it’s essential to realize that liking a food is only one of several factors that go into my food choices.

I like donuts, but I also really like my cauliflower that tastes like french fries and hundreds of other delicious foods, both healthy and not. I don’t stuff myself with any of them, because taste is not the only thing that matters about the foods I eat. I also consider my mood, how I’ll feel after eating it, what else I’ve eaten that day/week, and what my goals are.

In a dieter’s mind taste is pitted against goals, and an epic battle ensues for the rest of eternity. For a foodist like me, these are two of the least important factors in deciding what to eat.

I strive to eat tasty things daily, and usually succeed. I’ve worked hard to assemble an arsenal of delicious, healthy foods that are easily as appealing to me (taste-wise) as donuts.

In fact, the foods I buy from the farmers market and cook at home, as well as those I find in Real Food-centric restaurants here in SF, are so delicious that most donuts can’t compare. Thanks to experience stretching I’m not even interested in donuts unless they’re truly spectacular, like the ones I’ve tried at Blue Star donuts in Portland, OR*.

For me, delicious food is a given. So when I encounter yet another tasty food, it has less pull over me. Especially if I know it will make me feel like crap.

Even when I find a truly spectacular donut it doesn’t take much willpower to stop myself from overdoing it. I know from experience how much flour and sugar my body can tolerate before feeling sick.

Large servings of breads or sweets make me feel foggy and lethargic. My fingers swell up, my stomach expands, and I feel like there isn’t enough water on earth to rehydrate me. It’s a several hour commitment, and it sucks.

Why would I subject myself to multiple hours of discomfort when I get most of the pleasure from the first few bites anyway?

Besides, cauliflower has never treated me this way.

The end result is that since I stopped dieting and started allowing myself to eat donuts whenever I want, I rarely finish a whole one.

Yes, there’s still a small part of me that considers the extra calories and sugar and consciously tries to keep them in check (i.e. I still consider my goal of maintaining my current weight). But at this point for me, this is hardly a significant motivator.

If I’m reluctant to over-indulge on one kind of food it’s usually because I’d rather save those calories for something else that’s yummy. I know my habits keep my weight and health in check without much effort, and I’ve made room for indulgences in my healthstyle.

It also helps to know that if I am eating something delicious but less healthy, I’m not “sinning” and that this won’t be the last donut I ever eat. If I want another one, I can have it later. It’s not a big deal.

In other words, limiting myself to half a donut hardly takes any willpower at all. And instead of feeling out of control, I feel like I have supreme control.

Back when I was a dieter I couldn’t have fathomed such “restraint,” and usually ate two or three donuts when my willpower finally broke down. Who could blame me when I believed it was the last time I was ever going to eat anything delicious for the rest of my life?

It’s okay to eat foods you love. In fact, you have to embrace and expand this feeling in order for this technique to work for you. I know it’s scary, but it’s the only way. And as you’ve probably noticed, trying to manifest more willpower to gain control over your eating doesn’t work.

Have you struggled with overeating? Have you managed overcome it? Share your stories in the comments.

*Yes, Blue Star blows Voodoo Doughnuts out of the water.

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38 Responses to “How to Eat Half a Donut”

  1. Meghan says:

    Hello! I’ve definitely struggled with overeating, as we all have! We are only human! Humans love food. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t want to eat it, and we wouldn’t be able to survive! So it’s no wonder we’re naturally interested in eating things that taste good.

    In terms of overcoming this, I find that enjoying the food and appreciating it, no matter its “healthfulness”, is the most important part of eating. It could be half a donut, or a carrot. Either way, they’re both good for us- in terms of soul and health. Depriving yourself of foods you love but deem as “off-limits” is only going to make matters worse. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you think you don’t deserve to enjoy a treat. Go ahead and enjoy! You only have one life, so make the best of it. Enjoy all different kinds of foods, but also enjoy different kinds of activities that don’t involve foods, like exercise, being outdoors, cleaning, painting, singing, etc. :)

    • Randi ross says:

      I know just what you are saying here. My trigger food was ice cream (coffee flavored) I am not sure what or how I did this but one day I had a pint of it on hand and after coming home from walking the dog on a georgous afternoon I decided to indulge. I had just received a letter in the mail from my mom and with spoon, ice cream pint, and letter in hand I sat down to enjoy the “visit”. I had taken a bite and gotten lost in reading and catching up on the news from home. When I had finished the letter I noticed I had only taken two bites of the ice cream. Upon the third bite my desire for this favorite treat had waned. This new found realization changed how I thought about “treat” foods, candies, even snacks. I found that being mindful or present when eating made a really huge difference in the way I ate. Since that time I find that I no longer feel guilty for having what I want at the moment, or that I have cheated or am being cheated in any way. I have been asked by friends and family members alike just how do I find the willpower to only have one or two bites and I’m not even so sure I can explain it myself. All I know or tell anyone is when I do eat something whether it is potato chips or a tangerine it is definitely the first couple of bites that’s the satisfaction. Once I am sate putting it down and walking away is well, a piece of cake. :)

  2. Annie says:

    I learned to eat healthily (healthfully?) after being diagnosed with gallstones. I learned to limit portions (large amounts of food were likely to trigger an attack) and began eating lots of cooked vegetables, which I love, and beans. This has worked very well for me and I have not had an attack since I began.

    Bonus is that I have lost about 50 pounds without “dieting.” Since I began this new way of eating, I find I listen to my body more, and my body feels best when I eat lots of veggies and beans, some whole grains (mostly rice or other grains, not much wheat) little meat, and very little sugar. Another bonus side effect is that, increasingly, I am satisfied with much smaller amounts of food. So I can have dessert if I feel like it, but most of the time I don’t want it, or if I do, I feel satisfied with a very small portion.

  3. Lexie Wolf says:

    I am working on eating more mindfully, and I find that this really helps with overeating and portion control more than anything. NO mindless snacking, and slowing down to really taste and enjoy your food seems to really help a lot. And definitely choosing quality over quantity. I’d rather have a tiny, delicious pastry from a great bake shop than a box of packaged cookies any day.

  4. Brianna says:

    I absolutely LOVED this article and I know this struggle. Ugh, I hate the feeling I get after eating way too much garbage. Christmas time was a huge struggle for me and the bad stomach, bloating, dehydration happened as it has in the past but I binged regardless. However, I recently purchased your book and it is fantastic. I didn’t always used to binge like that, but the past few years or so I started to. I would just eat too much of everything and feel extreme guilt afterwards. I am still not sure why my eating habits changed so drastically in the first place, but I am happy to say that for a week now I have been doing so well in being mindful about what and how I eat and how my body feels too- I love it. I am on the journey to becoming a foodist. Thank you Darya!!

      • Eunice says:

        I can eat half a donut. Cookies are harder. I was in front of a plate of cookies at a relative’s home recently. I ate a few while feeling foolish and then I told her “I can’t stop eating these cookies.” She looked at me in a friendly but exasperated way and said, “Just stop.”
        It was months ago but I can still hear it. The voice of sanity.

  5. Kelsey says:

    “Large servings of breads or sweets make me feel foggy and lethargic. My fingers swell up, my stomach expands, and I feel like there isn’t enough water on earth to rehydrate me.”

    Wow, I absolutely through this too. Is this a common thing? Is it a gluten intolerance? Is it common?

  6. Mike says:

    You can eat anything you want. You just can’t eat everything you want!

  7. Another amazing article Darya! Being a thin dietitian, when I first meet someone I’m often asked questions, often in a judgmental way, about my diet. I find it so difficult to put into words what you’ve perfectly explained in this post. I think I’ll print out a copy and hand it to them the next time :)

  8. Katherine says:

    um yes. blue star is the best.

    blueberry bourbon and basil donut.
    blackberry compote and peanut powder donut.

    excellent coffee.

    it’s heaven.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Exactly. They make a mean apple fritter too. Interestingly, Blue Star has never made me feel crappy after eating them. But of course I’ve never stuffed myself.

  9. Elle says:

    It’s interesting what you write about flour/sugar and water. In the past year or so I’ve been struggling with all kinds of food intolerance – dairy, eggs, raw leafy greens and others.
    I’ve tried the whole30 diet for a month hoping it will help with the food intolerance but unfortunately it didn’t. Nonetheless, this experience taught me a lot about my daily eating habits and how eating different foods make me feel:
    1) My traditional breakfast of coffee+pastry made me tired and groggy. A breakfast of vegetables+fish+tea fills me with energy for the next few hours.
    2) Eating carbohydrate rich foods like pasta, rice or potatoes for lunch (even whole) makes me want to take a nap, drink tons of coffee and eat a lot of sugar. If I eat vegetables and meat/chicken/fish – I don’t have that afternoon craving for sugar and caffeine.

    The thing is, ever since I made those changes, I hardly ever feel thirsty, and just don’t drink enough (I can see it in the color of my urine). I really have to make myself drink now so I don’t damage my kidneys.

  10. julie says:

    I’ve read your book and agree with your idea of knowing it will not be the last time you eat this or even to tell yourself it you can have it later so you don’t feel deprived. I read your book recently and have been trying to follow your suggestions. I had been on a pretty restrictive diet this past 18 months and my diet had stalled. It seemed my metabolism was pretty slow after all that restriction. Christmas I just tried to not pay attention to every detail and tried to enjoy “real” food and slow down in my eating. My mind was all for it, but the other day I went on the scale and realized I had gained 5 pounds since Nov and my negative self is rearing it’s ugly head. I just want to get back on that restrictive mindset to lose those 5 pounds. I know some of it was because I allowed myself sugar again. I’m trying to stop eating fake sugar too. Any thoughts on how to get this Negative Nellie out of my mind?

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hi Julie,

      Remember the part in Foodist about mindset? 5 pounds really isn’t a big deal, it just means you still need to do some tweaking. Restriction isn’t the answer and will sabotage you in the long run. Instead, try getting more steps, adding strength training, eating more mindfully, decreasing the frequency of sugar/indulgences, etc. Eating Real Food doesn’t magically make you thinner, it just makes it easier and more sustainable. You still need to figure out the home court habits that work for you.

      You got this. Don’t give up now.

      Darya

  11. Sheena says:

    Hi Darya,

    I recently discovered Summer Tomato and can’t stop reading – looks like I will be buying the book in no time!

    I have already begun to implement mindful eating over the past week, and it shocked me to realise how much quicker I feel full.

    However, my meals have become so small that I feel hungry much faster afterwards, too. How do you propose that we find a balance between stopping when our palates are satisfied, versus eating to the point of being 100% full to prevent in-between meal hunger?

    I am trying to lose some weight, and therefore minimising snacks, etc. as they add unnecessary calories. It seems counter-productive to reduce the size of my meals, only to consume the calories saved via snacking!

    (I must add that I’ve cut out all processed food, and I also make sure that half my plate is full of fibrous vegetables, with the remaining quarters comprising protein and carbohydrate. So it probably isn’t the lack of fibre or protein that’s causing the fast digestion.)

    Your advice would be so very much appreciated :)

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hi Sheena,

      I think you should lighten up on yourself. It’s only been a week of mindful eating! You still have lots of experimenting to do to know what’s best for you in the long run. One of the things I noticed when I cut out processed foods is that it feels like I eat a lot more than I used to, but I still lost weight. I always snack on days when I work out, but I make sure to choose small but satisfying foods. That’s what works for me, but I don’t know what works for you. Eat when you’re hungry, monitor your feelings, habits and body weight, and most of all be patient. Health isn’t built in a day.

      Darya

  12. Diane says:

    I rarely, if ever, comment online to anything, but I feel compelled to respond to this post. Since taking up a “foodist” approach to eating over the last year things have been happening that I would never have imagined. I have consistently been losing weight (even during the holidays), and even better, I feel great. What has enabled me to lose weight is nothing short of miraculous (in my opinion). The more I’ve maintained a healthy approach to eating, the less desirable high fat, sugary and processed foods are to me. There is no need for willpower, because it is no real struggle to resist foods don’t taste as good, or satisfy me in the way they used to. I still eat things that don’t hold much in the way of nutritional value (e.g. dark chocolate salted caramels) but I don’t have any particular desire to binge on them. Feeling good is its own reward.

  13. Monetta Harr says:

    Hi Darya: I loved your most recent post and yes, I have always been amazed by people who eat slowly — yet say they are starved — and by people who can leave a half-dish of ice cream or half a doughnut (in this case) on their plate. I am so happy to be learning how to be calm about food, how to appreciate it, how to eat slowly, chew my food, etc. I got into this bingeing rut decades ago because of being lonely in college and then at my first job in a new state with just a few family and no friends. Then I think it became a habit as well as an excuse, if I’m being honest. I am also learning to find my “rush” from things other than food, including reading your newsletter and blog. Thanks much!

  14. Kate says:

    Dear Daryo,

    When I read this post, I thought to myself: I am going to unsubscribe from all the other diet/food newsletters that I am receiving because YOURS is the best….
    Thank you so much & I will also look @ buying your book.

    Kate

  15. Lisa Scanlan says:

    Thank you Darya. I’ve been trying to eating better and this is exactly whys I needed!! I have always struggled with food but for about a year I changed how I ate and I was in control. Somehow I lost my way and I think what you’ve said here can get my thoughts about food back to where they need to be. Thank you so much for all you do. Your an inspiration without being intimidating (not easy to do!)

  16. Vivian says:

    Hi :)
    No one celebrates Christmas like us Filipinos. We spend one whole month (and then some) with good food and lately, lots of sweets. I prepared for it this year by shedding some lbs a month before because I anticipated the extra lbs i’ll be gaining over the break. True enough, that’s what happened :(

    My Ob-Gyn told me when I was conceiving that I shouldn’t deprive myself of food. I just had to learn how to eat few frequent meals. After two kids, I have learned to do just that. It’s just difficult being married to a husband whose family simply loves to eat and would get offended when you don’t eat up during a meal. It’s also frustrating that men shed off lbs. faster than us and I have been wanting to lose 15-20lbs. in the past three years, to no avail.

    I agree with what you said that we can always eat a doughnut, within reason. A doughnut, not a box-full :P
    Like the Parisians, they eat small portions of food three times a day. They also savor their meals and although they do not snack, they do indulge food cravings. (http://www.lesliepepper.com/writer/detail.asp?content=5)

    Thank you for reminding me about this today. I do love reading your posts as it is very positive and encouraging :) Being skinny is not what’s important. Being healthy is. That’s why i believe that healthy IS the new skinny! :)

  17. Love your posts. As a former dieter who has truly fallen in love with food I totally support I believe in so much of what you write. Ps I live in Portland and I have never heard of this blue star you speak of. Imma gonna need to rectify that.

  18. Neri Kawashima says:

    I enjoy your writings and I share your discipline when it comes to eating.I do the same.I like and enjoy food but I also like to look good and pretty and most of all want to be healthy.I think am in control when it comes to this issue.Sometimes when I indulge, I have to compensate it with extra mobility to shed the surplus calories.
    Thank you for your post, they serve as reminder when I get out of control with foods.

  19. Leah says:

    I wonder if eating small portions of sugary, high fat treats is something that is available to everyone.

    What has worked for me is the habit I built of eating only home-made treats and sweets. This principle allows me to have sweets, but takes away the decision about which sweets to have and how much. So far, I have not felt deprived. I lost 6-8 lbs without making any other change in how I ate over six months (and I’m hella short, so this is significant). When homemade treats have been available, I have not taken more than one portion (so far). This approach allows me to have an “I’ll have something sweet later” attitude without having to decide about how small a portion I might eat and when.

    The previous time I allowed myself to be convinced to eat small portions of sweets after giving up sweets entirely for a few months, I quickly went back to feeling out of control with sweets. I started small and then started to take seconds and thirds and have cravings that I wasn’t able to resist.

    I wonder if depending on one’s genetics, one might be more or less vulnerable to out of control eating with sweets, salty or fatty foods and, depending on what your brain is like, a different approach to these foods might be best.

    It seems as if there is pretty good evidence that drug/alcohol addictions have a genetic component – might the ability to self-regulate with food be the same?

  20. Erin says:

    At the ripe young age of 42,..I feel like I have beaten the urge to overeat.
    I love delicious food. I am a foodist. I am particular about what I put in my body,..no processed food with weird oils and things I can’t pronounce. No sugar and aspartame laden beverages for this girl.
    That said,..at a party or event, when faced with being given something you wouldn’t normally eat,..a few bites, and that’s it. Unless it’s a fabulous homemade dessert,..it just doesn’t appeal to me. I eat and drink for a living – wine dinners, events, and if I ate everything that was put in front of me I definitely wouldn’t look the way I do.
    I grew up as one of four kids, and wasting food was not something you did. Cleaning your plate, and eating everything that was put in front of you was expected. Portion control is key. It is ok to leave food on your plate!

    I believe you are what you eat. If you eat crap you feel like crap.
    What Darya says in this blog post is true for me too. I know I will feel lethargic and unwell if I overindulge,..and it just isn’t worth it.
    I work hard to maintain how I look and feel, in the Bikram yoga I practice, and the lifestyle and food choices I make. Eating something that makes me feel bad isn’t a treat to me at all. Delicious, tasty food, is. (and wine!)
    I have a saying on my fridge.
    ‘Nothing tastes as good as thin feels’
    Perhaps it could be misinterpreted,..but to me, it is a reminder to practice restraint and make good choices.

  21. Leah says:

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/in-food-cravings-sugar-trumps-fat/

    …the researchers found that sugar was so powerful a stimulus that it overshadowed fat, even when the two were combined in large amounts. High sugar shakes that were low in fat ramped up the reward circuitry just as strongly as the more decadent shakes that paired sugar and fat in large quantities, suggesting that fat was a runner-up to sugar, said Eric Stice, the lead author of the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

    “We do a lot of work on the prevention of obesity, and what is really clear not only from this study but from the broader literature over all is that the more sugar you eat, the more you want to consume it,” said Dr. Stice, a senior research scientist at the Oregon Research Institute. “As far as the ability to engage brain reward regions and drive compulsive intake, sugar seems to be doing a much better job than fat.”

  22. Sheena says:

    Thank you, Darya :)

  23. Tom C says:

    I have got to be one of the fastest eaters that I know. Growing up I was constantly yelled at by my father to slow down. To this day I still eat rather quickly, however, my biggest weapon against over eating is simply slowing down.

  24. Sarah O. says:

    I totally agree! Mine is also never letting myself get ridiculously hungry. It’s challenging when you have a busy schedule, but if I get to the point where I’m so hungry I’ll eat anything, funnily enough, I will not choose broccoli. I try to go no more than five hours between meals, with light snacks when I need them.

  25. Karen says:

    I completely agree with you and am a huge fan of the Foodist health style. One thing that has helped me stop after half a donut (or in my case a scoop of ice cream) is getting my blood sugar under control. When it is all over the place I have a much harder time stopping after just one scoop.

  26. PH says:

    I just have to comment on the whole “French Women Don’t Get Fat” idea. I’ve been to France and observed:

    1. French women *do* get fat, although the level of obesity isn’t as severe/prevalent as it is in the U.S.
    2. The French smoke like fiends. Smoking has taken the place of food for them. I certainly don’t think it’s healthier…

    Don’t believe everything you hear :)

  27. I have to say this but it’s been years since I’ve eaten donuts and not because I’m restricting myself or any sort of punishment, no, I found that I just stopped craving donuts (and other pastries) and it happened with other foods as well, cake and pie have been less and less “attractive” over time but I do still eat the occasional wedding and/or birthday cake, just not as dessert or go-to snack (anymore).

    I found that with age and appetite for new things, my eating habits changed a lot actually, but what I do still eat regularly is chocolate, so I make room in my days for chocolate as I leave other goodies for others. I think there is a modicum of willpower at play though at this point it might be subconscious (probably, as I don’t even blink with pastries anymore, except macaroons, they are tasty little devils).

  28. Cassie says:

    I loved your note about Blue Star being better than Voodoo! I plan to take a trip to Portland in May and stopping by Voodoo was on the top of my list… I’ll have to check Blue Star out instead now! ;)

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