As a nutritionist helping people shed pounds, I often recommend incorporating portion-controlled desserts and treats into your diet. My book "Strong, Slim, and 30!" even includes categories of "A," "B" and "C" snacks: "A" for anti-aging, "B" for bone-building and "C" for comfort snacks. Low-fat ice cream, Hershey's Kisses and other portion-controlled indulgences are not only allowed, they're encouraged, so one's diet plan becomes more of a weight-management lifestyle that sidesteps deprivation and can last many years.
Most of my colleagues I have spoken to on this topic agree: Whether you call it an "intentional indulgence" or a "cheat meal," enjoying dessert can help you attain your long-term weight and health goals, as long as you don't go overboard.
As with most goal-seeking plans, it's necessary to have strategies in place. For example, you might choose to carefully limit dessert to 100- or 150-calorie treats on a daily basis in order to help meet your goals. Alternatively, you might avoid dessert entirely during weekdays and save up for, say, a slice of chocolate cake or tiramisu or pie a la mode during a weekend night out. In some cases, choosing between alcohol and dessert or adding exercise makes sense in order to balance your desires with calorie reality.
These approaches don't work for everyone, however. For some, avoiding dessert entirely in the beginning stages of a weight loss diet makes the most sense. It may be because dessert is simply not a priority. (Why waste calories on dessert if you don't have a sweet tooth in the first place?) Or, as is often the case, even small bites of treats can trigger more and more cravings, ultimately causing one to binge and "fall off the wagon."
"If someone could have a forkful of dessert every night, that's fine. But for others, I honestly believe it sets them off," said Martha McKittrick, a registered dietitian and health and wellness coach.
Only when an initial goal is met — say, losing 10 pounds — might one consider slowly adding treats of those foods they can't live without. These individuals may require constant self-monitoring to make sure they keep their cravings in check.
So it's important to know what strategy will work best for your personality and lifestyle. That's where a professional like a registered dietitian nutritionist can help. He or she can personalize a plan that can include dessert if you wish to enjoy it but still want to shed pounds.
If you decide that having daily portion-controlled desserts is a way to "have your cake and eat it too" while losing weight, here are some of my suggested "C" comfort snacks from "Strong, Slim and 30!"
Each comfort snack contains approximately 100 to 150 calories; read food labels for the most accurate calorie information.
Pick one "C" snack each day:
- Hershey's Kisses (5)
- Peanut M&Ms (12)
- Cinnamon graham crackers (2 sheets/ 8 crackers)
- Animal crackers (20)
- Honey wheat pretzel sticks (1 oz, 15 sticks)
- Light vanilla ice cream, with 50% less fat (half cup)
- Baked tortilla chips (1 ounce, about 20) with salsa (quarter cup, 2 ounces)
- Low-fat chocolate or vanilla ice cream sandwich