Eating a healthy diet is important, but have you ever had that craving desire to eat anything ‘forbidden’? Have you ever noticed that when you create a ‘bad foods’ list those items suddenly become irresistible?
The struggle is so, so real. And yes, it’s true that food cravings can be your body telling you that you need to get more sleep, or that it needs more salt post-workout. But sometimes you just need some cheesecake, or an order of fries, you know?
Many (if not most) of us feel this way about food. We might think treats = unhealthy and while that may be true, what’s healthy about restricting ourselves of foods we enjoy?
Unlike what social media and popular diets portray, treating yourself occasionally is completely okay – in fact, it can actually help us to have a balanced diet and to form a positive relationship with food.
There’s a lot of focus on foods being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and there’s lots of messages about feeling guilty about food. That’s where healthy eating gets tricky – because while it’s tempting to completely cut out ‘bad’ foods, or replace them with healthier dupes, those actually are not successful strategies for most people. What’s more, resisting the foods you crave can become not just an exercise in willpower but a full-on distraction from other things in your life.
It’s important to take a step back. One thing everyone forgets is food should be our enjoyment as well as our nutrition. If we say something is a ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ food, it can drive us to want more of it, whereas if we have small amounts and enjoy it we have control.
If you’re never eating the foods you really enjoy or which give you pleasure, then that’s going to result in feelings of deprivation. When you have these feelings of deprivation, it can increase the chance of bingeing or overeating, and this can end up being quite an unhealthy cycle.
Treats have become ‘bad’ because of the way we, and people we look up to, label them. Try to move away from labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. A food is just a food. It might have more or less health properties, and your body might function better or worse on certain foods, but it doesn’t give them the moral high ground.
Treating Yourself To Unhealthy Foods Is Totally Normal
Creating a calorie deficit is important if you’re trying to lose weight, and an ice cream binge doesn’t exactly help you take in fewer calories than you’re burning. Still, when you’re putting pressure on yourself to eat perfectly all day, everyday, you risk snapping. And it’s always important to remember: A virtuous diet does not make you a virtuous person. Which is where learning how to work treats into your eating plan comes into play.
1. Easing restrictions gives your mind a break.
No one likes to be good all the time. (When was the last time you drove exactly the speed limit?) And your willpower can only handle so much. Having a treat snack or a full-on treat day to look forward to will make it easier to opt for the healthy items the rest of the time.
2. Don’t focus on each food as being totally good or bad – remove labels.
Labeling foods as either good or bad isn’t all that helpful. It can also be triggering for people who have or had an eating disorder – bringing about shame and guilt, and resulting in a bad relationship with food.
Some foods have tons of health benefits, while others don’t have health benefits and can be bad for you when eaten to excess. But that just means you just have to avoid excess consumption of the wrong ones. The AND says there’s room for all types of foods in your daily diet as long as your overall eating patterns are healthy. They say categorizing particular foods or food groups as good or bad is too simplistic and could lead to unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders.
Sometimes eating is just meant to be fun, such as when you’re celebrating a birthday or another major event. Feeling like you can only eat healthy foods all the time might cause you to avoid fun events and make you feel like your whole life is focused on how you eat.
3. When you learn to eat what you crave without guilt, you’ll probably find that cravings for ‘unhealthy’ foods become way less intense.
Maybe you’re thinking, “If I gave into my cravings all the time, I’d be eating cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!” That’s a common response, and it might be true at first. Deprivation of specific foods sets you up to overeat them when your control breaks down, or when you finally allow yourself to eat them.
When you eat what you want to, and the sense of restriction or scarcity has gone away, you’re able to tune into your body and listen and actually decide if you want a certain food or not. And eventually, everyone gets to the point where they don’t have intense cravings. The more you are exposed to a food, the less interested you become in it.
Habituation kind of works like that – when presented with a food often enough, a person generally ends up eating less of it over time. So basically, if you regularly incorporate into your diet a food that you typically crave, over time you’re less likely to have an issue with it – because it won’t be so novel to you anymore.
4. Trying to trick your body by eating a ‘healthier’ version of whatever you crave doesn’t usually work.
Lower-calorie, less processed versions of our favorite comfort foods – cauliflower pizza, banana ice cream, spaghetti squash and meatballs – are everywhere. And there’s nothing wrong with these foods per se; they’re certainly healthier than their full-fat, full-carb counterparts. However, if you’re craving a sandwich with thick slices of crusty bread, those substitutes likely will fall flat of your expectations.
Trying to mislead your body never works. While the ‘healthy’ version may physically fill you up, it likely will not result in mental satisfaction – which means you’ll still end up searching for more food to fill up that void.
5. Giving into food cravings won’t hurt a balanced diet.
Of course, this doesn’t give you carte blanche to start eating cheeseburgers and fried chicken every day. But making allowances for some cravings foods is generally a good thing – and something that will make it easier to stick to a healthy eating plan for the long haul.
6. Treats could potentially boost your metabolism.
Many experts encourage dieters to reduce calories by cutting back on carbohydrates to increase your energy deficit and help control insulin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger and fat. It’s believed that lower insulin levels encourage fat loss.
However, the body adapts to the deficit and often attempts to hold on to its fat stores by burning fewer calories – essentially, your body thinks there’s a famine. Introducing a treat every now and then could prevent that calorie-burn slowdown.Still, it’s important not to go overboard.
7. Practice mindful eating.
Eating is a pleasurable experience and retaining control over that is important. That’s where mindful eating can come into play. If you can mindfully eat, you feel full and satisfied when you’ve had these treat foods instead of feeling guilty.
That’s not to say, “I must stop eating that because it’s bad for me” because that’s not really mindful. It’s getting the idea that you can enjoy it and when you’ve had a sensible amount, you feel happy eating it.
To eat mindfully, pay attention to what you’re eating without distractions like the TV. Feel the crunch and texture. Focus on how it tastes.
If you really feel like having that brownie well have it, but when you are, eat it slowly, really enjoy it and savour every bite. By the time you’ve eaten it you will probably feel really satisfied and have enjoyed it, and then feel like you can go back and make healthier choices again.
8. Just enjoy it!
As long as you’re having treats occasionally and they aren’t replacing healthy meals, enjoy them.
It’s not necessarily all about weight.
If we can improve our relationship with food – and if that means having the brownie sometimes and you’re a couple of kilos heavier than what your goal weight was – that’s way more positive than having a poor relationship with food and achieving that goal weight.
9. Listen to your body.
Even with all this reassurance, you might still be afraid that healthy eating will go totally out the window when you start eating what you actually want. This is where learning to listen to your body comes in.
When you have a craving, think about how it will feel in your body, as well as how it will taste. Maybe you’ll go totally overboard on cookies one day (which is okay!), but later realize that this made you feel sluggish all afternoon. Keep this in mind the next time you honor a cookie craving, and stopping after one or two will feel like listening to your body, as opposed to feeling like restriction.
At the end of the day, go ahead and eat that slice of cake or bowl of mac and cheese when you’re hungry for it, then move on with your day. Trust that you won’t go overboard, and remind yourself that you’ll probably be craving a veggie-packed grain bowl or a fresh fruit salad in the not-so-distant future. Because really, a well-rounded diet does have room for a lot of different kinds of foods – even those traditionally considered ‘unhealthy.’