Nutrition’s Elite 8: #8 – Indulge
Well, here we are, the last tip in my 3-week series. This last tip should hopefully assist you in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s pretty common for folks to start off strong for 2-3 weeks on a diet and then fizzle out because, let’s face it, it’s tough. It’s not much fun either.
I want to emphasize the point that I’m not suggesting you fill your diet with indulgences or make it a habit to eat sweets every day. What I do want to lay out is that foods can stimulate pleasure centers in the brain and strictly dieting can be like stopping smoking cold turkey.
There are people in this world that have success going cold turkey. Most people, don’t.
A review I explained it this way and I thought it was perfect: “Brain ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ systems that respond to these factors are essentially pure ‘go’ systems. They are activated by tasty treats and related cues. While ‘go systems’ can be diminished by satiety influences, they never generate a strong ‘stop’ signal to halt intake, they merely tone down the intensity of the ‘go’. It is hard to turn some ‘go systems’ completely off.”1
Let’s take that quote and make it real: I have a craving for ice cream. I go get ice cream, eat it and enjoy. A few hours later someone asks me if I’d like to go out for ice cream. Does it sound bad? Heck no, it sounds great! Hopefully, I say no because I’ve already met a daily quota of sweets but not because it sounds bad to me.
The emotions related to food can be extremely powerful. Certain cues can increase the sense of ‘wanting’ by the body and the likelihood of indulging increases when you shift to ‘wanting’. For example: when you find out it’s a coworker’s birthday, what do most people immediately want? Birthday cake? Ice cream? I do. Heck, I’d buy a cake for my cat’s birthday, why not?
Therefore, I encourage people not to avoid sweets or really salty foods like the plague when they start dieting. Moreover, decrease your intake and then occasionally indulge. If you constantly deprive yourself, it’s going to blow up in your face because of how miserable you may become.
Here’s the deal: if your friends are going out for ice cream, you can join them so long as that’s your cheat for the day and you understand that you’ll need to work hard the next day and eat clean for 2-3 days after. I think long term success can be found in this model where you respect dessert, not avoid it completely.
Alternatively, you can find foods that stimulate the pleasure centers in your brain without adversely affecting your end goal. For example, dark chocolate covered almonds are some of my favorite sweets and they’re relatively harmless.
All things in moderation, obviously.
Here are a few examples from my coworkers (most of these carry emotional connections, usually eaten at night): peanut butter and jelly, trail mix (that sweet and salty combination cant be avoided), a bowl of cereal, a good clean oatmeal raisin cookie, dark chocolate, fruit salad.
Let me elaborate: It’s 8:30pm and you’re craving sweets. A ‘serving’ of ben and jerry’s chunky munky is 260 calories, made up mostly of sugars and saturated fats. A ‘serving’ of cinnamon toast crunch with a cup 1% milk is 250 calories but has mostly grains, protein and about half as much fat.
So let’s be clear. What’s the best option here? Not eating at all and suppressing the urge. What’s second best? A bowl of cinnamon toast crunch. It doesn’t sound like it should make sense but cereals are made today to support a complete grain and b-vitamin profile for kids so they’re healthy relative to a bowl of ice cream.
I don’t suggest using your alternatives every night but when the urge hits, substitution is better than caving.
This is a tough concept to gauge and once again, it’s extremely personal to what you like and don’t like. Let me know if you have questions or want guidance on this concept.
I hope these 8 tips, used together, can help you clean up your eating habits and develop healthier behaviors with respect to food. As always, feel free to contact me with questions regarding each topic.
- Eat Less, More Often.
- Snacking Stay Power.
- Swap Fat for Fat.
- Water, Drink It.
- Activate Once Every Hour.
- Meal Prep, A Plan for Every Day.
- Sleep, an Underrated Rockstar.
- Berridge KC, Ho CY, Richard JM, DiFeliceantonio AG. The tempted brain eats: pleasure and desire circuits in obesity and eating disorders. Brain Res. 2010;1350:43-64.