by Brooke Joanna Benlifer, RD
Do you crave ice cream for dinner? I sometimes do! I’m a big believer that any food (or ice cream, candy, brownie, cheesecake, calzone, taco) can fit into a healthy diet. The point is to allow yourself to have treats as part of the total package.
For healthy individuals, our waistline and our health are determined by the big picture – the choices we make over time rather than the one day that we “ate too much” or felt Thanksgiving-day stuffed. Have you ever noticed that if you deprive yourself of the food you really want but think you shouldn’t have, you only end up craving it more? Or that you end up “eating around the craving”….and then eating the very item you tried so hard to avoid? For example, you crave a Milky Way but tell yourself, “I shouldn’t have it; it’s too [fattening, high in carbs, indulgent, etc.].” You decide instead to have a sugar-free fudge pop. But your craving was never satisfied. So you have another fudge pop, and another, and another. Soon you’ve polished off the whole box! By now, you’re frustrated and still craving the Milky Way. So you end up having the candy bar anyway!
Let’s look at this scenario another way. Had you simply allowed yourself to have a Milky Way in the first place, sans guilt, you could’ve saved yourself the extra fudge pop calories and the self-induced guilt and frustration that came from trying to ignore or quiet your body’s cravings. The point is, if the majority of your calories come from healthy, nutrient-dense foods, it’s OK for the minority to come from your favorite treats.
The Food Guide Pyramid allows for discretionary calories (i.e. your treat foods). Life, and food for that matter, is to be enjoyed, not labeled as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. The world is full of great foods, flavors and tastes from around the globe. Don’t limit yourself. Just try to relax and find a balance between eating well, exercising for health and enjoyment and incorporating your favorite foods into your meal plan on a regular basis.
Often, we find ourselves so busy and stressed that food becomes a reward or a punishment, rather than an answer to our body’s natural hunger cues. Try to listen to your body and give it what it needs. You’ll find that if you really cue into what you’re hungry for, most often you’ll end up choosing foods that nourish your body (fresh fruits and vegetables, exotic salads, lean meats, etc.). Sure, sometimes all you want is ice cream for dinner. So go ahead and head over to Cold Stone Creamery and make your own combo! The craving won’t last forever, and you’ll enjoy yourself in the meantime. You can even add nuts and berries for extra health benefits if you’re so inclined!