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Conquering Your Sweet Tooth

Author: Shannon A. Garcia
Dark Chocolate Drizzle

By: Shannon A. Garcia, Registered Dietitian, Owner of Lone Star Nutrition, LLC

The holidays are fast approaching and so are the trays of pies, cakes, cookies and all the oh-so-good treats we find ourselves unable to resist. Conquering your sweet tooth is no piece of cake! If it were simple to eat the right amount of sweet stuff year round, much less at the holidays, there wouldn’t be a need to blog about it. But keeping our sanity and our waistlines stable*, during the holidays should ideally start with a healthy relationship with sweets year round. Learn how to conquer your sweet tooth now so it won’t conquer you once the holiday wave hits.Chocolate Lava Cake

*Maintaining your current weight is a realistic goal during the holidays. Try not concentrating on weight loss during a time usually flooded with extra food and less physical activity. Instead, focus on making smart choices and moving your body while still enjoying the holiday food and festivities in moderation.

Do any of the following statements sound familiar?

  • It's easier to avoid sweets all together - once I start, I can't stop!
  • I prefer to not have sweets on 6 days of the week but then I overindulge or “have a cheat day.”
  • I love sweets and eat them whenever I want to…and this is likely one of the reasons I struggle with my weight.
  • I often give in to my sweet tooth and whether I eat a little or a lot, I always feel guilty afterwards.

Chances are one or more of the above statements ring true. Turning an all or nothing attitude into a healthy partnership with your sweet tooth is no easy feat. But oh so worth it. Just like the bite of __________ (insert your favorite dessert here).

Start by analyzing and understanding your personal tendencies with the sweet stuff. You already identified if any of the above statements resonate with you, but dig a little deeper. Do you tend to go for sweets during stressful times, happy times, all times, for snacks, for after-dinner treats, daily or special occasions? And more importantly, do you find yourself cake-in-hand because it’s just there? Many of us, especially during the holidays, become grazers. There’s food within eyesight and therefore the next stop is our belly. Next time (and if that time is right now while reading - perfect time to practice the following) you find yourself craving sweets, follow this key to better determine if it’s a good time to enjoy something special.

Eating Chart

Understand the value in being ok with enjoying your favorite foods. Severe restriction and avoidance often result in guilt when we “fail” at sticking to our restrictions. Feeling like we failed often leads us down an unhealthy path of not valuing ourselves and our decisions. Instead, if we incorporate balance and self-awareness into our daily decision making processes, we will thrive during a holiday season feeling more enjoyment and less guilt.

So here’s the million-dollar question. What does moderation and balance really mean with sweets? And the answer is - it’s different for everyone. However, enjoying something sweet at every meal is not an example of moderation, regardless of the portion size. As a loose rule, I would recommend enjoying a small (e.g. one small cookie, half a slice of cake, ¼- ½ cup pudding/custard) treat no more than once daily. But if you feel like a few times a week is reasonable for you - that’s likely a better choice. Your overall diet and physical activity habits ultimately influence how much “room” there is for the sweet extras in our diet. Achieving a healthy lifestyle of whole foods, daily physical activity and honoring our desires for what we consider to be indulgences should be our long-term goal. When we strive for this, the statements mentioned earlier will ideally translate into “I focus on healthy choices daily but allow myself to truly enjoy an appropriate portion of my favorite dessert…and I savor every bite”. This philosophy will serve us well throughout the year and especially during the holiday season.

Here’s some extra tips on managing your sweet tooth:

  • Eat the real thing but less of it; 3 bites of heavy whipping cream is so much more enjoyable than 10 bites of cool whip (I’m not sure any of us have truly figured out what’s in cool whip anyway).
  • Know your favorites and look forward to them - use this as fuel when you’re thinking of trying the fruit cake, store-bought cookies or other probably-not-worth it treat (so sorry if you’re a fruit cake lover). Tell yourself “You get to enjoy Aunt Nancy’s carrot cake later, you won’t truly be savoring that generic iced cookie”.
  • Don’t participate in the clean plate club. Yes, wasting food is not good. But neither is not listening to your body when you recognize fullness. Recognizing fullness before becoming stuffed is tough - be in tune with and honor your body and how it feels.
  • Choose to enjoy your special treat when you still feel a little hungry - you won’t really enjoy it if you've already reached a bloated regretful stage. And you’re likely to overdo it if serving yourself with hunger in full force mode.
  • Savor every single bite. If you’re dealing with screaming kids, a kitchen piled high with dishes or arguing with in-laws, you can’t fully enjoy your dessert of choice. You’re better off waiting until things calm down a bit instead of scarfing down your long awaited treat.
  • Have healthier options like fresh cut fruit or Greek Yogurt readily available. If you’re face to face with your sweet tooth and already savored your favorite treat, keep yourself occupied for 15-20 minutes and if still wanting something else, opt for a fruit bowl.
  • Instead of feeling like you want your loved ones to “get off their diet with you”, forget a diet and enlist support from each other. Savor your favorite sweets with your favorite people - making the bites last longer over good conversation.