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Cheat or Treat?
Last week, a magazine writer interviewed me for an article about "cheating". I know that “cheating” is a concern of Calorie Counters because it is often discussed in the Community Forums. And so, with that in mind, I thought you might be interested in my notes from the exchange.
Q: Why is it important to occasionally "cheat" when it comes to your diet? Can it make you a healthier individual overall?
A: Let’s define “cheat”. If "cheat" means making room for a beloved high-calorie treat, then I am all for it. You cannot feel like you’re in diet prison because that just leads binging and throwing in the towel. You have to feel like you have the right – and the power – to eat whatever you want; however, the trick is to shape your WANTS to be for wholesome foods most of the time. Over time, you learn to identify tasty foods that are low in calories or at least have nutrient profiles in proportion to their calorie counts. If your day-to-day food is very tasty and satisfying, you will yearn for a “cheat” less often.
But there are times when you'll want to partake in a favorite high calorie food and that is normal and good. You actually owe it to yourself to engage in that activity because that’s how you develop self-trust. You must keep practicing until you feel comfortable and guilt free for enjoying a reasonable amount.
Q: Are some "cheats" better than others?
A: A bad “cheat” is an eating frenzy that adds back the calories you’ve lost all week. But that isn’t a “cheat”; it’s a “binge”. I don’t use the word “cheat” because it sounds so shady. I’d rather call it a “splurge” or “indulgence” or some word that addresses the sensual enjoyment but forgoes the guilt. MyPyramid.gov actually allots a portion of your daily calories to “cheats”. They call them “discretionary calories”, which are foods that have a high calorie content relative to the nutrients they provide. My Pyramid “gives you permission” to devote some of your intake everyday to discretionary calories.
In my opinion, the best “cheat” is the one that you really love, that tastes out-of-this-world, and is enjoyed s-l-o-w-l-y. Realizing that there isn't much room in the diet for high calorie foods with little nutritional value, you will fine-tune your discriminatory thinking to become very choosy about the foods you let in. If you start to eat something indulgent and it doesn’t taste great, then why bother? Stop right there. But it’s important to learn about the calories in food so that you can make informed choices.
Q: When it comes to the following indulgences, what are some good or surprising ways to "cheat" or tweak the drink/dish so you're indulging, but not in such an extreme way?
A: Healthy eaters might use strategies like these:
- Margarita: Add lots of crushed ice, use only fresh ingredients, serve it in a fun glass, inhale the aroma, and sip it slowly to make it last.
- Ice cream: Praise the makers of the low-fat, slow-churned ice creams on the market because they taste so good. And fat free frozen yogurts with natural or artificial sweeteners are good too, as is anything from The Skinny Cow®. Ice cream contains calcium, protein, vitamins A, B6 and B12, which are fantastic, but the saturated fat and sugar is not so good. I used to eat a small amount of ice cream in a tea cup everyday, but lately I don’t buy it so often because I find I want to eat it instead of other foods and it’s just so easy to “prepare”.
- Sangria: Wine punch is practically health food! Really, sangria is full of fresh fruit, juices, red wine, and carbonated waters, lots of ice, not too strong, with just a bit of simple syrup. Of course, it is bad manners to gulp or end up drunk.
- Chocolate/candy bar: You know about the health benefits of high-cacao-content dark chocolate, but you have to really like it to bother adding it to your diet because the health properties of candy bars are overstated. Some chocolates - for instance, a Godiva Truffle - do not claim to have health properties, but they are fabulous in small amounts. In addition to candy bars, other foods can deliver a chocolate taste. I’m thinking of fat-free chocolate pudding snacks, chocolate fat-free yogurt and chocolate crunch rice cakes, but there are others.
- Movie popcorn: Movie popcorn and the accompanying soda are terrible for you and they cost a fortune! According to CSPI, a medium combo has 1,610 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. That's nuts. This is where it pays to be discriminating. Movie popcorn in c*** and snacking at the movies is a bad habit. It's best to uncouple that un-mindful practice of watching a movie and eating. Either eat dinner before the movie or wait an hour to get higher quality food.
- Tortilla chips: Eat the baked tortilla chips or limit your intake of the regular kind. Tortilla chips have a high fiber content and some other nutrients too, but they are full of salt and trans fats. If you eat regular tortilla chips, break them in half because they are so big.
Q: What are some common "cheat" foods that actually aren't as unhealthy as you think? (The daily glass of red wine and dark chocolate come to mind... maybe guacamole could also be another one because of the healthy fats and such?)
A: Well, there's your daily glass of red wine and dark chocolate to start. Other healthy foods I see on "cheat lists" are:
- Seasonal fruit desserts (e.g. peach parfait, raspberry sorbet, strawberries with sweetened fat-free yogurt, grilled pineapple slices, pumpkin custard, etc.)
- Fat-free frozen yogurt
- Nuts, peanuts and peanut butter
- Lean beef
- Breakfast cereals
- Homemade salad dressing (olive oil, an acid, and fresh herbs)
- Fat-free pudding or gelatin with fat-free whipping topping
- French toast
- Spaghetti and meatballs
Honestly, I have seen people place all kinds of yummy, wholesome foods on their “Do Not Eat” list, and it’s really sad.
Question for you...
What "cheat" foods can you recommend that actually aren't as unhealthy as one might think?