Daily Dessert or Occasional Treat?

Sugar Cane Field in Costa Rica

Sugar Cane Field in Costa Rica- Botanically it’s a grass.

Before my lifestyle change, I felt like desserts and snacks were off-limits. Desserts were reserved for a special occasion and snacks were destined to ruin my appetite for the next meal. So when I broke down and “cheated”, it was big, like a Friendly’s Peanut Butter Cup sundae, New York cheesecake, or a bag of doughnut holes. Because I felt deprived, these indulgences did far more damage–physically and psychologically–than if I gave myself the choice to have treats on a daily basis.

My lifestyle change helped me to change my attitude toward desserts and treats. By adding them into my daily regimen, I no longer felt as though they were off-limits and that I should feel guilty if I had them, so they no longer had that hold over me that led to binges. I’d managed to control this food addict demon.

With Phase 1 of my lifestyle change, I followed a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet. Sugar is calorie-packed at 16 calories per teaspoon, but not nearly as much as fat at 45 calories for the same serving size. In opting for low or fat-free substitutes, I was really just opting for more sugar. Sometimes it was in its very basic form as Jelly Belly’s, for example, but more often than not, it was in the form of processed foods like reduced-fat Triscuits, fat-free pretzels, or Little Debbie reduced-fat brownies with fat-free Cool Whip.

The traditional way of processing sugar

The traditional way of processing sugar

It wasn’t until I read the South Beach Diet book that I realized I was a total sugar addict. It wasn’t just the daily dessert I added in, but the fact that I was on a low-fat regimen. As I talked about in When Salt Goes Out , trading out fat in my diet included trading in a lot more carbohydrates as replacements. My addiction wasn’t just for sugary stuff, but was fueled by my dependence on low-calorie, heavily processed foods.

As it turns out, a big reason that I, and others, never considered the damage sugar could do was because of the popular consensus that fat was bad, but the only problem with sugar was potential tooth decay and hyperactivity. It was only recently that a researcher unearthed documents and published a paper that exposed the role the sugar industry played in pushing its agenda. It funded research that offered support favorable to its position that fat was far worse for our bodies than sugar. The industry went so far as to declare that Americans should follow a low-fat diet, prompting the industry to spend $600,000 ($5.3 million in 2016 dollars) to convince people they needed sugar in their daily diets.

Even though the research was specifically looking at sucrose and saturated fat, the only message that was conveyed was all sugar was “good”, and all fat was “bad”. At this point, the dietary trend was set into motion, with more research exalting the merits of a low-fat regimen. Chipping away at this prevailing notion has taken decades, but has yet to be thoroughly displaced as the dominant paradigm for weight loss.

Drying cocoa beans at a plantation in Ghana- just waiting to be mixed with sugar to be a chocolate bar

Drying cocoa beans at a plantation in Ghana- just waiting to be mixed with sugar to be a chocolate bar.

So what is the moral of this story? You can’t believe everything you read. But more importantly, our bodies need a combination of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to thrive. An excess of any of these things isn’t good for us. And the lower we can eat on the food chain, the better. So should you regularly indulge in desserts and snacks? It’s better to allow yourself the choice to avoid feeling deprived, but it’s also necessary to eat in moderation.

After years of my various lifestyle change phases and reconditioning myself away from bad habits, I find that some days I want a dessert and/or snack, and some days I don’t. But I get to choose. And because of that, I’m far less driven by psychological factors than listening to what my stomach is telling me.

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