Sometimes, healthy swaps can completely satisfy your sweet tooth, especially when it's due to hunger. Other times, the craving is so strong that you just need to indulge. Often called a "cheat" or "cheat meal," these indulgences don't have to be a negative thing. We chatted with founder and president of Nutritious Life Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Torey Jones Armul, MS, RDN, CSSD, to see how to indulge responsibly. So go ahead, eat the cheeseburger every once in a while and don't beat yourself up about it—here's how splurging can be good for you.
Keep scrolling to see their tips for indulging without messing up your healthy eating efforts.
The word "cheat" has such a negative connotation, which is why Glassman says to stop using the word in reference to your food splurges. She'd rather you think of them as conscious indulgences, which frames it in a much more positive light. This helps prevent guilt-ridden food binges (more on those later). Try and keep your thoughts in tune with the mindset that you've been eating healthy, so you can allow yourself to enjoy a small treat. She calls this "eating empowered."
Glassman isn't a fan of planning out conscious indulgences in advance (goodbye, scheduled Sunday night ice cream), because you don't always feel like splurging when it comes time to, well, splurge. She'd rather you indulge in something you truly are craving, and cravings usually don't stick to a schedule.
You know how sometimes, for no reason at all, you need chocolate? Or a hamburger? Instead, you convince yourself not to indulge, and suddenly find yourself snacking on an apple, peanut butter, and other healthy snacks before finally giving in and just eating the damn chocolate. Feel free to skip the entire first part of that, Glassman says. Whatever you're craving, don't "eat around it" since you'll almost always end up eating more. "Put it on a plate, enjoy it, and move on," she says.
That being said, you shouldn't take this as an excuse to chow down on pizza after every bad day at work. Glassman says to make sure you're not emotionally eating and are actually craving that burger. Take a few moments to self-reflect: Are you using an indulgence to nurse a bad mood? To procrastinate a few minutes longer on those emails? That's emotional eating. Try doing something else for five minutes to distract yourself.
Splurging, like the grocery store, is something that should be avoided when your stomach is growling. "The biggest mistake people make is splurging when they’re hungry," Jones Armul says. "Feeling too hungry can lead to irrational food choices and overeating." Plus, if you're indulging in your favorite treat, you want to enjoy it—not inhale it and miss out on the taste.
Even if you've pre-planned an indulgence, we've all felt the post-cheesecake guilt, which can lead to even more cheesecake and maybe a cookie or two (see emotional eating above). To avoid guilt-induced food binges, Jones Armul recommends mindful eating. "Practice mindful eating by eating slowly, taking time to enjoy and appreciate your food and listening to your body’s cues for hunger and fullness," she says.
As mentioned above, calling it a "cheat" associates your eating with "negative depravation," which can also lead to guilt, Glassman says.
"A healthy diet and active lifestyle allow for small, daily indulgences like a piece of dark chocolate or a handful of popcorn," Jones Armul says. But, for a lot of us, it can be tough to stop at just one dark chocolate square.
If you fall into this camp, you can try having a larger, but still reasonable, splurge (think: a serving size of a big-ticket item like pie or brownies) one to two times per week. But be mindful of serving sizes, and be sure to portion it out, says Glassman.
And just because you're going for the fries doesn't mean the rest of your meal should be filled with splurge-y items as well. Pair those fries with an entrée salad, or choose a healthy side to go along with your cheeseburger.
This goes hand in hand with the guilt. "If you do overindulge, remember that no one food or meal can make or break an overall healthy diet," Jones Armul says. "Our overall eating pattern—what we eat throughout the day, over the course of many weeks and months—is most important."
So don't spend the rest of your weekend wallowing in guilt and that bag of potato chips. While it feels easy to throw in the towel on healthy eating for a couple of days after one splurge (because, hey, you've already eaten something bad), both Glassman and Jones Armul agree that you should take the time to savor your indulgence, then get right back on track the next time you eat.
What are your favorite foods to indulge in? Let us know in the comments!