By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC
Nobody’s perfect and that’s especially true when it comes to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Diet modification experts say you have to plan for occasional splurges as part of the long-term plan. Atlanta personal fitness trainer Beth Lewis offers empowering psychological advice to her clients who need a boost: “Don’t mistake setbacks with failure.” So, here are a few ways “cheating” on your diet can actually be a refreshing and powerful strategy to support successful weight control.
Order dessert first
This strategy helps you plan the rest of your meal around the sinfully rich dessert you really crave. OK, the waiter may think you’re weird asking to see the dessert menu first, but you need information on your destination before you can map out the meal. So, if you know you’ve just got to have the chocolate cheesecake or coconut cake with pineapple ice cream, then you will make sure not to start with the fried calamari appetizer or the creamy New England clam chowder. Save yourself for your true love, dessert.
A food diary or journal can help you keep track of your intake, so you won’t be caught going over your daily calorie limit. Research shows the most successful dieters do it and do it daily. Your journal notes don’t have to be super detailed. This will give you an insightful snapshot of your relationship with the foods you love. Nowhere to write it down? Text yourself a message or, easier yet, take a photo of your meal.
It’s about technique
Did you know that properly fried foods have less total fat and calories? These are the bad boys worth the heat. If fried foods are greasy, they are going to be higher in total fat and calories because they’ve soaked up more oil. Cooking oils with a high smoke point (peanut, olive and canola oils) allow foods to fry at a higher temperature and, therefore, cook faster and absorb less fat. However, fried foods are always a splurge.
As fashionistas know, accessories can make or break a look. The same goes for smartly dressing your dinner plate. For instance, think of blue cheese and bacon crumbles as accessories. They add flavor and flair to a dish, but too much just piles on unnecessary fat and calories. So, when you’re dining out it’s not necessary to totally avoid the butter, gravy, cheese sauce and full-fat salad dressings; just learn to accessorize sensibly.
If it’s a punch of flavor you’re looking for to liven up a salad or grilled chicken and fish, learn to identify very low-calorie ingredients, sauces and sides that perk things up (such as salsas, hot sauce, steak sauce, citrus, vinegar, herbs, spices) while keeping calorie counts down. Ordering fresh fruit for dessert? Did you know chocolate syrup has only 15 calories per teaspoon? Frozen beverage fan? Fragrant tea whirled in a blender with ice, a squeeze of lime and a little sugar turns iced tea into a real treat.
Savor every moment
If you’re going to cheat, then relax and enjoy it! Choose really fine chocolates so you need only a few decadent bites. Or if it’s a five-course gourmet meal you’re luxuriating over, remember to put your fork down every so often and savor the flavors. It’s quality, not quantity that counts.
A diet study conducted at the University of Rhode Island found that women consumed fewer calories and were more satisfied when they ate at a slower pace. Bottom line: By eating slower, the women ate 70 calories less and said they enjoyed the meal more.
Whether your meal is a race or a ritual is just one facet of eating behavior that might affect food consumption. So, slow down and let your body and soul appreciate small portions of big tastes.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil .com.