By Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN
The sugar-fest stretching from Halloween to New Years can be stressful for anyone attempting to stick to healthy eating habits. These drama-free tips and tricks can help satisfy your sweet tooth without overindulging.
Tune in to your cravings
You don’t have to get out a pen and paper for this one, but you certainly can. What foods and flavors do you find yourself craving? Is it at a specific time of day or in a certain situation? Taking stock of what you crave and when you crave it can help you notice patterns and zone in on how to respond.
Know what your weaknesses are, but don’t judge yourself—we all have something we can’t say no to! Once you know what you’re working with, come up with a few strategies.
First things first: Don’t skip meals. It’s harder to think clearly when you’re hungry. If you’re prone to nibbling on what’s around, make it easier to eat well by bringing healthier treats to work or school. Stock your space with fresh fruit, nuts or nut-butter, and single-serving bags of popcorn. If you’re bringing treats to share, opt for lower sugar items, or volunteer to bring a fruit platter to the next book club meeting.
If there’s a certain food you absolutely can’t resist, then don’t torture yourself. Make a point of including it occasionally. Rather than feeling you have to “sneak” a piece of chocolate or stealthily nibble a donut, sit down and enjoy the heck out of whatever that particular thing is once or twice a month and move on with your life, guilt-free.
Making room in your diet for a little of what you really love will help you feel satisfied so you can decline stuff you’d rather not eat. For example, if you know you’re going to want a cookie in the afternoon, skip the roll that comes with your salad at lunch, or say “no thanks” to wine with dinner if you want to order that amazing chocolate cake at your favorite special-occasion restaurant.
Another option is to work a little of what you crave into an otherwise healthy meal or snack.
A few ideas:
- Serve a small piece of your favorite treat (like a square of chocolate or small cookie) with sliced fruit and a few tablespoons of nuts.
- Crumble a small cookie or piece of chocolate into plain Greek yogurt. This also works great with a fun-size pack of holiday-themed M&Ms.
- Chocolate lovers might enjoy a tablespoon of cocoa powder mixed into that plain yogurt with cinnamon and vanilla extract. Top it off with a few chocolate or white chocolate chips.
- If sour stuff is your thing, try a tart, crisp apple or add a tablespoon of dried cranberries to your salad.
- If you crave crunchy treats, try a single-serving bag of kettle corn or a rice cake. A sliced apple, bell peppers, or jicama sticks also deliver a satisfying crunch.
- Peanut butter lovers might enjoy a spoonful on top of their morning oatmeal to satisfy that craving and make their breakfast more satisfying. Peanut butter (or whatever your favorite nut or seed butter is) also tastes great with sliced fruit or on toast or a rice cake.
Play Mad Scientist
Simple recipe hacks can help you trim fat and calories and up the nutrient value of your favorite treats without sacrificing taste or texture. When making treats from scratch, cut the sugar by ¼ cup. Chances are, no one will notice.
One of my other favorite tricks: Instead of following the directions on a box of brownie mix, add 1 can pumpkin puree or 1 cup blended black beans (seriously) instead of the traditional egg and oil. Not only can you not taste the pumpkin or beans, but you’ll get a great, moist texture and a fiber boost—all with less fat and fewer calories. Added bonus: the look of shock on your friends’ faces when you tell them what the secret ingredient is. It’s a win-win situation.
Change what you can
Remember: Out of sight out of mind. If you can’t resist the siren call of a co-worker’s candy dish, try walking a different way to the copier. If that’s not an option, keep your hands busy or pop a piece of gum. If you’ve got a bakery outside your window, try putting a happy plant or a favorite photo in your line of sight.