I want to start this article off by saying people should eat whatever they want to, whenever they want to. There are no "good" or "bad" foods, just foods that are more nutritious than others. Nothing should be "off-limits," and if you're trying to lose weight (that's great if that's your goal, but don't feel pressured to!), you shouldn't deprive yourself.
OK, now that we got that out of the way, I should admit that I am one of those people on a weight-loss journey. Not because I'm trying to achieve a certain aesthetic or because I feel pressured to — I didn't even try to lose weight before my wedding! — but I noticed my weight creeping up the last couple years. Since I have PCOS, I'm more at risk for developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. I want to get my health under control, and also be a little lighter so I can power through my workouts (less weight to try and pull during pull-ups!) and be more agile.
I've been using a calorie-tracking app to track my food and I aim to stay within a calorie target each day. Since starting this journey, I'm down 10 pounds — slowly, but surely. Since this isn't a specific diet and my only goal is to hit a specific calorie target, no foods are "off-limits." This gives me room to enjoy my favorite foods (in moderation, of course) and never feel deprived.
I should also admit that I'm not a huge sweets person: cake doesn't tempt me, I couldn't care less about cupcakes, and I would rather have a slice of pizza than a piece of tiramisu. But I do like something sweet after dinner, and if I told myself dessert was completely off limits, it would make me crave it more, leading to an unhealthy binge and probable weight gain. So I wanted to enjoy dessert every night for a week and see if that had any impact on my weight loss. Turns out, there's a method behind this way of thinking.
Registered dietitian and ACSM-certified personal trainer Jim White recommends his clients enjoy 150 calories of whatever they want at the end of the day, even if they are trying to lose weight. "Everyone needs a little break from dieting, and I feel 150 calories each day of discretionary calories won't break the bank, especially if it's budgeted in," Jim explained. "Think of it like the carrot at the end of the day." He added that the end-of-day treat doesn't necessarily have to be dessert; it can be a glass of wine, a small bowl of chips, or a mini bag of popcorn. It will help you get through each day and help you stick to your plan.
Jim said if you can budget for this 150 calories within your daily calorie target, it won't have an impact on your weight-loss goals at all. But even if you go over by 150 calories every once in a while, it won't totally derail your progress. With those words of wisdom in mind, my experiment began.
What I Ate For Dessert
A big part of this experiment was being able to eat the sweet foods I enjoy. A handful of berries wasn't going to cut is as dessert if what I was really craving was a piece of chocolate. So I made it work, and was just careful to measure out portion sizes. I'm a big fan of Skinny Dipped Almonds, and made room for a serving (about 15 almonds) of the Chocolate Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Mint flavors. I love chocolate and peanut butter, as well as chocolate and mint together, so eating these chocolate-covered almonds was enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. Each serving had about 150 calories, 12 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbs, and seven grams of sugar.
My other go-to treat was dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's. I buy the little packs of the wrapped ones from the checkout line and keep them in my freezer. Each piece is big enough and sweet enough to be satisfying. One peanut butter cup is about 67 calories, four grams of fat, seven grams of carbs, and six grams of sugar. I was usually satisfied after one or two pieces. Other desserts I reached for were a square or two of 72 percent cacao dark chocolate (67 calories, 5.7 grams of fat, 5.6 grams of carbs, and 3.3 grams of sugar per square) or a tablespoon of chocolate peanut butter from RXBAR (90 calories, 6.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbs, and 1.5 grams of sugar per tablespoon) with an apple.
Since I knew the nutritional information for everything I was eating, I was able to factor it into my daily calorie budget. But even if I didn't necessarily allot for dessert that day and went over my daily calorie target with dinner, I still treated myself every night before bed.
What Happened After I Ate Dessert Every Night For a Week
My weight fluctuates like crazy and the scale continues to surprise me — I could gain three pounds overnight or lose a half a pound after a weekend eating nothing but pizza and Aperol spritzes — so I wasn't sure what would happen after my week of eating dessert. But after weighing myself one week after starting my experiment, I was down a little over two pounds! It was a pleasant surprise and a reminder that I can still eat the foods I love and am craving without impeding my progress.
I should also note that, in general, I weigh myself every few days. I have a fraught history with the scale — I used to weigh myself obsessively every day — and while the number on it used to have a huge impact on my mood (positively and negatively), I no longer tie my happiness to what the scale says. If it's a higher number than I'm expecting, I acknowledge that and move on with my day.
What I Learned
When I would try (unhealthily) to lose weight in the past, I had an all-or-nothing mentality. I would cut out everything I considered "bad," including sweets and dessert, all in the name of losing weight. I could last for maybe a week or two, but would crave sweets and salty carbs so heavily. Inevitably, I would not only give in to my cravings, but go on a full-on binge buying candy from CVS or giant cookies from the bakery.
By eating a little bit of something sweet each night after dinner, I was able to honor my cravings without going on a sugar binge. It was enough to satisfy my sweet tooth and leave me feeling good before bed — no sugar rush or inevitable crash and stomachache like after a dessert binge.
Sometimes I don't crave something sweet after dinner, in which case I'm totally satisfied with my evening meal. But other times I do, and I know that if I reach for one of my go-to desserts, I shouldn't beat myself up about it. I can enjoy the foods I love and still stay on track with my goals.