How to have your cake…and be healthy too

YA KNOW WHAT - it's not that you don't have enough willpower. And it's not that you're weak and easily tempted.

It's absolutely okay to have those foods in your life here and there. We just need to find some balance – even with junk food. I’m talking about how to have these foods in your life sometimes…but without diving head-first into a serious junk-food binge.

It’s about having your favourite cake - and only eating a reasonable amount of it :)

The food I'm talking about here are the mega-processed, mega-advertised foods that our body doesn't love in large amounts. These are commercially prepared cookies, chips, pop, and other addictively delicious snack foods.

And "addictively" is the #1 right word for this group. When you reach into that bag for just one more cookie or one more handful of chips, you're doing exactly what the manufacturers want you to do. They have spent HUGE amounts of money to entice you to have just one more bite by creating what they call the "bliss point".

The bliss point is a perfect mix of flavours, salt, fat, and crunch that will make you crave more. Check out this article or this one if you'd like to know more about the science of food manufacturing.

Just keep these foods out of the house

…and never eat them ever again. That's one solution to this issue, and for some, that will work. But it doesn't for me.

Yes, I'm a nutritionist and I enjoy junk food here and there. Specifically, I LOVE Lays Salt & Vinegar potato chips. I think it's important that I'm honest with you so you know that a) I'm human, and b) a healthy diet CAN include some junk food.

What I've developed are some tips and tricks so these foods can be in my life when I really want them (as an adult I can eat as I please, and so can you) but I don't let them rule my life.

Because they want to rule our lives…they've been manufactured to do just that. I'm repeating this a few times because it's important that we embrace the fact that they're a bit sinister.

The most important point I want you to remember is this – a healthy diet does not need to be 100% perfect.

Actually, 100% perfect can be an eating disorder. My healthy diet includes the occasional splurge into the mainstream potato chip world...and I have a bunch of techniques to make sure that splurge stays occasional :)

How to keep your favourite treat on the "occasional" list –

1. Have an apple first

Or any other fruit, veggie, nut, or seed that you like.

I have a very stubborn mind. Telling myself "I can't have that" totally doesn't work. My inner teenager pipes in and says "um, yes you can! Have it NOW!".

So instead, I do a bit of a negotiation – I tell myself that I can have whatever sweet or salty treat I want AFTER I eat an apple. 9 times out of 10, it distracts me from that treat and I completely forget about it. The other time…I have the treat. But 9x fewer indulgencies is not bad :)

2. Find a healthier almost-good-enough indulgence

And what that is depends on what you crave. It might be homemade cookies or bliss balls. Or a healthier potato chip. Or some dark chocolate. This can take a bit of experimentation.

For my love of chips, I have 2 go-to options –

When my cravings are rare but happen, I'll enjoy a bowl of roasted sweet potatoes/potatoes mixed with chickpeas and topped with lots of sea salt, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar for dinner. It's very comforting and usually does the trick.

When my cravings are more common I need a bigger solution. What is working really well for me right now is I keep a bag of Hardbite potato chips in my cupboard at all times.

I know, that might seem a tad counter-productive, but it's really working. Hardbite is a local chip company (out of Vancouver) and their chips, while not as healthy as fresh veggies, are much better than Lays chips.

And what they are NOT is addicting.

That bag can happily live in my cupboard for weeks and I won't even think about them. And when I want some chips, a small handful is very satisfying.

That bag in my cupboard helps me the most when I'm at the grocery store…when I'm walking by the potato chip aisle and the Lays chips call to me. I can (usually) just remember that I have those chips at home, I don't need these.

Most of the time, that works and I don't bring a bag home.

3. When you bring your craving home – hide it

I'll always eat a bag of Lays many times faster than I'll eat a bag of Hardbite chips, but that speeds up ENORMOUSLY if I leave the bag on the counter.

Out of sight really does = out of mind.

I've found that if I put the bag in my regular chip spot I will eat it slower than if it was on the counter, but by far the BEST location is in my overflow cupboard. The spot where I keep extra staples that I buy when they're on sale, it's a cupboard I ignore regularly (since I only need it when I run out of something). Once I even found a bag of Lays chips there I had completely forgotten about.

Even if I don't completely forget about the bag, it's not top of mind and I can forget about it for a day or two. This really works :)

Other good spots are –

  • Behind healthier food - my dark chocolate bars are stashed behind my supplements and under some crackers
  • The freezer – a great place for extra cookies, treats, and chocolate since you have to wait for them to thaw (slowing down your consumption)
  • The basement or a spare room
  • Left at the grocery store – whenever possible, use whatever willpower you have to get out of the store without your craving in your bag. It's not always possible, so celebrate when it is :)

4. Never eat right out of the package

My bag of chips, while eaten quickly in my world, still takes me about a week to finish off the bag…and I do that with one simple trick. A small bowl.

It's very easy to eat unconsciously when you have a full package/bag of your treat in front of you. It's especially hard if you're sharing that package with someone else.

I've found I can eat 3 or 4x as much if I eat right out of the bag, and even more if another person is also enjoying it with me. It's all about small amounts and separate bowls.

Here's the trick for when you want your fave treat - take out a bit, put it on a small plate or bowl, put the rest back into it's hiding spot, and ENJOY (like really savor each bite). If you want more, repeat these steps.

It's an automatic and effective portion control trick – and it REALLY works :)

5. Savour every bite – really really enjoy it

No guilt, no "I shouldn't be eating this". You've chosen to eat it, so REALLY REALLY enjoy it. Chew, taste, enjoy and repeat. Enjoying your craving will make them more satisfying.

And after you're done, look with curiosity (not judgment) at how you're feeling –

  • Do you feel satisfied? Or still hungry/craving?*
  • Do you feel light? Or heavy?

*many junk foods are manufactured to make you LOVE the food…and they will keep you feeling hungry so you don't stop eating them. They're trying to optimize their "stomach share", or how much room they take up in your diet.

If you honestly don't feel great, then your craving will get less powerful each time you notice that. But, judgment and "I shouldn't" can block this very important feedback loop.

6. Look at why you're craving that food –

Sometimes a nutritional deficiency or dietary imbalance can drive our cravings. And other times we just like that food.

When a deficiency or dietary imbalance drives a craving it's REALLY demanding. Like can't-stop, this-is-all-I-want, on-your-mind-all-day kind of craving. 

Once you find and fix the big WHY you're craving that food, it can take deflate your craving quickly and give you more of a clear head around it. Learn more about how to do that here :)

Do you have any tried and true methods to keep your favourite craving at bay? I'd love to hear about all of them, share them in the comments!