Why Eating Dessert Is So Healthy

Once upon a time I assumed I suffered from some kind of sugar addiction. As a result, I wouldn’t allow myself to eat sugar at all for long stretches of time, and would then rebound with massive sugar binges.

But these days I eat dessert twice a week, religiously, as part of my plan for a healthy life. And I rarely, rarely binge at all anymore. Doesn’t that sound great? It is! And I’ll tell you why.

Total Restriction Is Never the Answer

Back in the day when I was trying to straighten out my eating but not having much success, I came across an idea called intuitive eating. It didn’t end up working out for me personally (read more about that here), but I am extremely grateful for the months I spent trying it out because I learned some valuable things that are integral parts of my current take on food and eating.

One of those truths intuitive eating taught me is this: if you deprive yourself of something completely, you will eventually binge. Period. I’d read that and heard that many times before, but I didn’t really believe it. Until I took an honest look at my own eating, that is, and found it was 100% the case for me.

dessert is healthy

The Golden Grahams That Changed My Life

While I was working with intuitive eating, I met monthly with a fantastic nutritionist named Julie. At our first meeting, in early 2013, she left me with a challenge to complete and report on the next time we met: buy a box of Golden Grahams—something I’d mentioned as one of my favorite foods that I wasn’t currently allowing myself to eat—and eat some.

In retrospect it’s kind of embarrassing that that was so scary. But it was! So on my way home I bought a box, then eyed the bright-yellow cardboard nervously for the remainder of the drive and a few hours after bringing it inside and setting it on my counter. At that time I assumed that my brain or metabolism or both were somehow broken, and that my body “couldn’t handle sugar.” I thought I was addicted and that if I took one bite of the stuff I was done for—and, as a result, for years told myself I wasn’t allowed to eat sugary things but in fact did overeat sugar on a regular basis, feeling bad and guilty and like I was breaking a rule every time. The idea of buying something sugary, bringing it home, and eating it without feeling bad about it was totally foreign and frightening. But that bowl of graham cereal goodness was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It’s ironic that I didn’t believe that deprivation was the cause of my binges, because once I took that leap of faith and stopped depriving myself of sugary foods, the binges slowly but surely began to become less and less frequent.

end sugar addiction by eating sugar moderately

Those Golden Grahams marked a huge shift for me: I decided that keeping sugar in my life on a regular basis was going to be a key element in my return to normalcy when it came to food.

But how often was eating sugary food a good idea for me? Could I handle having candy and ice cream on hand in my home at all times, or should I avoid keeping tempting treats around the house? Was a small dessert every day ideal, or should I have something sweet weekly or every few days instead? And what exactly counted as “sugar”?

This was a long trial-and-error process for me, and I’d imagine that different strategies work well for different people. But here’s the approach I’ve settled on.

What I Do with Desserts Now

I eat dessert two times a week, always. For me, eating sugar regularly is key in preventing binges because it keeps me from feeling physically or emotionally deprived. Most of the time I use Splurge #1 on Monday evening, when my husband and kids and I typically have a little “family night” together where we do something fun and then enjoy a treat, which is often something the kids and I baked that afternoon. Splurge #2 is almost always saved for one of the weekend nights, so that if Mark and I go on a date, or if we have a party or wedding reception to go to, I can join in with everyone else and indulge there.

But I’m flexible: suppose one of my kids’ birthdays falls on a Wednesday, or I’m just really, really craving brownies on a Thursday. I allow myself to put that Splurge wherever I’m going to enjoy it most, but I am cautious to try to keep them spaced out so that they fall every 3–4 days if possible. That way, if I find myself faced with a bag of Twizzlers or some day-old doughnuts or something that sounds appealing in the moment but that I know is actually pretty mediocre, I can remind myself, “Hey, remember how you and the girls were going to make red velvet bars on Friday? Hold out for that!” And in that instance, I feel like I’m not really saying NO to sugary treats, but instead saying LATER. That may sound like a silly mental shift, but for me it’s been a complete game changer.

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A night out with the kiddos at one of my favorite places to Splurge: Cold Stone.

Should You Keep Sugar in Your Kitchen?

I’ll also be honest and add that I still don’t typically keep a lot of sugary food around the house. Maybe I’ll get to the point where that’s not stressful someday, and maybe not. For now, my family makes going out to buy a treat or taking time to bake something a special occasion. If we’re buying, we buy just enough for all of us to have a normal serving. Sure, 4 individual ice cream cones costs more than a single tub of ice cream to keep at home, but to quote Confessions of a Shopaholic, cost and worth are very different things.

The same is true when I bake: as often as possible we bake a batch of whatever, set aside a plate that has enough for all of us to eat just a few, and then take a plate or two to family or neighbors instead of keeping the leftovers around. It’s a great way to spread a little love while not making baking cookies a days-long cause of stress and willpower battles that last until the last cookie gets eaten.

Figure out what works for YOU. Maybe feeling like you can be around any food and still maintain control is a big part of your own definition of “recovery.” If so, more power to you! But if you’re like me, not having treats quite as accessible is a good defensive move in keeping my eating in check.

A Word on Splurges

Now the last key to why my 2x-a-week Splurge plan is so effective: I make these Splurges GOOD. Note the capital S in Splurge: no waxy Twizzlers, day-old doughnuts, or grocery-store-bakery brownies for me! I think of the most fantastic thing I can think of and then let myself have a reasonable portion of that thing. Sometimes it’s a big ol’ sugar cookie from my favorite bakery.  Sometimes it’s a shared slice of Reese’s cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes it’s homemade chocolate-covered cinnamon bear cookies. And fairly often it’s cake batter ice cream from Cold Stone with cookie dough AND brownies AND rainbow sprinkles mixed in because I’m pretty much a 5-year-old trapped in a twenty something’s body.

Get the picture? Don’t make your splurges massive in quantity, but make them amazing in quality.

sugar addiction
This recipe for Funfetti Bars from Crazy for Crust is one of my all-time favorite Splurges. YUM.

I choose exactly what I’m craving most because that way I’m ensuring that I never go too long without satisfying the mental/emotional desire to eat something fabulous purely for fun. And the best part is, that because I am conscientious about making sure to eat fairly healthy meals and snacks throughout the rest of my eating, I can get away with doing this twice a week and not just maintain my weight but even lose a little. Yes, you read that right! While the number on the scale isn’t the most important thing, I was tickled to see that about five pounds dropped pretty effortlessly in the months before I became pregnant when I began doing my 2 Splurges a week regularly.  I also believe my dessert-eating is a key part of why my weight gain has been at such a healthy rate this pregnancy (12 pounds up at 21 weeks in, which I’m thrilled with).

Treat Yo Self!

So there you have it. I’m giving you the challenge my nutritionist gave me: go eat some dessert, and then keep doing it on a regular basis. Restriction and deprivation will get you nowhere. Ask yourself honestly: is restricting working for you now? I don’t think there are many one-size-fits-all principles of health, but this is one of the few. Start eating the foods you are depriving yourself of now, in reasonable quantities but at regular intervals, and you’ll be amazed at what begins to happen over time.

Confessions of a Foodaholic

Hi there. My name is Sarah McConkie. I’m a mom of three daughters. I’m a wife of an MBA student. I’m a writer, a runner, a lover of all things involving cake batter, and a Pushing Daisies/BBC Sherlock/Gilmore Girls fan (in that order). And I’m out to conquer binge eating forever. Essentially, I’m a former foodaholic that is finally starting to figure things out.  My quest is to stay binge-free forever and help anyone else out there who’s sick of the food fight to do the same.

confessions of a foodaholic

 

I’m writing this blog because after lots of frustration, tears, and figuratively crumpling up the paper and starting from square one all over again, things are starting to really click into place for me.

Scarves & Green Apples

Now, a bit about my blog’s name. Does anyone else out there LOVE the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic? I think it is absolutely hilarious and adorable (plus the hot British guy totally looks like my husband. Hehe).

But I digress. If you are a fan of said movie, you probably know my blog name references it in a big way. The girl in the show, Rebecca, ends up writing for a money magazine about personal finance. But the trouble is that she’s a shopping addict with rampant credit card debt—something she doesn’t mention to her boss or anyone else at the magazine. But throughout the movie she overcomes her problem with shopping by figuring out what’s really important and then biting the bullet to make hard changes and simply STOP her old patterns. And that’s what I want to do. Rebecca’s pen name for her magazine writing is “the girl with the green scarf.” I want to be the girl with the green apple: someone who had a real problem—eating in my case, not compulsive shopping—but who overcame it.

 

My Story

In case you’re curious, here’s a bit about where I’ve been. (This is the Reader’s Digest version, btw. If you want the whole thing, check out my How I Stopped Binge Eating series of posts on my Binge Eating Help page.)

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a hard time eating sugary foods. Sugar has always been hard for me to eat in a moderate and normal way. Even as a kid I remember occasionally being embarrassed at how many cookies or brownies I’d eat if my mom made a pan of something yummy. I knew I was eating more than any of my other family members ate and felt ashamed of it. However, the negative feelings bounced away pretty quickly. I was a fairly happy kid and then a fairly happy teen.

Sarah McConkie
Cute little second-grade me. 🙂

My freshman year of college was when I became really worried about my overeating for the first time in my life. That was also when I began overeating more than ever before. I was freaked out! I’d just moved away from home. I was dealing with my first real heartbreak. The economic downturn that year (yep, it was 2008) meant my dad got laid off and a scholarship I’d planned on using to pay rent didn’t get funding. I wasn’t getting along with my roommates like I’d hoped I would. It was a lot of things all at once, and I didn’t handle it well.

Full-Blown Disordered Eating

I began full-on bingeing about once a week as a freshman. The binges happened when I was feeling particularly stressed or sad or scared. After a few months of that, I began making myself throw up after overeating to try to compensate.

I purged after bingeing a total of five times over a three-week window before realizing that what I was doing was scary and just plain wrong. I felt sick, weak, and shaky after purging. I didn’t want to do it anymore, but I was afraid of the weight I’d gain if I didn’t get a handle on my overeating. I panicked and cried and prayed. And though it was scary, I finally told my roommate and my mom about what I was doing. With their encouragement I went to go see a counselor at my university.

I’m grateful that I sought professional help. I needed it then, because at this point of my story what I was doing was extremely unsafe. However, I feel bad that my counseling there wasn’t a fantastic experience, or at least one that proved helpful long term. My counselor and I  met a few times and we’d talk about all the things I was worrying about, and he did give me some good strategies for dealing with my feelings and fears more healthily. But after three visits over three weeks my counselor  seemed to think the problem was resolved since the purging was over (the last time I did was even before we began meeting). He told me to just come back if it started up again. So there we go: I was “better.”

So I carried on. And in a lot of ways, life was great. I graduated from college  I got married to a wonderful guy. We had two gorgeous daughters. All in all, things were really, really good.

Sarah McConkie

Kind-of-Disordered Eating

I purged a total of two times over the next six years, and my overeating calmed down from the extreme pitch it had hit back in college. But my overeating never really went away. Sometimes binges were directly correlated to stress, sometimes they were a “last supper” response to my deciding I’d start another diet the next day, and sometimes they seemed to happen for no reason at all. My binges/overeating episodes weren’t multiple pizzas plus entire tubs of ice cream, but they were often 1,000—2,000 calories in one go of rich, sugary stuff, and they made me feel horrible physically and emotionally. I found myself perpetually worried about my weight and shape, sure that many of my problems would go away if I hadn’t been “so fat.” I think the dieting attempts that began in earnest beginning with my freshman year were the #1 factor in leaving me totally unable to stop bingeing, simply because I never let myself eat enough to be full consistently.

The years went on and the overeating/restricting went on about as I’ve described. I felt like I was in this weird limbo: I didn’t have a full-blown eating disorder, but I wasn’t happy with where I was with food. I was stressed about it constantly and scared of it. I seemed stuck on a wheel of restricting (both in terms of what I ate and how much I allowed myself to eat) and then rebounding with binges. I wasn’t doing anything dramatic or scary or unsafe anymore, but I just wasn’t completely happy.

Sarah McConkie
Here I am shortly after having my second baby, Aurora. It was during my pregnancy with her that I was finally able to begin breaking free from my awful bingeing and restricting habits.

If you’re in that same camp, my friend, I wish I could give you a huge hug. Because I know firsthand that it sucks. I also know that SO MANY PEOPLE, especially women, are like me. I’m amazed at how often I get the response “Me too!” when I share with others that I struggle with eating in a so-called “normal” way. So many of us are not full-blown anorexics or bulimics, but we aren’t happy with our relationships with food, and often that unhappiness seeps into other areas of our lives. It’s confusing and embarrassing to feel that you don’t have a “legitimate” problem, but that you still wish you could find something or someone that could help you get things straightened out. That, at least, has been how I have felt.

Better at Last

So. Years went on, overeating went on. In times of stress things would occasionally worsen, but with the help of my amazing and supportive husband as well as others who love me, I’d pull through before things got out of hand as they did back in my college years. And while none of the approaches I tried “worked” in the sense that my binges totally stopped, I gleaned helpful ideas and practices from almost every one of them that are helping me progress, and things slowly but surely began to change.

Sarah McConkie
Me with my little family on my sister’s wedding day in Fall 2014, when things had finally started to really click.

The biggest factor in my increasing success? I began letting myself eat enough. That single behavior change has been such a dramatic turning point for me. And over the past few months, I’ve finally allowed myself to say it out loud: things are starting to change for me long-term.

It feels so good! I go for so much longer than I once did between binges—weeks rather than days. And even my “binges” are things like me deciding I don’t care about healthy eating on moody days, having three pieces of toast I’m not hungry for, and then realizing what’s beginning to happen and stopping in my tracks. Really, I haven’t truly binged in years.

My thinking, my eating, my EVERYTHING is starting to finally change. And late last year I hit the point where my husband and I felt like I was in a healthy enough place to try for our third child.  I’m thrilled to report that I’m currently about 7 months along with a third baby girl we’re planning to name Scarlett. 🙂

healthy pregnancy
Me at 15 weeks along with little Scarlett, right when my bump first “popped.”

And so I began this blog. In my darkest hours as a frightened bulimic college freshman I decided if I ever figured things out, I wanted to help others find their way out too. So here I am. I’m not a professional, and I’m not yet completely where I want to be, but I think I’m out of the woods.  And I want to share everything and anything that has helped me and continues to help me along my way. My hope is that someone else out there can find hope and a bit of practical help from what I write about.

My Mission

I believe there’s power in being honest and vulnerable and real. There are some things that are embarrassing to share and hard to talk about. But guess what? I talk about them anyway.  I’ll reference my struggles with bingeing head-on in lots of my posts. However, I’ll also write about all things healthy and happy that are keeping me better. You’ll see a lot about healthy pregnancy and post-baby recovery here too. Since I’ve been going through both recently, that’s where my head has been lately. But the bottom line is this: I’m out to have a happier and fuller life where regular binges are a thing of the past. Moderation, not perfection, is my battlecry. Everything on this blog is meant to support that idea and help you in your own quest to live you happiest, best life.

The Girl with the Green Apple

 

So here’s my effort to share about my journey to finding a place of real HEALTH. And by “health” I don’t mean weighing 110 pounds and living exclusively on protein powder. By health I mean genuine, all-around wellness. I want to keep figuring out how to live a moderate, truly healthy lifestyle where I’m taking care of myself not just physically but emotionally too. And I would absolutely love for all and any of you reading this to come along on this journey with me:  a real, imperfect, former foodaholic who’s out to become the healthiest and happiest version of myself I can be.

Love to you all,

Sarah