Guilty Pleasures into Your Diet

How to Incorporate Guilty Pleasures into Your Diet

Even though diets are challenging, they don’t have to be unnecessarily painful. There are tips, tricks, and tweaks to avoid guilt while reaching goals.
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No one really enjoys dieting or trying to lose weight. The very term “diet” is almost synonymous with food guilt. Weight loss goals inevitably require changes in eating habits, which often means keeping a food diary for mindful eating, counting calories, and limiting intake of some of our favorite things.

Creating and maintaining new habits can be extra difficult when we are too stressed or busy to devote time and energy to thinking about every food choice (and those peanut-butter-and-milk-chocolate cookies look so good).

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Even though diets are challenging, they don’t have to be unnecessarily painful. There are tips, tricks, and tweaks to avoid guilt while reaching goals. Surprisingly enough, one of the best health benefit tips is incorporating pleasure foods into your diet.

Benefits of Including Guilty Pleasure Foods in Your Diet

Most of us have at least one comfort food that brings us pleasure but makes us feel guilty. Common examples are cake, french fries, cookies, ice cream, salty chips, cheese, highly processed foods, beer, and milk chocolate. As a rule, pleasure food is usually high in fat, calories, or carbs, with no added health benefit. You might assume it’s necessary to quit cold turkey, but that’s not the case!

Consequences of a Restrictive Diet

close up of an individual standing on the scale

Restricting your diet too much can actually be counterproductive (and not only because it makes you hangry). Studies have shown that overly restrictive diets can have adverse short-term and long-term consequences, from fatigue and mental fogginess to malnutrition.

Feeling deprived can encourage toxic habits that harm your mental health, sending you back into the comforting arms of ice cream, cookies, or chocolate-covered potato chips in fits of emotional eating. Radically cutting calorie intake can even cause your body to slow its metabolism to preserve energy. So it’s important to make sure your body gets all the calories, protein, carbs, fiber—and pleasure—it needs to stay full and feel nourished.

Indulging Can Help You Reach Your Weight Loss Goal

As we wrote in a recent post, it’s a myth of diet culture that weight loss means never having any of your favorite foods. Some psychologists think we should retire the term “guilty pleasures” altogether!

Given the potential consequences of a restrictive diet, it’s no surprise that there are health benefits to occasional indulgence. As you work toward reaching your weight loss goals, you can plan to mindfully enjoy and appreciate your favorite foods now and then. (Have we mentioned chocolate?)

Tweaking Guilty Pleasures for a Healthier Diet

Almost any guilty pleasure food can be tweaked and made healthier with smart substitutions. The good news is there is such a thing as healthy baking to help you incorporate guilty pleasures into your diet—without the guilt.

Experienced weight watchers know that healthy cooking starts at home. Prepared, processed, and restaurant foods often come in extra large portions that are fried or use lots of unidentified sugar, saturated fat, and salt. In your kitchen, you have control.

Common Healthy Substitutions in Unhealthy Recipes

spiralled veggies

No matter what you’re craving, there are almost always healthy alternatives to use in making it. Swap agave, honey, or maple syrup for refined sugar. Replace butter with products lower in saturated fats, like olive oil, mashed bananas, or peanut butter. Substitute healthy pasta alternatives for spaghetti. If you’re daring, try zucchini brownies. 

Whatever your eating desires, there are plenty of healthier substitutions that can let you enjoy your favorite comfort foods without guilt.

The Role of Portions in Making a Guilty Food Pleasure Healthier

If “fake” butter or nutritional yeast “cheese” aren’t your thing, all is not lost! With a little thought you can still have the comfort foods you want—albeit in limited quantities.

Binge eating an entire pint of vanilla ice cream or a bucket of fried chicken probably isn’t a good idea. But there’s no reason you can’t enjoy moderate portions. The key is mindful eating—savor foods fully, keeping track of when, why and how much you eat.

Scheduling Guilty Pleasures into a Diet Plan

Eating is a mix of habit and planning, and everyone has unique needs and pitfalls. For health benefits like lower blood pressure and lowered risk of heart disease, most of your calories should come from vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and lean meats, whole grains, and good fats. (Think of Mediterranean diets.) Avoid added sugar as a rule, but never say never. It’s OK to schedule in sweet treats once or twice a week. Even chocolate ice cream isn’t forbidden! 

Following a Guilt-Free Diet to Lose Weight

tomato soup with bit sized grilled cheese

Scientific studies have shown that food shame and food guilt are the enemies of healthy eating. Not only are they ineffective and bad for mental health, but they actually make it harder to lose weight. The best diets for sustainably losing weight are shame- and guilt-free.

Incorporating favorite foods and snacks into healthier eating habits can be beneficial. Add a little whipped cream to your bowl of berries for dessert. Mix a little cacao powder and peanut butter into your steel-cut oatmeal to satisfy those chocolate cravings. Eat that monster cookie as a special treat, after a healthy, vegetable-rich meal.

Discovering New, Healthier Guilty Pleasures in Your Weight Loss Journey

With a little know-how, practice, and planning, you can teach yourself to crave healthier food and reduce unhealthy cravings by incorporating guilty pleasures into your diet. Learning about the detrimental effects and weight gain associated with your old habits can encourage smarter choices. And knowing the benefits of healthier snacks—like fresh fruits, dark chocolate, or popcorn—can be great motivation.

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