It was one of those loaded questions that’s just too hard to answer. Kind of like “what do you think of my new boyfriend?” or “how does this dress make my butt look?”
But the truth is, no one liked my brownies.
Every time I asked “what do you think of my brownies?” friends would take a bite, smile politely, mumble something with the word “delicious” while their faces told a different story. Then my poor friends would likely sneak the rest of the brownie into the napkin with plans of finding the nearest trash receptacle.
It’s not that I switched the salt and the sugar, or laced them with illegal substances; it’s just that I was determined to make the world’s BEST sugar free, low carb, dairy free, low calorie protein powder brownies.
And lets be honest, with the limited ingredients that I had to work with, there was no way I was about to produce a culinary masterpiece. Instead I was destined to make batch after batch of rubbery, gritty, bland brownie-like-squares, that I insisted were just like the real thing.
And still I was convinced that they were amazing: “Look how healthy they are!” I would say. Yet one of those brownies was never enough. I could eat a half a pan (oh let’s be honest a full pan) and still be craving brownies. Why was that?
Fast-forward two years:
My husband and I are celebrating our anniversary at my favorite restaurant, splitting the most amazing dark chocolate raspberry mousse cake I have ever had.
After eating a few bites I realized that it was enough. I didn’t need more. It amazed me that I could leave such amazing cake on my plate, while I couldn’t stop eating the sub-par protein brownies back in the day.
I wondered to myself what the difference was, and how it was that I could feel satisfied with so much less. After some time, and more experiences, I’ve come to a couple of very important conclusions that guide my food philosophy.
The difference is in the pleasure
Eating mediocre brownies, no matter how “healthy” led me to continue to want more and more, because it was never really good enough to be enjoyable or satisfying.
But allowing myself to enjoy the pleasure of an amazing dessert, I was able to have a satisfying, pleasurable experience, and wasn’t left wanting more, or feeling disappointed.
Interestingly, there’s also research to back this idea. If we even perceive that a milkshake is indulgent, we will be satisfied with less, and if we think that it is a “sensible” milkshake, we are less likely to feel satisfied even if it’s the exact same milkshake. (Here’s the research: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21574706)
The health halo and overeating
This leads to another interesting point: when we label a food as “healthy” we are less likely to feel satisfied, and more likely to overeat. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. When we think we are eating foods that are “guilt free” we are more likely to overeat and justify eating when we don’t really need to.
But the overeating doesn’t end there. Because “unhealthy” foods are often restricted, the ones we avoid, the ones we say “no” to when we want to say “yes,” they will also likely be overeaten when we actually do eat them.
Instead, eat real food and real dessert
Instead of spending your time laboring over “healthy” treats that are just not as good as the real thing, focus on creating delicious meals with whole, unprocessed foods, and enjoy the occasional dessert.
But don’t just go for the grocery store donuts of questionable age, or the boxed cookies that just aren’t that good. Get the real thing – the decadent, delicious dessert that will leave you feeling satisfied.