Dessert is often the first thing to go when trying to lose weight. But according to recent research, people who ate dessert (and chose what they would have at the beginning of the meal) consumed healthier foods and fewer calories overall than those who selected their main course first and then decided on dessert.
Researchers placed two dessert options (fresh fruit and cheesecake) at the beginning of a college cafeteria line. When students chose the higher-calorie dessert before selecting other food to consume, their meals tended to be lower in calories than those who chose a low-calorie dessert or didn’t select their dessert until the end of the cafeteria line. “Diners who picked the healthier dessert may have thought they already had done a good deed for their bodies so they deserved higher-calorie food further down the cafeteria line,” explains Martin Reimann, PhD, lead study author and assistant professor of marketing at the University of Arizona.
Moreover, additional research found eating a sweet treat with breakfast could help those following low-calorie diets maintain their weight loss. People who ate dessert with breakfast lost similar amounts of weight as those who skipped morning sweets during the 16-week study period but the former group lost an average of 15 additional pounds after the research ended while those who restricted sweets regained 22 pounds. “The more we deprive ourselves of something, the more we put it on a pedestal and obsess over it, which over time leads to binges,” says Lauren Ott, RD. “Sure dessert can be high in calories, sugar and fat but if the rest of your day is balanced, eating dessert is completely fine.”
HOW EATING DESSERT HELPS BUILD WILLPOWER
Eating dessert or keeping sweets in the cupboards at home also helps build willpower, according to one study. While the findings may seem counterintuitive, “the main message is that banishing food temptations may not be the best way to limit the amount eaten,” says Kelly Geyskens, PhD, lead study author and associate professor at Maastricht University. Instead, focusing on smarter portion sizes could be a more useful strategy that will help you lose weight without being overly restrictive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While some may think fruit-based desserts tend to be healthier than a slice of chocolate cake, Ott believes all desserts are fair game and suggests listening to your hunger signals. If you always choose the lower-calorie, lower-sugar version of what you’re craving, it will likely backfire, and cause you to overeat because you aren’t satisfied, notes Ott. Instead, choose your desserts in advance when possible (or be honest with yourself that you’ll end up having dessert) and pay attention to food selection and portion size. Keeping a food log is a great way to help you become more aware of how much you’re consuming. Finally, make sure you savor every bite and eat mindfully.