When I tell people that I’m a nutritionist, it is immediately followed by a deluge of questions. One that I get asked most is if I ever indulge. My answer: of course I do! In fact, indulging has been an important part of my own weight loss journey. I believe that enjoying dessert or a bowl of pasta is just as much a part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle as eating salads and attending exercise classes.

But it is how we indulge that matters.

Teaching my clients how to indulge is not as simple as telling them to “eat this, not that.” Indulging is more of a mind game than anything else. Needless to say, it is a process, so here are my 5 tips to get you started.

1. Indulge for the right reasons. Don’t use food as a coping mechanism.

The link between food and emotions runs deep. Eating decadent foods can be a way to deal with stress and sadness. When we eat indulgent foods, we instantly feel better. But the problem is that the pleasure is fleeting, and as soon as the food high subsides, we’re left with the same stress and sadness we had before. The trick is to find healthier coping mechanisms, such as going for a run, doing yoga, journaling, or even watching a funny TV show. That way, you can leave the indulging for happier moments. This brings us to #2.

2. Treat yourself, and enjoy it!

There is no denying that food enhances certain experiences. Having birthday cake at a birthday dinner, devouring a bowl of pasta in Italy – these are part of life’s pleasures. And it is important that we actually enjoy them. So often indulging is followed by feelings of guilt, negative self-talk, and an “all or nothing mentality.” But we need to unlearn those reactions because the second we allow them to creep in, the pleasure and enjoyment vanishes. If you are going to choose to have the piece of cake or the pasta, do it, enjoy it, and don’t look back.

3. Indulge, don’t binge.

Having said that, it is important to keep in mind the difference between an indulgence and a binge. Indulging with normal portions can, and should, be part of a weight loss journey. However, bingeing should not. That is when the weight gain happens. In order to prevent the binge, I encourage my clients to make indulging a weekly affair. Knowing that they can look forward to a treat once a week makes it easier for them to make healthier choices the rest of the time. It also helps to keep their treat from turning into a binge because they know that their next indulgence is just around the corner.

4. Indulge with foods that you actually want.

Don’t indulge with foods that you won’t enjoy. For example, if you want ice cream, don’t go for the fat-free, sugar-free frozen yogurt because you want to save calories.* This is a treat, so treat yourself! If you don’t, your indulgence won’t really satisfy you, and you’ll always be wanting more.  

5. Indulge mindfully.

In my opinion, a mindless indulgence is a wasted indulgence. As I mentioned before, when it comes to food, the taste is fleeting, so if you aren’t going to be present when you’re eating, what is the point? Don’t just eat a dessert because someone else ordered it or pick at the chips and guac at happy hour. Those indulgences count whether they were thoughtful or not. So wouldn’t it be better if we were purposeful about it? My advice is to decide what is worth it and what isn’t...and for things that are worth it, indulge with intention.

*If you have a medical condition that requires fat-free, sugar-free, that is a different story.

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