But they don’t have to be bad for you and they certainly don’t have to be banned from your diet if you’re trying to eat well and get healthy. And no, we’re not about to hit you with a list of low-carb, fat-free, blessed-by-a-monk-in-Thailand alternatives. Truth is, you can have your cake (the real darn thing!) and lose weight too, as long as you’re smart about it. Here’s a roundup of the sweetest dessert strategies for weight loss. Use them to indulge in all your favorites without gaining a pound.
Hold the Garnish
Want to slash calories from a slice of cheesecake? Just top it with some berries and a sprig of mint! Of course it’s illogical, but according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, people tend to subconsciously subtract calories from a dessert when it’s topped with something “healthy,” and then eat more of it! Beware of the health halo when indulging in dessert, and remember that adding food to your plate—even if it’s healthy—never subtracts calories.
Make it Yourself
Playing Betty Crocker may enhance the pleasure you get from the finished product. Pleasure, according to research published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, catalyzes the relaxation response, promoting parasympathetic and digestive activities. In other words, you’ll metabolize dessert faster if you really, really enjoy eating it. A study published in the journal Psychological Science found people who prepared themselves a glass of lemonade reported the drink far tastier than than those who watched someone else whisk together the same recipe.
Indulge at Breakfast
Marie Antoinette, regularly let herself eat cake for breakfast, according to memoirs of her lady in waiting. The fact she also had a 23-inch waist may not be inconsequential, as new research suggests including dessert with breakfast may help keep hunger hormones low, suppress cravings and maintain weight loss. A recent study found obese participants who ate a large breakfast that included a dessert lost 15 pounds over the course of 16 weeks; participants who ate a small, no-dessert breakfast gained an average of 24 pounds. Wake up, and let yourself eat cake!
Take a Big Whiff
While the smell of a rich dessert can make your mouth water—warm apple pie, anyone? —the aroma may help you eat less too. A study in the journal Flavour found participants ate significantly less of a dessert that smelled strongly of vanilla than a mildly scented variety. Researchers say the strong smell might signal to the brain that the food is richer, higher in calories and, consequently, more filling. Go ahead and add an extra splash of extract and a liberal dash of cinnamon to your holiday pies, and indulge in the sweet smell of each delicious forkful.
Adopt a Ritual
There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s—as long as you have a way that’s yours. Feasting rituals, research suggests, are a form of “mindful eating,” which has the power to make food more satisfying, and may help prevent overeating. In one study, participants were asked to eat a chocolate bar. Half were assigned a particular breaking and unwrapping ritual, while the others just ate the bar informally. On average, the ceremonious eaters found the candy to be more enjoyable and even more flavorful.
Nix Food Network
Eating in front of the television is hardly ever a good idea, especially if what’s airing is food-related, researchers say. A study in the journal Appetite randomized dieters to watch a cooking or nature television show while presented with an array of treats. People who watched the cooking program ate 34 percent more candy than the nature watchers. Unless you want to trick your party guests into enjoying more of your holiday spread, turn off the tube.
Hold the Guilt
What’s worse for your waistline than a big slice of cake? A big slice of cake with a side of guilt. A study in the journal Appetite found people with a weight-loss goal who associated chocolate cake with feeling guilty were less successful at losing weight compared to those who associated the indulgence with celebration. Enjoy your cake; it’s good for you.
Ditch the Cake Stand
Cake stands and candy bowls may be festive, but rethinking your storage containers could mean mega calorie savings. A study at Google’s New York office dubbed “Project M&M” found that placing the candies in opaque jars, as opposed to glass ones, curbed M&M consumption by 3.1 million calories in just seven weeks. A similar study published in the Journal of Marketing found that people are more likely to overeat treats from transparent packages. Out of sight, out of mouth?