Everyone has a favorite food or dish. And let’s be real: For most of us, it’s not a dry kale salad. Maybe your favorite food is sausage pizza, or frosted cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles. Salt-and-vinegar potato chips, anyone? You get the idea. For many of us, the foods we love most are delectably rich, sugary, or starchy—and relatively high in SmartPoints®.
As the U.S. continues to hibernate in accordance with social distancing guidelines, it’s understandable that some of us are worried about eating more of our favorite foods than we want to. We’re stuck at home; we’re stressed; a tin of crispy takeout fries sure would hit the spot. Can we trust ourselves to even be near them? Would it be better to ban such foods altogether?
At WW, we strongly believe that no food is inherently “bad”—and that it’s possible to make a healthy plan to enjoy any item or dish you like. While it’s perfectly OK to steer clear of ice cream if that’s easiest for you at the moment, it’s also possible to spoon into a frozen dessert without blowing up your wellness goals. File that fact away!
Read below for more on what goes into a healthy strategy for including favorite treats in your life, so you can eat what you love and feel good about your choices.
Eating what you love: 3 parts of a healthy plan
Designating a date and time to eat your favorite food can be helpful for shoring up a sense of personal power, says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, WW’s head of nutrition and wellness. Opt for a date that doesn’t feel too far away, and try to choose a time when you won’t be distracted or feeling overly hungry—two factors that can contribute to overeating. For example, if you’ve been wanting cheesy nachos and guac lately, you might try planning something like an early-Friday-night fiesta as a fun way to mark the end of a busy week. Choosing when to eat a food supports healthy moderation, London explains. With a purposeful plan in place, you’ll be less likely to reach for Friday's chips on Wednesday or Thursday.
Figuring out how much
It’s a common fear about favorite foods: They’re so delicious, we worry we’ll never be able to stop eating them. Luckily, that’s not how it works, London says. You are in charge of how much you eat, and deciding ahead of time what makes sense for you—rather than creating pressure on yourself to figure it out in the moment—can be useful in guiding your purchases and prep. Let’s say you’re in the mood for brick-oven pizza from your favorite local joint. Ask yourself: “How many slices should I plan to have? What sort of serving works with my other food choices this week?” And then maybe you decide to order two individual slices instead of a large pie. Portioning reinforces the reality that you have control over food—and not the other way around, London says.
Understanding that enjoyment is the point
If you’ve had a rocky relationship with food in the past, you may have fallen into an unhealthy pattern of punishment and reward—the idea that you must earn treats for being “good,” and vice-versa. Challenge that thinking by remembering this: You deserve to enjoy what you eat without moral judgment, says Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the founder of Champagne Nutrition in Seattle. Eat slowly, pay attention to the flavors you love, and savor each delicious bite.
The more experiences you have enjoying favorite foods without overeating or beating yourself up, the more confident you’ll begin to feel about incorporating those foods into your healthy eating plan, Hultin says.
For long-term weight control, the most effective eating strategies are flexible enough to allow for personal likes and dislikes. On the other hand, weight-loss plans that depend on severely restricting certain foods or food groups usually aren’t sustainable, according to a 2018 study review published in the journal Healthcare.
If you’ve been strenuously avoiding a favorite food to prevent overeating, there’s no pressure to reintroduce it. But if at some point you decide you’d like to try the food again, having a plan in place can help ensure the experience is a healthy and positive one.
Jessica DiGiacinto is an associate editor at WW. A health and wellness writer and editor based in New York, she’s contributed to Popsugar, Bulletproof 360, and Galvanized Media, among other outlets.