How To Enjoy Treats With Zero Guilt (And Still Honor Your Health)
Let’s face it, we ALL love treats. Whether you’re more of a chocolate person, a candy person, or anything in between, sweets and treats are foods that we, as humans, innately love.
Unfortunately, treats have been given a negative connotation by most people. This often triggers guilt when you eat them and can easily become a vicious cycle of restriction→ binging → guilt → repeat. So, while you may be trying to protect your health by (mostly) avoiding treats, this system can actually backfire.
Thankfully, a better solution is out there. If you struggle with including treats in your diet while still honoring your health, managing your weight, and more, this article is for you!
Is It Okay To Eat Treats?
The answer to this question is a huge YES!
If you’ve browsed through the hundreds of recipes on our website, you know that many of them could be classified as “treats.” This is because I’m a huge advocate for eating ALL types of foods, treats included.
The saying, “all foods fit,” really is true. This motto can be followed without derailing your healthy eating habits.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that treats SHOULD be part of your healthy eating habits.
Because the more you don’t allow yourself to have treats, the more you will want them. Read that again because it’s important!
It’s proven that deprivation leads to cravings, which can lead to binging. Restricting food (whatever type) gives that food power over you. It may become all you can think about, and when you do eat it, you have trouble controlling yourself.
Eating the “forbidden food” may also cause you to feel intense shame or guilt and ultimately lead you down the “all or nothing” mindset (which I talk all about in this article).
Food doesn’t deserve that kind of power. It’s just food!
By allowing yourself to have treats regularly, you help remove the stigma and power associated with that food (aka normalize it). This helps your brain have a positive association with that food, no guilt allowed. Then, when you build trust within your body and brain that you can occasionally have the treat when you want it, there is no reason for the restriction, guilt, or any of the other negative things that happen when you overly restrict yourself from it.
Now, what exactly you classify as a “treat” is up to you. The term is not necessarily synonymous with sugar. Many treats can be things that are salty, savory, or a combination. Basically, a treat is any food you really love, which brings you pleasure and satisfaction when eating it. This could be a specific type of ice cream, a flavor of chips, a decadent casserole, or a hundred other things. (You can find MANY treats on the blog here.)
Craving a Tropical Treat? These Coconut Lime Pie Protein Balls have you covered!
What About “Cheat Days”?
You have inevitably heard, and perhaps even practiced, giving yourself a “cheat day” or “cheat meal.” Or maybe you refer to having a treat as “cheating” from time to time.
Think about it: does the word “cheat” generate a positive feeling in your mind? My guess is probably not. The thought of “cheating” nearly always precedes guilt. Even though the idea of “cheat days” is to NOT feel guilty on that day and essentially eat whatever you want to reward yourself for “being so good” the other days, it doesn’t always work that way.
If you’re someone who practices cheat days, meals, etc., you might be overly restricting yourself on the other days. As mentioned, this restriction leads to cravings, bingeing, guilt, and shame, and the cycle repeats itself.
If you’re like many people, you probably find yourself understandably frustrated by this system that is truly setting you up for failure. As a result, you may give up, think of yourself as a failure, and believe that you do not have the willpower to eat healthfully for a long time.
What I am here to tell you is that you ARE capable.
As I said before, there is room for just about everything in a healthy diet. Instead of engaging in “cheat days,” allow yourself to include treats when you want them. When you do this, you will probably find that you begin to desire them less often, and you can remove the guilt when you do.
How Often Can You Have Treats?
This is another common question. You may be thinking, “okay, if I’m going to allow myself to have treats without guilt, what are the other boundaries I need to set in place to make sure I don’t go overboard?”
I get it. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat restricted foods like treats may seem like it will make you want them all the time. You may worry that you will overeat them and may think you need to set limits.
When you first transition away from the guilt system and forgo cheat days, it may be true that you want treats more often. Yet this desire is very likely to fade, and treats will become less “special.”
The truth is that there is no set rule about how often you can have treats. That’s because there really shouldn’t be any rules associated with healthy eating in the first place.
Including treats for you may look like having a piece of dark chocolate every night after dinner, having ice cream once a week while watching a movie, or allowing yourself to have a cookie (or two!) after lunch some days. It can also look like a million other scenarios. Basically, you’ll have to figure out what works for you and know that every day (and week) may be different.
Did someone say, “Cookie?” Try these Healthy No-Bake Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies!
What If You Are Trying To Lose Weight? Can You Still Enjoy Treats?
Again, the answer here is YES. A desire to lose weight does not disqualify you from enjoying food, treats included. The same rationale applies in this situation, where overly restricting yourself of treats may actually lead you to overeat them (especially if they are a big temptation or trigger for you). This can, in turn, lead to weight gain or inhibit weight loss.
On the other hand, as I have been trying to emphasize, allowing yourself to have treats may cause you to eat them both less often and in smaller quantities. Those things support a healthy weight!
If you’re actively trying to lose weight, I encourage you to practice mindful eating. This can apply to everyone. Instead of mindlessly eating the treat, really think about how it tastes, how much you desire it, and how hungry or full you are when eating it. This can help with portion control, lead to better enjoyment of the food, and so much more.
In addition, another helpful tip can be to enjoy treats that have a balance of macronutrients. This means that instead of primarily sugar, for example, the treat would also contain a source of healthy fats and possibly even some protein with it. This combination is more satisfying and can help you feel fuller quicker and for longer, assisting with weight and overall health. Here are some simple dessert recipes on our blog that include more than just sugar but many other vital nutrients:
4 Ingredient Dark Chocolate Bark
Chia Seed Pudding, 4 Ways
Chocolate Peppermint Truffles
Chocolate Cashew Butter Bars
Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies
Chocolate Pumpkin Balls
Treats can definitely be a part of your healthy eating lifestyle. Including treats on a regular basis can actually support your health, not take away from it. The more you allow yourself treats, the less power they will have over you and the less guilt you will likely feel toward them, which can help break the cycle of restriction and binging. It is best to remove the idea of “cheat days” and instead allow yourself to have a balanced diet every day, treats included.
Lastly, if you’re not yet familiar with intuitive eating, I strongly recommend reading this post all about it, as it can also support you in reframing your mindset about treats.
Let us know your favorite treat in the comments below. Happy eating!