Incorporating ‘Treat Foods’ After Years of Dieting and Bingeing

By September 1, 2012

After a lifelong (decades) obsession with dieting and bingeing, I am making great strides in getting off this rollercoaster, but one problem I haven’t been able to address is how to incorporate things like cakes and ice cream and all the foods that have no redeeming nutritional value – just pleasurable taste – into my life without bingeing. I find if I have “normal” meals with wholesome ingredients and don’t allow for some junk foods, I eventually end up bingeing on the “bad” stuff. In all the suggestions I read for normal eating, the inclusion of these foods isn’t mentioned. I don’t know if I should eat these things separately, with a meal, and in what amounts. I would appreciate any advice you can give. Learning to eat like a normal person has been a blessing and a challenge. Thank you for being there. – Linda

Dear Linda:

Congratulations on the amazing progress you have made towards more healthful eating. Your questions about incorporating treat foods are very common, especially with a long history of dieting. But you are well on your way to overcoming this hurdle as well.

To begin with, be sure you approach healthful eating as your new way of life, and not another diet. There are no evil or forbidden foods, but as you mentioned, some foods are simply a pleasure to eat, without a high nutrient content. From an overall nutritional standpoint, it truly is okay to enjoy small amounts of those kinds of foods in moderation, provided you eat healthfully most of the time.

Your current struggles are examples of how “deprivation leads to bingeing”. Once you stop thinking of certain foods as “bad” and know that they can be included in your healthful lifestyle, you can start enjoying them in moderate amounts. You’ll lose that “I blew it so I might as well eat the whole box” mentality.

There are varied approaches for learning how to incorporate treat foods into your life, and part of it depends on how you are wired. In general, be sure you have reached the point at which you are eating regular, balanced wholesome meals, with healthy snacks as needed. The next step is to set reasonable goals for enjoying your treat(s) — frequency, timing and amounts. It could be a small slice of dessert on the weekend or chips with one of your lunches or one fast food meal a week (smaller portions) or a cup of cocoa every day—honor whatever it is that you like.

To start, I would recommend you include your treat as part of a meal, and not a snack. Save room for it, eat it slowly and savor it. In contrast, don’t reach for your treat when you are famished, upset, lonely, stressed or rushed.

In time, you will find your confidence building, so you will be able to be more flexible in your choices. Just from reading your letter, I get the sense that you are going to do great!