Back in 2008 I did a story for Men’s Health where I got crazy lean. Originally the story was supposed to be about “How to lose the last 10 pounds.” But being that this was for a major magazine, the focus took on a similar premise: getting abs.
During a 12-week process, I worked my way all the way down to 6.8 percent body fat.
The hardest part of the process? It wasn’t what you’d probably imagine.
Women who ate small desserts four times a week lost 9 more pounds than those who enjoyed a larger splurge whenever they wanted.
About 4 weeks into the program I broke my foot. But at that point I was just a young assistant editor trying to make a name for myself, and I viewed the article as one of those opportunities you couldn’t miss.
So like any hard-headed hustler, I stayed on the story, didn’t tell any of my bosses, and informed my diet coach (the one and only Alan Aragon) that cardio was out the window.
Instead, we’d have to get creative and make it work because I didn’t have much time, and I wanted to create a story that would benefit real people.
That meant nothing too extreme or insane. No two-a day-workouts or $1,000 diet plans that required a chef. More importantly, I had one specific request.
I wanted to eat dessert each week. I wrote a post about it and titled something along the lines of, “Eat your cake and see your abs too.” [Sadly, my old blog on Men’s Health was buried and erased sometime after I left, and all this time I never thought to save my old content.]
I wanted dessert because I believe in eating good food. I also happen to love cheesecake, brownies, cookies, and ice cream.
I’m not anti-sugar or anti-enjoyment.
But I also wasn’t blessed with the world’s greatest genetics. In fact, I was overweight my entire childhood. So this became the ultimate test.
Can real people eat dessert and still lose fat and look good naked?
Why You Should Eat Dessert (On Any Diet Plan)
Complete food withdrawal is a mistake and is more likely to lead to crashing the dieting bandwagon rather than experiencing long-term success.
This is my opinion. But there’s also quite a bit of science to back this up. [Note: I’m not saying you shouldn’t occasionally try to remove foods from your diet that seem to be causing issues. That’s a different story. I’m talking about creating a plan based on complete and absolute restriction.]
My deal with Alan was that despite my broken foot, I wanted to show that you could be lean and still eat dessert. So that’s what we did. For the first 4 weeks I had dessert every day.
After that, as I became leaner we shifted to twice per week. Less frequently, but still enough to make the process enjoyable.
And you know what? I’ve never been on a “weight loss” diet that was enjoyable or less mentally exhausting. I ate real food, desserts, and treats. No, I wasn’t crushing cheesecake three times per day, but I wasn’t starving for sugar, either.
In many ways it was the anti-diet approach, but a proactive way to prevent where most diets go wrong: cravings, withdrawal, and miserable-diet-itis.
If you’re not familiar with miserable-diet-itis it’s basically what happens with 98.3 percent of diets that prescribe so many limitations and rules that you end up following a plan there’s no way you’ll possibly be able to maintain for the long term.
Is there magic that makes one particular diet better than another? If you’re a believer in science and research, then no.
Landmark research conducted by Dr. David Katz suggests that when you compare most diets you’ll find that a lot of them work. So why choose one that makes you miserable, you eventually abandon, and you can’t stay on long enough to see the real results.
Yes, you still need to create a diet the consists of vegetables, fruits, proteins, and healthy fats. But that’s a message we all know by now. What’s still lost in translation is that what you eat on a day-to-day basis doesn’t have to make you miserable.
Remember, part of the trick to healthy living is consistency and patience. It works for diet and exercise. No magic. Just consistency and sustainability.
The Dessert “Rules” (Sugar Not Sold Separately)
When you’re trying to lose weight, the worst thing you can do is ban all indulgences, which creates a feeling of withdrawal. Even science supports the approach.
German researchers discovered that this mentality makes it harder to stick to a plan and more likely to pack on the pounds.
A more effective approach is one that allows you to satisfy your cravings in controlled portions.
Research from the University of Alabama found that when overweight women ate small desserts four times a week, they lost 9 more pounds than those who enjoyed a larger splurge whenever they wanted.
The small sweets provide the psychological edge that allows you to stay motivated, without derailing your eating plan.
Within any diet, 10 to 20 percent of your calories can be directed toward a little treat. The key is watching the portion size (yes, always tricky), so that a cup of ice cream doesn’t turn into an all-night feast at the 24-hour buffet. Or in many situations, putting yourself in a position where you have the support to make sure that those types of binges are harder to occur.
But you know what? Going from once scoop to an entire carton of ice cream is much less likely when you don’t feel like the food is off limits, or that it’s been forever since you’ve tasted something you enjoy.
Learn your limits. Understand your triggers. And build a system that helps you succeed. But don’t remove all the foods you love. It’s a common recipe for disaster and one of the most common reason why so many diets actually fail.