Despite being "the teacher," I learn a lot from my clients. One of the best ideas I've heard was from a man I worked with when I first started doing outpatient counseling. He had struggled with his diabetes control for years. Although his meals were fairly healthy, his sweet tooth was killing him. Literally. He could go through a box of Little Debbie cakes in a day. A gallon of ice cream lasted two days. Half a box of cookies was a normal bedtime snack. If there was ever a poster child for sugar addiction, this guy was it.
Right off the bat, he said "there's no way I'm giving up my sweets." A reasonable request. I mean, I couldn't live the rest of my life without cookies either! So, we spent the hour talking about healthier treats, like dark chocolate. We discussed how to change his environment at home so sweets were less visible and tempting. And, of course, we tried to figure out if there were any emotions triggering his sweet cravings so he could deal with the emotion itself. After the hour was up, I was skeptical he would make any real changes.
But, when I reviewed his chart for our follow up appointment, I saw his blood sugar was almost completely under control without any medication changes. I was so happy for him! And I was pretty proud of myself too. Okay, I was really proud of myself. In full confession, I may have used the phrase "superdietitian."
He walked into my clinic looking like a new man. There was a striking difference in his energy level. I emphatically congratulated him on making such positive changes, then asked, "So, what suggestion did you find the most helpful?"
"Actually, I didn't do anything we talked about."
I'd love to tell you something I said clicked and inspired him to change his life. But that's not what happened. A few days after our appointment, he was hit with a major cookie craving and an empty box of Chips Ahoy. He remembered there was a recipe for healthier chocolate chip cookies in one of the handouts I gave him and since he happened to have all the ingredients, he gave it a try. They were the best cookies he ever had.
He said he realized a few things. First, he realized how crappy store-bought sweets taste compared to something cooked at home, from scratch. He said, "How silly would it be to die from food that doesn't even taste good?" He realized if he made his sweets at home, not only would they taste better, but he could control the ingredients.
So, he set himself a rule. He knew if he treated sweets as if they were a "bad" food, they would be more tempting. So, under his new rule, he was allowed he the sweets he wanted. The catch - he had to make them. From scratch.
"I made my laziness work in my favor!"
I really like this rule. So much so, that we've more or less adopted it at our house. When you set a food rule based on deprivation, it creates forbidden fruit. This rule gives free reign, but sets guidelines. You'll find yourself eating less, but enjoying more.
Thinking about adopting something similar? A couple tips:
- It's asking a lot of your self control to not wolf down an entire batch of freshly baked cookies. Instead, prepare your favorite healthy cookie dough recipe and freeze the dough in balls in layers separated by parchement paper. When the sweet tooth hits, pull out one or two at a time and enjoy a freshly baked cookie.
- Make single serving sweets like shakes, baked apple, or one of my favorites, ricotta cheese mixed with dark cocoa powder, honey and strawberries.
- Avoid sugar-free or fat-free ingredients like fat-free whipped topping, artificial sweetener or sugar-free cookies. Fat and sugar signal to our body when we are full. Plus, most people tend to rationalize overeating when they eat "diet" foods. Instead, use healthy fats like coconut oil or nut butters and smaller amounts of healthy sweeteners, like honey or dates.
These cookies are gluten-free, flourless, butterless, eggless and potentially refined sugar-free, depending on the type of chocolate you use. So they taste like cardboard? Surprisingly, they are pretty darn fabulous!
Chocolate Oat Cookies
Makes about 30
About 1 1/2 cups mashed banana (from about 3 large)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil, warmed slightly, or olive oil
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup almond meal*
1/3 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
7 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
Put the oven rack in the top third. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix together the mashed banana, coconut oil and vanilla extract. In another bowl, mix together the oats, almond meal, coconut, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until well combined. Fold in the chocolate.
Drop tablespoon sized balls of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchement paper or sprayed with canola oil. Bake about 14 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire cooling rack.
* Run almonds through the food processor if you can't find any almond meal. I purchase mine in bulk from Earth Fare.