“Well since I got the lasagna, I’d better stick steamed broccoli on the side.” “I want to eat dessert so I’m just going to have side salad for dinner.” or “I’ll have the fries and better make that a diet Coke.”
Any of these phrases sound familiar? They should. If you’re like most Americans, then you engage in some type of health food bargaining when eating out or buying groceries.
Researchers from the University of New York found that even though we say we prefer to eat a healthy diet, we have a hard time resisting the allure of treats. So, in an effort to reconcile that disconnect, we try to “balance” out our indulgences with healthier fare.
But does this work? Can we really atone for our pizza sins with a measly side salad?
Maybe, says Erica Giovinazzo, MS, RD, the head coach and nutritionist at BRICK Los Angeles.
“Food bargaining is a slippery slope,” she explains. “If you do it just a couple of times per week then it’s a good way to allow yourself to have a couple treats without going overboard.” But, she cautions, if you’re playing the balancing game at every meal then all those extra indulgences will add up a lot faster than the healthy stuff.
Plus, if you’re eating past the point of hunger then the extra food just becomes extra calories, even if it is healthy.
To make food bargaining work for you—because the truth is we all do it whether we recognize it or not—she has a few pointers.
First, be conscious of making the decision. Many times the healthy “trade” is an afterthought, but you need to make sure you really are eating a balanced diet, she says. And this means paying attention to what you’re eating and why.
Second, watch your portion sizes. Two cups of ice cream goes down real easy. Two cups of broccoli… not so much. You don’t have to go crazy counting calories, but just check to see that you’re only serving yourself one portion of the treat food and not skimping on the good stuff.
Lastly, make it worth it. Food isn’t “good” or “bad”. It’s just food. So don’t punish yourself with bland salads or tasteless veggies and reward yourself with sugary fare. Instead, make all your dishes delicious and flavorful. And when it comes to treat time, really savor the experience.
“No matter what it is, your treats should be something that you really enjoy,” Giovinazzo says. “It shouldn’t be just a regular chocolate chip cookie, it should be an amazing chocolate chip cookie.” In other words, eat pizza because you love pizza — not because it just happens to be sitting there in front of you. And when you do decide what you want to eat enjoy every last bite.