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  • Dina Cohen

A New Kind of Dessert

What does dessert do for you?

Finishing off a meal with something sweet is a common practice around the world. The term "dessert" originates from the French word desservir, meaning "to clear the table". But it seems that nowadays, we've begun to associate dessert just as much with the word "deserve", as in, "At the end of a long day, I deserve this cupcake!"

If you enjoy dessert, I'm all for it. Having something sweet at the end of a meal signals that the meal is over. You probably wouldn't want more chicken after having your chocolate layer cake. If you've eaten a comfortable amount and have room for a sweet ending, by all means, relish it! However, if you have trouble stopping after a serving, or if you find yourself looking for sweets when you know you truly aren't hungry, there's probably more at play here.

What is it that people love so much about dessert? It’s pleasant. It’s rewarding. It’s satisfying. It’s a sweet ending to your day. And who doesn’t want a sweet ending to the day?! The thing is, if you aren’t actually physically hungry, then eating a dessert is barking up the wrong tree. You might be confusing your desire for something pleasant, rewarding, and satisfying for a desire to eat. What if you enjoyed a non-food dessert instead? This is something that you give yourself to celebrate the end of another in day in which you worked hard, navigated challenges, and made it through! Having a non-food dessert requires setting aside some time for yourself and devoting it to something you find enjoyable. Depending on how you feel, you can choose something fun, relaxing, and/or indulgent. It doesn’t have to cost much – or any – money. The point is that it’s something you look forward to during the day and something that feels rewarding while you’re doing it. You are “clearing the table” of your day and acknowledging that you are deserving of a break.

Just like an actual dessert, your non-food dessert can vary in size. You might want to include a small one every evening but also plan for some big ones. A small non-food dessert might be walking with a neighbor, chatting on the phone with a friend who makes you laugh, doing something artsy such as painting or crocheting, relaxing with a good book or magazine, taking a long hot shower or bath, listening to your favorite playlist, listening to a class or audiobook, watching something funny, or doing a dance or yoga video, or even just taking some time out to lie in a dark room with a gel eye mask like this one. You might also find it helpful to plan a larger non-food dessert that you do less often, such as a paint night with friends, going on a date with your spouse, going out to a class, or getting a massage.

Non-food desserts are the things that we do to relax and refresh ourselves. Just like balanced eating includes foods we eat just for fun, a balanced life includes things we do just because they feel good. If you don’t get enough fun in your life, you might find yourself looking for it in food. Don’t get upset with yourself if you find yourself eating too many desserts. Think of it as a healthy signal instead. Where else in your life might you be lacking sweetness or pleasure? How can you bring more balance to your life?

In other words, the purpose of the non-food dessert is to show yourself a little love. It's not intended to stop you from eating dessert. Eating something just for fun can definitely be a way of adding pleasure to life, and guess what: you don’t have to be hungry for it every time! It’s what you do most of the time that matters, not some of the time. So yes, you can totally have some chocolate at the end of a hard day without it being a problem. It’s if you find yourself reaching for the chocolate despite being full at the end of most days that it can be problematic. If you have ten ways to treat yourself and food is one of those ten ways, then it’s not likely a concern. But if you rely on food as the only way to treat yourself, then your bucket of non-food desserts needs to be replenished.

**Please also note that if you do take the time to relax and treat yourself in other ways but still find yourself craving desserts, that can be a sign that you are restricting your intake. There are lots of ways this can happen, which include not eating enough overall, cutting out food groups, or even feeling like you should be cutting out certain foods. All of these forms of restriction can lead to cravings for desserts and difficulty stopping at a healthy amount. For more on this, check out these posts:

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