Diets would have higher success rates if they tasted better.
Well, duh. But that's the rub, isn't it? If tofu tasted like chocolate and French fries like celery sticks, we'd all be walking around with washboard stomachs and healthy hearts. Back in the real world, of course, that's not going to happen.
To every dieter there are some foods that are easier to give up than others. Don't care for cheese? Then on one hand, skipping grilled cheese sandwiches or that baked Brie hors d'oeuvre isn't going to cause you too much pain. Ditto with people who dislike pizza, pancakes, bacon burgers or foie gras. On the other hand, it also won't help you lose weight because you weren't eating any of these foods in the first place.
No, the hardest thing is giving up those foods you love best, in all their gooey, salty, sweet, crunchy or succulent glory. Those are the foods you overeat. Too often, again and again. And for many people, the hardest foods to give up, which are also among the most horrifically calorific, are desserts.
If hot fudge sundaes are your bete noire, if cheese cake is your downfall, if you cannot keep your hand out of the cookie jar, you know how difficult it is to forego dessert. It is bad enough to stop snacking — giving up that daily 3 P.M. candy-bar fix was one of the hardest things you ever did — but do you have to sacrifice desserts, too? Don't you deserve a little reward for all your hard work?
Luckily, it may be possible to have your cake and eat it, too — just as long as it's not the whole platter. Remember: Not all desserts are created equal. Obviously, there are healthy desserts: the fruit salads, the sugar-free gelatins, the non-dairy chocolate mousses, etc. But these are the near beer of the sweets trolley, poor substitutes for the real, fat-laden McCoy.
As with any diet, of course, it all comes down to not just what you eat but how much. For example, a small cup of sorbet or a piece of dark chocolate have far less calories than the 1,226 little blubber-producers packed into a single-serving slab of death-by-chocolate cake. The problem is knowing just how big, or small, a portion should be. The solution might be ordering one serving of the banana split and have everyone dig in at once. That way, each person can enjoy a few bites and satisfy their sweet tooth without overdoing it.
"I never advocate deprivation — if you want something sweet, you've got to indulge, or you'll just end up binging and regretting it," says Jorge Cruise, best-selling author of The 3-hour Diet, "You can be smart about how you enjoy dessert. There are no bad foods, just bad portions."
For a person on a diet, it's important to be aware of the amount of calories being consumed each day and know that many desserts have no nutritional value. "Our favorite taste is a combination of fat and sugar in any form. I'd have to say the fat is worse, especially because a high proportion of fat in desserts is saturated," says Anne Collins, founder of the weight-loss Web site www.annecollins.com.
Of course, the best way to avoid looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy — besides regular exercise — is to do some research ahead of time and know what is in the dessert. "If you're picking between a slice of pecan pie and a slice of pumpkin, go for the pumpkin. It's got all those good spices (and actually some vitamins) that make it taste good. Since pecan pie uses sour cream and pecans, it is packed with about 200 calories more for the same size slice," says Cruise. Before going to a restaurant, check the menu online and figure out what treats are healthier. If there is a party scheduled, look up the calories in some common desserts.
For those times when it's impossible to look up the calories for every dessert on the menu, Forbes.com has compiled a list of some of the worst desserts. The slides that follow contain nutritional information taken from Recipezaar.com — a site where anyone can post their favorite recipes and get a full detailed nutritional analysis. It takes one to two days for recipes to be posted, but is immediate for Premium Members. To get more information go to www.recipezaar.com.