Taming a sweet tooth—what’s the best approach?
My husband has a ferocious sweet tooth. If he had his way, he’d start his day with a cookie and end it with a bowl of ice cream. People who know this about him think this is just hilarious—given that he’s married to a dietitian. They love to tease him—as in, “I’ll bet she keeps you on a tight leash,” but that just isn’t my style. It isn’t up to me to tame his sweet tooth—all I can do is to try to control how much (and what) is available in the house. The rest is up to him.
When I talk to clients, the issue of how to handle sweets in the diet comes up all the time. Since every situation is different, each household may have to figure this out for themselves. Some people never keep sweets in the house—but for many, that just makes them “forbidden fruit,” and all the more desirable. Others use sweets only as tools for reward or punishment—a practice that often extends way back to childhood.
Then there are those who try to make the issue less emotionally charged—sort of “neutralizing” sweets. I have a friend like this. He serves dessert to his kids once in a while—but he’ll set it on the table right along with the grilled chicken, the green beans and the salad. His reasoning—and there is some logic to this—is that if sweets are just ‘part of the meal,’ they’d lose their significance as a reward or a treat.
It’s a thorny issue, to be sure, so here are some things worth considering.
Whether you do this to yourself or with family members, this is a tactic best avoided. Many of my overweight clients remember as kids being given bags of mini-cookies to ‘keep them quiet,’ or having sweets taken away if they behaved badly. Not surprising that they grow up to have a love-hate relationship with sweets, which are now the most emotionally charged foods in their diet. As adults, they now turn to sweets for comfort – but they’re also wracked with guilt whenever they eat them.
Many parents take this approach with their kids, but it’s important to remember that kids will still be exposed to sweets, will still ask for them, and—despite their best efforts—will probably figure out a way to get them one way or another. Oh, and this doesn’t just apply just to kids, by the way. Last week while doing laundry—and this has happened more than once—I pulled a few candy wrappers from the pockets of my husband’s cargo shorts.
What often works best is a middle-of-the-road approach in which sensible sweets are kept around, like low-fat cookies, pudding cups or frozen yogurt. Since nothing is off-limits, it sort of takes the pressure off. The sweets are there if you want them, so you might actually think about them less. Sometimes when there’s nothing around, you end up craving sweets even more.
You could try serving the occasional dessert along with a meal, like my friend does. I think his heart is in the right place, and it seems to be working for his family. I’m just waiting for the day when he takes his kids to a restaurant and they order their salad, their spaghetti and their chocolate cake—and ask that they all be served at the same time.