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You Don't Need to Earn Dessert

May 17, 2015

Note: Last fall when I went to see Alton Brown perform, he shared five things that he felt confident saying about food. It got me thinking about what I might say about food, and I came up with my own list, although it’s quite different than his. This is one of my items.


Have you ever felt like you need to earn dessert, or any favorite food? Or have you ever thought that after having healthy foods, it’s okay to eat something because you’ve earned it?


This type of thinking is very pervasive in our culture, and also quite damaging, since it can easily set us up for mindless eating. For instance, after a certain amount of exercise, I still sometimes think it’s okay for me to eat more than I might normally. After all, I used a lot of energy – shouldn’t I refuel?


And then there’s the “clean your plate” issue that comes up for many people. Maybe you’ve experienced this, feeling you need to clean your plate before having dessert. This one has always struck me as particularly strange, especially combined with other favorite phrases, such as “Save room for dessert” and “Don’t spoil your appetite”. But if you make yourself finish all the main course foods, you may not be hungry anymore – but you may still eat dessert because, after all, you’ve earned it (and it’s tasty).


The question in both cases, though, is if I’m actually hungry. It can be all too easy to bypass that question in the automatic expectation of refueling or assumption of dessert. But it’s still important to consider, as well as evaluating how hungry you are. Maybe the exercise has truly left you feeling a bit peckish, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to rush out and eat a lot. And if you’re still somewhat hungry after a main meal, consider how much dessert you truly need.


All of which leads to one of the things I’ve come to understand about food: you don’t need to earn dessert, or any favorite food.


Eating is not about earning food. It’s about giving your body what it needs and wants, and having the type and amount of food that makes you feel better after finishing than when you started.


It’s true that at certain times you may be hungrier than usual, or want a different type of food. That doesn’t mean you’ve done anything to earn it, or that you need to do any of these things. It simply means that your body, by virtue of being alive, requires different amounts and types of food at different time, and the best way to honor that is to be mindful of our own internal cues, regardless of what society – or even our mothers – might tell us.


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