A few years back, Michelle Obama was publicly seen sitting down to eat a burger, fries and a milkshake. This also happened at the same time as her fight to eliminate childhood obesity with her Let’s Move! Campaign. As a result, she encountered all sorts of criticism. And she’s not the only one. There are often situations where health professionals or nutrition and fitness enthusiasts are “caught” for seemingly being hypocrites of something they advocate for.
But I disagree with the criticisms Michelle Obama received and often others in the health world. Whether you are trying to lose 10 pounds or if you are a fitness professional, the occasional indulgence is normal and healthy! Living a healthy lifestyle does not mean certain foods have to be banned from consumption, it only means those foods should only be consumed once in a while.
Indulging Makes Us Human
For Michelle Obama, it’s burgers and fries; for me, it’s real ice cream or a real dessert. I don’t eat ice cream in the shadows just because I advocate health and fitness for a living; I make a conscious decision to indulge—on occasion. The key is being able to control how often you indulge and not letting a little splurge open a floodgate for bad decisions.
When people get obsessed with perfection and pounce on people who make the slightest perceived transgression, we only set people up for failure. This is why many people who resolve to eat healthy and exercise regularly give up entirely if they have one bad day. Unfortunately, they believe that if they can’t adopt a healthy lifestyle all the time (if they aren’t perfect) they probably won’t have success doing it at all. It’s an all-or-nothing mentality and it’s not helping people or their waistlines.
I believe in letting people be human and helping them to make lasting change. One meal or one dessert doesn’t destroy a healthy lifestyle. It’s human. We shouldn’t condemn people for indulging because the occasional indulgence can actually keep people on track. Think about who would do better embracing a healthy lifestyle: someone who thinks they can only eat certain foods and has to avoid temptation foods at all costs, or someone who regularly eats healthy but knows they can have their favorite indulgence once in a while? Just knowing you don’t have to go into deprivation mode on your most favorite temptation foods can help you to stay on track.
3 Ways To Indulge The Right Way
Here are three ways to make the occasional indulgence a healthy part of your life, instead of a shameful secret that sends you spiraling.
1. Set Limits
If you want a burger, fries and a milkshake put limits on how often you will allow yourself to have that meal because it’s a calorie load. Maybe you just partake in one of the three, instead of all three or order the small size of each. Your next meal after an indulgence should be a healthy one. Get right back into the groove with healthy choices.
2. Don’t Justify Daily Indulgences
An indulgence should be more of a rarity than a habit, so don’t let treating yourself turn into a daily thing. If your sweet tooth comes calling most nights, try a healthy sweet like fresh fruit, a smoothie or kettle corn! For more sweet treats that don’t count as indulgences, check out my cookbook, Choose This!. I have more than a dozen recipes to satisfy a sweet tooth!
3. Consider Calories in Vs. Calories Out
If you have a giant plate of pasta or a big donut—whatever your splurge may be—connect it to exercise. The bigger your splurge, the bigger your workout. Add a few miles or ramp up the intensity on your workout following an indulgence. Just keep in mind that people have a tendency to underestimate the calories they consume and overestimate the calories they burn.
So, go ahead and treat yourself once in a while; it doesn’t mean your healthy lifestyle is over, it only means you are human.