The answer might surprise you (in a good way).
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While it gets a lot of attention, weight loss shouldn't be your only health goal. There are many other indicators of health including your quality of sleep, your stress levels and how hydrated you are. But if weight loss is your goal, you can (and should) have dessert if you want to. In fact, allowing yourself to enjoy dessert can actually make weight loss easier. As a registered dietitian, I think the best dessert for weight loss is a mindful portion of any dessert that you like. Yep, you read that right. You can eat any dessert that you want and it won't sabotage your weight loss goals. 

But how can this be? Aren't we supposed to be hardwired to fear dessert for all of the sugar and calories it can contain? First of all, fearing foods is something we learned from toxic diet culture and that mindset can damage our relationship with food and our bodies. No food is inherently "bad" and no food is guaranteed to make you automatically gain weight, regardless of what the diet world says.

Additionally, severely restricting a food that you like and want to eat often leads to binging later. Binging can lead to shame and more restriction, then ultimately binging again, and so the cycle goes. By allowing yourself to enjoy your favorite desserts in a mindful way, you can break this cycle. 

Pineapple-Ginger Upside-Down Cake
Credit: Photography / Antonis Achilleos, Styling / Christine Keely, Ali Ramee

All that said, I understand the idea of "eating a mindful portion" or "eating mindfully" might be a little bit vague for some. A mindful portion is not necessarily a strict definition, but rather honors your physical hunger levels. Since dessert is usually eaten after a meal, it can be helpful to start with a smaller portion. Then, if you eat this portion mindfully and feel like you need more, you are free to go back. This might mean starting with one cookie or brownie instead of two, or a half slice of cake instead of a full slice so you can better gauge your hunger.

Similarly, eating mindfully means to be present while you eat and to honor your fullness and hunger. If you are eating when you're distracted or out of boredom, research shows that you're more likely to eat bigger portions and potentially overeat. When you want to have dessert mindfully, put away your phone, turn off the TV and step away from your computer screen. Simply eat. Notice flavors, textures and how the food makes you feel. Enjoy every bite. This not only allows you to really enjoy your food but it also helps you to naturally eat more slowly. Research shows that eating slowly helps you feel more satisfied after a meal and can actually help you eat fewer calories altogether.

Does this mean you will never reach for that second cookie or slice of cake again? No, and that is OK. Sometimes we want to have more even if we are full just because we enjoy it so much. Honor that and notice the way it makes you feel. While overeating can still happen when eating mindfully, it will happen much less often than if you are eating distractingly or binging after restricting.

The main tenant of weight loss is that the changes you make need to be sustainable for the long haul, and this is one of the reasons weight loss can be so challenging. If you like dessert, you should absolutely include it in your eating pattern even if you are trying to lose weight. And rather than choosing a "light" or "low-calorie" version, just have what you really want and enjoy it mindfully. Start with a smaller portion and go back if you feel like you need to. This will help you break away from restricting and binging and help you establish a healthy relationship with dessert well past your weight loss aspirations.