Bye, Bye Deprivation Diets

By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, R.D.

When I run into people I know at the local ice cream shop, they always seem surprised to see me there—I guess they think being a dietitian makes me crave steamed broccoli for dessert. The truth is, I do work hard to eat well, which is why I’ve always felt perfectly fine about indulging in a cone now and then. Turns out, that’s not such a bad philosophy. New and emerging research suggests that allowing for treats once in a while can actually make you more successful in following a heart-healthy diet.


A recent study by scientists at the University of North Florida concluded that incorporating a 90-10 rule when following a healthy diet can lead to greater success in sticking to a plan. That means, 90 percent of the time you eat all the right foods; and the rest of the time you enjoy some wiggle room. And since the study found that most folks view a diet as “all or nothing”—either you’re eating healthy or you’re not—researchers think that building in a small flex factor may be the key to maintaining healthy habits. When you don’t feel constantly restricted, it’s less likely you’ll fall off the wagon.


If you’re new to a heart-healthy diet, it can seem overwhelming to think of facing life without some of your favorite—and probably not-so-healthy—foods. And even if you’ve been dutifully following a healthy plan, you’ve probably experienced cravings that have nudged you off course. Instead, try to set out with the big picture goal of eating healthy most of the time, and not stressing about little pleasures. Over time, you may see your cholesterol and weight improve.


There is a caveat of course: 10 percent isn’t much and it can be all too easy to go overboard. To keep it simple, the authors of the study suggest choosing one meal a week to enjoy as you please. My advice is to carefully think through your week so you can save splurges for the times when they’ll matter the most to you. That’s exactly what I told my father-in-law, a man most devoted to his strict, heart-healthy diet. So later this summer when he goes to fulfill his bucket wish of eating a few wings at the place that made them famous, I’ll be fully supportive (I may even pass the blue cheese).

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