Do you know the difference between a Snack and a Treat?

 My all-time faourite treat! Enjoyed occasionally and absolutely without guikt!!

My all-time faourite treat! Enjoyed occasionally and absolutely without guikt!!

Why is a nutritionist posting a picture of cake?? Well, stick with me dahlinks, because this is no ordinary cake. This is the Strawberry & Watermelon cake from Blackstar Pastry.* And believe it or not, in addition to being one of our favourite occasional indulgences, this cake has helped my husband and I to maintain a healthy diet, and avoid unhealthy snacking, in a sea of temptations... But, I'll get to that later...

I recently brushed up on the latest Australian health stats. And they're scary! 

Australia is in the midst of an obesity crisis. There's no other way to describe it. 63% of Australians are either overweight or obese. But even worse, 50% of Australians have a chronic disease. And do you know the biggest predictors of chronic disease? The number one risk factor is dietary habits (followed closely by obesity, which of course is heavily influenced by - you guessed it! - dietary habits!).

When we look at what Australians are eating, it's a pretty depressing picture. The most recent Australian Health Survey revealed that less than 4% of us are actually consuming the recommended 5 daily serves of vegetables, and worryingly, over one-third (35%) of total daily energy in 2011-12 came from foods and beverages classified as “discretionary”. This means foods that add extra calories but don't meet our nutritional needs - alcohol, sweets, lollies, confectionary bars, pastries and biscuits, crackers, soft drinks and sweetened mineral waters. 

If we could bring our consumption of these less-than-ideal "discretionary foods" down, we would go a LONG WAY towards reversing our current obesity and chronic disease crisis.

These foods generally push us into a state of "overnutrition". This is a term that hasn't yet made its way into the mainstream press or health blogs, but it's everywhere in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and I wrote a post about it HERE. Scientists are increasingly unveiling the biochemical and metabolic stress that occurs in our bodies when we regularly consume more food than our body needs to fuel it. Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease are all recognised as diseases of overnutrition. 

If we can stay out of overnutrition, we can minimise our risk for these diseases.

And this brings me to my two simple - but incredibly effective! - mindset shifts that I have used myself and with clients to minimise consumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor food choices.

Mindset shift number one: Recognise the difference between snacks and treats.

SNACKS ARE FUEL

Snacks are the mini meals that sustain us until our next proper meal, that we can use to keep our energy levels up and our concentration sharp. Depending on your unique lifestyle and physiological makeup, you might need to snack a couple of times a day - or you might not need to snack at all. It all depends on your body's fuel and micronutrient needs throughout the day.

Most of us are going to snack every day. Think of your daily snacks as an opportunity to fuel and energise your body. Choose snacks that will satisfy you, that are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and a sustainable source of energy. Nuts and fruit, veggie sticks, hummus, yoghurt (if you eat dairy), or whatever foods you enjoy that are going to boost your energy and health, not tax it.

TREATS ARE, WELL, TREATS

There is a misconception that our snacks need to be treats. You know, cakes, cookies, muesli bars, potato chips etc. And this kind of thinking is perpetuated by the big food companies, who want us to consume their highly profitable "snack food"s every day and not as an occasional treat. And have you noticed that these "snack foods" often leave us feeling sluggish and soon enough leave us hungry and shaky after an hour or so? Our bodies aren't designed to eat these "sometimes foods" on a daily basis. And yet, we are getting more than a third of our daily calories from these foods.

So what we need is a reframe...

We need to reframe cakes, cookies, chips and candies as occasional treats. On Sesame Street, Elmo calls treats "sometimes food" and I think that is a great way to frame foods that are delicious but aren't the healthiest food choices we could possibly make. Sometimes foods should be eaten, well, sometimes. It seems a bit obvious, but we seem to have our blinders on when it comes to just how much "discretionary foods" we are eating.

When you eat these sometimes-food treats as daily snacks a few things happen. Firstly these "treats" become normal every day occurrences and are no longer special. Secondly, your palate becomes habituated to super sweet, salty, refined foods. Healthy unprocessed foods will taste bland to you - and that’s exactly what the processed food companies want…. And worst of all, they are very likely to push you into a state of over nutrition, leaving you vulnerable to weight gain and chronic disease.

So when you are making daily food choices, ask yourself: is this a snack food or a treat food? Ask yourself: why am I eating this? If you are hungry or need energy, a chocolate bar is not the best choice. Go for healthier every day snack items like nuts, fruit and veggie sticks. And congratulate yourself every time you choose the healthier option! You are choosing your present and future health over the profits of a multinational corporation.

Refined snack foods are not the right choice for morning tea every day, and loading up on "treats" to console yourself with each evening after a stressful day at the office can only make us end up feeling worse. There are better choices for those everyday situations such as a piece of fruit or a calming walk or meditation session.

Check out these divine, nutrient-rich snack ideas to fuel your day!

This brings me to mindset shift number two, and that divine cake...
If you are going to have a treat, then make sure it is ABSOLUTELY AWESOMELY DIVINE!!!

To my husband and I, the Blackstar Strawberry & Watermelon Cake is the benchmark against which all treats are measured. So when someone offers us a food that is not an ideal healthy choice, we ask ourselves: "will I enjoy this as much as a piece of my favorite cake?" What we are really asking is: "is this "treat" REALLY a treat? Or is it just a less-than-ideal food choice?"

This simple question has helped us make sure that occasional treats really are occasional, and not everyday occurrences. It's easier to say no to biscuits in the tea room or the chocolate bar at the supermarket checkout when we recognise that there are actually sometimes foods we would much rather indulge in. 

Quality over quantity dahlinks!!!

And finally, enjoy your occasional treats without guilt!

If you are going to treat yourself, then TREAT YOURSELF honey! Make it delicious and memorable! And truly savour it!

Consider this your permission slip to enjoy your occasional treats, without concern about calories, carbs and fat - and absolutely without guilt! 

Just don't do it every day, m'kay???

Here's a song to reinforce the "sometimes food" message! :)

* If you don't live in Sydney, here is the recipe (click here!). I've been working on a healthier version, but honestly, the real thing is so divine it is worth saving for the occasional guilt-free indulgence!