Having an appetite is normal, friends. We all want a little permission to eat according to that appetite sometimes, especially when we’ve made changes to our diets. The key is doing so while maintaining progress toward our health and physique goals. Like spending money when on a budget, you may need to make compromises and sacrifices when you want to splurge.

First, let’s understand the ‘budget’ –  your self-imposed diet. It’s okay to make healthy changes such as moderately restricting intake for calorie reduction or cleaning up a diet that is full of processed foods or high in fat. On the other hand, intense restrictions* or abstinence from favorite foods are often followed by gorging/binging when those eating restrictions are lifted. Gluttony and over-indulgence not only mean excessive calories, but may lead to guilt.

Instead of telling yourself that you’re “following” a diet or “cheating” on it, drop both terms, which infer that only 100% compliance is acceptable and create negative thoughts when you can’t adhere to diet requirements. You should feel good about your overall intent, specific diet plan and progress, while anticipating hiccups along the way. Day to day or week to week, we all have natural fluctuations in the amount we eat (and our body weight) that a new diet plan may not be able to override.

So now on to the relaxation part…

Many people successfully attain their goals while incorporating a little freedom to their eating. Balance is the key. One approach is the 80/20 rule, where a very healthy diet is eaten 80 percent of the time so that 20 percent of the time a more relaxed diet can be consumed. In terms of days of the week, that 20% would account for about 1.5 days. Another method used to balance indulgence with restriction is to choose one discretionary food per day — a pre-planned sugary, fatty or alcoholic item. In fact, incorporating a moderate amount of a favorite food may help obese individuals achieve success in the long run, by avoiding some of the aforementioned rebound excessive eating.

Here are some specific suggestions for healthy indulgences:

  • Opt for a single-serving package of chips, fried snacks or cookies.
  • Use measured portion containers, such as a half-cup for ice cream.
  • Allow a daily ounce of dark chocolate, preferably with fruit or nuts, to curb cravings. See our article, CANDY – Why We Crave It & How to Control Those Cravings, if you have a sweet tooth for confections.
  • Dried fruit offers more intense flavor and sweetness than fresh fruit.
  • Adding avocado slices to salads, sandwiches and tacos enriches the healthy fat content with a smooth buttery feel in the mouth.
  • Fried portion of rarely-eaten fish or vegetable to gain those nutrients and variety. Just skip the Ranch dressing, cream sauce or dip served with it.
  • Have half a regular burger or pulled pork sandwich with a side salad or scoop of coleslaw to get your fill.
  • Make your own healthier version of notoriously heavy foods (e.g. potato fries baked in the oven, lasagna with reduced fat cheese and lean beef, brownies made with prune puree).
  • A small dessert the size of a ramekin, shooter glass, or mini muffin should please the palate.
  • Share an appetizer or dessert, as most are meant to be enjoyed.

Tips for maintaining progress while relaxing your diet:

  1. Decide before starting your meal how much to put on your plate, instead of deciding how much to eat off your plate during the meal.
  2. Compensate for extra calories with additional exercise.
  3. Document your weight routinely.
  4. Plan for special occasions such as a holiday meal, as described in our Eat All You Want at Thanksgiving Dinner and Not Gain Weight!? article.

*If you think you may have an unhealthy obsession or preoccupation with your diet or an inflexible or rigid eating behavior which impacts your well-being (physical, social, emotional, financial), you should seek out the assistance of an expert in disordered eating. To find one, call NEDA 1-800-931-2237 (US) or NEDIC 1-866-633-4220 (Canada).

Disclaimer: This blog post should not be construed as medical advice. Do not attempt to change your diet, fitness routine, or any other activity related to your health without first obtaining the advice of a medical professional. 


Mind over platter: pre-meal planning and the control of meal size in humans. JM Brunstrom.

International Journal of Obesity, 2014. 38, S9–S12.

Psychological Consequences of Food Restriction. Janet Polivy. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, June 1996. 96 (6): 589-592.

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