food for thought: how sweet it is

“food for thought” posts are my chance to share an opinion, an insight, or something to do with food–think nutrition, emotional eating, a recipe, you name it. 

The topic for today’s post came from a little realization I had on the weekend over a bowl of ice cream.

First things first, I know I’ve expressed my love for froyo before, but my true love has always been for ice cream.

ice cream me

Me loving ice cream, circa 2007.

Love can be complicated, right? Ice cream (and froyo, for that matter) and I have a messy history.

I’d divide our relationship into a few phases:

  1. honeymoon: I love ice cream and ice cream loves me…I have never encountered the word “calorie.”
  2. guilty romance, part I: I love ice cream but am ashamed of it…I earn my ice cream with long runs and bike rides.
  3. guilty romance, part II: I am still in love and still ashamed…I make room for my ice cream by replacing meals with it.
  4. reality: I see ice cream for what it is (and I still like it)…I own my choices and where I’m at.

Each of these phases had their gift.

When I was oblivious to the world of nutrition, ice cream was just delicious and a special treat that my parents busted out now and again. Ignorance isn’t bliss, though, so I’m glad that I realize that ice cream is one of those “special” foods and not something I need on a daily basis to keep me going.

For a long time, I made myself work for ice cream (or any treat, for that matter). I justified my junk food habits by working them off–either anticipating a treat and making sure I did an extra hard workout, rewarding myself with a treat after a particularly gruelling day, or attempting to make up for an indulgence by sweating the crap out of it. While the idea of having some discretionary calories and making room for more of them if you work out is something that plenty of diet gurus support, this wasn’t a healthy headspace for me. Eventually, it dawned on me that eating junk food, regardless of how much you work out, still involves putting crap into your body. As I shifted my relationship with exercise from one based on controlling and fixing myself to one based on actually creating strength and fitness and health, my mindset on treats and indulgences started to shift. Rather than asking myself if I’d earned a treat or if I deserved it, I started to question whether or not I truly wanted it and if it deserved to go in my body, reminding myself that looking “healthy” and actually being it are very different things.

froyo 1

More recently, I noticed that I was in a new phase. I was okay with not working out to earn myself a treat–I’d even go for froyo on a rest day, something I’d never have been able to do back in the day. But I realized that lately, I’ve been trying to justify things in a new way: by skipping a meal and/or replacing it with whatever treat I’m giving myself. Is a big ol’ scoop of ice cream for dinner healthier than a piece of salmon, a sweet potato, and some veggies followed by a small bowl of ice cream? Nope. But only if I got real about what I meant by “healthier.”  In the past, I’ve been so convinced that thinner, leaner, “fitter” looking is by definition “healthier” that my default setting was towards eating less and losing weight. The redefinition process is ongoing. I still grab the low fat yogurt and salad dressing off the shelves before I put them back and grab the real deal when I’m grocery shopping. I still sometimes catch myself overdoing it with exercise. But the shift is happening. In terms of ice cream and treats, redefining healthy has meant recognizing that ice cream has a place in my diet, but it’s place is not to provide me with real nutrition.

My vision of ideal health has room for ice cream. Does your definition of healthy? And does that match the ideal body that you picture coming from this notion of healthy? If those two don’t match, you’re likely in for the same kind of struggle I went through.

Getting real about my definition of health and expanding it to include more than just a certain weight, body composition, etc. has changed the way I live and taken me into that next stage: reality. If I prioritize my health and this new definition (based on actually taking care of myself and creating a healthy, fit, strong body) I realize that I need to eat real food first and foremost. If I want ice cream on top of that, awesome, but I still need the nutrition first. I don’t compromise the fact that I need to eat whole, nutrient dense foods for the sake of attempting to fit into my skinny jeans. This is about valuing my health.

In other words, this is about realizing on another level that you can’t uncrap a crappy choice. It’s about owning the fact that I might weigh 10lbs more than what someone says is “ideal” but knowing that I’m in a healthy place physically and mentally. That gives me permission to eat ice cream regardless of what it does to the size of my butt but it also places the responsibility on me to own that choice and the way my body looks as a result.


This post is about ice cream, but the theme is way bigger than frozen desserts and food. Living in reality requires taking responsibility, but it’s an empowered place to be.

What’s your perspective on how dessert fits into a “healthy” diet?
How do you define healthy? 

Bonus: Here’s a link to a (much shorter than this) post that I read a while back from Nell Stephenson (Paleoista) that puts out a pretty firm opinion on the froyo as a meal habit

One thought on “food for thought: how sweet it is

  1. Pingback: ABCs: what you didn’t even know you wanted to know about me! | Happy is the new healthy

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