Strategies for Eating Your Cake and Losing Weight, Too

A new study indicates that if you pick a high-calorie dessert at the beginning of a meal, you may make healthier choices and consume fewer calories overall.

Assortment of pieces of cake on messy table, copy space. Several slices of delicious desserts, restaurant menu concept, top view


Assortment of pieces of cake on messy table, copy space. Several slices of delicious desserts, restaurant menu concept, top view

Photo by: Milkos


Are you an eat-dessert-first kind of person? Science has your back – and has even given you cover for making that dessert decadent.

If you decide on a high-calorie dessert before choosing the rest of your meal, you may end up eating a healthier meal and consuming fewer calories overall, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

The research, published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, offered people going through a fixed-price buffet line or ordering from an online menu a healthy dessert (fresh fruit or fruit salad) or a less healthy one (lemon cheesecake or chocolate cake) at the front of the line or beginning of the ordering process. When people picked the less healthy dessert first, they selected main and side dishes that contained fewer calories and ended up consuming an average of 30 percent fewer calories overall than those who selected fresh fruit for dessert at the outset of their meals.

Those results didn’t hold for when dessert – healthy or not – was placed at the end of the line. In fact, people who chose an unhealthy dessert like cheesecake at the beginning of a cafeteria line were twice as likely to order lighter main dishes than those who picked it at the end.

"We believe diners who chose the indulgent dessert first then picked healthier main and side dishes to make up for their high-calorie dessert," Martin Reimann, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Arizona and a lead author of the study, said in a news release. "Diners who picked the healthier dessert may have thought they already had done a good deed for their bodies so they deserved higher-calorie food further down the cafeteria line."

However, the study also suggested that stress or distraction may dim the positive effects of choosing a decadent dessert at the outset of a meal. When participants were asked to remember a seven-digit number and so were preoccupied while ordering a meal online, they tended to order high-calorie main and side dishes after ordering an indulgent dessert.

"People should be aware that their initial food choices and their mindset may affect the overall healthiness of their meals," Reimann said.

So go ahead and get decadent with your desserts. Just make sure you plan for it at the beginning of your meal and do it mindfully. Then virtue may follow.

Photo: iStock

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