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Treat Yourself!

When the fall and winter months come, it is easy to curl up under the covers with a cup of cocoa and a pumpkin pie. OK, maybe not the whole pie, but the holidays sometimes open the floodgates of comfort food eating. That isn’t the only time of year indulgent eating can tug at you. Valentine’s day has decadent desserts, birthdays offer up happy cake, and summer barbeques from Memorial Day through Labor Day spell out great summer eats. With so many temptations all year long it is easy to get swayed by our favorite foods.

Comfort foods are comforting because we associate them with a positive memory, usually a social or familiar one according to a study done by the University of Buffalo. Shape reports that psychologist Shira Gabrial who headed the study found that our favorite foods are often ones that we ate with our loved ones years ago. The familiarity makes us feel reassured and safe in times of worry or trouble.

In moderation comfort foods can make you feel better. Too much starch and sugar are sure to ruin a healthy, balanced diet, however completely eliminating a food group may cause you to binge, according to The National Eating Disorders Association.

Sometimes it is soothing to Netflix and chill with some pizza, chips, or mac and cheese. If you are looking to maximize your health, these dishes seem like they are always off limits. Luckily, there are ways to make some of your favorite forbidden foods a bit lighter. Here are some ideas on how to safely splurge:

Get Baked

Some of the best ‘so bad they’re good’ foods are the fired ones. Chicken, fries, onion rings…That isn’t the healthiest way to serve up these foods. A better way to prepare these dishes that is easier on the heart, and the scale, is to bake or roast these foods. Potatoes can be sliced and baked in some olive oil and seasoning. Baked chicken with crushed corn flaked or even gluten-free panko is a better choice than fried chicken. Onions can also be dipped in crumbs and baked, but they are just as delicious sautéed on the stove. These dishes will still satisfy the savory tastes that you crave but will come in much lower on the calorie register. While they are still high in carbohydrates and should be eaten in moderation, these variations are a great way to indulge in some classic comfort foods.

Get You to The Greek

A sweet tooth can be a serious pull towards sugar. You may have tried lots of different ways to appease your candy vice, but it is the oil, butter, cream and sugar that makes the sweet stuff so good. However, Greek yogurt is a good substitution to one of those problems. If you want to replace the fat in your baked goods, thin out some Greek yogurt with water and heat slowly.  Use it in lieu of butter or heavy cream in cakes, cookies, brownies, and most of your favorite decadent treats. You still get that creamy taste without all of the fat. You can also use cottage cheese as a substitute for butter. If you are looking for a good cookie recipe that is low fat, whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookie bars with chickpea flour, eggs, and cottage cheese.

Au Naturale

Protein is an important part of the diet and sometimes you may have a hankering for a big burger or a steak. However, you should make sure you are getting the healthiest kind of meat you possibly can, as you are what your food eats. Most grocery stores these days have a natural food section so it is more convenient than ever to find good sources of free-range, grass-fed, or wild-caught meat and fish. If you have the fever for the flavor of some bacon, be sure to opt for the nitrate-free variety.

Veg Out

Incorporating more veggies into your dish is a recipe for success. You can turn a bowl of mac and cheese into a healthier dish with some substitutions. Cottage cheese baked macaroni and cheese with added peppers and broccoli is a good example – you can still get the taste of the cheesy pasta dish but with far fewer calories. If you really want to lower the carbs and still eat pasta, try zucchini pasta or known by its hip name, zoodles. You get the benefit of eating Italian but saving the carb calories. If your idea of Italian food is pizza, never fear. Cauliflower pizza has a cauliflower crust which is actually easier to make than a regular dough crust as it doesn’t need to rise and be kneaded and rolled out. If your creature comfort is potatoes, you can load up a roasted sweet potato with feta, olives and sun-dried tomatoes instead of butter, sour cream, or bacon bits. Try a roasted eggplant dip made with beans, eggplant, and onion. If you want a sweet vegetable dish, black bean brownies are for you – they are still moist and fudgy but have no butter added. There is always a way to add more veggies. In fact, many dishes that contain meat and veggies can substitute the meat for more greens. This will increase your fiber and prevent you from overeating.

Celebrate Good Times

You can still have the time of your life and hit any holiday without hiding in the corner because you have to skip out on foods. Why not throw your own party? Host a lite BBQ with fruit salad, turkey burgers, shrimp skewers, roasted veggies, and homemade sorbet or fruit pops. Skip the chips and heavy dips. Or have a Stupid Cupid party highlighted by delicious chocolate mousse made with cocoa powder, egg whites, and non-fat Greek yogurt. Thanksgiving apple pie doesn’t have to be an oopsie if you substitute the lard-filled crust with a crumble made with whole oats and chickpea flour. There are many ways to party and satisfy your cravings for your favorite foods all year round.