Whoever said “eat dessert first” was onto something.  
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Have you ever wished cookies and ice cream were considered “diet-friendly” foods? Well, if you order it first, science might be on your side. Recent evidence shows consuming a small, high-calorie dessert each day might motivate you to eat less overall.

A study published this week by the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, showed participants who consumed an indulgent treat for dessert ate 30 percent less than healthy dessert eaters on average the rest of the day. Researchers also found choosing the indulgent dessert before ordering sides and main dishes helped participants opt for lower-calorie foods.

Researchers alternated between putting healthier sweet treats, such as fruit, and more indulgent desserts, such as cheesecake, at the beginning and end of cafeteria lines to see if choosing an indulgence over a healthy option would affect one’s caloric intake for that meal. They also wanted to find out if food placement affected healthy eating choices.

The study found that when the cheesecake and apples were placed at the beginning of the line, those who chose the indulgent dessert opted for smaller portions and lower-calorie options. However, when the sweet treats were placed at the end of the line, most diners didn’t order lower-calorie main dishes or sides.

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An interesting caveat, however, was participants who were under stress or distracted and chose the indulgent dessert at the beginning of the line were more likely to also choose higher-calorie main and side dish options. There are dozens of studies showing the importance of being present while you eat, whether that means putting away your phone, turning off your TV, or stepping away from your desk to enjoy your meal.  

The researchers replicated this study several times to discover how participants would follow this concept via online ordering apps, such as UberEats and Grub Hub, and found the same results. When the order of desserts was listed before main dishes on an app simulation, participants were more prone to order lower-calorie meals if they first ordered a dessert.

Allowing yourself to enjoy a small treat each day instead of restricting unhealthy food as much as possible, might just prove more effective overall. Maintaining a healthy weight is all about finding balance and setting realistic goals for yourself to make healthy eating more of a lifestyle choice than a miserable diet.

While we don’t advise eating a big hunk of cheese cake every day, some of our favorite treat recipes, such as chocolate baby cakes and salted chocolate-topped shortbread, can be great ways to satisfy your sweet tooth during the week.