What can I use as a psychological substitute for dessert?
August 19, 2013 1:55 PM   Subscribe

For some reason, probably a combination of sweet tooth and several years of conditioning, I don't feel full after lunch/dinner unless I eat something sweet, ie. a dessert. But I would like to change that, especially after witnessing family members dealing with medical issues which would benefit from a healthier diet and observing the daily negotiation for/extortion of candy in exchange for a few bites of food between a toddler and his mother (not me, thank god). So I'm thinking about starting a new habit, some after-meal routine which would make my brain and stomach know I'm now done with eating, in place of eating a piece of cake or chocolate.

Going cold turkey has proved to be a challenge. (I think I haven't managed a single dessert-free day in the past month or two, even though I'm trying.)

I've thought about other options:
- fruit - it's healthier to eat it before meals and besides, it makes me go hungry (no really, I could eat till I'm full to bursting and then have a small apple, and bam, I'm hungry again)
- coffee - I don't like coffee unless it's very sweet and at that point, I might as well have a cake instead
- "healthy" dessert - look, if it's healthy, it's not dessert, and if it's dessert, it can't be healthy
- something that's not food, so I do something else to end the meal, like plop in front of TV (problem: inertia creeps over and I don't want to get up again) or start clearing away the table (not very pleasurable)

Soooo, any ideas? Requirements: works at home and away, in all seasons, in every kind of weather (eg. an after-dinner walk in a blizzard is no fun), for all ages (we have a baby who'll be starting solids any day now).
posted by gakiko to Health & Fitness (45 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

(I have the exact same issue. It went away when I was eating low-carb, but where's the fun in that?)
posted by pyjammy at 2:00 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I experience this, too. I brush my teeth. If I'm at home, I brush at home. And I keep a little travel toothbrush and travel toothpaste in my desk at work to brush after lunch.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Does the baby have to participate in the activity, or does it just need to be baby-compatible?

If the baby has to participate, your options are going to be rather limited.

A friend of mine grew up with a family tradition of taking turns reading a novel aloud after dinner. It sounds like a very nice tradition. Maybe baby can try to tear the spine in half on it's turn, or chew on the ereader.
posted by yohko at 2:02 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Until I got to the very last phrase, I was thinking "digestif". There are non-alcoholic supposedly-digestion-promoting drinks, though.
posted by supercres at 2:03 PM on August 19, 2013

Response by poster: Yohko: heh, made me LOL :) I'm thinking more in the sense of setting up future habits for the baby. If he's watching us eat cake every day, he's gonna want some too when he's older. If he's watching us do something else, he'll want to participate in that instead.
posted by gakiko at 2:06 PM on August 19, 2013

When I was doing low-carb and I had to have a 'sweet', I would make hot chocolate with cocoa and milk - no sugar. If you are already avoiding sugar, the lactose feels sweet enough to the tongue and psychologically, it fits.
posted by kitcat at 2:07 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if for setting a good example for kids - fruit.
posted by kitcat at 2:07 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

A chocolate-flavor calcium supplement as a piece of candy? And daily kiddo gummy-vites for the wee one.

A cup of tea? Herbal teas are good "digestif".

A yoga sun salutation, or some form of gentle but directed stretching?

A religious reading/prayer?
posted by aimedwander at 2:09 PM on August 19, 2013

What kind of chocolate do you head for? Just 1 square of a nice Dark chocolate (i.e. ScharffenBerger 70%) is satisfying.
posted by effigy at 2:10 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've done this with tea, possibly with a bit of honey. Also: I find that my sweet cravings come down considerably when I use candles that smell like vanilla cupcakes or cookies, or body wash that is same. I think this is exactly the opposite of how it is supposed to work, so might not work for you, but for me I found I responded more to the smell than actually eating the sweet thing, because it actually makes me a little headachy and oogy to eat things that are really sweet, something I only learned after fully eliminating sweets for about six or eight weeks.
posted by sweetkid at 2:10 PM on August 19, 2013


Not only is there a ritual aspect to brewing, but there are so many different flavors that you could spent months trying various combinations (some of them even are sweet-ish without actually being sweet, if you wanted you could start with those for that "dessert feel").
posted by paisley sheep at 2:11 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Seconding brushing your teeth. To sweeten the deal (pun intended), get some fancy-tasting toothpaste. I love Marvis Jasmin Mint and Tom's of Maine Fennel.

Whatever your new routine, you can ease into it by eating a square of chocolate immediately before. Get individually wrapped squares, or a super-nice expensive bar that you can break into bits (keep the rest in the fridge). I know this advice has been repeated to the point of cliche, but a small piece of posh dark chocolate can be immensely satisfying. It's always the first bite of dessert that tastes the best, anyway.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:13 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

"healthy" dessert - look, if it's healthy, it's not dessert, and if it's dessert, it can't be healthy

I hope this answer isn't out of bounds, but I think there's a world of difference between chocolate cake and a small piece of high-quality dark chocolate. I googled a bit for examples, and ended up with a lot of link-bait, but for instance, Dagoba makes a bar that's relatively affordable, responsible, and yummy. There's plenty of resources that talk about high-quality dark chocolate as a superfood. It's an acquired taste, and won't satisfy everyone's sweet tooth - especially supertasters like little kids - but I think a square of dark chocolate after a meal is worth considering. There's also lots of varieties out there, if you want to experiment with bars that add chiles, teas, nuts, etc. And as your kid(s) grow up, they can be a part of picking the flavor for the week!

Once I started eating dark chocolate, anything milk chocolate or low-quality doesn't even taste good to me anymore. It's too sweet and doesn't satisfy the craving.
posted by juliplease at 2:13 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Fruit fits into this slot for me really well but since that doesn't seem to work for you I would suggest something minty, like gum or mint tea.
posted by quaking fajita at 2:22 PM on August 19, 2013

This Celestial Seasonings herbal tea is sweet without even adding sugar (I am also a sugar monster).
posted by rtha at 2:23 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Tea or coffee sweetened with xylitol has been helpful for me when I want something sweet but don't want sugar. Xylitol interacts differently with your body than sugar, and is good for your teeth.
posted by linettasky at 2:28 PM on August 19, 2013

One small piece of dark chocolate. Hold it in your mouth and let it slowly melt. Dark chocolate is full of all sorts of good stuff and if you get dark chocolate without too much sugar in it it's low cal too. Buy the good stuff.

When I was on a diet I used to have one caramello koala every day as dessert. I lost 20kgs (I have since put it back on but that's another post). A little tiny piece of something you like at the end of a day of healthy eating is good for the soul and helped keep me on the diet the rest of the day.
posted by wwax at 2:31 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I keep a toothbrush and paste at work and at home and brush immediately after a meal. The flavor of the paste and the action itself signals to my brain that I'm done.
posted by michellenoel at 2:37 PM on August 19, 2013

Nuts. Just a few. Every time until your mind makes the connection to "meal is done"
posted by SyraCarol at 2:44 PM on August 19, 2013

Fruit + nuts, maybe + cheese. The nuts will fill you up. And use dried cherries or something with a strong color instead of apple.

Get really _good_ fruit, nuts, and cheese.
posted by amtho at 2:50 PM on August 19, 2013

As a fellow sweet-toothed person, I would probably say "yeah right" if I read this, but: I've been drinking ice water with lime in the evenings lately, mainly as a way to avoid Diet Coke. I've been pleasantly surprised to discover that it also seems to take away my dessert cravings. It's a big glass and I use a generous amount of ice, to make it really cold. Three or four lime wedges (or squirts of lime juice from a bottle if limes are too expensive) and the rest is water.

Also, it might be good to make it a habit to do something active after dinner. So maybe not a walk every day (though it is a good habit for the warmer weather and a nice habit to instill in your child), but something - maybe in the winter some sort of family game? Just so you're not sitting around, idly, thinking "Wow, I'd kill for some cake right now."
posted by lunasol at 2:51 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Altoids or original Ricola cough drops. The Ricolas especially because they are sweet as hard candy but the herbal menthol flavor doesn't make you want to keep eating them. I use the cough drops more for between meal sweet cravings and Altoids for after meals.
posted by fozzie_bear at 3:04 PM on August 19, 2013

I'm fond of tea (with about a half teaspoon of sugar), gum, or a piece of liquorice.

That said, is it worth considering a very limited amount of sweet? I had cousins who, for years and years, had a single spoonful of ice cream after supper every night. I do that sometimes now, too. (And, as a bonus, my pint of Ben and Jerry's lasts ages!)
posted by MeghanC at 3:26 PM on August 19, 2013

Little cubes of guava or quince paste with cheese (Manchego is the kind of cheese often suggested but I eat it with all kinds of cheese)
posted by biscuits at 3:37 PM on August 19, 2013

One small piece of dark chocolate. Hold it in your mouth and let it slowly melt. Dark chocolate is full of all sorts of good stuff and if you get dark chocolate without too much sugar in it it's low cal too. Buy the good stuff.

I do this. I have had a few other go-tos that are good. You want ot think very specifically about what you want to do goalwise. I have, in the past, tried

- cough drops - strong flavor and feel sweet in my mouth, only about 15 calories
- eucalyptus or licorice tea, again with the strong sweetish taste
- I've made shortbread and pre-cut small bite-sizes pieces and have a 40-50 cal piece with some coffee-with-equal (or decaf in the evening)
- some food that feels good on the mouth but is not sweet -- papadoms with some thin slices of good cheese, for example, or olive oil and crusty bread is another
posted by jessamyn at 3:45 PM on August 19, 2013

Fiftyleventhing tea. A bit of honey to sweeten should kill the sweet tooth urge.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 4:18 PM on August 19, 2013

One piece of corn candy or one jellybean, eaten in teeny-tiny nibbles to make it last as long as possible.
posted by aryma at 4:30 PM on August 19, 2013

I use mints sometimes (Altoid equivalent) which have the advantage of making your breath and mouth fresher (if you aren't in a position to brush your teeth) but also give you the feeling of having actually eaten something (unlike brushing teeth).

Tea is definitely good too. There are heaps of flavours, one of my favourites is Bengal Spice which I have with a bit of milk in it; soy milk is really good in it too, and a friend always adds a little honey.

You could also tried dried fruit and see if you react the same way as you do to fresh fruit. The sugar is more concentrated so you only need a small amount, and the chewiness of a dried apricot or fig is very different to the fresh one, somehow more satisfying. And they will keep you regular!
posted by Athanassiel at 4:43 PM on August 19, 2013

Pure Protein bars, they look like candy bars, but actually have minimal chocolate. They have a bunch of protein which is good for the muscles, and they taste really good too (other protein bars taste like cardboard). Low in fat, About 2 grams of sugar or so. They fill you up too, for sure. Peanut butter flavor is pretty tasty.
posted by readygo at 5:05 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is sort of an indirect answer to your question, but are you nursing your infant? I've always had a sweet tooth but it was kicked into ridiculous overdrive by breastfeeding, even when we were only nursing for a few minutes at night. I thought it was a willpower thing until recently when we became well and truly done, and overnight, I didn't need an after lunch cookie at all.

As for a real answer to your question, you mention that fresh fruit doesn't work--does dried? A date dipped in peanut butter is a family treat that's much healthier than a proper dessert. So does something strongly flavored like a small piece of chocolate-covered ginger or a spicy herbal tea. For a completely non-food ritual, perhaps a few cleansing breaths?
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:04 PM on August 19, 2013

Indians chew on fennel seeds after a meal. Or they swallow a powder (churan)
posted by goethean at 6:20 PM on August 19, 2013

There are some low-carb yogurts on the market that come in dessert flavors - black forest cake, spice cake, white chocolate. Completely satisfies my sweet tooth. We find them at Fred Meyers.
posted by summerstorm at 6:23 PM on August 19, 2013

I just wanted to say that I have the same "apples make me hungry" reaction as you! Is it all fruit for you or just apples? Because while I'm the same way with apples, a juicy orange is filling, and most melons will be nicely satisfying.

Nthing fruit + cheese if you want the sweetness, or just cheese - but make sure it's the good stuff.

Non-food suggestions - big jigsaw puzzle that you could work on a little each night, or a game? I don't know that you would need to do the same thing every night, just get into the idea that after dinner = fun family time and you can adapt the activity when you're away.
posted by pianissimo at 6:46 PM on August 19, 2013

sugar free jello and pudding!
posted by dottiechang at 8:04 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hot cocoa! It's a good compromise, and you can play around with the milk you use (I prefer half soy and half coconut). The point for me is the nice, slow contemplative end of a meal. It's got some nice proteins and fats, plus nom nom chocolate.
posted by spunweb at 8:37 PM on August 19, 2013

Gummy vitamins! They make them for adults, too. For most of them a full "dose" is two gummies, so you can have one in the morning and one at night or indulge in two at once :)
posted by MadamM at 10:30 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

A chunk of uncrystallized candied ginger.
posted by tangerine at 11:42 PM on August 19, 2013

Watermelon, because you can actually eat a lot of it and still consume few calories, especially compared to other fruits and/or peaches in syrup with Greek yoghurt. Yes, it's still fairly sweet but its better than cake and its setting you on the path to better habits. Greek yoghurt itself is available unsweetened and low-fat if you prefer, and is still rich and creamy. Over time you may find you can substitute the peaches in syrup for fresh fruit and accept that. I would advise a transitioning between cake and just tea or gum though, or even just fruit. I just cannot imagine not feeling deprived if you go from one to the other, and for me that begins the likely cycle of thinking about the cake all night and probably eating it, eventually...Ymmv!

You say fruit is better before dinner, but fruit after dinner is still much, much better than cake every night! I have many bad habits but I am fortunate that I was not brought up eating dessert, IMO. I would encourage you in your endeavours to break this habit, because it really makes the decision to sometimes have cake but mostly not much easier, and it is likely that your child will thank you!
posted by jojobobo at 12:42 AM on August 20, 2013

Also- if you are actually still hungry- eat more dinner? Especially the healthy bits, like vegetables? The psychologically full part is one thing, but if you are actually physically hungry, I would advise against addressing that with any dessert.
posted by jojobobo at 12:43 AM on August 20, 2013

My parents and grandparents always followed meals at home with a cup of tea. I think any hot drink would be good for habit-forming as it's a very different mouth sensation and so makes a good signal that dinner is over.
posted by plonkee at 12:50 AM on August 20, 2013

Eat more protein. It will make you feel fuller. Maybe nuts?
posted by Yowser at 1:00 AM on August 20, 2013

Gum! I suspect Extra Dessert Delights were made for exactly this, and I'm very fond of the mint chocolate chip flavour.
posted by escapepod at 5:50 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

fruit - it's healthier to eat it before meals and besides, it makes me go hungry (no really, I could eat till I'm full to bursting and then have a small apple, and bam, I'm hungry again)

You could try eating fruit with plain yogurt so that there is some filling protein in there. And eating a lot of yogurt helps you lose weight.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 6:57 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first thought was cheese, like the French.
posted by inertia at 10:24 AM on August 20, 2013

Seconding the extra dessert delights gum rec above-I love the root beer float, and I'm not a big gum person.
posted by purenitrous at 8:40 PM on August 21, 2013

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