Here's a little secret: Cheating on your diet is good for your waistline. Hold on, what?!
It's true. Studies show that eating the same meal every day can help you lose weight, but they've also found that willpower is a finite resource. In other words, you can only force a monotonous diet on yourself for so long before you crack. That's why researchers at St. George's University of London found that dieters who tried to abstain entirely from food they loved ultimately ended up overindulging later. They used up their willpower, waved the white flag, and rushed off to Haagen Dazs.
The secret, of course, is to cheat wisely. That's what this list, compliments of the forthcoming Eat This, Not That! 2012 edition, is all about: Food for every craving that will keep you trim and slim. So, go ahead and cheat. You've earned it!
And, don't forget: Follow me on Twitter for the fat-melting weight loss tips I come across every day as the editor-in-chief of Men’s Health magazine—and lose your belly without ever dieting again.
Smart Indulgence #1: Smothered waffle
IHOP Belgian Waffle w/ Cinnamon Apple Compote, Whipped Topping, and Bacon Strips (2)
23.5 g fat (12 g saturated)
955 mg sodium
A modestly sized Belgian Waffle, with its porous, sponge-like density, is actually less dangerous than it seems. The real harm lies in two nefarious accoutrements: butter and pancake syrup. Together, they burrow down into the waffles' hollowed pockets and turn each one into a little thimble of waistline destruction. The solution is simple: Find a better topping. IHOP tops this Belgian with a big scoop of sweet, caramelized apples and whipped cream—and the side slab of bacon, with its protein and fat, serves to slow the rapid digestion of fast-moving carbohydrates.
Perkins’ Belgian Waffle w/ Blueberry Topping, Whipped Topping, and Bacon Strips (2)
24 g fat (14 g saturated)
1,150 mg sodium
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Smart Indulgence #2: Ice cream sundae
Dairy Queen Banana Sundae (Medium)
10 g fat (6 g saturated)
42 g sugars
Not everything on Dairy Queen’s menu is so safe; the average large Blizzard weighs in at an astounding 1,158 calories. But this sundae isn't nearly so dangerous. Actually, a little ice cream is good for you. The calcium slows the absorption of fat, and each half-cup contains 17 milligrams of choline, a B vitamin that improves blood flow. Add to that a potassium and fiber-rich banana, and you have a pretty stellar snack.
Cold Stone Creamery Banana Caramel Crunch Sundae (Love It/Medium size)
45 g fat (23.5 g saturated)
75 g sugars
Smart Indulgence #3: Hamburger
McDonalds’ Quarter Pounder
19 g fat (7 g saturated)
730 mg sodium
Unscrupulous restaurateurs have sullied the hamburger's reputation with fat-heavy toppings like bacon, tortilla strips, onion rings, butter-infused truffle oil—basically if it's legal, they've put it on a burger. But the truth is, a simple, quarter-pound burger, free from the frills that turn into body fat, is actually quite harmless. Cheese adds another 100 calories, so you have to decide if that's worth the splurge. Otherwise, load on the ketchup and mustard and enjoy.
Five Guys’ Hamburger
43 g fat (19.5 g saturated)
430 mg sodium
Smart Indulgence #4: French fries
Jack in the Box Seasoned Curly Fries (small)
16 g fat (1 g saturated)
614 mg sodium
Once Jack in the Box decided to cut the trans fat from its fries, the curly spuds suddenly emerged as a frontrunner in the low-calorie french fry battle. Plus, the saturated fat is admirably low, and the sodium load is partially offset by the fact that they also pack in 20 percent of your daily potassium.
Arby’s Curly Fries (small)
24 g fat (3 g saturated)
1,160 mg sodium
Smart Indulgence #5: Steak
Olive Garden Steak Toscano with Tuscan Potatoes and Bell Peppers
20 g fat (4.5 g saturated)
1,460 mg sodium
Steak is actually a hotbed of veritable nutrients. It's loaded with zinc, iron, B vitamins, and—believe it or not—a respectable load of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. So it's unfortunate that most restaurants serve oversized portions slathered with butter and oil. But with this dish, Olive Garden gets it right.
Ruby Tuesday’s Chef’s Cut 12-Ounce Sirloin with Plain Baked Potato
52 g fat
1,668 mg sodium
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Smart Indulgence #6: Sausage pizza
Domino’s Brooklyn Style Chorizo, Mushroom, Onion, and Roasted Red Pepper Pizza (2 slices, large pie)
22 g fat (10 g saturated)
1,290 mg sodium
This pie isn’t the lightest on the menu, but it's certainly among the most flavorful. The smoky sweetness of the roasted peppers pairs perfectly with the spicy richness of chorizo to elevate the flavor far beyond what the calorie count would suggest. But be sure to stick with the Brooklyn Style crust. Surprisingly, it packs the fewest calories into each foldable slice, cutting nearly a thousand calories per pie off the same pizza with a Deep Dish crust.
Pizza Hut Italian Sausage and Red Onion Pan Pizza (2 slices, large pie)
28 g fat (12 g saturated)
1,680 mg sodium
Smart Indulgence #7: Fried Chicken
Popeyes’ Loaded Chicken Wrap
13 g fat (6 g saturated)
890 mg sodium
Fried chicken alone is a waistline liability, but it starts sounding especially dangerous when you fold it into a cheddar tortilla alongside a mound of white rice. So how does Popeyes' pull it off? By keeping the bad stuff in moderation and tempering the damage with fiber-loaded beans. For 310 calories, this wrap gives you 14 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. You could do far, far worse.
Chick-fil-A Chicken Caesar Cool Wrap
15 g fat (6 g saturated)
1,510 mg sodium
DID YOU KNOW? Chicken sandwiches are generally healthier than chicken salads. Here's indisputable proof: The Worst Chicken Dishes in America.
Smart Indulgence #8: Stuffed seafood
Red Lobster Stuffed Flounder
11 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
1,520 mg sodium
When it comes to seafood, “stuffed” either means injected with fat- and carb-heavy fillers or infused with flavorful shellfish accoutrements. Fortunately, Red Lobster’s flounder is of the latter variety. This hearty fillet gets a flavorful boost from crab-and-seafood stuffing, and it keeps the fat load shockingly low. Meanwhile, Outback’s version contains as much saturated fat as a quarter-pound of fried bacon and more sodium than a spoonful of straight table salt.
Outback Steakhouse Fresh Tilapia with Pure Lump Crabmeat
28 g fat (15 g saturated)
2,474 mg sodium
Smart Indulgence #9: Hot wings
Kentucky Fried Chicken Hot Wings (5)
20 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
700 mg sodium
Wings are one of those foods that fluctuate widely between reasonable and ridiculous. Although the meat is relatively lean, the skin-to-meat ratio is extremely high, and cost-cutting restaurants typically prefer the deep fryer to the oven rack. But done right, wings can be a solid source of protein, and as an appetizer, they’re a good way to blunt your hunger before you start in on more damaging foods. Worried you’ll eat too many? Make them as hot as you can stand. That will keep you from devouring the full dozen, and the capsaicins in the hot sauce will boost your metabolism.
Pizza Hut Crispy Bone In Wings Buffalo Medium (5)
37.5 g fat (7.5 g saturated)
2,525 mg sodium
Smart Indulgence #10: Savory sub
Blimpie’s Hot Pastrami Sub (6-inch)
16 g fat (7 g saturated)
1,350 mg sodium
Hot pastrami, Swiss cheese, and spicy mustard create a trio of robust flavors unmatched by any lower-calorie sub. Best part is, the damage is minimal. On the calorie continuum, Swiss trounces both cheddar and American, and the spicy mustard is a leaner, and more flavorful, alternative to mayonnaise. The only drawback is salt. Because it’s brined, pastrami is high in sodium. It’s totally worth the indulgence; just don’t eat it every day.
Quizno’s Roast Beef (Regular)
42 g fat (11 g saturated; 1 g trans)
1,755 mg sodium
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