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Why eating dessert first helps me eat healthier

Time to break out the cookies, doughnuts and cupcakes.
/ Source: TODAY

Growing up in the Milloy household, my dad would cook us breakfast every morning — eggs, sausage and toast. My mom was in charge of dinners and would whip up pork chops with green beans or chicken adobo and rice. No matter the meal, there was always dessert! But only AFTER you finished your meal.

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Brandi Milloy making brownie bottom peanut butter pie on TODAY
Brandi Milloy makes brownie bottom peanut butter pie on TODAY.Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

My dad served in the US Army and when we were stationed in Germany, we learned the European way of eating: dessert first. Throughout Europe it’s common for a meal to begin with a fruit tart or pastry. I was certainly on board with this plan as a kid, for obvious reasons, but as an adult, I have adapted it into my life as an important eating strategy.

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I believe in not depriving myself of sweets, and eating dessert first has kept me from feeling the need to “lick my plate clean” in order to get the “reward” at the end of the meal. I never understood why dessert had to be a prize for eating all of your food. When I was young, it meant eating more than I wanted to (or should have) just so I could get the cookie at the end. It led to a horrible habit of me sneaking sweets behind my parents’ back and daydreaming about cupcakes and Pop Tarts so much that I would spend most of my allowance on sweets.

These days, I eat dessert first whenever I can — it really does make me eat less at dinner and helps me with portion control, which can’t be a bad thing, right? It eliminates this stressed-out feeling that I have to hurry up and eat my meal so I can order something sweet. I also don’t attach any rules to the dessert I eat. A lot of people only “allow themselves” to eat dessert if they worked out, didn’t eat dessert the day before, have a reason to celebrate, whatever fill-in-the-blank reason. It’s depressing!

Now, some may say that I don’t get it because I’m blessed with my mother’s metabolism — but that’s not it at all. Food is a vehicle, a connector between cultures and people. Dessert falls under that category. I’m not saying I eat an entire cake before my meal. I don’t eat dessert to fill up; that would be a disservice to my body and my health. When I choose to eat dessert first, I can actually better enjoy my entrée. And if I don’t finish my food, it doesn’t go to waste. I love leftovers!

Brandi Milloy
Nicole Iizuka / PopSugar Food

I have noticed how eating dessert first has adjusted some of my eating behaviors. I asked some medical experts to see if I am on to something.

Clinical nutritionist and personal trainer Jennifer Cassetta says that eating dessert before dinner depends on the kind of dessert.

“It's not a good idea if you are eating something mostly made of pure sugar (like candy). The reason is, it will spike your blood sugar rapidly, which then spikes insulin levels and over time this pattern can set one up for insulin resistance which is the first step in developing type-2 diabetes,” she explained. “However, eating a dessert with a higher fat and/or protein content (like ice cream or avocado-based chocolate pudding) will help lower the glycemic load of the meal and make you feel more satiated and therefore, you’ll probably eat a smaller dinner.”

Dr. Zelana Montminy, author of “21 Days to Resilience,” agrees. “When I do eat sweets I often eat my dessert or fruit before meals. I wait a little while in between, before enjoying my meal, but I find it to be more satisfying to eat sweets before. I can enjoy them more thoroughly if I'm not tainted with savory flavors to start! “

She points to a 2014 study from Imperial College London that suggests eating starchy foods first (foods rich in glucose a.k.a. carbs) can help you feel full faster and avoid overeating. A carb-rich dessert could play the same roll. But as with all things, moderation is key.

“It is important to be mindful and listen to our bodies in order to establish healthy eating habits,” said Dr. Shamsah Amersi, a Santa Monica, California gynecologist. “The world is full of candy, cookies and dessert. Learning how to incorporate small servings of these treats into a balanced diet without binging or overeating is an essential life skill.”

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Frankly, my choice to eat dessert first has brought a lot of joy into my life. This doesn’t mean that I am reckless and eat an entire box of Oreos. No, you’re no longer appreciating the food when you eat it without intention, without appreciating the work that went into it and savoring the flavors. But when I am craving ice cream, I have ice cream. I might not finish the whole cone but I will have enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. And obviously, I’ll make sure to snap an Instagram pic! #BrandisBites #EatDessertFirst.

This article was originally published on August 3, 2016.