A couple of years ago my wife and I got to witness one of my best friends from college become an American citizen. We’d been pals since grad school, and finally, after nearly a decade living, going to school, and then working in the United States, she took the oath of citizenship.
To celebrate, we went to The Cheesecake Factory. I know what you might be thinking. Isn’t The Cheesecake Factory a little ordinary for this kind of celebration? It is, but she’s a fellow accountant, and we’re known to be frugal, penny-pinching types, if not outright miserly skinflints. So going to a fancy-schmancy place was out of the question.
I don’t remember the meal that much. I guess the food must not have all that impressive. But I remember the cheesecake. Oh, the cheesecake. Lined up and proudly displayed near the front entrance. A cornucopia of delectables. A veritable smorgasbord of delight.
And then I looked at the menu next to the cheesecakes and I saw the calories listed next to each flavor. And did a double-take. And a triple-take. One slice of this stuff was anywhere from 1,800 to 2,500 calories. Meaning one slice is probably all you should eat in one day. Unless you just eat lettuce for the rest of the day.
We all went ahead and got a slice. We were celebrating, after all. I can’t remember which kind I got, but it involved caramel and whipped cream and all sorts of other awesome unhealthiness. We returned to my friend’s house, where I had a bite or two. I then told myself I would spread the cheesecake out over the next week. But I didn’t. After my wife and I returned home, I put it in the fridge and tried not to think about it. But the siren’s call of the cheesecake drew me to it, and I promptly ate the rest.
The cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory is extraordinary. Unbelievable. But it’s really not good for you at all. It was at this moment that I realized just how unrealistic the CBS show The Big Bang Theory was. I mean, it’s unrealistic for a lot of reasons (it’s a work of fiction) but one thing in particular is obviously inaccurate. The assorted nerds in that show eat regularly at The Cheesecake Factory. But if anyone did that in real life, they would all be morbidly, mind-blowingly obese.
I don’t eat dessert-type stuff regularly, but I do occasionally get it at a potluck, a cookout, or at work. Especially at work. As I enter the busiest time of year for a CPA, I can expect regular deliveries of sweets and so forth to the little firm I work for. Mostly from various lawyers we work with around town.
I’ve occasionally suspected that they do this to fatten us up so we can’t stand, and are forced to sit behind our desks, grinding out work for them. You’ve got to watch out for those shady lawyer types. They always have a hidden agenda.
In the past, I inevitably succumbed to the temptations of these desserts, which beckoned to me seductively in the breakroom every time I went for a cup of coffee. Which can be once or twice an hour. My work is dull, so I need lots of coffee to avoid falling asleep. Once I started using the Cronometer app, I realized just what I was doing to myself by grazing on these decadent distractions.
Now, desserts aren’t the worst thing. Alcohol probably is, as I mentioned in a previous piece. Some desserts involve a certain amount of fruit and grain, so they do have some nutritional value. Unfortunately, these nutrients are frequently buried in a minefield of processed sugar, making them rarely worth it.
Let’s start with the most common dessert I see sitting in the breakroom. Doughnuts. This is usually what we get from a client who doesn’t like us enough to get us something less ordinary or just suffers from decision fatigue when getting us food and goes for the most basic option. This is the dessert equivalent of getting a gift card.
Your typical glazed doughnut carries about 250 calories and is heavy on saturated fat. It has a decent chunk of B vitamins and a smattering of minerals in it. And if you get the ones that are frosted or have nuts on them, go ahead and add another hundred or so calories. This may not seem like that much, but that’s only if you have one. Who can ever just have one? They’re lying there in the breakroom. Calling out to you. Tempting you to commit dietary infidelity and come live in sin with them. Just a couple can make a healthy day unhealthy.
Every now and then the shady lawyers will switch it up and give us muffins and danishes. Which are what they give us when they’re feeling unimaginative, but realized that they gave us doughnuts three weeks in a row and are worried we might realize how little they care about us.
This is not an improvement over doughnuts. Danishes and muffins are roughly the same as doughnuts in terms of calories, nutrients, and saturated fat. Muffins are actually worse, in a way. I remember a friend of mine (the same one I mentioned earlier, as it happens) serving me a muffin when we were studying at her house in college. I went to put some butter on it, and she looked horrified. She asked me if it was too dry. I gave her a confused look and said no. So she asked me why I was putting butter on it then, to which I gave her an even more confused look.
It’s a muffin, after all. Who doesn’t put butter on a muffin? Failing to do so is an affront to all that is good and decent and right. Peak blasphemy. Unfortunately, slapping on some butter will add about a hundred calories and very little else. But to not do so would be to disgrace my entire ancestry. Butter is necessary, and this makes muffins the worst of the dessert options that people who don’t actually like you might give as a gift.
Usually about three weeks into tax season, we’ll start getting cookies. This is good, in a sense, because the resultant sugar rush can offset the creeping fatigue and malaise that comes with working long hours being an accessory to government wealth confiscation. But now that I’m actually watching what I eat, I looked up what cookies do to you.
Turns out, cookies aren’t that bad. One normal-sized chocolate chip cookie is about 75 calories and the same goes for sugar cookies. Oatmeal raisin cookies are, unsurprisingly, better at about 65 calories. But there’s a problem. Eating oatmeal raisin cookies is safe and boring and kind of weird. It’s like taking your cousin to prom. I’m not going to look like a weirdo just to save ten calories.
Anyhow, there’s a reason cookies are healthier. They’re smaller. That’s it. That’s the only reason. Three cookies are about the same size as one doughnut. And if you eat that many, you’re getting about the same number of calories, nutrients, and saturated fats as a donut. And I don’t know what kind of degenerate only eats one cookie, but I’m not that guy. So it turns out, cookies aren’t that great for you. Go figure.
Sometimes the more pretentious lawyers send us some exotic delight. I remember getting a baklava one time. For those of you who don’t know, baklava is a Turkish (well technically Ottoman) dessert. Layers of dough and nuts covered in syrup or honey. Kind of like having pancakes for dessert. It’s sublime. And in no way healthy. One tiny two by two slice of this has over 350 calories. Small wonder that nearly a third of the Turks are obese. Not that Americans can judge.
Naturally, we occasionally get pies. Usually not from the unholy attorneys. These come from happy clients. In the past, I’ve had difficulty resisting these as well. So I looked up what they do to me a while back.
Cherry pie must be healthy, right? It has fruit in it. A slice has 250 calories. But nutrient wise, it’s not all that different from the doughnuts. Other pies are worse. The Floridian delicacy known as key lime pie brings 400. Lemon meringue brings 350. My wife’s best dish ever, banoffee pie (a portmanteau of bananas and toffee, the two primary ingredients) has 400. My father’s favorite, pecan pie, has 525. Although those pecans make it a bit more nutrient-dense than this other stuff, so you’re not just getting empty calories. Long story short, pies are a great way to get fat.
There’s another pitfall of tax season that doesn’t come from the lawyers or the clients. There are a fair number of birthdays in the office in these months. This is because their accountant parents had sex with each other during their post-April 15th celebrations. Resulting in a large number of January and February births. Do the math.
This means cake. Lots of cake. Not only does the office buy cake for the birthday boys and girls, but the newly aged people in the office also tend to bring their cakes from their celebrations with their families. It’s probably how many of them stay skinny. They foist their excess calories on us in an attempt to avoid eating it themselves.
When I tried looking up cake in the Cronometer app, it didn’t look that bad. Maybe 200-300 calories per slice. But then I realized one of the limitations of this app. The cake options had no frosting. Which is strange. Why would there be no “Cake with frosting” option? What kind of raving lunatic eats cake with no frosting? Well, except pound cake. That’s different. But I’m talking about birthday cake.
Proper birthday cakes require frosting. Unless you have no soul. Unfortunately, once we add the frosting, this can double or triple the calories. And cake is about the same as every other dessert I’ve been talking about in terms of nutrients. So, cake is worse than all of them. Way worse.
After researching all of this, I felt obligated to research my favorite dessert. The Georgia classic: peach cobbler. It’s the single greatest dessert in the history of humanity. All other desserts are hapless pretenders in its august presence. Don’t @ me.
Sadly, it has about 500 calories per serving. And if you slap a scoop of ice cream on top, which everyone who isn’t an ungodly heretic naturally does, that’ll add a decent chunk of calories. The ice cream on top can make it the worst dessert ever. At least for your health. But this got me thinking. I wondered how many calories ice cream had by itself.
Fairly ordinary ice cream has about 275 calories per cup. And if you get a more exotic flavor like, say, moose tracks, it jumps to 350 or so per cup. Not that I would ever eat moose tracks. The name is gross. When I see the chunks of fudge and peanut butter cups in it I think “What is it that a moose leaves in its tracks that this is supposed to represent?” The answer is…nothing normal human beings should want to eat.
Ice cream’s pretentious Italian cousin, gelato, has about 300 calories per cup. Meanwhile, the equally pretentious yuppie cousin of ice cream, frozen yogurt, only has about 200 calories per cup. Of course, these are just the standard flavors. If you start adding caramel and other sinful ingredients, it gets worse.
There is an upside to these three, though. They are actually healthier than the other dessert options. They are generally lower in calories, and they come with a fair amount of calcium because they’re dairy products.
But none of these is something we should spend a lot of time eating. Here’s the real problem. When I eat any of these, I don’t feel full for long. One thing I’ve learned in the process of losing weight is to be mindful of things that I eat which keep me feeling full for a long time. Any meal or snack that doesn’t involve a decent amount of meat or grain usually doesn’t cut it.
If I snack on the desserts that the servants of darkness (lawyers) send my way, I’ll be hungry again in under an hour, and then snag another one when I go for another cup of coffee. Which I do often. Grazing on two or three desserts in the breakroom can add a whole meal’s worth of calories (or more) to my diet. But now that I know the cost, I can take a pass. I can ignore the bewitching pull of these sugary harbingers of diabetes.
Now, I don’t think it’s good to completely dump all bad habits. I think if your diet is too austere, you’ll risk failure. That’s why when I wrote a previous piece on alcohol, I explained that I limited it but haven’t eliminated it. I have the same policy on dessert.
Occasionally enjoying something unhealthy is a part of enjoying life. The idea that I can never eat anything remotely sinful for the rest of my life is just depressing. Since I now know what the consequences are, I just save these for special occasions.
Even if occasionally engaging in a little dessert debauchery does shorten my life, I remember the wise words that Woody Allen once said: “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”. Perhaps his only wise words, because he’s apparently kind of a creep. But he has a point. An occasional splurge reminds us we’re alive.
So, enjoy your dessert occasionally. Live life. And try the cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory at least once. It’s totally worth it. Just don’t do it every night, or you’ll end up as fat as the characters on the Big Bang Theory totally should have been if they’d eaten there as often as they did.
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