When I order dessert in a restaurant or eat something like ice cream, sugar is rarely something that weighs heavily on my mind. I expect there’s going to be sugar in something sweet, and I believe in savoring each bite of a once-in-a-while indulgence—I’d rather have the real deal than go for artificially sweetened items or try to satisfy a chocolate craving with, like, raisins.

What sometimes gives me pause, though, is when I’m cooking something new at home and stumble over what kind of sweetener/fat/flour/etc to use. Given my background in nutrition and food science, I know how to make all kinds of substitutions that allow one to up the nutrient content and/or reduce the guilt factor of digging in (sarcasm implied). However, I consider “guilt” to be a dirty word and think it’s a ridiculous term to associate with food.  I yell at my family members when they talk about how they’re being “bad” by eating a particular thing. If I ever have kids, I refuse to allow that kind of language. They can drop as many f-bombs as they please, but no guilt-tripping themselves over enjoying a meal or snack.

Still, am I the only one who occasionally finds themselves feeling they have to justify a less-than-perfect choice in a blog post?

In some ways, I think the blog world perpetuates a pressure to use all-natural/organic/”healthy” ingredients all the time. Seeing so many other bloggers’ gorgeous photos and creative recipes can make me feel like I’m slacking if I don’t go the extra inch of mile to produce something that is delicious, eye-catching and as healthy as possible. Ideally, this would not be difficult at all to accomplish, but then there’s that real world, with all its chaos and imperfections—some beautiful and some not so beautiful.

The slow cooker bowl that went into the dishwasher and was reincarnated as a planter.

For example, the other day, I decided to make a batch of Gena‘s drool-worthy vegan fig bars. I had most of the ingredients handy (I figured I’d make oats into the oat flour the recipe calls for) except for the sucanat or natural brown sugar.

Oats in a Food Processor = Oat Flour

I love Gena’s blog, Choosing Raw, and get a lot out of the discussions related to plant-based diets, recovery from disordered eating, dining out when you have special dietary needs and the like. Her writing and the comments from readers are so insightful and thought-provoking, I find myself turning things I read over in my mind hours, even days later. I also love the recipes—for anyone interested in learning more about plant-based, nutrient dense meals, Choosing Raw is a fantastic resource.

So it wasn’t the recipe or its ingredient list getting to me exactly; it was my reaction to not having any damn sucanat or brown sugar in the house. If I baked more, perhaps I would, but as I’ve mentioned before, baking is not one of my strengths so I don’t do it that often.

On the one hand, what the hell—I could make brown sugar out of 1/4 cup of white sugar and 1 tablespoon or so of molasses. Big f-ing deal. On the other hand, I spend so much time talking with patients about how they should avoid excess sugar, I worried about coming across as a hypocrite. I forgot for a second that natural brown sugar and sucanat are still added sugars, I guess. Maybe I would run out and buy some or go swipe some Sugar in the Raw from Starbucks across the street…

Seriously? I mean, in each serving of this recipe, it only works out to a couple teaspoons of sugar—nothing worth a guilt-trip or even so much as a second thought. If served one of these bars in a cafe, I wouldn’t get so hung up on this. So what gives, brain?

Sometimes I forget I’m a total perfectionist. I can’t put my finger on why this is, but it’s no secret that dietetics attracts those with Type-A personalities. I go through phases where I convince myself I do not fall under this umbrella, but the truth of it is that I am just as much a perfectionist and closeted overachiever as any of my classmates and colleagues. Though I would love to feel that being a grad student getting ready to start her dietetic internship is enough, some days being a grad student who has a job, freelances on the side, volunteers at a hospital, makes time for meditation and exercise, writes poetry, plays an instrument, cooks, blogs,  and has a social life doesn’t seem like enough! Ridiculous, I know, but a hard habit to break.

I sometimes need to take a step back and remind myself that the rules of moderation apply to me too! Even more important, moderation includes room for perfectly imperfect variations, for taking a night off to chill out and bake some delicious fig bars and use (gasp!) refined sugar so as not to cut into those few hours of relaxation with shopping. It’s all about the bigger picture of what works for you, even if you’re a perfectionist.

And as for those fig bars…they came out beautifully, “real” sugar and all.

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