So. You want my story. I guess we can start with my name, huh?
Yup, that’s me! My name is Jessica — I’m the blogger behind the Desserts with Benefits® blog and I have a sweet tooth.
A major sweet tooth. And I don’t say “major” lightly. It’s just the way I’m wired, I suppose (I like to blame my mom here, because when she was pregnant with me she ate three Hershey’s bars a day. Yes, THREE bars every single day).
I am also a dreamer. I mostly dream of healthy cookies and using chocolate syrup as body lotion, but I also have big dreams, life goals, and business aspirations as a young entrepreneur.
I want to change the world for the better.
Basically, I’d sure love to become the new and improved Betty Crocker 😉
People associate the word “dessert” with butter, sugar, and extra empty calories that get added to the day’s total… but not here on Desserts with Benefits®! The healthy dessert recipes at Desserts With Benefits are nutritionally beneficial and wholesome enough to be eaten on a daily basis without causing you to feel guilty ONE BIT!
As a university graduate who studied Nutritional Sciences and Dietetics, I’ve got the academic know-how on the ins and outs of nutrition. I use that knowledge to develop the balanced recipes here on the blog. I love using good-for-you ingredients to make balanced treats we can feel good about eating!
Desserts with Benefits makes it possible to eat healthy and stay sane.
Desserts with Benefits is a sinless love affair between decadent desserts and healthy eats.
So indulge… no strings attached.
Let’s get started shall we? Here’s my life story…
I was born and raised in a quiet, homey neighborhood in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Like most kids, I ate whatever I pleased. I would eat boxes of Snickers bars, Costco-sized bags of Cadbury’s chocolate Easter eggs, and enough candy to fill dozens of those Halloween trick-or-treat pumpkin head baskets.
When I was about to turn eight years old, my father got a job offer and we moved to Connecticut. New country, same old eating habits. Want to know the meaning of Christmas to me at age ten? Chocolate Turtles, a jumbo Kinder Surprise, and Spongebob (hah).
Middle school was the pinnacle of my candy addiction. I was ubiquitously known as the “Hershey Girl,” the “Sourpatch Girl,” and even the plain old, “girl with candy” (I went through candy phases). Hershey’s, Godiva, Lindt, milk chocolate, white chocolate, Belgian chocolate, etc. — they were all my favorite! So much so, that I associated the mall not with shopping, but with the oh so heavenly Lindt store. I could live in that place (back then and today! Don’t get me wrong, I still have a serious passion for chocolate)!
By my sophomore year in high school, I was still plagued with my addiction to sugar. I remember grabbing two chocolate bars on my way out the door every day to school. One for breakfast on the bus ride to school and one on the bus ride back home. While I surprisingly never became overweight, despite my poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, I was “skinny-fat” and tight jeans were the death of me. If I ran out of chocolate bars, I would stop by the vending machine and get “fruit” snacks. When my blood sugar dropped, I would return to the machine to buy some chips. I needed $20 a week to fund my vending machine visits, and another $20 to support my hefty lunches. After every meal I felt entirely unwell. Was it the excess sugar, unhealthy fats, or synthetic preservatives? Probably a slurry of them all, quite frankly. Despite that ever so common wave of nausea and bloat, for some reason, I continued to eat the unhealthy foods I had always eaten.
When I became a junior, I got a job at a pretzel stand. In three short months, I had gained twelve pounds! Yikes. I even had to get a new uniform one size up. A few months after that, I got tired of spending 30 minutes every morning trying to find an outfit for school… not to look pretty or cute, just an outfit that would FIT properly! At that moment, I finally put two and two together. If you eat those (white flour) pretzels dipped in (artificial) butter every day at work, you’re gonna gain some weight!
My answer to the rapid weight gain is where I took a big misstep. My “solution” to eating sweets and treats without the weight gain included a big grocery cart full of those (completely and horrendously artificial) 100-calorie snack packs and attempt to stop eating those pretzels dunked in butter every time they began to look dry. Pssshhtt. That didn’t fly. When I would got my hands on real Oreos or Snickers, I would down the entire box or eat 4 bars in a row! The artificial sweeteners, the sodium, the processed flour, and the ingredients ending in “ate” just made me crave more and MORE.
Processed foods controlled me. I would choose them over anything and everything, even my favorite fruits like grapes, pineapple, and bananas. My sugar addiction turned me into a person that I didn’t want to be: an emotional rollercoaster with crazy cravings, who felt lethargic around the clock, and got sick far too often.
I just wanted to be healthy. I just wanted to be happy!
During my senior year of high school, I went vegetarian in that attempt. I loved the challenge, the changes made for the better, and discovering new foods (like tempeh and alfalfa). In certain aspects, my diet was healthy, but overall, my meals were not balanced. I ate bread, fruits, and veggies all day. I didn’t do research on how to do veg the right way! Without knowing what harm I was doing to my body, I quickly jumped into veganism.
While I enjoyed the new lifestyle, my meals soon became monotonous. I got bored of the same “safe” vegan meals every day. I found myself sitting in the cooking/baking section of Barnes & Noble for nearly six hours trying to find some of the best cookbooks. I came across Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and bought it immediately.
Life Complete? Yeah, I sure thought so. I’m confident I made almost every recipe in that book! While the book was beautifully written and taught me a lot about vegan baking and substitutes, I didn’t like how I felt every time I baked the cookies. With every cookie that came out of my oven, I got the same feelings I had gotten before going vegan: sugar-rushes, sugar-crashes, feeling out of control, and unable to stop at just one (or two or five) cookies. They weren’t filling, so I’d get hungry again in an hour. I hated those feelings. They were what prompted me to change my diet and go vegan in the first place.
I resorted to finding some different recipes online. I discovered this website called FoodGawker and searched for some healthier vegan options. I discovered A TON of new recipes to try, but that’s not all I found. I found this weird thing people called a “food blog.” I subscribed to about eight blogs in a few days, including Oh She Glows, Edible Perspective, and All Day I Dream About Food. It was on these websites that I learned a bit more about a healthier take on food. “Healthy” does not mean vegan (if you go veg the wrong way like I did), nor does “healthy” mean gluten-free, fat-free, calorie-free, etc. I finally understood why I felt so awful after eating highly processed foods and incredibly sugary cookies — the processed flours, the excess refined sugars, the high sodium contents, and the large quantities of butter, margarine, or shortening (the things your tongue loves and abs hate). Even though those delicious cookies were vegan, they certainly were not healthy.
During the summer before college, I quit veganism altogether. I realized I wasn’t doing it the healthy way, and being healthy was the reason I went vegan in the first place! I found this out by meeting with a Registered Dietician (something I would recommend everyone do!). She asked me lots of questions, I asked her a lot of questions, we had a great talk and I learned a ton. She took my body weight and BMI, gave me a list of suggested foods to eat for a balanced and varied diet (something that sure didn’t describe my bread+fruits+veggies vegan diet!), and scheduled me in for a follow-up appointment the next year.
When I moved to Arizona to attend the University of Arizona (BEAR DOWN!) and study Nutritional Sciences and Dietetics, I gave up baking because my dorm’s shared kitchen was tiny and horrendously filthy. Two months into my freshman year, I felt some serious baking withdrawal symptoms. I found myself prowling through FoodGawker almost every single day for recipes to bake the second I returned home for summer vacation.
I came across dozens of food blogs claiming to be healthy. When I took a deeper look into some of the recipes, however, I asked myself, “Why is there so much sugar in this recipe?” “Why are there three sticks of butter if this is claiming to be healthy and balanced?”
What makes a recipe truly healthy is the batter as a whole and by looking at the ingredients that make up that batter.
Using whole grain flour doesn’t automatically make a recipe good for you. It doesn’t negate the sugar, the butter, and the oil. Making a recipe sugar-free doesn’t necessarily mean we can go to town on that cake, especially if it’s made with bleached all-purpose flour, hydrogenated oil, and artificial food dyes. And so on… My realization not only applied to baking recipes, but cooking recipes and store-bought foods as well.
I decided it was time to eat, live, and be healthy. For real this time.
First I switched from white bread to 100% whole grain bread, then chocolate milk to plain organic milk, then “fruit” snacks to real fruit, etc. Was it hard? No, it was actually very easy! This epiphany (as well as the education I was receiving in school) snowballed into me finding a balanced, whole foods diet that was packed with vitamins and minerals to make up for all the years without those essential nutrients — no more refined sugars, no more preservatives and artificial ingredients, no unnecessarily long ingredient labels, and more fruits, veggies, whole foods, and CHOCOLATE! Yes, chocolate is healthy.
January 2011-May 2015:
Health — it’s what I strive for. As my 2011 New Year’s resolution, I decided to be healthy as a whole. I kept processed foods to a minimum/none at all, avoided refined sugar, filled my fridge and pantry with fruits, vegetables, and whole foods (to see what I keep in my pantry, check out the Pantry Staples page), and started attending fitness classes at my school’s rec center.
I felt positive changes in my body and my mood immediately. And I was digging it! I love consistent energy levels (no sugar rushes and crashes), being satiated for a longer period of time (no more grazing from my crazy cravings!), and being able to “run off” and “lunge out” my stress.
It was during this time that I took up baking again (despite my dorm’s nasty old oven).
I found recipes from my favorite food bloggers and added my own take to them. Sometimes the recipes were perfect as they were, sometimes they needed some adjustments to make them more nutritionally balanced. From a nutrition standpoint, most dessert recipes are purely fats and carbohydrates. I did my best to balance out the macronutrients by finding ways to add protein to the mix. I baked (or should I say, “procrastibaked”) A LOT during the first few months of 2011. So much so, that I had a notebook FULL of recipes I had made (both successful ones and failed ones that needed some adjustments) and recipes I wanted to try.
Feeling happy, hungry, and inspired by my favorite bloggers, I created a blog of my own on April 20th, 2011.
In a desperate attempt to procrastinate studying from finals? Most definitely. 😉
I was on a permanent baking frenzy and was SO excited to share my healthy dessert recipes with the world. I tried (and still try, to this day) to incorporate everything I learned under the Dietetics major into the recipes I made, ate, and shared. Through healthy eating, healthy baking, and varied exercises (cardio + strength training) I rid myself of that “skinny-fat” look and actually put on some muscle!
When I returned home for the summer, I went back to the Registered Dietician for my follow-up. I had come a long way in just one year — I was eating a balanced diet full of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and protein, I maintained an exercise routine and started living an active lifestyle. She took my weight and BMI once more and came back with the results. I had gained eleven pounds…
… of lean muscle! And lost two pounds of fat. Hah, did I scare you? 😉 That’s pretty good for one year, right? And one year in college.
This whole food “diet” and active lifestyle are both here to stay.
They are everything I have been looking for and I couldn’t be happier.
Baking is what kept me sane as I slowly plugged away in school, enjoying my nutrition classes, and suffering through chemistry, chemistry, and MORE chemistry (is it obvious that I hate chemistry??).
I graduated in May 2015. While there were some (okay, LOTS of) obstacles to overcome and personal struggles to deal with, I made it through. My entire college career was the toughest period of time in my life, but at the same time, one of the most rewarding. If I had not gone to school, I never would have started this blog and set out on the career path I am on now.
As a graduation present, my parents got me a puppy. I named her Cherry and she is the love of my life. She is so sweet, so precious, and so loving.
June 2015-January 2017:
I moved to Austin, Texas — one of the top foodie capitals in the U.S. (wow, I’m just realizing how much I bounced around… Canada to Connecticut to Arizona to Texas)! After moving to TX, I struggled to find out what I wanted to do with my life. Keep blogging? Open up a healthy bakery? Sell a healthy dessert product?
At this time, a bakery was at the forefront of ideas. To learn whether or not opening up my own bakery was something I’d like to do, I first had to work in one. I got a job at a local bakery that I admired where everything was organic, fair-trade, and delicious, so it was easy to fall in love. After a year and four months there, however, I realized I was in a worse spot than when I had started. It was time to leave. The job was so incredibly exhausting and draining — the shift was 4am-12pm (say goodbye to a social life) where I had quite a few overnight shifts, 10pm-6am, and you’re on your feet the entire time. My decision to leave was based on more than just the physical demands, though. I’m the type of person who cannot stand to be stagnant — I need to be freely creative, improving, growing, and learning new things — and cannot carry on in an environment where people press their thumbs down on you. A few months into starting work at the bakery, I was having a really tough time managing two full-time jobs. I became heartbroken as I watched both my blog and myself go through a frustrating plateau.
The day I handed in my letter of resignation was both pure bliss and straight up terrifying. While I would finally be out of the environment that I had been so desperate to escape from, I would also be out of a paycheck.
Quitting was a huge risk, but a risk I was willing to take in order to make progress. I could not afford (nor did I want) to be in a lull any longer.
If there was a time to dive head first into blogging full-time, it was NOW.
At this moment, blogging is my ONLY full-time job, and I am loving it. While I am sacrificing things I never thought I would, it is 100% worth it in order to pump out healthy dessert recipes and share them with you 🙂
I am grateful to be in this wonderful online community and connecting with all of you via comments, emails, and social media.
I am blessed that hundreds of thousands of people visit this website every single month.
I am honored that readers reach out to me with their recipe reviews and personal testimonials.
I am thankful that this blog, once a fun hobby and now my full-time job, has become my life’s motivation, passion, and love.
I am living a dream come true.
The lifestyle I adopted back in college, the education I received, and the years I spent pouring my heart and soul into this blog, have made me strive to be a better human being. The things I learned, the people I met, and the act of running this blog has taught me to respect myself as well as the world around me. I’m all about balance — in food and my life! Getting muddled in everyday obstacles, tearing yourself down with those “screw it” moments, and giving in to crazy cravings do not describe balance, but rather, the unbalanced lifestyle I chose to live years ago. After January 2011, my life has truly changed, and all for the better.
With love and good eats,
By the way, I found you blog through foodgawker.com today and I am in love, it is SO adorable. That background alone is just too sweet! Glad to have found you 🙂
Just found your blog, and I love it! I am thinking about going into nutritional studies in college next year too, but I also love baking. Thanks so much for sharing such great recipes!
Hi,so very glad I found you diabetes run in our family,I was interested in making a dessert and it asks for frozen orange juice,have you any idea what I can make to substitute,I use sugar free tang for my son instead of Orange juice because of the sugar,any suggestions would help,thank you again and many blessings
I’m so glad you found me too!! 🙂
As for the orange juice, that’s an ingredient that will be difficult to substitute. I’ve never used sugar free Tang, but I suppose you could try that? If you do decide on using OJ, make sure it’s 100% juice and not corn syrup with added flavoring.
Great story – love your website. Going to try the sugar free vanilla bean coffee syrup 🙂
Thank you so much! I hope you like it and I hope it makes your mornings just a little bit sweeter 🙂
I Love your journey. thank you for sharing your story. Love your recipes. We have a lot in common.
I’m super excited that I found your blog! My husband and I are giving up sugar this year and I have a major sweet tooth! My husband always has a trifle for his birthday, so I found your blog because of your Angel Food Cake recipe. I’m looking forward to trying it in a few weeks, and probably every thing else too in the coming months haha.
I loved reading your story; very brave to put yourself out there like that, even online. I’m type 1 diabetic, and I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 37, so I’ve only been dealing with it for a short time now. I never really had much of a sweet tooth when I was young, but I developed one at around 30. It kicked in right after my hysterectomy and right before the diabetes. Since its Type 1, I’ll always have it – diet & exercise won’t change that, but they will definitely help me feel better. I have been worrying about substituting sugars and grains in my recipes, but after reading your blog, I’m definitely going to start substituting the fats as well. I already love everything coconut, so that should be an easy transition. Thank you so much!
Thank you SO so much Belle! Your kind words and support mean everything to me 🙂
I’m sorry to hear about your recent diagnosis, but know that you can still indulge in sweets, and that you’re not alone! One of my favorite bloggers (who actually inspired me to create a blog of my own) has Type 1 diabetes — her recipes are awesome too 😉
Here’s her link: https://alldayidreamaboutfood.com
Healthy fats are so crucial, whether it’s coconut oil or avocado oil or almond butter or peanut butter, etc… I can’t stand margarine, shortening, and trans fats!
Wishing you ALL THE BEST!! <3
Hi Jessica, I love your story. I can totally relate to you. People like you is what makes me try harder to improve financially and physically. When i was still in the military and two years after i got out i used to be in really good shape but that was years ago now. Over the last two years i really wasn’t as active as i used to be or active at all. I also starting eating this mexican bread called “pan dulce” which is ridiculously good with mexican hot chocolate. So now that’s all i think about :(. For my new year’s resolution i decided to make a change and start working out and eat healthy. My problem now is that i’m always hungry. The protein bars you find in the market or online are crazy expensive and have a ton of calories and fat. Do you have any suggestions for making a healthy protein bar or some healthy food to eat in between meals? i’m not a big fan of chocolate. I’m also having trouble giving up my coffee with lots of creamer and sugar 🙁
Thank you very much
Your comment means a lot to me, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story <3
If you find yourself hungry all the time, try and track your calorie intake for a few days... you might find that you're 1) not consuming enough calories, 2) not eating balanced meals with healthy fats, complex carbs, fiber, and protein (digests slowly, keeping you fuller for longer), or 3) thinking about food too much when you should be enjoying your life and staying active. I work from home, so my desk is about 10 feet away from the kitchen. I find myself grazing a lot, even when I'm not hungry, so when I feel that way I might still have a snack, but at least I'm aware that I'm not REALLY hungry. It's super easy to think about food a lot, but it shouldn't consume us and our thoughts. Try going on a walk and listening to a podcast, working out to your favorite music, or maybe starting a new hobby if you have time. I recently got back into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but for most I think yoga or painting or reading are a little more common, haha 😉
I actually have protein bar recipes on my blog, PLUS a protein bar cookbook, which has 48 protein bar recipes. I did a cost analysis between homemade vs. store-bought bars, and homemade bars can save you around $1 PER bar. Here are the links to my cookbook and recipes:
I’m the same way about coffee, too. My boyfriend took a sip of my coffee one day and scrunched his face and was like, “THAT’S SO SWEET. It’s basically dessert!” Haha. So I mix my coffee with a ton of unsweetened vanilla almond milk + 8 packets of Truvia. A little excessive, maybe, but I like my coffee sweet.
Hope this helps!! <3
Hi, Jessica, You are inspiring and I enjoyed reading your story. I live in the beautiful city of Austin as well. (let’s hang out one day soon)I have my challenges with weight gain but mostly with feeling tired. My energy levels fluctuate and I used sugar, coffee, and Redbull to get me thru my long work days. I changed my lifestyle when I had lost a loved one and decided to really commit to myself and my health. I gave up carbs and sugar as much as possible and went to many doctors for the tired feeling. I had to learn how to cook for myself in a whole new way and all from scratch. I have lost over 12lb. yay! and now I look forward to my days and to cooking. I love new recipes and would love to help others learn to cook in new ways. I would love to start my own blog as well to help others with eating healthier. Thank You for the wonderful recipes and motivation.
How cool! Nice to meet a fellow Austinite! 🙂
HUGE HUGE HUGE CONGRATS on the weight loss. I struggled with my energy levels for YEARS. I know everyone is different, but what works for me is little bits of caffeine throughout the day. Because I love (like, LOVE LOVE) coffee and can definitely drink too much, I brew regular+decaf together to make half-caf, and drink 3 giant mugs of it daily 🙈
I also try to make sure all of my meals are balanced with protein, complex carbs, fiber, and healthy fats. I personally crave protein over carbs and fat, so my favorite snack is 2% Greek yogurt + English toffee stevia extract + ground cinnamon. SO GOOD!
I’m so glad to hear you like my recipes. That means the world to me 🙂
Have an amazing week! <3
Just found this site among thousands of food blogs and it’s really something special! Healthy eating is a journey ~ one that usually starts with confusion and mistakes and regrets and setbacks. I loved your amazing story of struggle and progression! It’s real, its inspiring! Following for sure!
You have no idea how much your comment means to me Misty! I’m so glad I studied Nutrition because I was so confused and frustrated before about food, exercise, sleep, stress, etc… and how everything is connected! So glad to have you here 🙂
Just stumbled on your blog, and I’m TOTALLY in love. I cook a lot for my room mate and friends, but usually wield totally high-fat bad for you foods (that in the end I refuse to eat myself). It’s nice to find a blog of someone in similar living situations (I’m in University as well, but living on my own) that promotes healthy eating and lifestyle. I will definitely be trying out some of your recipes! I’m pretty amped that you’re studying Nutritional Sciences as well! I was looking into it a while ago, but sadly don’t have any of the prereqs for it.
Also just read your About Me and you’re from Calgary! Me too! Crazy.
Thanks for sharing this, I’ve been following your blog for a while now and it’s nice to put a face to the recipes!
I just ordered the protein bar book. Are there any protein bars that are baked that will hold up for a hiking trip.
The protein bars need to stay refrigerated since they’re not baked. I have tried baking some but felt like they just turned hard and dry. But if you don’t mind that, you can bake them at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes, depending on the texture you prefer!
Hello, it seems to me that your story and everything you have achieved is amazing, thank you for sharing it, I will take into account your advice, in addition to what I do now (https://bit.ly/2SJzNVO).
totally relatable. I also have a bad sweet tooth and so I want to cut back on my sugar intake. your blog looks awesome!:)
I thought that it was interesting when you said that one thing to consider when you are wanting to bake for a living is to create an online presence and sell through your platform. I have been thinking about starting my own bakery but I have been worried that I wouldn’t be successful. I would be sure to consider starting my business online so that I could get a feel for how a baking job works before purchasing a building.
I feel like social media presence is important, but it’s not crucial in every circumstance. Sometimes it’s word of mouth! But nowadays, I find myself searching Instagram for pictures and reviews of bakeries and restaurants. I want to see what other people ordered, how big the dishes are, etc. I would also recommend working in an actual bakery first too! I dreamt for years (even created a business plan, looked into funding, all that) and then worked in a bakery for 1.5 years and said, wow, this reeeeaally isn’t for me. Maybe you’ll have a different experience, but I would definitely recommend working in a bakery you like or one that inspires you 🙂
Just found your blog and it’s 2020. I wonder if you’re still here? : )
I’m going to check everything out anyway.
Love from Australia X
I’m taking a bit of a mental health break because, after blogging for 8½ years, I needed it 😅 but I’m still occasionally answering comments, questions, and emails!! Even though I’m not currently posting to the blog, there are hundreds of recipes here that are good no matter when they were posted 😘💖
Hi there! I just found your blog and recipes and I’m making a list of ingredients so I can start baking! I used to bake a long time ago, but stopped b/c life became too busy. Recently I have started again, but I know that most desserts are full of ingredients that are not good for the body and I want to have healthy choices. I can’t wait to look at your recipes. A way to eat dessert, for it to be not laden in sugar, fat and that you are making them more balanced! I can’t wait. I’m going to try your banana cupcakes with PB frosting first!! So excited. I can totally understand where you were with wanting to eat sugar all the time! I’m struggling to not eat that, but not have to give up on my sweet tooth. I am now in my mid 40’s and my metabolism is slowing down and I’ve been gaining belly fat – which I HATE!!! I know processed sugar is not good for me, so I’ll say it again, I’m so excited to have found you!!! Thank you for sharing!!!
Oh my goodness you just made my entire week!! So so sooooo happy you found my blog 🙂 I hope you get to make all of the recipes you can!! The pb frosting is one of my ALL TIME FAVES.
Thanks Jessica! I have made a number of things so far: PB Mousse (has been a favourite with friends/family so far), the Brownies with PB topping, but my favourite has been the banana cupcakes with the PB frosting, which is amazing. The only thing is I try to stay away from dairy b/c it causes a lot of phlegm for me and I sing. Any suggestions of what I can substitute?
Once I am finished these items, I will be trying more recipes for sure!
Awwww you are so sweet Suzanne!! Thank you so much for taking the time to make my recipes 🙂 your comment truly made my entire weekend!!
It really depends on the recipe, as far as subbing dairy. For things like whole milk, try canned coconut milk. For things like yogurt, you can try dairy-free yogurt. For cream cheese, there are amazing vegan cream cheeses out there! Let me know if you have any other questions 🙂