Courtesy of Carolyn Classick-Kohn,MS,RD

Extras, Extras Everywhere!

Your basic guidelines for healthy eating and for weight loss focus on what you should eat from each food group to get the right balance of good nutrition and energy. But what about all those extras? Many “fun” foods and beverages fall outside your eating guidelines. However, there are ways to fit some of these foods into your plan without hindering your progress.

Extras Add Up

It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to lose weight, or you are already at a weight you want to maintain, eating a lot of extras – high fat snacks, desserts high in sugar and fat, alcohol beverages, will add up to poor nutritional habits. The difference is that on a weight loss plan, you have a limited number of calories to work with if you want to lose weight. Since a good weight reduction plan reduces calorie intake by only about 500 to 750 Calories per day, choosing to eat a piece of cake, or a chocolate sundae, or a fast food hamburger will bring your calories right back up to the level where you won’t lose any weight at all. The same goes for a few extra snacks here and there – they can quickly add up. It doesn’t seem like much, but if you choose an extra treat every day, no weight loss will occur and you are back to square one. It really doesn’t take much! 

Fitting in Extras

So, how can you fit in some of your favorite fun foods? In some cases, you can make an occasional substitution for some of the foods listed on your eating guidelines. Usually, it’s a matter of trading out the grains/breads and fats for an occasional dessert or glass of wine.  I don’t suggest that this be done too often or it can lead to poor nutritional intake, and you might miss out on a proper intake of vitamins and minerals, so I want to suggest some guidelines here. Your calorie level also must be considered. If your eating guidelines give you 1600 Calories or less for weight loss, then doing a lot of substituting desserts and alcohol for basic foods is not a good idea because your intake of even the healthy foods is reduced to cause weight loss. If you start subtracting grains or other foods from this plan and replace those calories with high fat, high sugar choices, it can have more of a negative impact on your nutritional intake. On the other hand, if your calorie level is at 2,000 Calories or more, you have a little more play in your diet, because your basic nutrition needs are more than met by your plan, so you can do a little substituting now and then. 

How often can you substitute those fun foods on a weight loss plan will depend upon how you handle it, but a good rule to try to follow is to do this no more than once a week if you are on less than 2000 Calories a day. For example, choose a weekly dessert that you really like – a piece of cake, a dish of ice cream, etc. and eat a little less of the other foods in your plan to make up for the difference in calories. In most cases, subtract two grain servings and two or three fat servings. This gives you some freedom to have some sweet or higher fat dessert or snack without throwing you off your plan.

In the case of wine or other alcohol beverages, generally I would subtract one grain and one fat serving to make up the difference in calories. None of these foods are even trades for nutritional quality, but it gives you some ways to fit in the occasional treat, and realistically, you should be able to do this, even while on a weight loss plan. 

You can see why you need to set limits on doing this – it’s not a good idea for anyone to trade foods high in nutritional quality for “empty” calorie foods, but it is especially important not to do this frequently when your calorie intake is already below what you need to maintain your weight. 

Controlling the Extras

While following a traditional weight loss plan, people are taught that they are now “on a diet.” Many times diets have tricks as part of the plan – having to eat certain foods at specific times, or eliminating certain food groups. It’s a good idea to get away from that thinking because your eating plan is really designed to guide you in making good eating decisions for life. You can’t really get away from following this plan, even when you reach your weight goal, because it is simply a good healthy eating guide you should follow beyond weight control.

Including some of your favorite desserts or other foods is part of life, and when you do, you should not think of it as having gone “off” your diet, in fact it really can be part of your diet plan. The difference is that you can choose to add in an occasional treat by planning for it. That way, you are controlling the choice, rather than allowing temptation to get the best of you. When you plan for a treat, it becomes part of your diet, your choice instead of your mistake. This is an important distinction in thinking, and it can really help you stay focused on your goals.

Extra Calories, Extra Exercise

There are a couple other options to trading calories and food choices for treats. One is to consider the treat you choose as an “extra”, over and above your food plan. Realize that too many extras will simply slow or perhaps completely hinder your weight loss, so if your goal is to lose weight that week, keep the extras to less than once a week!

The other option is to burn off the extra calories by increasing your physical activity. Take an extra walk, or add an extra exercise session in to make up the difference. Realize that some treats take a lot of exercise to burn off! (Is the treat worth the extra work?) Because typical treats are highly caloric (full of fat, sugar, or alcohol), you may even have to increase your physical activity over the whole week to make up the difference. This is where people can get into trouble, by trying to play “catch-up” on their calorie intake…..skipping whole meals or fasting, or having to exercise too much because of eating too many extras!  

In summary, you can fit in an occasional treat (once a week is a good rule of thumb) by planning for it, by trading a few calories now and then (not too much), or by increasing your physical activity. The important thing is to make that choice for yourself and to make it part of your plan.        

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