You probably know that some foods offer little in the way of nutrition and are said to have “empty calories."
“Empty” means they aren’t a significant source of protein, fiber, healthy fats or vitamins and minerals. Another term for empty calories is discretionary calories... And filling up with these foods often leads to weight gain and poor health.
According to MyPyramid.gov, discretionary calories are defined as the “extras that can be used on luxuries like solid fats, added sugars, and alcohol, or on more food from any food group.”
The good news is that all dieters should have a plan for how to budget and consume their discretionary calories.
Here are some tips to guide you:
1. Identify discretionary calorie foods. In contrast to the good-for-you foods that offer lots of nutrition and little calories like fruits and vegetables, discretionary calorie extras may be things like cookies, cake, candy, alcohol, deep-fried foods or sugar rich sodas. If you fill up on these types of foods, you will often quickly surpass your total calorie budget for the day and you will also be putting yourself at risk for developing health problems and aging faster. Understand that over time the quality of the food you select does have a big impact on your health in addition to your weight.
2. Know calorie budget. You do need to be aware of your calorie intake to know just how many discretionary calories you can have in a given day. If after dinnertime, for example, you’ve already eaten more than the 1500 calories in your diet, then for that day, you won’t have any discretionary calories left over. The goal is to plan to have 100-300 extra calories per day that you can enjoy. For people who aren’t very active, the amount will more likely be closer to the 100-calorie value – which is more of a reason to get moving each and every day.
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3. Spend wisely. Be careful about drinking your discretionary calories because drinking doesn’t really fill you up as compared to eating solid foods. And if you decide to drink alcohol (especially more than one drink), this can lower your resolve to eat right and can lead to overeating… and quickly overspending your discretionary budget! Many of my patients do well by finding moderate ways to enjoy a sweet treat now and then. They plan it into their daily calorie budget and enjoy it without any guilt.
4. Cut back when needed. If you’re not losing weight, it may be time to first cut back on your discretionary calories. A good trick is to clear your kitchen of all the tempting sweet treats and give yourself a break. Instead of eating your discretionary calories daily, you may change to eating them weekly or 2 or 3 times per week. Enjoy a low fat yogurt cone at an ice cream store or end your lunch meal with a 100-calorie snack pack. Either way, you’ll be less tempted at home and able to stay focused on your healthy weight loss plan.
I hope these four tips will help you better understand and budget your discretionary calories wisely.