Nutrition Budgeting

In my nutrition sessions with clients, I often find that people think that eating nutritiously means that they can never enjoy their favorite restaurant, snack or even foods ever again. I am always happy to inform them that this is not the case, and they always seem surprised.

That being said, meals at restaurants are notorious for being high in calories, fat and sodium, which can quickly derail any nutrition plan intended for weight loss. The best way to fit in your favorite meal is to budget your calories. The easiest way to explain this is to put it in terms of budgeting money on a vacation.

For example, if you have a budget of $750 spending money set aside for a five day vacation and you end up spending $250 of it the first day, you wouldn't just keep going at that pace, would you?  You would end up either out of money on day 3 or you would end up going way over budget.  Most people find it easy to just scale back the spending the following days without ruining the vacation.

This is exactly the same with calories. If you are trying to follow a 1500 calorie meal plan, and you eat 1000 calories during the day but then overindulge on an 800 calorie slice of deep dish pizza, you have now consumed 1800 calories; 300 calories over-budget. Its really no big deal if you scale it back over the next couple of days with several very small changes.  If you don't, going over-budget by 300 calories even just once per week could lead to a weight gain of 4.5 pounds in one year.

So how do we still enjoy our favorite foods while trying to lose weight? We budget.

Let's say you are going out to your favorite pizzeria for dinner. The first step to take is to look up nutrition information for the restaurant online. Often, I use a nutrition tracking application such as GoMeals or SparkPeople to search for the restaurant, or something comparable (i.e. small, locally owned Italian restaurants may not have nutrition information available, so I look up information on dishes from Olive Garden).

Once you determine the calorie information, you can appropriately budget in order to minimize the amount of calories you go over-budget. For example: you would like to indulge in a slice of Chicago-style deep dish pizza while on a 1500 calorie meal plan. The first step is to look up nutrition information online so that you are well aware that one slice of a regular sized, four cheese deep dish pizza is 650 calories (and 44 grams of fat).

Now determine how many calories this leaves you for the day: 860 calories. This can easily fit into your budget, as long as you choose wisely (read: low calorie, nutrient dense foods such as vegetables and fruit). Here is what a sample day could look like:

            Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs + 1 slice whole wheat toast 270 calories

            Snack: 1 apple + 1 wedge Laughing Cow cheese 105  calories

            Lunch: 2 cups spinach + 1 cup chopped veggies (peppers, broccoli, etc) + 1/4 cup garbanzo beans + 1 Tbsp vinaigrette, 10 pita chips, 1 greek yogurt  465 calories

            Snack: 1 cup baby carrots + 2 Tbsp hummus 95 calories

Following this plan allows you to eat the slice of deep dish pizza for dinner, while only putting you ~100 calories over budget for the day. And, as I mentioned before, going over-budget once is no big deal, as long as you make up for it in other ways during the week. You can easily decrease calories in your nutrition plan without sacrificing volume of food by adding low calorie, nutrient dense vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

The goal here is never deprivation: it's about budgeting and striking a balance so that you can still enjoy your favorite foods while still maintaining a healthy nutrition plan for weight loss. 

Filed under Healthy Eating

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