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Calorie Count Blog

Cheat or Treat?


By Mary_RD on Apr 29, 2010 11:00 AM in Dieting & You
Edited By +Rachel Berman

Last week, a magazine writer interviewed me for an article about "cheating".  I know that “cheating” is a concern of Calorie Counters because it is often discussed in the Community Forums.  And so, with that in mind, I thought you might be interested in my notes from the exchange.


Q:   Why is it important to occasionally "cheat" when it comes to your diet?  Can it make you a healthier individual overall?


A:    Let’s define “cheat”.  If "cheat" means making room for a beloved high-calorie treat, then I am all for it.  You cannot feel like you’re in diet prison because that just leads binging and throwing in the towel. You have to feel like you have the right – and the power – to eat whatever you want; however, the trick is to shape your WANTS to be for wholesome foods most of the time. Over time, you learn to identify tasty foods that are low in calories or at least have nutrient profiles in proportion to their calorie counts.  If your day-to-day food is very tasty and satisfying, you will yearn for a “cheat” less often.

But there are times when you'll want to partake in a favorite high calorie food and that is normal and good.  You actually owe it to yourself to engage in that activity because that’s how you develop self-trust.  You must keep practicing until you feel comfortable and guilt free for enjoying a reasonable amount.


Q:    Are some "cheats" better than others?


A:     A bad “cheat” is an eating frenzy that adds back the calories you’ve lost all week.  But that isn’t a “cheat”; it’s a “binge”.  I don’t use the word “cheat” because it sounds so shady.  I’d rather call it a “splurge” or “indulgence” or some word that addresses the sensual enjoyment but forgoes the guilt.  MyPyramid.gov actually allots a portion of your daily calories to “cheats”.  They call them “discretionary calories”, which are foods that have a high calorie content relative to the nutrients they provide.  My Pyramid “gives you permission” to devote some of your intake everyday to discretionary calories.

In my opinion, the best “cheat” is the one that you really love, that tastes out-of-this-world, and is enjoyed s-l-o-w-l-y.  Realizing that there isn't much room in the diet for high calorie foods with little nutritional value, you will fine-tune your discriminatory thinking to become very choosy about the foods you let in.  If you start to eat something indulgent and it doesn’t taste great, then why bother?  Stop right there.  But it’s important to learn about the calories in food so that you can make informed choices.


Q:   When it comes to the following indulgences, what are some good or surprising ways to "cheat" or tweak the drink/dish so you're indulging, but not in such an extreme way?

A:    Healthy eaters might use strategies like these:   

  • Margarita:   Add lots of crushed ice, use only fresh ingredients, serve it in a fun glass, inhale the aroma, and sip it slowly to make it last.
  • Ice cream:   Praise the makers of the low-fat, slow-churned ice creams on the market because they taste so good.  And fat free frozen yogurts with natural or artificial sweeteners are good too, as is anything from The Skinny Cow®.  Ice cream contains calcium, protein, vitamins A, B6 and B12, which are fantastic, but the saturated fat and sugar is not so good.  I used to eat a small amount of ice cream in a tea cup everyday, but lately I don’t buy it so often because I find I want to eat it instead of other foods and it’s just so easy to “prepare”.
  • Sangria:  Wine punch is practically health food!  Really, sangria is full of fresh fruit, juices, red wine, and carbonated waters, lots of ice, not too strong, with just a bit of simple syrup.  Of course, it is bad manners to gulp or end up drunk.
  • Chocolate/candy bar:   You know about the health benefits of high-cacao-content dark chocolate, but you have to really like it to bother adding it to your diet because the health properties of candy bars are overstated.  Some chocolates - for instance, a Godiva Truffle - do not claim to have health properties, but they are fabulous in small amounts. In addition to candy bars, other foods can deliver a chocolate taste.  I’m thinking of fat-free chocolate pudding snacks, chocolate fat-free yogurt and chocolate crunch rice cakes, but there are others.
  • Movie popcorn:    Movie popcorn and the accompanying soda are terrible for you and they cost a fortune!  According to CSPI, a medium combo has 1,610 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat.  That's nuts.  This is where it pays to be discriminating.  Movie popcorn in c*** and snacking at the movies is a bad habit.  It's best to uncouple that un-mindful practice of watching a movie and eating.  Either eat dinner before the movie or wait an hour to get higher quality food.
  • Tortilla chips:   Eat the baked tortilla chips or limit your intake of the regular kind.  Tortilla chips have a high fiber content and some other nutrients too, but they are full of salt and trans fats.  If you eat regular tortilla chips, break them in half because they are so big.


Q:   What are some common "cheat" foods that actually aren't as unhealthy as you think? (The daily glass of red wine and dark chocolate come to mind... maybe guacamole could also be another one because of the healthy fats and such?)


A:    Well, there's your daily glass of red wine and dark chocolate to start.  Other healthy foods I see on "cheat lists" are:

  • Seasonal fruit desserts (e.g. peach parfait, raspberry sorbet, strawberries with sweetened fat-free yogurt, grilled pineapple slices, pumpkin custard, etc.)
  • Fat-free frozen yogurt
  • Nuts, peanuts and peanut butter
  • Avocados
  • Lean beef
  • Potatoes
  • Bread
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Homemade salad dressing (olive oil, an acid, and fresh herbs)
  • Fat-free pudding or gelatin with fat-free whipping topping
  • French toast
  • Spaghetti and meatballs

Honestly, I have seen people place all kinds of yummy, wholesome foods on their “Do Not Eat” list, and it’s really sad.


Question for you...

What "cheat" foods can you recommend that actually aren't as unhealthy as one might think?



Comments


Original Post by: crystal0827

 I have been counting calories for a little over a month now and have lost about 12 pounds. I have also been doing 35 minutes of cardio 3-5 times a week. And I do "cheat" every now and then. Surprisingly I have been very good about this because I know if the past i have not-I splurge but I think I want to loose the weight bad enough. ANYWAY my favorite treat right now are snowballs....I love snowballs and this time of the year in Maryland they are very popular. Many stands along my route home. I just have had a VERY hard time determining how many calories are in a snowball. I have tried several different sites with no luck. It would be nice to know how bad my treat really is for me. Does anyone have any suggestions?


i live in MD too and am totally addicted to snowballs!  i couldn't find calories for a snowball either! :(    i just get the smallest size and estimate that it might have 200 calories.  i can't imagine it would have more than that!  it's mostly ice anyway!  and then if it isn't 200 calories then i have been extra good that day! :)



Original Post by: alliecrawford

Hi there...I thought I'd respond to both of you.  As for what a snowball is...there are different versions but it's a round soft cookie that's usually a chocolate mixture in the middle and coconut on the outside (sometimes they have marshmallow in the middle as well).  Delish!

You can make them yourself, but I've also had them commercially prepared by a brand called Lees' (Scottish).  These have their Nutrition Facts on the back so I thought I'd share...hopefully it helps you.

Per 21g...100 Calories, 4.5g of Fat, 4g Saturated Fat, 0g trans or polyunsaturated fat, 0.2g of monounsaturated fat, 15mg of sodium, 60mg of potassium, 13g of carbs, 1g of Fibre, 8g of sugar, 1g Protein and 2% for Iron.  These are the kind with the marshmallow/chocolate middle. 

This is a great forum...I feel better about my cheat treats :)


sorry alice but the snowballs crystal is referring to are snow cones!  flavored crushed ice!  super yummy in the summer!

:)



Original Post by: dbhadra

Original Post by: crystal0827

 I have been counting calories for a little over a month now and have lost about 12 pounds. I have also been doing 35 minutes of cardio 3-5 times a week. And I do "cheat" every now and then. Surprisingly I have been very good about this because I know if the past i have not-I splurge but I think I want to loose the weight bad enough. ANYWAY my favorite treat right now are snowballs....I love snowballs and this time of the year in Maryland they are very popular. Many stands along my route home. I just have had a VERY hard time determining how many calories are in a snowball. I have tried several different sites with no luck. It would be nice to know how bad my treat really is for me. Does anyone have any suggestions?


I'm very curious...what is a "snowball"?

 

Laura


hey Laura!  snowballs are the same a snow cones!  flavored ice!  i'm sure you've heard of it...right?

:)



Original Post by: jordansmom769

I can lose control too if I don't watch it, so I try to keep junk food out of the house (out of sight, out of mind LOL) but sometimes I gotta have that snickers or something from Taco Bell etc. I do like Special K w/the chocolate bits, that usually curbs my cravings. Or I'll make a homemade chicken wrap on wheat tortilla w/italian dressing for my non-sweet craving. Everybody's different though; cheat days obviously aren't always good. BTW I'm curious about the starred-out word in there??

i'm also curious about the starred out word!  i read it like 5 times and still never got it!  werid!



I include my favorite treats when I have enough available calories in the day. I also log them in my CC food log. In no particular order, they are:

1. Dairy Queen low-fat fudge bars - 45 delicious chocolate calories. They also have a orange version similar in taste to a creamsicle at 60 calories.

2. Half cup of Chapman's vanilla frozen yogurt topped with warm stewed rhubard (cut it into small pieces, zap in microwave, add a bit of stevia) for a total of 109 calories. I've also had their dutch chocolate frozen yogurt - same calories - and added fresh fruit to both.

3. Low-fat vanilla or fruit-flavoured yogurt with fresh fruit. I also like the Source dessert flavor yogurts.

4. Hard meringues - which are mostly egg white and sugar. (I've been wondering if it is possible to make them with stevia.)

I find there's lots of choices and provided I fit them into my calorie count and log them, I don't feel guilty about them.

 



For me, I have been counting calories, Watch what I eat during the meals of the day and 1-2 snacks a day dont hurt if you can control the serving size and the caloric content of the snack. For example.  Fat Free Pringles are 70 calories for 15 crisps. In the past before dieting, I would eat 2-3 bottles of Pringles in one session. Now 15 crisps only. Knowing serving sizes and calories has helped me tremendously. It all adds up to the amount of calories you are allowed to instake, along with your diet, exercise and fitness.

 

Great article.



I'm new to Calorie Count - how do you edit recipes and food items



I think you could do a lot worse. I believe snow balls are ice and flavored syrup.  Ice is zero calories, and I would estimate that a syple syrup would be 50 calories per ounce. I would estimate they put 2  oz of flavor over the ice so my guess is your favorite treat is about 100 calories. Sweet!



One of my favorite sweets craving is this hot flax seed mix:

1. 2 tbsp grounded flax seed;

2. 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder;

3. 1 packet of sweet'n low;

4. 1/2 cup of unsweetened soymilk.

 

Use a small bowl, put the soymilk and flax seed together, well mixed, microwave for 1.5 minutes, stir in the cocoa powder. Stir it till all of the components are well mixed, and looks very creamy, and then enjoy it when it is still warm.

It is good for your heart(flax seed~~), satisfy your sweet teeth, and very hearty. 

 



Funny, I don't have any "cheat" foods really, and know that calories in / calories out matters as much as what we eat but even having the "ability" I honestly don't desire anything "forbidded". What I find is the last several times I ate something I usually don't I felt terrible, my stomache ached and it wasn't at all pleasing!! I consider myself very lucky and actually think most peoples need to cheat can be naturally eliminated by happy choice and not feeling deprived the longer time passes with healthy and exotic choices. My ultimate treat is unsweetened dried papaya, sashimi, or some seafood dinner, preferably steamed!! I eat sweet potatoes every day with stevia and cinnamon, silken tofu for "dessert". On occasion I will have 25 calorie hot coacoa in the winter, or use unsweetened organic pure dark coacoa powder, stevia and make thick hot chocolate I(it is actually high protein!!)



opps.. typo- Iusually feel terrible and do not enjoy it!Tongue out



This is LUDICROUS!!! out of everything out there they are badmouthing Popcorn!!! my treat is ALWAYS popcorn and a choc top everytime I go to the movies-usually once a week without these I am having convulsions.It is something I ALWAYS look foward to and I always it it in place of my dinner.I am not going to let them make me feel bad about my treat!!!!!



I LOVE chocolate and coffee together (mocha), but lattes are out of this world both in price and calories so I combine equal parts of decaf (sorry but I need to use decaf) and cocoa, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 2 small packets of stevia and mix up to a yucky sludge with warm water.  This mixture will set up nicely and then I put 1 round teaspoon in a cup of hot 1% milk. MMMMMM   YUMMY.  This is the way I get calcium into my diet.   I find I drink it in the early evening and it satisfies my cravings for a sweet or dessert.  I'd love to hear any comments or other solutions to this evening sweet desire.



i like popcorn a lot and for a while i got rid of it because of the butter and crap that companys put on it so recently i got popcorn kernels and have started popping them through the machiene and adding a little bit of cinnamon for some flavor is that a good thing to be doing?



I know a lot of people who have gone the Atkins way and cut all fruit from their diets to get rid of the sugars/carbs.  While many fruits are high in sugar (mangoes, pineaple, Clemetines, etc.), they are essential to our diets and if you choose the right ones as the staple of your fruit eating, you actually won't be ingesting that much sugar.  At least not comparative to eating candy ;)

My favorite fruit of all time is watermelon, and now that it's in season again (and not $15 for a medium one!), I can go nuts and lose weight easily, since the high water content fills me up quickly, and the fiber keeps me fuller longer :)



Original Post by: alliecrawford

Hi there...I thought I'd respond to both of you.  As for what a snowball is...there are different versions but it's a round soft cookie that's usually a chocolate mixture in the middle and coconut on the outside (sometimes they have marshmallow in the middle as well).  Delish!

You can make them yourself, but I've also had them commercially prepared by a brand called Lees' (Scottish).  These have their Nutrition Facts on the back so I thought I'd share...hopefully it helps you.

Per 21g...100 Calories, 4.5g of Fat, 4g Saturated Fat, 0g trans or polyunsaturated fat, 0.2g of monounsaturated fat, 15mg of sodium, 60mg of potassium, 13g of carbs, 1g of Fibre, 8g of sugar, 1g Protein and 2% for Iron.  These are the kind with the marshmallow/chocolate middle. 

This is a great forum...I feel better about my cheat treats :)


I live in MD also, and just wanted to respond...there are 2 kinds of snowballs that I know of 1.) The soft coconut treat you are referring to above, and 2.) A snowcone (around here in MD, we call them snowballs...it took me a while to realize that, lol).

A MD snowball is basically a snowcone, ice in a cup covered in sweet flavored syrup, and sometimes with chocolate or marshmellow sauce on top depending on what flavor you like. My favorite is Lemon/Lime....good old fashioned snowcone in a giant cup (I can never finish the whole thing!) that is nice and refreshing on a hot day!

Crystal0827, I think this is the type of snowball you are referring to? There is a stand right outside of my neighborhood and I know someone who knows the owner, maybe I can find out how many calories (and I'm sure lots of sugar) are in each syrup "squirt"?? I'm curious to know as well.....

 

 



Original Post by: heatherk83

This is LUDICROUS!!! out of everything out there they are badmouthing Popcorn!!! my treat is ALWAYS popcorn and a choc top everytime I go to the movies-usually once a week without these I am having convulsions.It is something I ALWAYS look foward to and I always it it in place of my dinner.I am not going to let them make me feel bad about my treat!!!!!


Not popcorn - MOVIE popcorn - an entirely different food.



Original Post by: dbhadra

Original Post by: crystal0827

 I have been counting calories for a little over a month now and have lost about 12 pounds. I have also been doing 35 minutes of cardio 3-5 times a week. And I do "cheat" every now and then. Surprisingly I have been very good about this because I know if the past i have not-I splurge but I think I want to loose the weight bad enough. ANYWAY my favorite treat right now are snowballs....I love snowballs and this time of the year in Maryland they are very popular. Many stands along my route home. I just have had a VERY hard time determining how many calories are in a snowball. I have tried several different sites with no luck. It would be nice to know how bad my treat really is for me. Does anyone have any suggestions?


I'm very curious...what is a "snowball"?

 

Laura


A snowball is like a snowcone crushed ice in a cup with syrup flavoring... it doesn't sound so good as I type it but it is I promise. My favorite flavor at the moment lol is chocolate covered strawberries. Basically chocolate and strawberry flavoring together. Oh and you can also get if with marshmellow.



Original Post by: courtandspark

I think you could do a lot worse. I believe snow balls are ice and flavored syrup.  Ice is zero calories, and I would estimate that a syple syrup would be 50 calories per ounce. I would estimate they put 2  oz of flavor over the ice so my guess is your favorite treat is about 100 calories. Sweet!


I hope you are right. because that would be awesome! I know they have "diet" flavors as well as much as I don't mind "diet" things I just gotta have the real thing. Not to mention they have a very small selection of diet flavors



I like the way you think



When I crave anything sweet I try to find a good substitute in the Yoplait Original 99% Fat free fruit flavors. It is only 170 calories and 1.5 grams of fat for 6 ounces. The light is even better at 110 calories and 0 grams of fat.

I remind myself of that silly commercial when the woman is on the phone telling her friend she keeps Boston Cream Pie, Strawberry Cheesecake, etc. in the house and her hubby is in the background raiding the fridge. : )



By the way you guys have some great ideas and I am using about half of them from now on. Thanks for the tips. Cheers to your health. : )



My weakness is ice cream, but only certain flavors.  I also have a hard time craving Diet Pepsi.  I know many of your are asking "what's wrong with that" since it has no calories.  I know it doesn't have any calories but I know it is garbage for me too.  In my opinion regular soft drinks are bad enough but this has artificial sweetener which makes it even worse for me.  It is the only thing with artificial sweetener I consume.  I can go a few days and maybe a few weeks and then I fall of the wagon.  I love that stuff and feel like I could live on it.   Anyone else have this problem?



I drink Cryst



("ahmmm..damn Vista..") I drink Crystal Light a LOT- "Natural" Cranberry Apple and Rasberry green tea. It is almost the only way I get myself to drink enough fluids!!



Oooh, I wish we had more flavours of Crystal Light up here.  I loooooove fruit punch, and it's not available in Canada, as are many other flavours.  Same with that Yoplait Light stuff that's flavoured like desserts.  I want banana cream pie yogurt!!  Oh well, sticking with iced tea Crystal Light and fruit-flavoured yogurt, I guess :P



Original Post by: natalina85

Oooh, I wish we had more flavours of Crystal Light up here.  I loooooove fruit punch, and it's not available in Canada, as are many other flavours.  Same with that Yoplait Light stuff that's flavoured like desserts.  I want banana cream pie yogurt!!  Oh well, sticking with iced tea Crystal Light and fruit-flavoured yogurt, I guess :P


I too love Crystal Light. Its my savior in helping me drink water instead of Pepsi or Coke (my vices). In the summer I LOVE the lemonade. I don't even need to use entire package to appreciate the flavor so I use one pack for two bottles.  



If you're talking about Yoplait Source dessert-flavoured yogurt, I can get that in Canada. Several local grocery stores stock it. I have some right now because it was on sale last week.

I can also get quite a few flavours of Crystal Light, although I love raspberry so I tend to stick to the Raspberry Ice.

Of course, ymmv, depending on region and size of community.

Keep well,

Island Scribe



Original Post by: floridapauline

("ahmmm..damn Vista..") I drink Crystal Light a LOT- "Natural" Cranberry Apple and Rasberry green tea. It is almost the only way I get myself to drink enough fluids!!


I completely agree with you about it being the only way you get enough fluids. I ♥ Lemonade.



Original Post by: islandscribe

If you're talking about Yoplait Source dessert-flavoured yogurt, I can get that in Canada. Several local grocery stores stock it. I have some right now because it was on sale last week.

I can also get quite a few flavours of Crystal Light, although I love raspberry so I tend to stick to the Raspberry Ice.

Of course, ymmv, depending on region and size of community.

Keep well,

Island Scribe


I've only seen a few flavours of the Yoplait Light dessert flavours in some combo packs, like lemon cream pie and (I think) apple turnover, but we don't get things like red velvet cake and white chocolate strawberry out here.  Are you close to the border, particularly in Ontario, Quebec, or on the east coast?  That might be the difference.

Yeah, we have a wide-ish selection of Crystal Light here in Calgary, but nothing like they have in the States.  Check out the Yoplait and Crystal Light websites...it's ridiculous how many more flavours they have there, and I don't see any reason why we don't have them here.  I even contacted the companies to ask if they would be bringing them up here in the future, and the basic answer from both is that there don't seem to be any plans to :(



When I was actively losing weight, my favorite thing to do every night was what I called a smorgasboard platter.  I'd put one really good thing on the plate, about 100 cals, like a cookie (my weakness).  Then I'd fill the plate with freebies (carrot sticks and other virtually calorie-free items) and "lowbies" (low-fat cheese sticks, celery with a little peanut butter, a little salad, etc.), and it felt like a feast!  The whole thing would be 200-300 calories, and would take me over an hour to finish.  Much better than the 1000-1500 calorie-a-night cookie binges I used to have. 

Now that I'm in a maintenance phase, I find that indulging in a treat every single day is pretty much a necessity.  Otherwise my cravings get too out-of-control, and I am SO weak after nightfall. 



I used to say I am a chocoholic but recently I've discovered how fabulously yummy and satisfying dried fruit is.  Usually the moist or soft prunes will satisfy my chocolate craving but when I need something more I cook up some baking dates with coco powder.  it was a recipe on this sight that caught my eye...I can't find it anymore but basically just cook baking dates in a pan with water, add coco power and cook slowly until the water has evaporated and the date goo is thick enough to roll into balls then coat with more coco power to almond flour, coconut...whatever you want. 



what a great idea!  some home made hummus would go well with that.



My roommate and I have implemented FroYo Friday--our weekly treat to ourselves.  We had been eating so carefully for a two or three weeks, and exercising regularly, but one Friday we were tired and grumpy, and realized all we wanted was some frozen yogurt.  We popped over to the shop around the corner, allowed ourselves to load up on treats and enjoyed.  It immediately became a weekly tradition--and after stuffing ourselves too full that first night, we quickly learned the value of moderation.  It feels decadent and becomes an event--a necessary part of our Friday evenings, but with careful eating and exercise, it barely leaves a dent in our calorie deficits.  

For me, it is important to make my treat an event-- if eating junky foods happens on the couch, I am too likely to slide into overall unhealthy habits frequently.  But we have taken to exploring the variety of frozen yogurt shops in Philly, and between the walking, the entertainment, and the novelty, it really helps me to savor the treat.



would like some way to see the foods i have eaten for day and know approximately how many calories i have eaten. do you have a chart for men.  thankyou muriel.prestonclar@gmail.com



Original Post by: clare80

would like some way to see the foods i have eaten for day and know approximately how many calories i have eaten. do you have a chart for men.  thankyou muriel.prestonclar@gmail.com


I think that you've found what you're looking for simply by joining!  If you click on the "my account" tab at the top of the CC screen, you can log foods for the day--even if you don't know the calories, fat, etc.

All you have to do is type in the food into the browser (try not to be too specific, i.e. "Lay's Baked Sweet Chili Potato Chips"), and click on the one you want.  Then enter to amount you've eaten in any of the convenient measurements, or put it in by weight.

You can do basically the same thing for exercise under the activity log, and you can also record your weight.

Once you get used to how many calories are in what, you get to have a sense of how many calories you've consumed while you're eating--and self-awareness is a big part of becoming slimmer and healthier.

I hope this helps!  As far as I know, there aren't any charts on here with basic foods and their calories, but please feel free, everyone, to correct me I'm wrong!



Ooh, holy typos, Batman!



I am on a diet right now that I really like (although it's not easy!)... I eat 1000 per day during the week (anything I want, as long as I don't go over 1000 cals)... and then on the weekends, I can "cheat" and eat 1200 to 1800 cals per day... this keeps my body out of starvation mode (at least it has so far), while allowing me to occasionally indulge in the things I love... like pizza or a few sections of a Toblerone bar.  I don't feel like I'm missing anything, and therefore don't feel deprived....  I have lost 9 pounds so far in about 4 weeks, and have about 6 more pounds to go. Once I hit my target weight, I can gradually go back up to 1200 - 1500 cals a day, as long as I don't see any weight gain on the scale.  After 1000 cals a day, it's going to seem like a feast every day!



Organic reduced fat peanut butter!!! That usually really satisfy my cravings. Or maybe a handful of almonds will do.

I like to subtitude ice cream with frozen yogurt!!!!



Comment Removed

I love popcorn and have it every night for a snack. I make it just like in the movies with coconut oil. Yes, that is a saturated fat, but not a bad one.  Some saturated fats, including coconut oil, are extremely good for you. Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA) as opposed to the long chain fatty acids (LCFA) found in most oil in our diets. Coconut oil is easy on the digestive system, requiring minimal digestion. It travels immediately to the liver to be converted into energy. It doesn’t circulate in the body and end up being stored as fat. 



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