Every now and then I'll indulge in an extravagant dessert, such as a brownie sundae, which contains as many calories as I'd normally eat for dinner. What is the best way to nutritionally compensate for this behaviour to avoid health repercussions:

  • Eat the brownie sundae for dinner, maintaining my normal caloric intake.
  • Eat a small veggie-rich dinner to get some vitamins and minerals, and eat the brownie sundae for dessert, even though this will increase my caloric intake for the day.
  • Eat the brownie sundae on top of a normal dinner with the mentality that stressing about calories will lead to as many health problems as occasional overeating.

Something else?

  • Is every now and again weekly, monthly, daily?
    – Chris S
    Mar 23, 2011 at 12:12

4 Answers 4


In order to truly "compensate" for it, you either have to cut as many calories as are contained in the item, or you must burn that amount of calories. If "every now and then" means somewhere around or less than once a month, and the rest of the time you eat healthy and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, I wouldn't worry about compensating for it. If instead it means once or twice a week, you need to compensate for it in some manner.

One of the things you should remember is that you don't need to compensate for it all at once. If you eat an excess of 3500 calories one day, but have a 610 calorie deficit every other day of the week, your weight will be the same at the end of the week as it was in the beginning. Our weight fluctuates constantly within some margin due to this effect and the effect of hydration on the body, and small fluctuations shouldn't be perceived as a bad thing.

If you do want to compensate, you can mix and match cutting or burning in any way you want to to make a full compensation. For example, you could just cut the calories. If you didn't want to cut any calories, you could just work out. If you wanted to though, you could do half the workout and cut half the calories. With the exception of hormonal imbalances, weight gain, maintenance, and loss is all about calories taken in versus calories expended.

  • Thank you for the detailed response. Any suggestions for keeping vitamins, minerals, and fiber adequate while cutting calories?
    – Barbie
    Mar 23, 2011 at 2:16
  • If it's only for a single day, I wouldn't be incredibly concerned about it. If you're concerned you aren't getting enough of the needed vitamins and minerals in your diet regularly, then you should be taking a supplement daily anyway. Mar 23, 2011 at 13:56
  • Ouch... Only one indulgence a month? Mar 29, 2011 at 16:42
  • @Evan Plaice - I wouldn't press my luck with that much sugar... it's bound to catch up with you. I've only had 2 meals in the past 6 months with more than 9g of carbs in them personally... and I'm maintaining ~1500 calories a day other than those 2 meals. I don't play around with the sugar. Mar 29, 2011 at 19:09
  • @md5sum Are you trying to drop a lot of weight without supplementing with exercise? 1500cal/day for 6 months is a bit on the extreme don't ya think? I could do a moderate workout regiment and effectively get my caloric expenditure up above 2.5-3k/day (making one sundae on an occasional basis negligible). Mar 29, 2011 at 19:22

1) Make a mini-version of it to adjust to your diet/work-out regimen while making adjustments to the recipe such as not adding sugar or doing a sugar substitute

2) Eat for lunch rather than dinner so you have more time during the day to work it off

3) Nutritionally, if you are already eating pretty healthy, a cheat once in a while should not totally derail you.

4) On the days you do have the sundae, make your exercise regimen harder that day to compensate.

  • Changing the time the food is eaten won't add hours to the day. I'll agree with you on the rest, though. Mar 22, 2011 at 18:24
  • No it won't add hours to the day but the faster you burn the sugar the less likely it will convert to fat.
    – Rhea
    Mar 22, 2011 at 19:01
  • 1
    It takes approximately 7-10 minutes to digest 100g of carbohydrates in a person with proper enzyme balances. (see: MadSci.com) You're not even going to get a jump start on the liver before it's done processing everything, your insulin levels have spiked, and you've stored the excess. Mar 22, 2011 at 19:21
  • It depends. If your glycogen stores are already full, then the excess is stored as fat. "A normally balanced meal provides about 90 grams of glucose, mostly as polysaccharides. These are usually absorbed over a period of about 120 minutes. The glucose released from food is used as an immediate energy substrate and any excess will be stored as glycogen (and fat in the case of over-nutrition)." (See section: "After a good meal"). By having the sugary treat earlier in the day while u r active, you decrease the likelihood of fat storage.
    – Rhea
    Mar 22, 2011 at 19:40
  • But we're not talking about a normally balanced meal. We're talking about a brownie sundae that's loaded with monosaccharides such as galactose. And all this talk about ice cream is making me crave... LoL. Mar 22, 2011 at 20:05

Make it a reward for some planned goal being met - make sure you have meaningful weekly goals to keep yourself motivated. There's nothing like positive reinforcement.

  • I worry that using food as a reward like this could promote emotional eating, which can undermine weight maintenance.
    – Barbie
    Mar 23, 2011 at 1:59
  • Emotions drive most of what we do, the key is to use the right emotions (rewarding for success) and moderation to ensure that any negative potential is minimized short term and long term benefits are realized. Mar 23, 2011 at 13:15
  • I looked into it, you're right, I was making an unfounded assumption. This study found that children's emotional eating was not significantly linked to their mothers using food as a reward: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20534744
    – Barbie
    Mar 23, 2011 at 17:00

In contrast to @Nathan Wheeler's answer (which was accepted), I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you can compensate for an indulgence day with a no-carb/fat day (i.e. just veggies and protein).

Assuming you eat healthy during most of the week, you can have one free day a week--as long as you follow it with a no-carb/fat day. So let's break down what happens when you really over-indulge.

  • You still burn a healthy amount of calories a day. For the sake of argument let's call it 2000.
  • In order to gain one pound of fat you have to consume 3500 calories more than what your body burns just breathing and pumping blood. That's up to 5500 calories in one day to gain one pound of fat.
  • It takes time to digest all that food, and some of the extra weight you see on the scale might just be water retention and/or undigested food.

When you go a whole day without any carbs or fats, your pancreas secretes glucogon which will burn fat. When eating just the protein sources and vegetables, the insulin never kicks in from six hours after your last indulgence to the next time you have carbs (over 24 hours later after you factor in sleep). You'll also naturally have a few less calories in that day. Add to that drinking plenty of water and you'll get rid of the excess water weight due to the over abundance of sodium in your system (I'm assuming you have a full four course meal and a decadent desert here).

The combination of remaining in the fat burning state for over 24 hours and extra water are usually more than enough to properly compensate for a full free day a week. Some people argue (my dietitian being one of them) that it is not only perfectly healthy but preferred to have one indulgence a week. The problem becomes when you indulge every night of the week...

Also assuming you are on a cruise, and you've gained more than one or two pounds over that time frame--you can compensate for that by as many no-carb/fat days as you need to correct. You'll find that you might be able to compensate in 2-3 days for a full week's worth of damage. You'll also find that after eating healthy 6 days a week you simply can't fit all the food in one day to truly cause serious weight gains.

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