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Eat Whatever You Want, Guilt-Free: The Joy to Calorie Ratio

I’ll cut straight to the chase: there’s a few ways to be able to eat whatever you want, guilt-free:

  1. Be a genetic freak that doesn’t gain weight no matter what you eat (not really something you can control, and probably not too many of us).
  2. Not care about what you weigh and just gain more and more weight over time (I did this for 30 years, generally not recommended).
  3. Be conscientious about upcoming meals and plan ahead.

This post focuses on point #3. I’m going to introduce to you a concept called maximizing the Joy to Calorie Ratio, a perspective that helped me enjoy food during holidays and vacations.

Food Is Part of Celebration

When I travel, I gain weight. And it’s WORTH IT.

My meals in Vietnam, where I maximized my Joy to Calorie ratio, and decided to ignore weight loss.
Pictures of my Vietnam trip (back when we were allowed to travel), where I ate everything.

FYI, those grapes on the bottom right are Korean Shine Muscat grapes, which cost $75 a pound. When you are gifted $150 grapes, YOU EAT THE GRAPES, no matter how full you are (they were delicious). 

I don’t know about you, but if I had to restrict myself constantly during holidays when everyone else is eating and being happy, and had to do that year in and year out, I probably wouldn’t have succeeded with my 100-pound weight loss journey.

It’s hard, because it’s so unnatural. The fact is, food is a part of holidays, vacations, and significant life events. In fact, combining food with celebration is a custom entrenched in all cultures, since the beginning of civilization. 

Although some people thrive when they restrict themselves, and all the power to those people, personally, I succeed better with a weight management philosophy of moderation.

Some of the best times in our lives are when we share a delicious meal with our friends and family. It may sound strange for a weight loss blog to say this, but some meals are worth breaking out of your weight loss plan.

Equally important to understand, however, other meals are not.

The Joy to Calorie Ratio

This concept was really driven home one holiday season while I was still trying to lose weight. Being the holiday season, there were tons of treats and celebration lunches happening around the office. Leftovers would always be left out in the kitchen. I already had lunch, but out of habit and because free food is something hard for me to resist, I went out and grabbed a few goodies. I then went back into my personal office, eating the leftovers, alone.

Thinking about this meal, the meal brought me little joy. In fact, it probably gave me negative joy, if you included the fact that the excess calories would now have to be burnt off somehow, delaying the achievement of my weight loss goals.

On the other hand, the meals I ate with my loved ones in Vietnam that I only saw once a decade were memories I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Food was part of those moments, and that food plus the company and the experience brought me immense joy.

There are plenty of foods that bring us fake joy, however, and at an immense caloric expense. I love my potato chips, but a whole bag full can be as many calories as an entire Christmas dinner, and I’ll forget about the joy of eating a bag full of chips within hours. Eating just a couple chips from time to time though? A decent Joy to Calorie ratio for me, so I’ll still snack on some from time to time.

Maximize Your Joy to Calorie Ratio

Now that I am more conscientious about my eating, I know that at a high level I only have a certain number of calories that I can eat before I gain weight, so I am pickier. I would much rather be eating a delicious turkey dinner with my family than use up those calories eating some leftover dessert square from someone else’s lunch meeting, alone, in my office. 

This is where the calculation of the Joy to Calorie Ratio comes in. Now I’m not asking you to create some sort of actual calculation to figure out that a Christmas dinner provides you with 2.57 units of joy versus a chocolate bar providing you with 1.2 units versus some crappy sandwich giving you 0.12. But reflecting on the concept of the Joy to Calorie Ratio can help you make a decision that balances both your weight loss goals and your mental well-being.

If we only had a certain number of calories to eat this month, wouldn’t it be better to eat the ones that brought us most joy instead? This is what I mean by optimizing the Joy to Calorie Ratio.

Plan Ahead to Maximize Your Joy to Calorie Ratio

When I went on my Vietnam trip, I knew I’d be overeating. I decided to make a tradeoff: Eat less the two weeks before my trip, so I could eat more during the trip. Here’s the chart:

My weight trend chart during my Vietnam trip, where I optimized the joy to calorie ratio.
My trip was from the 13th to the 22nd. I made sure to eat less before the trip, and then went right to mindful eating.

Like I mentioned in last week’s blog post where you can lose weight by following rules, I don’t recommend yo-yo dieting, to be clear. However, we aren’t robots, and the human body is incredibly dynamic. We’re allowed to eat a few extra calories occasionally, and we’re also allowed to eat fewer too.

A little bit of planning ahead ensured that the weight I gained in Vietnam didn’t stay on.

There are some other interesting points about the chart above too, like how the scale lies. I overate, but I certainly didn’t gain 12 pounds, which was the difference between the lowest weigh-in before my trip and the weigh-in when I got back. Luuze used trend weight to make the chart a bit more accurate (although it still probably overestimated the weight gain from my trip–I probably didn’t gain 5 pounds either). This is another important point. Even if you over-eat during the holidays, It’s almost impossible to gain 10 pounds of real weight just because of a few meals. The excessive weight that comes along with overeating a single meal will disappear quickly if we get right back on track.

Just because I could, I decided to focus on my diet after the trip as well, getting back to my pre-vacation weight in a couple weeks (note that a large portion of the weight gain from Vietnam was likely water weight—generally it’s not easy to lose 8 pounds in a week). I would have never been able to control my weight like this years ago. I’ve since increased the control level I have on my weight.

Plan Ahead to Eat Guilt-Free

So this holiday, eat to your heart’s content during celebratory dinners! Just plan ahead if you’re looking to maintain your weight. The average person does gain a pound of weight during the holiday season, which might not sound like much, but can add up over time. Be conscientious and pick the best calories. Try to avoid the leftover candy people don’t want to keep so they bring it into work for you to eat. Pick the calories that provide the greatest Joy to Calorie Ratio, likely the meals that you can enjoy with friends and family, or cause you immense joy. Or if you want to eat it all, that’s up to you too. Just find a place to make up for the calories you eat if you’re looking to not gain weight.

2 thoughts on “Eat Whatever You Want, Guilt-Free: The Joy to Calorie Ratio”

  1. This is such good post! I’m so excited to have started my journey with you! Your research explains everything in layman’s terms so well. Thank you

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