Enjoy this guest post by Alex Titarenko, a Trainer at Big Sky Newington. Alex is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NESTA Certified Lifestyle & Weight Management Specialist, and fitness, nutrition & self development enthusiast… who occasionally likes to enjoy a good slice of pizza.
Let’s say your goal is to lose weight, or you’ve reached your goal weight and you want to keep the weight off. You’ve been dieting and eating clean for three weeks, then one night you end up eating enough pizza to feed a small family. You decide your diet is “ruined” and give up, thinking that your prior weeks of hard work are lost.
The holidays are almost here, and now is a perfect time to gain some perspective and understand just how much damage one bad meal, or one bad day of eating could do to your progress. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers, and Christmas party cocktails are going to be everywhere. Most people think they’ll be eating more now than at any other time of the year. What’s ironic is that most Americans barely put on any weight during the holiday season. Most of us pretty much expect to gain at least five to ten pounds, yet in reality, most Americans only gain 1-2 pounds throughout the entire holiday season. Does one big meal slow down your weight loss progress? If so, how much? What about a full day of overeating?
Let’s talk about what one bad day of eating can actually do to your body in terms of weight gain, and how to get back on track after a “bad” day of eating.
In theory, to add one pound of pure fat to your body, you must be at a 3500-calorie surplus. For example. Let’s say in order for your body to stay exactly the same weight, you need 2000 calories per day. For most people this is a normal day of eating. To gain one pound of fat, you need to eat almost two extra days-worth of calories. This means those extra three cookies, that small slice of pie or cheese pizza that you ate, did not cause you to put on nearly as much weight as you think it did.
To further complicate things, foods high in protein and fiber have a high thermic effect, which means they net you less calories than you might think. This, and other factors, make it actually pretty difficult to truly add one pound of pure fat to your body in one sitting.
Now that we know one meal, or even one full day of eating “bad” won’t do nearly as much damage as you think, what should you do if you happen to overeat and feel like you messed up your diet?
Many times, one day of overeating will spiral out of control and one bad day of eating will lead to thoughts of “I’ll start my diet again on Monday” or even “I’ll get back on track next month”. Imagine breaking one plate from a set of plates, then deciding to break the rest of the set. Or picture yourself finding a flat tire on your car, then deciding to slash the other three tires. This is similar to the “all or nothing” mentality most of us have. “Either I stick to a perfect diet or I eat pure garbage until some particular day on the calendar.”
So we know one day of going over your calories will barely put a dent in your fat loss progress, so let’s talk long term. Let’s say you went over your calories three times in one month.
Meet Kim. She wants to lose weight. In order for Kim to stay the same weight, she requires 2000 calories every day. She decides to track her calories and make sure she’s eating 1400 calories every day so she’ll lose weight. She’s now in a calorie deficit of 600 calories every day, and in theory, will lose just over five pounds every month until she reaches her goal weight.
Let’s say Kim has two days of heavy eating and drinking, and goes way over her calories. Twice that month, she eats 4000 calories worth of food. How much of an effect does this have on her progress? In theory, she will lose one pound less than if she had stayed on track every day that month. Nevertheless, she’s still on track, and is successful with her diet! If Kim did this for three months, with six days of overeating, she would still be 12 pounds lighter. If she had given up after the first day of overeating and “ruining” her diet, her progress would likely be non-existent, or at best minimal.
Even though weight loss in the real world is never this precise, the general premise is the same. Maintain your calorie deficit, and if you happen to mess up on your diet a few times, get right back on track as soon as possible. Your long-term progress is what matters!
When looking at the big picture, a few days of overeating here and there won’t put a dent in your weight loss progress, or your goal to maintain your weight. It takes an enormous amount of food in one sitting to gain one solid pound of fat. Even if you do manage to massively overeat, your other days of a caloric deficit will still carry you through to success. The successful days will still net a caloric deficit in the long run, or at least keep you at the same level if you’re more into maintaining your weight. It’s up to you to get right back on track after a large unplanned meal or even a full day of overeating. Waiting until an arbitrary day on the calendar will only cause further weight gain that you’ll have to lose later on.
During an episode of The Simpsons, Homer is getting ready to consume a mixture of vodka and mayonnaise. Marge tells Homer that he will regret it tomorrow. Homer responds with “That’s a problem for future Homer.”
Ultimately, your choice comes down to either sacrificing the present moment for the future, or sacrificing the future for the present moment. What will you choose?