Short term overeating may not stunt your weight loss goals, science finds

Overeating over a short time may not lead to significant weight gain – but it isn't recommended you make a habit of it

Woman enjoys tucking into indulgent food
(Image credit: Getty)

You shouldn't feel guilty if you overindulged over the festive period: after all, it's totally normal to be tempted to eat more than you normally would at this time of year. A short week of consuming more calories than usual might not have as big an impact on your weight as you may think.

Perhaps you got new fitness equipment for Christmas, such as one of the best exercise bikes, and feel like you have to devotedly pedal on this to balance out the excess calories you consumed over the festive break. However, before you risk over-exercising and taking an unhealthy approach to fitness, you should know that science has found that eating additional calories per day for a short period of time won't have a  significant impact on weight gain.

A research team from Deakin University in Australia put this to the test in a small study of eight healthy young males. The participants, who had an average age of 22, were put on high-calorie diets for two different intervals. One time frame consisted of five days to mimic the period of a holiday, and the other was 28 days to represent long-term chronic overeating.

Each interval saw the men eat around 1,000 more calories per day, which allotted to around 46% more than the amount they usually consumed. The excess of calories consisted primarily of chocolate, chips, and calorie-rich drinks.

Woman reads the nutrition labelling on a bag of chips

(Image credit: Getty)

Following the five-day period, the participants experienced a 14% increase in visceral fat but in relation to other measures of body composition, the five days of excess calories didn't have a striking effect on weight gain. In fact, overall weight and fat mass remained pretty much the same.

However, the same could not be said about the results after 28 days. After a month of calorie binging, the participants' fat mass increased by almost 3 pounds, meaning the average weight gain amongst them was approximately 3.5 pounds.

The researchers had not expected to find that the body manages short periods of overeating by altering the metabolism in a way that favors the use of carbohydrates, encouraging your body to burn food off before its stored as fat. Using carbs in this way helps prevent the liver and muscles from weakening. However, consuming an excess of 1,000 calories or more a day for an extended period of time remains, as expected, not good for you. 

Lead researcher Glenn Wadley, Ph.D., from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University said, “We aren’t advocating that regular binge eating is okay. But from a health perspective, short-term overeating, like during festivals and holidays, can be withstood by the body without long-term effects.”

For the long-term, it is a good idea to always consider your portion sizes and be mindful of the nutritious value of the food you consume. Ultimately you want to eat foods that lead to satiety – read our guide on how to eat healthily for more tips.

It is also key to remember and balance out your diet with exercise so that you can burn calories as you consume them in order to notice weight loss. Investing in a set of the best adjustable dumbbells can be a great way to increase your exercise from home this year.

Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.