I overate. Now what?
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Maybe it was your birthday, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Or maybe it was just the weekend and you needed to let lose after a rough week. And maybe you ate or drank a little more than you usually do.
The next morning, you wake up and are trepidatious as you slowly step on the scale.
You see the number. You panic. Everything’s ruined. The number is 5 lbs higher than it was just 24 hours ago.
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. But how much of that overnight weight gain is actually fat? Turns out, not a whole lot.
I want to talk about why short-term overfeeding is nothing to worry about.
Disclaimer: Before I move forward, I want to make it clear that gaining weight or fat is not a “bad” thing. It is just information; take it for what it’s worth and move forward.
One gram of fat is about 9 calories, so you’d theoretically need to eat an excess of over 4000 calories to gain a pound of fat (though some research suggests that it may be around 3500 calories). Regardless, is it really that simple? If you ate 3500 calories more than you needed one day, will you automatically gain a pound of fat? As you probably already guessed, the answer is a resounding NO.
Here are some things to consider before panicking and feeling like you need to restrict your food intake the next day:
1. Diet-induced thermogenesis
Eating burns calories. Our bodies expend energy to break down food, release enzymes, absorb nutrients, shuttle food through the digestive tract, and move nutrients through our bodies. The more we eat, the more energy we require to digest the food, and some of it even gets burned off as heat. Ever notice that you feel warmer after eating?
Though it varies according to the composition of the food, around 10% of our total energy expenditure comes just from digesting.
2. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis
When you eat more, you may feel restless and end up subconsciously moving more; this is called NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis and can look like fidgeting, twirling your hair, or shaking your leg. It actually accounts for a significant part of our physical activity energy expenditure, often more so than actual intentional exercise. Don’t underestimate the impact of NEAT!
3. Glycogen storage
When you eat an excess amount of carbohydrates, your body doesn’t immediately convert it all to fat. Its first priority is to fill up glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, and with glycogen comes water. In your liver, there’s 2.4 grams of water for every gram of glycogen, while in your muscles, there’s 3 grams of water for every gram of glycogen.
In other words, a lot of the “extra” weight you might see on the scale is just water and glycogen!
4. Fat storage
If there is still energy from carbs left after glycogen stores are replenished, then your body will convert it to fat in a process called de novo lipogenesis.
5. Sodium and water retention
Also keep in mind that when we have our occasional feasts, or short-term overfeeding, we typically eat foods that are high in sodium as well. As you very well may now, where sodium goes, so does water. This is the familiar “bloating” sensation we’ve all experienced before and this water retention accounts for much of the “weight gain” the day after we have a little extra fun with our food.
The take-away: What should you do after a binge? Nothing really.
Just go back to eating however you normally eat. Your body is very intelligent and will tell you what it needs. Listen to your hunger and satiety cues and your body will stabilize to its natural happy weight without any extra burden on you!