Q: I know we don’t say “cheat” when talking about food indulgences, but my treat day (Food Rule #8) went way wrong. How long will it take to show up on the scale?
A: For the most part the scale is a lousy indicator of any damage caused by a binge. There are about 3,500 calories in a pound of fat. But before you bust out your abacus, keep in mind that the notion that eating 3,500 calories beyond your normal daily caloric burn (2000-2500 calories on average) will automatically cause you to gain a pound of fat does not work. In other words, to gain five pounds of fat over a weekend, you’d need to eat about 33 slices of Marie Callender’s Pumpkin Pie (with whipped cream) on top of your normal food intake.
So why does the scale say I’m up FIVE POUNDS?
I’m sorry, but you just didn’t eat that much last weekend–and if you did, which you didn’t, you may want to see me for a deep dive coaching session (www.coachrozharris.com). Other factors–including hormone shifts and gut bacterial levels–mean that exact math doesn’t apply. However, unless you have access to thousands of dollars worth of lab equipment, it still serves as a vaguely decent rough estimate for our purposes.
To repeat, to gain five pounds of fat over a weekend, you’d need to eat about 33 slices of Marie Callender’s Pumpkin Pie (with whipped cream) on top of your normal food intake.
So why did you step on the scale Monday morning to discover you’ve put on FIVE pounds? Odds are that it’s probably either temporary fluid retention due to too much salt, or an indication that your muscles are fuel-starved (because you didn’t get in all your water over the weekend). This is why we moved our weekly weigh-in to Thursday, from Monday.
The Biology on the Salt Thing is Simple . . .
Your body likes to maintain a certain salinity in your extracellular fluid. If you consume too much salt, the salinity goes up, so your body holds on to more water to restore balance. Once you stop consuming all that salt, balance is restored, and the water flushes out.
But, the fuel-starved muscle thing is a little more complex.
Your muscles contain their own internal carb-based fuel source called glycogen. Glycogen also brings water into muscle. When you consistently eat at a calorie deficit, your muscles tend to run low on glycogen–which also means they’re dehydrated. So if you eat at a surplus, your body recharges your glycogen stores, increasing the fluid volume in your muscles, and bringing up the number on the scale.
I know a number of very fit women who claim they can’t eat more than 1,200-1,400 calories a day without gaining weight. While they’re technically correct, odds are that the “weight” they see when they increase calories is actually their glycogen stores being restored. It’s sad because if they actually increased calories with healthy food, they’d probably see a boost in performance because their muscles would be properly fueled.
“Hmmm, this sounds so familiar,” says Kelli, your trainer!
Chronic dieting aside, there are times when an increase in calories thrown into the middle of a longer period of eating at a calorie deficit might even benefit you. If you’ve been eating at a deficit for a while, your body can slow down your metabolism, slowing weight loss or bringing it to a standstill entirely.
Revving metabolism is key.
Occasionally jacking up the calories may relax this slowdown. This is one of the reasons why people doing our programs sometimes lose a few pounds even after finishing and resuming a higher calorie diet. It can also happen during a recovery phase when someone is eating the same amount but exercising less (therefore burning less calories) and technically creating a smaller overall deficit. In both instances, it’s a sign that they may have been better off eating slightly more the whole time.
The mental thing is harder.
That said, we wouldn’t go on a pizza binge just to test this, keep your nutrition in line with the new 8 Food Rules. Because the guilt and frustration you may experience after a binge, can take you way off course. The most important thing to remember is that wallowing in remorse is useless unless you have access to a time machine. Every road has the occasional pothole. You’ll still get to where you want if you shake it off and keep driving.
Written by Denis Faye and tweaked by Coach Roz
Dennis Faye – www.denisfaye.com