Here’s what medical experts, registered dietitians, and weight management specialists say about the damage done by one-time splurges and their tips for getting back on track.
Relax (For a Moment)
The good news is, one meal is not going to ruin you if you eat sensibly and exercise regularly the rest of the time and get back to your routine, experts say. You need to eat 3,500 calories to gain one pound of body fat, so it’s unlikely that a single overindulgence will show up on the scale.
“We call these ‘taking time-outs,’ and we all take them,” says Rebecca S. Reeves, DrPH, RD, assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “No one is perfect in their eating habits. What we have to learn is that we are giving ourselves permission to do this, and as soon as it’s over, we should go back to the eating plan we normally follow. This does not give us permission to continue to overeat and binge.”
The problem is, overeating is not a one-time affair for most Americans, says cardiologist Allen Dollar, MD, chief of cardiology at Grady Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
“Most people overeat somewhere between 500 and 1,500 calories every single day,” Dollar says. “If they don’t consciously think about their dietary intake every day, they will be overweight.”
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Too many dieters throw in the towel after a splurge, says Kathleen M. Laquale, PhD, a licensed nutritionist, athletic trainer, and associate professor at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.
“You may feel defeated and say, ‘Oh I blew my diet, and I’ll just eat the whole Christmas season and the heck with it,” Laquale says. “When you do overindulge, don’t be self-deprecating. You overeat for one day; let’s get back on track again. Let’s be more conscious of our portion sizes the next day.”
Think of Your Diet Over the Course of Several Days
It’s typical to eat more sensibly during the week and take in more calories on the weekend, says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, clinical associate professor at Boston University.
So if you eat more calories than you should at a party on a weeknight, consider that one of your “weekend” days and compensate for it accordingly.
“In other words, you had a party on a Tuesday, and that party was quite fun and it almost became like a Saturday,” Salge Blake says. “Just make sure that the days that come after that festive occasion reflect more of the structured Monday-through-Thursday eating pattern, rather than the weekend.”