You need to eat 3,500 calories to gain one pound of body fat. One unplanned treat -- a slice of cake, some fries, or even a rich meal -- probably won't make a major difference on the scale.
“We call these ‘taking timeouts,’ and we all take them,” says San Antonio nutrition consultant Rebecca Reeves, RD. “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.”
The goal is to not make a habit of it.
“Most people overeat somewhere between 500 and 1,500 calories every single day,” says cardiologist Allen Dollar, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.
Don't Give Up
Too many dieters throw in the towel after a splurge, says Kathleen M. Laquale, PhD, a nutritionist and athletic trainer.
“You may feel defeated and say, ‘Oh, I blew my diet … 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.”
Cut Back a Bit, But Not Too Much
Don't try to make up for the extra calories by skipping meals the next day. That just leaves you hungry.
Instead, cut back throughout the day with a series of small meals packed with fruits and vegetables. Their fiber will help you feel full, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, clinical associate professor at Boston University.
Wait until you’re hungry. Then have a light breakfast such as a bowl of low-fat yogurt and berries.
Mid-morning snack: a piece of fruit and an ounce of low-fat cheese
Lunch: a big salad with lean protein such as fish or chicken, or a whole wheat pita pocket with lettuce and tuna or turkey
Afternoon snack: a cup of vegetable soup and an orange
Dinner: a piece of fish and plenty of vegetables
Skip the Scale
After a feast, you may weigh more. That’s not because you gained body fat, but because of water retention from extra salt that was in the food you ate.
So don't weigh yourself. Salge Blake tells her clients to weigh themselves on Fridays, when they’re likely to weigh their lowest, since people tend to overindulge more often on the weekends than on weekdays.
Stick to Your Normal Exercise Routine
Exercise is a good idea. But don't do a mega-workout to try to burn off all the calories you just ate.
“If you overload and do more than your regular routine, you could strain a muscle, you could hurt a joint. So muscle soreness may set in. Then you can’t exercise,” Laquale says.
Track What You Eat
Set a goal for your daily calories, and write down what you eat. That helps you stay aware of what you’re eating, Dollar says.
"You have to be conscious every time your hand goes from a plate to your mouth.”