Q: How many days of overindulging on vacation will make me gain weight, and how can I get back on track?
A: There isn't a magic number of "vacation days" you can spend eating all the Mexican food and margaritas you want before you start to gain weight, but the good news is there are certain tactics that can help your body "recover" after a few days off the wagon.
First, to determine how much weight you'll gain after a few days of unhealthy eating, use the same calculations you'd use if you want to drop weight. An extra 1,000 calories per day would cause you to gain about two pounds per week, while an extra 500 calories per day which would cause a one-pound weight gain in a week.
Secondly, consider how you were eating previously. If you have been chronically under-eating and over-restricting calories, you will most likely gain more than one or two pounds in a week. We underestimate the terrible effects on our metabolism that chronic under-eating has, and unproportional weight gain with increased calories is one of them.
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However, there is also an interesting upside to eating more food. Research shows that when you overeat for several days, your body responds by increasing the amount of calories burned. That's right, overfeeding (the scientific name for overeating) leads to a temporary increase in your metabolic rate that can range from 4 to 12 percent. But you should note this increase in calories burned does not completely counteract the increase in calories consumed, so you'll still gain weight.
Fortunately, if you've overindulged on delicious food on vacation (which is great!), you can easily recover. Simply go back to your normal clean-eating habits and active lifestyle, and any weight that you gained while on vacation will come off. What you shouldn't do is start aggressively dieting and restricting your calories. This can promote a "binge and restrict pattern," which may or may not have have negative impacts on your metabolism in the short term, but over the long term it lays the groundwork for an unhealthy relationship with food.
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If you would like to take a more proactive approach to losing those extra vacation pounds, try calorie/carb cycling. This approach was shown in a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition to be almost twice as effective as just restricting your calories. Here's the plan that researchers used:
● Five days a week: Follow a slightly restricted, Mediterranean-inspired diet (1500 calories/day, 40/30/30 percent ratio of calories from carbs/protein/fat)
● Two days a week: Follow a carbohydrate- and calorie-restricted diet (650 calories/day, fewer than 50 grams carbs/day)
You can select when to follow the low-calorie days any day of the week, but I recommend that you choose nonconsecutive and non-training days. This style of eating not only showed greater improvements in fat loss over the course of 12 weeks (nine pounds vs. five pounds of fat), but it also led to greater improvement in metabolic health. This diet approach was also shown to be an effective means of longer-term (six months) weight loss, even when the higher calorie days were set at 1,900 calories per day.