When it comes to food, we’ve all experienced times when we’ve definitely overindulged. Many people try to deal with a caloric overload by exercising, hoping to erase the temporary damage done.
Well — according to a new study just published in “Nutrition and Metabolism,” erasing the effects of a caloric binge may not be so easy, nor are the effects necessarily temporary. A research team has discovered that a short period of overeating can create fat cells that are harder to lose.
For the study, 18 patients were placed on a restricted physical activity regimen that involved the equivalent of no more than 5,000 steps per day. Five thousand steps, the team noted, is the threshold for a sedentary lifestyle, whereas a physically active lifestyle involves 10,000 steps or more.
Participants were then fed diets that involved a 70% jump in daily caloric intake — mainly from fast food — amounting to about 5,750 calories per day. The study also included a comparison group who did not change their diet/activity.
By the end of the month, the junk-food diet group gained an average of 14 pounds. Their fat mass went from about 20% of total body weight, to nearly 24% after the month-long calorie binge.
At this point you might be wondering who in their right mind would sign up for such a study. The participants were subsequently monitored and coached back to their original weight over a six-month period. However — here’s the interesting point about this study — one year after the study’s end, participants still registered a noticeable gain in fat mass (of about three pounds on average) compared with their pre-study status.
It seems the fat stuck around despite the fact that the participants had returned to their lower-calorie pre-study diet and more active routines.
Now the results get even more alarming: two-and-a-half years after the study, fat mass gains were even greater, registering just under seven pounds on average (!), the researchers found. There was no such long-term change among the control group who had stuck to their usual diet.
Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that a brief period of excessive overeating, coupled with reduced activity, may change body composition and lead to a significant boost in body fat levels. And these changes appear to last, despite a return to healthier behaviors.
A little food for thought the next time you’re tempted to overindulge. A one- or two-day junk food binge might not cause too much harm, but anything approaching a month, this study seems to suggest, is going to create long-term problems with weight gain.