Fat Gain From a Single Meal

You’ve been dieting. You’ve lost a lot of weight and are looking impressively lean, but constant hunger has set in. In front of you is a feast. It looks and smells utterly intoxicating.

Surely letting loose for just one meal can’t hurt… can it?

Macaron pile

The Barbecue of Doom

That was my situation. I was six months into my diet, and I went to a barbecue.

I intended to stick to my meal plan, but the hunger that had built up over six months of severe restriction was irresistible. Self-restraint broke in a flood of greasy sausages and high calorie desserts.

God it tasted good.

Inadvertent Science

It turned out to be an accidental experiment into the possible fat gain from a single meal. In hindsight it’s fascinating, but at the time the effects were more horrifying and devastating.

It’s common to hear that if you slip up on a diet the effects are minimal, after all it’s just one meal out of many. Besides, fat gain from a single meal is limited. As long as you keep to your plan most of the time, you’ll be fine.

In general that’s true. Things change with metabolic adaptation, though. My poorly designed diet had slowed my metabolism to a crawl—I had vicious hunger, perpetual light-headedness, and a lot of fatigue.

At that point the body is screaming for fat stores to be restored, and everything becomes geared towards making it happen.

Mountainous Fat Gain From a Single Meal

In that one extended meal I put on more than 5 kg (11 lb).

Of course it wasn’t all fat—some of it would have been carbohydrate storage, water weight from the salty food, and extra digestive tract content.

Yet it wasn’t all mere water retention as many people would insist. After that binge I went straight back on my plan, but the extra weight took weeks to disappear. That doesn’t happen with water weight.

Hard Lessons

I’d been suffering a lot to get lean, so the set-back was rough at the time. However, it was a useful opportunity to learn.

There are two main takeaways.

  1. Highly restrictive diets that prohibit the food you love are terrible. You may last months without straying from the plan, but willpower eventually breaks. (The next thing you know you’ve spent weeks eating all the restricted foods, and are fatter than when you started the diet. This is what eventually happened to me after my diet ended.)
  2. A slowed metabolism is unavoidable at a certain level of leanness, even with a well-designed diet. Knowing how high the fat gain from a single meal can be is good motivation not to reach for that extra serving of chocolate, at least until metabolism has recovered (which can be achieved with a reverse diet phase).

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