Cheat meal time has to be the most anticipated day of the week for most in the fitness industry — just ahead of chest day, of course. The feeling of digging into a stack of pancakes, a greasy sandwich, or a sugary baked good after six days of chicken and rice, oatmeal, and 97-percent lean ground beef simply can’t be beat.
But it’s common knowledge those foods will still do some harm to our bodies … or, will they? A new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition actually just found out that — at least for young, healthy men — an occasional binge of up to 3,000 additional calories won’t cause many, if any, health repercussions.
Researchers from the University of Bath in Great Britain found that healthy men, aged 22-37, were able to eat double their usual daily caloric intake without suffering spikes in blood sugar, and that triglycerides (a type of fat that, when unused by the body, are stored in fat cells) were only slightly higher than they were after a regular meal.
For the study, test participants were asked to eat until they were satiated — that is, until they felt properly nourished without feeling overfilled. Immediately after that, they were asked to eat up to, and sometimes over, 3,000 calories in the form of pizza (roughly one-and-a-half pies).
The findings, the researchers said, demonstrates how adaptable the body can be to stressful situations.
“This study reveals that humans are capable of eating twice as much food as is needed to make us feel ‘full’, but that our bodies are well adapted to an excessive delivery of dietary nutrients at one huge meal,” Professor James Betts, who oversaw the study, said in a release. “Specifically, those tested in this study were able to efficiently use or store the nutrients they ingested during the pizza-eating challenge, such that the levels of sugar and fats in their blood were not much higher than when they ate half as much food.”
It’s important to point out, though, that habitual overeating will lead to health problems and obesity.
“The main problem with overeating is that it adds more stored energy to our bodies (in the form of fat), which can culminate in obesity if you overeat day after day,” Betts says. “However, this study shows that if an otherwise healthy person overindulges occasionally, for example eating a large buffet meal or Christmas lunch, then there are no immediate negative consequences in terms of losing metabolic control.”
The study was also very limited in that it only used healthy, young men as participants and not overweight or older people, or women — though the researchers say they will look at those populations next.