New research shows that a 'cheat day' might not be that bad

The study was only conducted with already healthy men, however.

pizza slices

A Margherita pie is seen served at the famous Lombardi's Pizza amid the COVID-19 pandemic on July 07, 2020 in New York, New York.

Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images
  • A new study at the University of Bath found that binge eating on occasion doesn't have major metabolic consequences.
  • 14 healthy young men were instructed to eat pizza until full or to keep going until they couldn't eat another bite.
  • Their blood sugar levels were similar to having eaten normally and blood lipids levels were only slightly higher than normal.


The eternal diet dilemma: to have a cheat day or to never indulge?

Researchers at the Centre for Nutrition, Exercise and Metabolism at the University of Bath wanted to understand the effects of overeating, given the prevalence of obesity in the Western world. They asked 14 men to eat pizza—or, as they wonderfully phrased it, a "homogenous mixed-macronutrient meal." Some of the volunteers ate a lot of pizza.

That was the point. The men, all between the ages of 22 and 37, were either told to eat until full or to keep going until they couldn't possibly eat another bite. The results of this study were published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Despite some men eating up to two-and-a-half pizzas in one sitting (roughly 5,000 calories), their metabolism didn't change much. Their blood sugar levels were similar to having eaten a normal meal; their blood lipids levels were only slightly higher. All of this was a surprise to the researchers.

Not that all went swimmingly. Blood insulin was 50 percent higher and the signaling hormones that scream "hey, stop eating," were altered. Waist circumference and sagittal abdominal diameter increased in the overeating group, though for how long is not known.

The researchers noticed that, despite the prevalence of obesity, "no study has ever examined the metabolic response to eating beyond feeling comfortably full in a single eating occasion." They pulled from a few studies that detail the effects of overeating, yet those focus on weight gain, not metabolic changes.

Marion Nestle: Why Do We Overeat?

Lead researcher Aaron Hengist says the results showed the resilience of our body during times of excess.

"Our findings show that the body actually copes remarkably well when faced with a massive and sudden calorie excess. Healthy humans can eat twice as much as 'full' and deal effectively with this huge initial energy surplus."

Of course, these were all young, healthy men, which will skew the outcome. Still, they expected more of a metabolic impact.

The researchers also focused on mood. Four hours after eating maximally, overeaters had no desire to eat sweet foods. This contradicts previous research that shows the brain's reward centers are food-specific—pizza shouldn't change cravings for sweets. The overeating groups also felt lethargic after their binge, which is to be expected.

The researchers are not giving a pass for overeating. Caloric intake remains the main driver of obesity. Signaling hormones are altered with continued overeating, making it difficult for the obese to know when to stop. Regular overeating changes body composition, metabolic rates, and mood.

In the past, humans had to stock up on food when they found it while hunting and foraging. We are equipped to handle the occasional caloric overload. James Betts, who was also involved in the study, says that an occasional binge for healthy people is not necessarily a bad thing.

"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."

Acknowledging the study's limitations of age, health, and gender of participants, the researchers are planning on investigating the metabolic and mood effects of operating on women, obese volunteers, and the elderly.

--

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter, Facebook and Substack. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."


Fast superhighway through the Solar System discovered

Scientists find routes using arches of chaos that can lead to much faster space travel.

Arches of chaos in space manifolds.

Courtesy: Nataša Todorović, Di Wu and Aaron Rosengren/Science Advances
Surprising Science
  • Researchers discovered a route through the Solar System that can allow for much faster spacecraft travel.
  • The path takes advantage of "arches of chaos" within space manifolds.
  • The scientists think this "celestial superhighway" can help humans get to the far reaches of the galaxy.
Keep reading Show less

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain

A new episode of "Your Brain on Money" illuminates the strange world of consumer behavior and explores how brands can wreak havoc on our ability to make rational decisions.

Apple logo

Vegefox.com via Adobe Stock
popular
  • Effective branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
  • Our new series "Your Brain on Money," created in partnership with Million Stories, recently explored the surprising ways brands can affect our behavior.
  • Brands aren't going away. But you can make smarter decisions by slowing down and asking yourself why you're making a particular purchase.
Keep reading Show less

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain

Powerful branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.

How Apple and Nike have branded your brain
Sponsored by Singleton
  • Powerful branding can not only change how you feel about a company, it can actually change how your brain is wired.
  • "We love to think of ourselves as rational. That's not how it works," says UPenn professor Americus Reed II about our habits (both conscious and subconscious) of paying more for items based primarily on the brand name. Effective marketing causes the consumer to link brands like Apple and Nike with their own identity, and that strong attachment goes deeper than receipts.
  • Using MRI, professor and neuroscientist Michael Platt and his team were able to see this at play. When reacting to good or bad news about the brand, Samsung users didn't have positive or negative brain responses, yet they did have "reverse empathy" for bad news about Apple. Meanwhile, Apple users showed a "brain empathy response for Apple that was exactly what you'd see in the way you would respond to somebody in your family."
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast