What To Do If You Overeat When Losing Weight

One of the recent search terms on my blog was this: “If I ate a whole bag of candy corn while losing weight will I gain all my weight back?”

I smiled when I read this, but in reality, it is a very good question when it comes to weight loss.

Why is it such a great question? Because it happens to almost everyone who is trying to lose weight at one point or another during their dieting experience. It may not be candy corn that makes you ask that question and panic a bit, but there has likely been a time where you have overeaten a certain food and worried you had ruined all your good work.

It could be you ate a whole bag of candy corn in one day, inhaled a “value size” meal or two from McDonald’s, grazed on an entire bag of M&M in one day, or opened and finished off the bag of Oreos or potato chips while you were watching television. The type of food does not really matter. Your reaction to your behavior and what you learn from the experience is really what matters.

First, let’s look at the numbers.

Because it is close to Halloween, let’s start with candy corn as the example. As a FYI, the Brach’s websiteย (under the brand name Ferrera) indicates that nutrition information “Will Be Coming Soon!” Really. ๐Ÿ™

Calories in candy corn

But, I went to the store and looked at a bag in person. 22 pieces of candy corn has 140 calories, according to the bag I picked up at Target. This particular bag had nine servings, meaning the whole bag has 1, 260 calories.

Now to the fast food meal from McDonald’s.

Fast Food Meals and Weight Loss

A “value size” (I hate that term) meal including a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Large Fries, and a Large Coke has 1,300 calories.

The questions of the day are this:

  • What if you do eat the whole bag of candy in one day or eat a value sized meal from McDonald’s, or make some other eating “mistake?”
  • Do you gain your weight back immediately?
  • Is your diet ruined forever?ย 

The answer of the day is this:

No, you did not ruin your diet and weight loss plan forever. No, you will not immediately gain back all your weight. After all, it takes about 3,500 calories to gain a pound. Remember though, that the extra sodium in restaurant foods can make for a tick up on the scale. But if you get back on your healthy eating plan right away, it will come back down.ย 

The better question of this day is this:

Why did you eat all that in the first place when you were trying to lose weight and eat a healthier diet?

So there is a simple answer to the very first question. No, you did not ruin everything by having a binge or just making a poor choice. But there are much more complex answers to the last question. The question of “Why.”

In order to lose weight successfully and keep it off, you doย need to control your eating habits, making healthier choices, exercise, and not binge. But you also need to examine why it is you are eating entire bags of candy corn, still having the desire to indulge in fast food, or feeling out of control when it comes to your favorite foods.

I can’t answer the “Why” for you, although I wish I could. All I can do is encourage you to really think about the why.

I can share with you some of my “whys” for my unhealthy eating behaviors that occurred even when I was on a weight loss plan. For me, I felt very deprived when I was dieting and pushed back against the deprivation by eating more than I should have. I also felt unable to separate emotions from food, which caused me much grief. Also, quite frankly, I didn’t like to be told “No, you can’t/shouldn’t have that.” Those words often sent me right to the grocery store for the junk or the fast food for the value meal.

As I was losing weight that final time I did have brief periods of time when I completely fell off the wagon and ate 1,200 calories in junk in one day. But the difference that last time was that I didn’tย let that decision negatively affect the rest of my weight loss. I examined the “why” of what happened, vowed to do better the next time, and moved on.

The longer I was into my weight loss plan, the less I overindulged like that. And once I hit my goal weight, I found that consistency throughout the weight loss process paid off handsomely.

How do you handle the occasional binge or huge calorie meal? Do you let if affect you for longer than a day?ย Diane

52 thoughts on “What To Do If You Overeat When Losing Weight

  1. Natalie says:

    I just had a bad week but I am not going to let it stop my effort to lose weight!

    There is a great advertisement here in Australia at the moment, encouraging people to give up smoking. (I guess that is a public service thing, not an ad.) It suggests that you don’t look at a slip as a “fail”. Each time you try to give up smoking, you are practising the things you need to do to succeed. Even if it only lasts a few days the first time, six weeks the second time etc, you are taking steps to get there and working out what works for you. I think this applies really well to weight loss. A binge does not mean it’s over. It’s just another step on the path to your healthy weight.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      It does apply to weight loss perfectly. I always encourage people to not focus on their mistakes, but instead focus on all the good decisions they’ve made. And honestly, most of the time there are many more good decisions than bad, it’s just that we let the bad decisions one day snowball into bad decisions the next day.

      Good for you on not letting a bad week stop you from trying! That’s an awesome attitude.

  2. Tanvee says:

    Hi Diane,
    I used to eat junk everytime my day was bad or I was stressed about something…usually when I would feel everything was going out of control I would let food go out of control too…but now I know things always get resolved, it might take time but problems go away but if I start eating junk all my effort also goes away..so I stop and remind myself things will be fine I don’t need food to make them fine

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      Excellent lesson in your comment Tanvee. We all have struggles in our lives, difficult situations, and hard times. Eating because of those hard times never fixes anything but instead adds another layer of difficulty to our lives.

      Thank you for sharing!

  3. MIZ says:

    it’s all that notion –here at least–of finding the car with three flat tires.
    WOULD I PUNCTURE THE FOURTH?
    no.
    Id fix the other three and I pick MYSELF UP AND MOVE FORWARD.

    xo

  4. HappinessSavouredHot says:

    My trainer explained to me that I shouldn’t even bother weighing myself the morning after a day of bad eating, because of water retention.

    I am not for self-flagellation. Instead I do what Miz mentions: I pick myself up and move forward.

    Throughout my fitness/weight loss journey I have had scary binge episodes and some pretty bad eating days, but by eating well and exercising well a good 85% of the time, I still reached my goal.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      That’s a good strategy. As long as one day doesn’t become a month or more of denial. ๐Ÿ™‚ Not that that ever happened to me or anything. . . .

      I agree that making good choices most of the time is the key. We all mess up or eat things we don’t really need, but if we can just get back on our healthy eating plan, all is not lost. In fact, those times can be times of learning and growing.

  5. blackhuff says:

    How do I handle the occasional binge? By getting back onto that wagon with the next meal or day I have and not be so hard on myself about it. This way I make sure that I stay on that wagon for a long/er period.

  6. jamie says:

    I know there are lot of people who eat for emotional reasons, but doesn’t anyone out there eat because they like the food? I do. I wouldn’t assume everyone out there has an emotional problem with food.

    • Lori says:

      I have to say that I agree with this. Sometimes it is the sheer pleasure of the food, how it feels and how it tastes, since I am a totally tactil person. A lot of times that is the case with me.

      • L says:

        For me, the wonderful taste and appearance of foods I love may drive me to overeat sometimes, but its never the WONDERFUL taste of fast food that gets me there. Even great chefs keep the weight off through portion control and exercise; and staying consciously aware of all the other things their bodies were made to do, besides eat. I’m trying to focus on that myself, these days. Another great blog, Diane. Thanks!

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I’m not assuming that at all. I have known people who just enjoy food and eat more than they need. But honestly, if someone is significantly overweight as I was, there is often an emotional component to that kind of weight problem.

  7. Ann Wilson says:

    Wow, that was a great post. I had one of those weekends. It started off innocent enough on Saturday with a splurge meal, but Sunday it snowballed out of control. This morning I have been trying to evaluate what happened Sunday. I have what I call an alter ego, Fluffy, who takes control of my eating habits at times. When I indulge in a splurge meal, it almost seems to give her permission to come on out and feast, do lazy things and give me a bad mood. I haven’t seen her in quite a while. The only way I know of making her go away is to do an intense exercise the next morning after a splurge meal. Which I’m thinking pretty much makes sense if you look at some of the science behind exercise and food. So, next splurge meal I’ll be planning the next morning’s exercise routine at the same time. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hopefully, it will work if not time to re-evaluate.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      Exercise is definitely a way to combat the calories and examining the “whys” of Fluffy coming out is important as well. I think we all have a Fluffy somewhere in us even if we aren’t aware of it as you are.

      I never named my overeating self but there were many times when I felt out of control with my food choices and would sit back after inhaling a half gallon of ice cream and think, “What just happened?”

      Over time I learned to identify those emotions (sadness, anxiety, boredom, etc.) and developed some firm strategies to put that overeating self to rest. I still have to work at it but know that the effort is worth it.

  8. Contemplative Fitness says:

    I occasionally have days when I eat in excess of 5,000 or 7,000 calories. I actually did the math on this not long ago, and in the scope of my months eating, one day like this is still less than 2% bad eating, which puts my good eating at 98%. I’m down…

    As to the “why” I do this, it’s simple, I’m tired, I’m stressed, and I’m hungry. Never more than one day like that per month.

  9. Jody - Fit at 55 says:

    Great post Diane!!! Like I have written before.. own it & move on.. don’t dwell om it or let it set you back! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Lori says:

    An excellent post. So true. It is our reaction to it. The self loathing and then we eat mroe because we feel bad from the self loathing. At least that is how it goes with me. And yes, deciding to let it go is the best medicine. If you really want to atone for sinful eating you could exercise. But all of that is laden with guilt and guilt is not helpful. Maybe a better way to put it is. If you want to counterbalance overeating in a healthful way, do an extra long work out. It will help. And you will feel like you have the power to help yourself.

    My husband has maintained a 60 pound weight loss now for 7 years. He has his times where he overeats, but then he lets it go and does some extra exercising and moves right past it.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I know people who combat the overeating with exercise and that does work for them. I agree with your points about guilt not being a helpful emotion. Instead of guilt making me “behave better” with regards to food, it just caused me to start into a downward spiral of eating.

      Congrats to your husband – that’s an awesome accomplishment.

  11. Kim says:

    Great post!!
    I think that we have to apply this to lots of our daily activities. Just because we have a bad day/run/workout…..doesn’t mean we are done forever. We have to be in a state of constantly trying to better ourselves and we are all going to have set-backs along the way.

  12. LINDA says:

    hi Diane
    I enjoy your helpful blogs. I’m trying to keep off 30 lbs I lost in 2010 – gained about half back last year and now I am within 5 lbs of goal. What I wonder is how you are able not to fall back into bad habits, like indulging in sweets, etc – to be able to keep all your weight off without even gaining back 5 or 10 lbs is amazing! I’ve been reading David Kirchoff’s book Man Meets Scale and he admits his failures regularly in the book – like navigating the holidays, etc – and kind of makes fun of his indulgences. Sounds like me – it’s hard to completely change and to keep all the weight off all the time! Wonder how you do it?

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      Hi Linda,

      That is a great question! You are right in that I haven’t gained back the weight with the exception of the four pregnancies in 15 years.

      For me, I really made a 180 degree turn from my obese lifestyle to my non-obese life. I changed how I viewed food, acknowledged the difficulties I had with emotional eating, committed to lifelong exercise, and am always open to learning new things about food and nutrition.

      I don’t find weight maintenance tedious, but rather an exciting adventure.

      I totally understand the weight yo-yo cycle. Lose some, gain some, lose some again. I’m happy that you are so close to your goal weight again. Focus hard on the lessons that you are learning now in the weight loss phase and work hard on continuing those healthier lessons into maintenance.

  13. Hope K says:

    When I was on vacation recently, I passed a Krispy Kreme doughnut store. I love their raspberry filled, glazed doughnuts. A flood of nostalgia nearly drowned me. I terrible craving came over me. And my impulse control went out the window as temptation took hold. So I got one. And ate it within seconds!

    Then it hit me. Those few seconds were not worth sabotaging my weight control plan. Sure, it tasted good when I was gobbling it down, but that was only for a moment. Also, it left an almost burning aftertaste in my mouth, since I normally don’t eat sugar anymore. But the most important thing I did was leave the store immediately after I ate that junk.

    The rest of my trip I ate mostly healthily and did a lot of sightseeing by foot. I actually lost a half a pound on vacation. So that one doughnut didn’t ruin my weight loss plan. But if I had eaten a dozen, it might have kicked off a binge run that could have ruined my weight loss so far.

    That doughnut taught me a lesson. If you fall off the horse, get right back on!

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      HI Hope!

      I totally get the food nostalgia because I still feel that way about certain restaurant foods. I can almost taste them but fortunately I, like you, am able to stop the cravings and stay focused. I know that for me, one taste often leads to another and then I’ve blown my calorie budget for the day.

      Good for you on losing weight on your vacation – that is a true accomplishment.

  14. Dr. J says:

    Having these days can be very discouraging, I’m sure, and not making it worse is so important!

    Just to add to what you said, Diane, is that my concern with days like these is that eating these high fat, sugar and salty foods will keep us addicted and make it harder in the future to not repeat the same behaviors.

  15. Linda says:

    Great post Diane! I used to think that one bad day or meal would ruin my weight loss forever and then would go back to old eating habits. It took me many weight loss atempts to learn that is not the case.

  16. Margaret says:

    I’m coming off a very bad couple of weeks, still not sure what triggered it but I know where it’s NOT taking me. To stop it I spent time trying on the clothes that I want to take on my vacation in a few weeks. As I tried each piece on, I reminded myself to remember where I came from, I couldn’t fit these clothes a year ago, now I have beautiful clothes that fit right and are not the largest size in the store. Next, I tossed the junk food that had started accumulating. Finally I’m planning a two or three day detox focused on plant based foods to get the dairy, white flour and other trigger foods back out of my diet.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      That is a great strategy Margaret – thank you for sharing. I know other people reading this will find that so motivating!

      Congratulations on having a strategy that works and then taking the often hard step of tossing junk food and getting back to healthy eating. You can do this!

  17. quix says:

    The most freeing thing I figured out is that I didn’t have to be perfect. I just had to be consistent. It didn’t matter if one day, I made an unhealthy choice or two, as long as the majority of choices I made were healthy. If I ate a whole bag of candy corn, then I just realized that I just had to be good for a while (not forever, not “never do that again or your worthless”) and it would all balance out.

    It’s better than the “all or nothing” mentality of being either perfect or worthless. Eating all the junkfood before “starting on Monday”. Flatting the fourth tire since the other 3 are already. Makes no sense objectively, but dang if it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense when you’re down in it.

  18. Charles says:

    What I have come to realize is that if you are craving something, it is my body’s way of saying I am missing something in my diet. So I will not deprive myself of what I am craving, I just fit it into my calorie budget for the week. This has let me lose my weight I needed to lose, and I have maintained that weight for the last 20 months.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      Congratulations on the weight loss and on the weight maintenance! That is wonderful that you found what technique works for you. I know a lot of people who handle cravings just like you do – have a little bit and be satisfied with that amount.

  19. Kara says:

    I knew someone a long time ago who taught me this analogy and I’ve stuck with it ever since.

    You’re walking down the stairs. On the 3rd stair down you trip. You grab the railing, clutch on, maybe you’ve twisted your ankle a little and it hurts. Ouch.

    So now you have a choice. Do you say “well that was clumsy, I need to be more careful”?
    Or do you say “screw it, I’m going to throw myself down the stairs and break my leg”?

    Obviously you’re not going to throw yourself down the stairs because you tripped. You’re going to shake it off, be a little more careful, and keep walking down the stairs until you get to the bottom.

    A bag of candy corn, a McDonalds meal, a Krispy Kreme doughnut .. those are all minor stumbles. It’s when you let that donut turn into a dozen, or one tomorrow, and one the day after that, and another the day after that … that you’ve thrown yourself down the stairs.

    So stop throwing yourself down the stairs.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I love that analogy! It is so applicable to many aspects of our lives!

      You are right that not letting minor stumbles turn into major ones is a key to successful weight loss. And yes – stop throwing ourselves down the stairs!

  20. Karen P says:

    Yes, I did overeat on my 3 trips to weight maintenance. All for different reasons. The 3rd time, when I did occasionally overeat, I did not feel well. The emotional/trigger eating put me in a bad space in my mind. When I stayed on track, I felt great.

    I decided I was going to tackle the emotional/binge eating and get it to a point where I could maintain my weight. Others did and I decided I would also be one of them.And I did. I picked effective problem solving tools and stopped the eat, repent, repeat cycle.

    Best search terms ever!!! Love it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      That is so great that you were able to identify those behaviors and change them! I too had to identify the behaviors and develop some techniques to help me stop eating from emotions and sabotaging myself.

  21. Janis says:

    … the Brachโ€™s website (under the brand name Ferrera) indicates that nutrition information โ€œWill Be Coming Soon!โ€

    In a way, the “nutrition information” relevant to candy corn is already up there — none whatsoever. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Janis says:

    You now, in a way I think this kind of “perfectionism” is almost the monkey on your back trying to manufacture an excuse. Think about it — which philosophy do you think that little monster would rather you believed?

    “I ate one doughnut, so I’m doomed! What’s the number for the all-night pizza place again? I’ll take three large pepperonis!”

    “I ate one doughnut, but you know what? Too bad, I still have to stay on this healthy-eating ride.”

    The monkey on your back is the one that WANTS you to believe that one doughnut will destroy everything, because that way it gets what it wants: three pizzas and a pan of brownies. The last thing it wants to hear is that one bag of potato chips is NOT an excuse, that it’s just too bad, but you still have to stay strapped into the healthy-eating car and not get out.

  23. Maren says:

    I like the expression that one unhealthy meal won’t make you fat, just as one healthy meal won’t make you skinny. If that one unhealthy meal works as a trigger of some sort, then that’s another story I guess. I struggled with a lot of guilt after eating “bad” things, and that would lead to even more eating. Now I try to compromise more.. It’s hard finding a balance though. ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. Sagan says:

    This: “Your reaction to your behavior and what you learn from the experience is really what matters.” So true! If you can assess what happened and forgive yourself for it and move past it, rather than letting yourself spiral into more overeating, that’s a huge step.

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