Whoa, Nelly!

Need another reason not to go on an eating spree while on vacation (or over the holidays)? A recent study out of Sweden found that embracing an unhealthy lifestyle (read: becoming an over-eating couch potato) for a single month had lingering ramifications for health.

This was a small study (which means it should be taken with a grain of salt for now, until the findings are replicated in a larger study), involving 12 men and six women, all healthy and all of normal weight, with and average age of 26. For one single, solitary month, they restricted their activity to 5,000 steps a day (the upper limit of a “sedentary” lifestyle) and increased their food intake by 70 percent (mostly from fast food).

This group of human guinea pigs gained an average of 14 pounds in that month. They went, on average, from 20 percent body fat to 24 percent body fat. They did return to their lower-calorie, higher-activity ways after the study ended, and six months later had lost most of the weight, but some of that newly gained fat stuck around (an average of three pounds per person).

But wait…there’s more! When researchers checked in with the participants a full two-and-a-half years after the study ended, they were carrying around an average of seven pounds of fat more than before they began the study.

For comparison’s sake, the study included a control group of healthy, normal-weight men and women of similar age. Only this group did not change their eating or physical activity habits. They did not gain weight during the month of the study (as you would expect), and they did not have that seven-pound problem two-and-a-half years later!

The researchers, based on these results, believe that a short term of excessive overeating, combined with lack of activity, created physiological changes that make future fat loss harder.

Again, this is a small study, and is not proof of anything, but it does contribute to the body of research and general knowledge that rather than live life alternating between being “on” a diet or “off” a diet, we need to navigate our way to a healthy way of eating that we can live with every day of the year, with brief timeouts for a bit of indulgence. By a bit, I mean a special restaurant meal, or Christmas dinner, or a piece of cake at a birthday party. I do not mean then entirety of vacation, or happy hours four nights a week, or the period from Thanksgiving to New Years. Unless you want to replicate this study on your own!

The study results were published in the latest issue of Nutrition & Metabolism, in case you wish to peruse the original article yourself.