It'd be nice if that accidental overindulgence would find a way to burn itself off, but unfortunately, that's just not the case. Binge eating could, in theory, slightly increase your metabolism -- but that tiny effect is dwarfed next to the negative effects of binging, and the best way to boost your metabolism is to engage in more activity during the day. If you find yourself binging regularly, or you're struggling in your relationship with food, reach out to a professional for guidance in getting your eating habits under control.
Food Intake and Metabolism
Simply digesting the food you eat contributes a small amount to your overall metabolism. So, technically, the more you eat, the more calories you burn via digestion. These metabolism-boosting benefits aren't even close to canceling out the calories in the foods you eat during your binge, though -- you'll burn about 30 percent of the calories in protein, 7 percent of the calories from carbohydrates and just 3 percent of the calories you get from fat.
Exactly how many extra calories you burn depends on the food you eat. If you binge on half of a 14-inch cheese pizza, for example, you'll take in about 1,110 calories, which comes from 39 grams of fat, 134 grams of digestible carbohydrates and 47 grams of protein. You'll burn about 56 calories digesting the protein, 38 calories digesting the carbs and 11 calories digesting the fat, for a total metabolism boost of 105 calories. That hardly puts a dent in the 1,110 calories you ate, however, so that slight metabolic boost won't help you lose weight.
Binging, Weight Gain and Metabolism
Binge eating often leads to weight gain, which can indirectly boost your metabolism. Weighing more means your body has to work harder to perform your day-to-day activities, so you end up burning more calories throughout the day. For example, a sedentary 20-year-old man who is 6 feet tall and 165 pounds burns roughly 2,650 calories each day. If he gained 20 pounds through binge eating, he'd up his daily calorie burn to around 2,800 calories daily -- a metabolic boost of about 150 calories a day. When your goal is to slim down, however, a metabolism boost caused by gaining weight is counterproductive in the long run.
That change in your metabolism can go back the other way, too. As you start to lose weight, your body doesn't need as much energy for your day-to-day activity, so your daily calorie burn goes back down. If the 185-pound man lost 20 pounds and went back to his original weight, he'd have roughly the same calorie burn -- 2,650 a day -- as he had before the weight gain.
The Drawbacks of Binging
While a binge could temporarily give your metabolism a tiny boost -- either directly, through digestion, or indirectly through weight gain -- it's not a healthy way to increase your calorie burn. Regular binge eating can lead to weight gain, becoming overweight and, ultimately, obesity, which means you'll face a higher risk of obesity-related illnesses, like cardiovascular disease. Compulsive binge eating could even develop into a full-fledged eating disorder, which would require professional help to treat. And many of the foods associated with binging -- typically fast foods or treats -- are high in sugar, fat or salt and low in nutritional value, so they're not offering much in the way of health benefits.
A Better Way to Increase Metabolism
Simply living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep your metabolism revving. Being more active during the day can burn more calories, and intense exercise significantly boosts your metabolism -- an effect that could last up to 48 hours. Use the calorie-burning benefits of food to your advantage by including a healthy source of protein at each meal, such as lean beef, poultry, fish, eggs and beans. You'll maximize the calories you burn during digestion to increase your metabolism without sacrificing your health.
If you're struggling with regular binging or you feel drawn to fad dieting to boost your metabolism, consider consulting your doctor or a registered dietitian. A professional can help you develop a healthier relationship with food so that you can eat in moderation to stay healthy and get the physique you want.
- McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism
- United Nations University: Effect of Different Levels of Carbohydrate, Fat and Protein Intake on Protein Metabolism and Thermogenesis
- Baylor College of Medicine: Adult Energy Needs Calculator
- University of Michigan: Binge Eating Disorder
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool (Pizza, Chips, Cheeseburger)
- University of New Mexico: Exercise After-Burn: Research Update