a widely used method in the fitness industry that gives you the justification to eat more than you should on a weight loss diet. The idea behind refeed days is that higher calorie intake days improve your weight loss, increase satiety hormones (I addressed this point in Part 1 of this series) and to boost your metabolism on a weight loss diet.
When I hear that refeeding boosts metabolism and helps weight loss, I can only shake my head. Without lots of explanation and many words here are just a few interesting facts taken from research studies:
- 3-day 40% overeating with excess energy coming from carbs results in an increase in the total daily energy expenditure by 7%. There was no association between increase in leptin and increase in the total daily energy expenditure. The resting metabolic rate (aka metabolism) did not increase.
- Eating a diet providing 50% energy surplus (about 1,225 kcal more than the participants needed), increased the resting metabolic rate by 54 kcal per day.
- 2-day overfeeding on 100% above energy requirements increased daily energy expenditure by 9%.
- 50% overeating for 2 weeks increased the energy expenditure by less than 100 kcal per day
- 60 % overfeeding for 9 days (> 1,900 excess calories per day) increased the daily energy expenditure by about 487 kcal per day, one third of which resulted from increased metabolism. Only 25% of the consumed excess calories were burned by increased energy expenditure and 75% were stored.
Do you see the problem? Even if you dramatically overeat you never increase the daily energy expenditure so much, that you burn the calories you overeat. Basal metabolic rate (aka the metabolism) is a component of the daily energy expenditure. Thus, the effect of overeating on the metabolism is even lower when compared with the total daily energy expenditure (which includes food digestion and movement).
Important point: If you overeat you don’t noticeably boost your metabolism. The only thing you do is gain fat.
As a side note, metabolism behaves similar to leptin. The basal metabolic rate decreases already on the first day of the energy deficit.
To cut a long story short:
A refeed day to maintenance calories or slightly above may - in the best-case scenario - increase your energy expenditure by about 100 kcal, which definitely doesn’t make you lose more fat. In contrast, you don’t lose any fat on that day, because you aren’t in an energy deficit. As soon as you return to a caloric deficit, your energy expenditure will decrease again.
From the metabolic perspective, refeeding makes absolutely no sense to me.
However, to be fair I also need to present the arguments in support of refeeding. There is a way to boost your metabolism with leptin.
It’s injecting leptin!
No pain, no gain…or in this case, no pain, no boosted metabolism. Maybe leptin injection is the way to go to boost metabolism!
Let’s have a closer look at it.
After having a look at leptin costs and calculating the amount of leptin I would need to inject per day to boost my metabolism, I realized that my daily leptin dose would cost me at least $154. Paying $154 every day to burn 100-200 kcal more a day?
Not sure how much I like this idea. I would rather do a 30 min morning walk every day and save $154.
- Stop believing in things that seems too good to be true.
- If a theory suggests that you will lose more weight by eating more, then it’s most likely not true (except the cases when increased energy intake leads to an increase in subconscious movement or upregulates your heat production and turns you into a heater)
- If a refeed has a positive effect on your mindset, such as making it easier for you following your diet and being more consistent, then go for it. Just don’t use refeeds as an excuse for eating more than you should. Don’t tell yourself the lie that refeeds boost your metabolism and leptin levels, which make you lose more fat. Be honest to yourself, take responsibility for your actions and more importantly, don’t pig out, but eat using common sense.
When I have higher calorie-days:
As you can probably imagine, I don’t have planned refeeds. However, I have occasional higher calorie days. This happens when:
- I have social events I want to enjoy, such as dinner out with family and friends. But even then, I go for the healthiest and most satiating meal options that are reasonably low in calories. Even though I may go over my daily calorie and macros targets, I make sure that it doesn’t end up in an overeating disaster. When I cut for a competition, I even take my food scale with me to a restaurant to make better estimations of what I eat and how much to eat.
- My life gets incredibly stressful or I travel without having access to good food options. In such cases I try to do the least damage possible and stick to my macros as precisely as possible.
- I get food cravings that drive me absolutely crazy, so that I can’t focus on work. At this point it is very important to mention that I distinguish between specific food cravings (e.g. craving chocolate or pizza) and nutrient cravings I have for entire food groups (e.g. any food that is high in carbs or protein or fat).
I don’t give into specific food cravings, as it will make food cravings worse overtime. However, if I have nutrient cravings for more than 1-2 days, I give into them by shifting my macronutrient ratio and trying not to go over my calorie targets. This means that if I crave carbs, I may get more carbs that day and cut down on fat. The carbs sources I choose usually come from healthy, fiber-rich sources, such as fruits, starchy vegetables or legumes (no processed carbs!). This helps me to get more vitamins and minerals in and reduce the chances of overeating, because of the higher fiber and water content of these carb sources. If I crave fat, I usually specify what type of fat I crave (more on the importance of different types of fatty acids in this blog post) and go for the fat sources I am the least likely to overeat on. For example, to get saturated fatty acids I would choose coconut over chocolate, for monounsaturated fatty acids avocados or olives over almonds and for polyunsaturated fatty acids chia or flex seed instead of nuts or nut butters. Of course, the food you are less likely to overeat on is dependent on your personal taste.
Usually, a serving size with an energy content of 200-300 kcal is enough to get rid of my nutrient cravings. I don’t need to consume tons of food to satisfy this type of craving. Also, the extra 200-300 kcal a day I can easily burn by increasing my activity on that day.
It’s about finding a diet right for your lifestyle and not the other way around.
I hope this article series could help you not to fall into fitness industry diet myths and plan your diet in a way that gives you the most progress!
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