Overeating and compensating with cardio? You may be making it worse

Regardless of how flexible or rigid your diet is, chances are that sometime you will encounter on a situation where you will over indulge, and end up devouring anything you can get your hands on.

After such episode, you end up feeling guilty and somehow disappointed of yourself, and you decide to do a ton of cardio in a damage-control sort of way.

First, I’m going to point out something that most trainers and fitness gurus won’t like to hear (or say): binging doesn’t make you a bad person.

It only means you are a human being. And as such, you may lose control at some point and that’s fine. It’s what you do after what really defines you.

Now, back to business.

So, out of guilt you may be tempted to go ballistic and do hours of cardio to burn off those calories:

300 burpees, 100 air squats, 500 jumping jacks, sprints, and any other “explosive” exercise suggested by social media, followed of course by running a few miles.

And it kind of makes sense right? I mean, you eat a 2000 calories feast, so a couple of days where your Polar marks 1000 Cals spent and no harm done am I right? Nope, wrong.

– “What are you talking about? Thermodynamics doesn’t lie you dumbass”, you may be thinking right now.

– “Yeah it doesn’t ”, I would reply.

What actually happens is that our body has its own compensatory mechanisms. If you put it through to excessive cardio, its response will be to simply reduce the Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or NEAT.

NEAT is one of the components of our Total Daily Energy Expenditure, and is the result of all the activities we do during the day that are not formal exercise nor metabolic processes, that is from walking, to talking to fidgeting.

If you go ahead and do all that cardio, your body will just stop moving so much. You will feel sleepy, tired and angry so in turn you will move less and burn less calories than usual, thus compensating for that extra activity you just did, as suggested by Rosenkilde et al. (2012).

The aftermath? Of those 2000 calories you overeat, you will most likely burn just a few and will still get fat.

Oh, and that without mentioning that, to maintain homeostasis, with added energy consumption, you will get hungrier.

To make matters worse, after you are fatigued your primal instinct (hunger) is what’s going to make the food choices for you (Heatherton & Wagner, 2011), causing you to overeat again and the cycle will just go over without an end.

(For more on this last point, you can read this great article by Menno Henselmans)

What can I do if I binge then?

Simply put, go back to your routine. That’s it. There’s no magic formula. No punishment needed. What’s done is done.

You will most likely set yourself back a couple of weeks, but hey, every decision we make comes with a consequence.

In the end, you will gain far more by controlling your food intake, keep exercising as you always do, keep practicing moderation (no need to go extra clean on your diet either) as well as balance.

Now what you really want to do after you binge is to assess the causes of your binge.

Did you do it because you were on a special occasion with family and/or friends? No problemo then.

Did you do it because of underlying emotional causes? Then stop for a minute and work on it.

That’s a lot better than punishing yourself with endless cardio.


– Coach Abraham.




  • Rosenkilde M, Auerbach P, Reichkendler MH, Ploug T, Stallknecht BM, Sjödin A. Body fat loss and compensatory mechanisms in response to different doses of aerobic exercise–a randomized controlled trial in overweight sedentary males. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2012 Sep 15;303(6):R571-9.
  • Heatherton T, Wagner D. Cognitive Neuroscience of Self-Regulation Failure. Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Mar; 15(3): 132–139







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