Counting calories in theory seems easy enough, but the reality of it can be difficult, and you may begin to wonder if it’s ok to go over your calorie limit once a week.
So, can you go over your calories once per week? For the most part going over your calorie target once per week is ok and it isn’t going to impede your progress too much. Influencing body composition changes is about what you are consuming daily on average over a sustained period, and rarely comes down to what you do on just one day alone.
With that said, in instances where you are significantly eating over your calorie targets consistently you may find this slows down progress towards your goal and be representative of a problematic mindset when approaching your nutrition.
In this article, I’ll address a series of topics to help deepen your understanding of calorie tracking, including:
- Planned versus unplanned days of going over your calorie targets
- What happens when you go over your calorie limit once a week
- What you should do if you go over your calorie limit once per week
- How to avoid going over your calorie limit
- A flexible mindset when dieting
Going Over Your Calorie Limit Once Per Week: Planned vs Unplanned
If you have eaten over your calorie target, first determine whether that was a planned activity or whether it was unplanned, because how you respond will be different.
Planned Higher Calorie Days
When dieting, a strategy that can be employed to assist you in remaining adherent to your dieting phase is planned days of higher calories, also knows as a refeed day, which I’ve talked a lot about in previous articles.
So if you have eaten over your usual calorie target on a particular day and this is planned, then those higher calories have likely already been factored into your dieting plan.
A planned higher calorie day is commonly known as a refeed day, where you temporarily increase your calories, usually to maintenance level, for one or two days. The idea being this gives your body and mind some reprieve from the negative effects that dieting can have on you.
If that is the case for you, then it is business as usual and there is no need for you to be concerned about over your calorie limit. In fact having this planned higher calorie day will contribute to your longer term dieting success because it minimizes the potential for less compliance by giving you an opportunity to have a break from your diet.
Following a planned higher calorie day, all that is required of you is to enjoy those extra calories, so you feel reinvigorated to get back to your lower calorie target the next day.
- If you’re wanting to understand more about how to approach a planned higher calorie day, have a look through our entire Refeeding Category.
Unplanned Higher Calorie Days
On a day where you have eaten over your calorie limit and this is unplanned, there are two key opportunities for you to take from the situations:
- It offers a point of reflection. Why did you overeat, were you hungry, was it a social situation, was it an emotional response to a situation? Reflecting will help determine what steps to take next.
- Get back to your usual nutritional targets as soon as feasible. Accept that what has occurred cannot be changed, and get back to your plan. Sometimes things happen, but providing you remain consistent the majority of the time, you will continue to see progress toward your goals.
A day where you have gone off plan and eaten higher than your usual calorie, might feel daunting and like you have ‘ruined’ your diet, but rest assured you haven’t.
It takes time to influence changes in your body. So if you are being consistently adherent to your calories on average over time, then a day where you go over your calorie limit is unlikely to reverse or impede your progress.
In fact how you respond to a day where you’ve overeaten, regardless of how much, is critical.
For example, having a rigid, all or nothing mindset and thinking that one day means you have stuffed up, may cause that one day to turn into a week or a month or longer.
That will most certainly prevent you from achieving your goals.
However, being more flexible in your approach and getting back to your usual targets and habits as soon as possible, will minimize its impact on your goals.
- Related Article: Should You Undereat After Overeating? (Here’s What To Do)
What Happens If You Go Over Your Calorie Limit Once Per Week?
When you have gone over your calorie limit once per week, you can expect that:
- You may experience an acute spike in your scale weight that will take a few days to drop. This is unlikely to be fat gain and instead a reflection of higher fluid retention from more carbs or sodium and an increase in gut weight.
- Despite seeing a spike in your scale weight you will not lose your progress providing you go back to your usual calorie targets.
Some considerations around what else you can expect to happen if you go over your calorie limit once a week include:
- How much you have exceeded your calorie limit by
- Where the extra calories have come from
- Whether this was a planned increase in calories or not.
How Much Did You Go Over Your Calorie Limit?
The acute impact of what may happen when you go over your calories will vary depending on how much you have gone over your calorie limit. Whether it was 700, 1000, or 2000 calories could result in different things.
A daily variance of +/- 100 to 200 calories from your calorie target with have a negligible effect on your average weekly intake and you’ll still remain in calorie deficit overall.
Look at this example:
|Daily maintenance calories||calories|
|Daily maintenance calories||2500|
|Daily deficit calories||2000|
|Weekly maintenance calories||2500 x 7 = 17500|
|One day of the week over calories by 200||2200 one day = weekly total of 14200|
|One day of the week over calories by 1000||3000 for one day = weekly total of 15000|
|One day of the week over calories by 3500||5500 for one day = weekly total of 17500|
This example shows that even when you have eaten over your calories for 1 day of the week, in the context of your weekly consumption you still remain in a deficit overall and will still continue to progress toward your weight loss goals.
Using this example, you would need to eat in excess of 3500 extra calories a day shift your weekly calorie consumption out of a deficit. This would slow your rate of progression but certainly wouldn’t regress your achievements, unless this was something you were doing routinely.
Related Article: I Burned More Calories Than I Ate & Still Gained Weight (Why?)
Where Did Your Extra Calories Come From?
Your body may react differently to different types of food you have consumed.
So instances, where you have eaten over your calorie target and those calories, are due to:
- Extra protein, you may find that you are slightly constipated
- Extra carbs, you body is likely to retain extra fluid and you’ll see your scale weight spike
- Extra fiber, you might experience some bloating and gas
- Extra fats, which might cause loose stools the next morning.
I have previously written about what happens when you go over your protein, carbs and fats targets, which address this topic in more detail.
You can expect that your body may respond differently to eating different types of food in excess, but in the context of weight loss, calories aren’t good or bad, they are just energy for your body and whatever you don’t use, you store.
Related Article: Do Macros Matter For Weight Loss? Yes, Here’s Why
Did You Plan To Go Over Your Calories?
In instances where you have eaten over your calories and this was unplanned, you may find yourself having certain emotional responses to what’s happened.
Perhaps a sense of failure or feeling defeated, or wanting to give up, or the negative self talk is running rampant in your mind.
A day of eating over your calories doesn’t mean any of that.
- You have not failed
- Do not give up
- Be kind and patient with yourself
- Don’t overthink it
One day does not determine your success.
An unplanned day of going over your calories means life happened and you aren’t a robot and that is ok.
You can stay committed to your goals and yourself by eating in line with your nutritional targets as soon as you’re able to again. Through your ability to bounce back and be consistent is what will get you results.
What Should You Do If You Go Over Your Calorie Limit Once Per Week?
For the majority of people, the best thing you can do if you go over your calorie limit for one day of the week is to get back to your usual planned calorie targets the next day. The sooner you get back to eating in line with your nutrition plan, the less likely you are to affect your progress or results.
Remember, influencing changes in your body composition like weight loss, require you to be eating in a calorie deficit, on average over a sustained period of time. So for most people eating over your calorie limit once a week, is unlikely to significantly throw you off course.
If you are working towards a goal with a restricted time frame like a body building competition or making weight for a powerlifting competition you could try some interventions to counteract a day where you have eaten off plan.
These interventions include:
- Reducing your calorie intake the following day or days to account for the extra calories you consumed
- Undertaking 1-2 extra cardio session to expend the extra energy you consumed
In adopting either of these approaches you are able to mitigate the extra calories you ate on one day, to ensure you remain as closely aligned to your targets as possible.
However, these approaches are not necessary for most people.
You are more likely to give up on a diet goal the harder and more complicated you make it, so if you want to be successful don’t overcomplicate for yourself. Nailing your daily habits and consistency over time are the most underrated tools for long term success.
For most people the key is getting back to eating at their usual calories targets but if you are finding that you are eating over your calories more often than you would like, then consider giving yourself a planned refeed day.
This can serve as a mental break for dieting and help you stay on track because you know you have a day of higher calories coming up.
If you’re unsure how to utilize refeed days, chat with a nutrition coach (me) who can walk you through how best to implement this tool, so you can achieve sustainable results.
- Related Article: Should You Eat More On Leg Day? (What To Eat On Leg Day)
How To Avoid Going Over Your Calorie Limit? 11 Practical Tips
To help you avoid going over your calorie limit, try one or more of these practical tips:
- Implement a planned day of higher calories. This will give you a mental break from the diet and something to look forward to.
- Plan your meals and your snacks the day or day before. You are more likely to stick to the plan if you know what it is.
- Don’t avoid or restrict the fun food, incorporate your indulgences. That might look like a snack size chocolate each day or a stop by your favorite doughnut shop each week. Telling yourself no, will only make you want it more.
- Create higher volume meals by incorporating a LOT of veggies. Fibre helps you to feel full and you get to eat more food. Win, win.
- Aim for balanced meals, which include protein to help you feel fuller, longer.
- Add some healthy fats to round a meal as well as helping with body function, your brain will thank you for it.
- If you’re eating out, check the menu in advance and choose something you track easily
- If you have a social event or are unsure how to track something, create a calorie buffer by eating 50-100 calories less over a few days leading up to your event.
- Eat mindfully and with purpose. Don’t eat, while you’re working, walking, standing, watching tv or on the computer, otherwise your brain won’t properly register what you are doing and you’ll soon be reaching for more food.
- Chew your food. Scoffing it down won’t give your stomach time to realize it’s full.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Poor sleep will wreak havoc on your appetite and hunger cues.
Getting a handle on most of these practices will set you up for long term success. However, if you have a challenging relationship with food, which is causing you to overeat often, you may benefit from additional support from a health professional.
Adopting A Flexible Mindset When Dieting
Taking steps to change your body and chase a goal is a difficult endeavor, otherwise everyone would do it. Your chances of follow through and success increase tenfold though, when you approach your dieting with a flexible mindset.
Having a flexible mindset when dieting means you are able to adjust your nutrition practices to what is occurring in your life.
There is no hard or fast rigidity around what you must include or exclude from your diet, or what you have to eat. Instead you focus on what you can do with what you have going on at the and making the best feasible option in line with your goal.
With flexibility you will have increased adherence and therefore more chance to achieve your results because you won’t fall over at the first hurdle, you can just pivot. There are no right or wrong choices, just choices that are more aligned to your goals and less aligned.
Developing a flexible mindset around nutrition and dieting is a skill, but it is a skill that will pay dividends out on:
- Your results
- Your relationship with food
- Your long term success
- Your health in general
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I Gain Weight If I Eat over My Calorie Limit?
If you eat over your maintenance calorie limit consistently, for a sustained period of time, you are likely to gain weight. This is because you are consuming more calories than your body needs and so it will store the excess calories as fat.
Is It Okay to Go over Calories Sometimes?
It is ok to go over your calorie targets sometimes. Calories allow you to be flexible with your diet because you can adjust your calorie target to suit personal, social or work demands. As long as your average calorie intake over the course of a week is still within a deficit you will still lose weight.
Providing you get back to your usual daily calorie goal as soon as you can, you’re unlikely to diminish progress you have made toward your goals. Remember, the more flexibility you have with your diet the more likely you are to remain compliant with it.
The Bottom Line
Tracking your calories and dieting can be both physically stressful and psychologically stressful. So always be patient and kind to yourself when you are embarking on a body composition goal. Your results will be the sum of your consistent efforts over a sustained period of time, so don’t let one day define that journey.
Focus on building good habits and making the best feasible option in line with your goal, the majority of the time. If you have questions about what this looks like for you, reach out to a nutrition coach who’ll be able to help you.
What To Read Next
- How To Count Calories Without Getting Obsessed
- Is It Better To Hit Your Macros or Calories? What’s Best
- How Many Cheat Meals Per Week (That Won’t Ruin Your Results)
About The Author
Steph Catalucci | Nutrition Coach
@macronutritionau | macro-nutrition.com.au
Steph Catalucci is an online nutrition coach from Australia, working with clients all over the world. Her passion for nutrition was born through wanting to treat her body better, for health and performance. She is a strong advocate for understanding nutrition to develop informed nutritional habits that go beyond just food. Steph leverages a decade of her own nutritional experience to help people make sense of the noise and carve a path forward with their nutrition, supporting clients with whatever body composition goal they have. When not coaching or writing, you’ll find her training for her next powerlifting competition.