Suppose you’re on a diet and you have a banquet or a holiday party coming up. You’re expecting a big meal to be served for dinner, and there will be an open bar with lots and lots of “party snacks.” 

You’re not sure if there will be any healthy food there, but you are sure that you’re going to be in a festive, partying mood! What should you do? Should you cut back on your food earlier in the day to make room for the big feast?

What I’ve just described is commonly known as “banking calories,” which is analogous to saving calories like money because you’re going to consume more later, and it’s a very common practice among dieters. If you’re really serious about your diet and fitness goals, however, then the answer is no, you should NOT “bank calories! Here’s why and here’s what you should do instead:

First of all, if you’re being really honest with yourself, you have to agree that there’s almost always something healthy to eat at any gathering. You know those tables you see at holiday parties that are covered with yards of chips, dips, pretzels, cookies, salami, candies, cheese, punch, liquor, and a seemingly endless assortment of other goodies? 

Well, did you also notice that there’s usually a tray full of carrot sticks, cauliflower, celery, fruit, turkey breast and other healthy snacks too?

No matter where you are, you always have options, so make the best choice you can based on whatever your options are. If nothing else, you can choose to eat a small portion of “party foods” rather than a huge portion.

If you skip meals or eat less earlier in the day to bank calories for a big feast at night, you are thinking only in terms of calories. But, you’re depriving yourself of the valuable nutrition you need all day long in terms of protein (amino acids), carbohydrates, essential fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that come from healthy food, as well as the small frequent meals required to stoke the furnace of your metabolism.

Not only that, but eating less early in the day in anticipation for overeating later is more likely to increase your appetite, causing you to binge or eat much more than you thought you would at night when the banquet does arrive.

Eating healthy food earlier in the day is likely to fill you up and you’ll be less likely to overeat in the evening. High fiber foods, healthy fats and especially lean protein, tend to suppress your appetite the most.

I don’t like the concept of “banking calories.” Your body just doesn’t work that way – it tends to seek equilibrium by adjusting your appetite to the point where you consume the same total amount of calories in the end anyway.

Even if it worked the way you wanted it to, why would you eat less (starve) in an attempt to burn more fat, then overeat (binge) and put the fat right back on? Why allow yourself to put on fat in the first place?

A starving and binging pattern will almost certainly cause more damage than an occasional oversize meal. Some dietitians might even say that this kind of behavior borders on disordered eating.

A better approach is to stay on your regular menu of healthy foods and small meals through the entire day – business as usual – and then go ahead and treat yourself to a “cheat meal,” but sure to keep your portions small.

It should be a big relief to know that on special occasions, whether it’s a party, restaurant meal, banquet or holiday dinner, you can eat whatever you want with little or no ill effect on body composition, as long as you respect the law of calorie balance. However, you CANNOT starve and binge and expect not to reap negative consequences.

To burn fat and be healthy, you don’t have to be a “party pooper” or completely deny yourself of foods you enjoy, but you do need to have the discipline to stick with your regular meal plan most of the time and control your portion sizes all of the time.

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