Instead, focus on the pattern of calorie consumption it creates. My hypothesis is that intermittently consuming a lot of food might actually be good for you under certain circumstances.
When I binge, I eat a large number of calories over one weekend, then spend the next 4-6 weeks eating fewer calories than I need on a day to day basis. I do this consciously because I want to maintain my body composition – but no doubt it’s made easier by increased leptin levels from the extra fat stored, and by the beneficial effect on appetite control of the Paleo/Primal food I eat during the recovery phase.
In the ‘wild’ I might have experienced 4-6 weeks of calorie deficit simply because each day I spent a little more energy finding food than the food gave back. Then, just occasionally, I would find a tree laden with fruit, or a stash of honey. Perhaps around the same time an especially large animal was killed. Knowing that both the fruit and the meat might not last beyond a couple of days my family and I would eat as much of it as possible.
The main difference between this and my modern binges is the type of food: in the wild I would have eaten healthy food and less of it. My modern junk fests are driven to unnatural levels of calorie consumption by ingredients specially engineered to stimulate the senses into gross over-consumption.
So on the one hand we have these larger cycles of calorie fluctuation, perhaps spanning weeks, and involving occasional feasts followed by a slow, semi-instinctive reduction in daily calories; but on the other, we have our friend, intermittent fasting. This is the ‘inner’ cycle of calorie consumption - eat well for a couple of days, then fast.
Perhaps in the wild, food would be totally absent for a day or two because the group is moving camp or there are a couple of failed hunts. In my modern equivalent, I choose to fast until dinner time on one or two days per week. On days between fasts, I eat slightly more than I would if I never fasted. However, my total weekly consumption would typically be slightly less than I need, because I am between binges.
People who practise CR (calories restriction) do so because they believe being in calorie deficit creates favourable conditions in the body, allowing it to be healthier and better protect itself against disease; and there is some evidence to support this. The trouble is, as anyone who’s seen documentaries on the subject will know, many CR enthusiasts appear distinctly emaciated and spend most of their time hungry.
Yet there is evidence that intermittent fasting, by periodically creating a profound calorie deficit, can provide the same benefits to longevity, without requiring a net calorie reduction. For example, by going without food for 24 hours a couple of times a week and you can spend the rest of the time eating as much as your overall activity levels dictate you need. You don’t need to be hungry all the time - just sometimes; and you won’t look like an escapee from a prison camp.
So calorie deficit can apparently work in more than one way - a large deficit over short periods, or a slight deficit over long periods. By combining intermittent fasting with intermittent binging, I might spend more time in some kind of deficit than with intermittent fasting alone. This raises the following questions:
- Does my combined approach provide any additional benefits?
- Does the fact that my binges are based on junk food sabotage any benefits anyway?
So the real question to consider is whether intermittent feasting – what we might have done in the wild – is worth consciously combining with intermittent fasting, and if so whether it might reduce binging frequency.