Question: A friend and I were having a discussion about eating a pan of brownies. Now, I know eating a whole pan of brownies isn't a good idea, but which is worse - eating the whole pan of brownies in one day, or spreading them out over four or five days? Or does it really matter?
Chia - About.com User
Answer: It's not easy to find research that specifically tells you if eating a whole pan of brownies -- or some other high-calorie treat -- is more detrimental if eaten all at once, or consumed over a longer period, perhaps a spread of 4 or 5 days. I can tell you that the United States Department of Agriculture offers some information on discretionary calories in the 2005 version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Discretionary calories are the extra calories you can spend on whatever decadent food you want, after you've met your nutritional needs for the day. The number of calories available differs for everyone, but if the rest of your daily diet is made up of nutrient-dense foods, you can probably use 100 - 200 calories per day for fun foods and still stay below your recommended daily calorie count. Discretionary calories are great because they allow you to enjoy your favorite foods in moderation.
Back to the Brownie Question
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, one large brownie (about 3 inches square and 1 inch thick) has more than 220 calories, 9 grams fat and 20 grams sugar. Eating one brownie each day could fit many people's discretionary calorie category and as long as you stick to only one, or maybe one half of a brownie each day, the damage done by the brownies should be negligible. Of course, you'd have to give up any other treats such as cookies, candy, chips, or that mocha latte.
Quite frankly, conserving your intake to one tiny half-serving of a delicious home-made brownie every day might take too much willpower (in fact the 2010 version of Dietary Guidelines for Americans doesn't appear to mention discretionary calories).
What happens if you eat the whole pan in one gloriously decadent day of brownie-eating delight? Eating a whole 9 by 9 pan (about 9 brownies) would give you around 2,041 calories extra calories, mostly from large amounts of sugar and fat (really bad if you have a health condition such as diabetes). On the plus side, you'd get a lot of iron, B-complex vitamins, magnesium and potassium, but not enough to make it worth the extra calories.
What if you eat two brownies per day and spread out the chocolaty goodness into a 4 or 5-day span? In this case, you'd get about 440 extra calories per day, which unless you need a huge number of calories, is still going to be more than what is available for daily discretionary use. Of course, you could up your physical activity for those days to make up the difference, but it takes a lot of exercise to burn 440 calories.
I don't think eating all the brownies in one day is a good idea, especially if you have a health condition like diabetes, but I don't think eating them all in a few days' time is much better. In either case, you're taking in too many calories, too much fat and too much sugar in a fairly short time. I guess the decision about which is worse comes down to how it affects your overall eating habits. If eating that pan of brownies becomes habit forming, you're looking at eating problems and/or gaining excess pounds.
Binge Eating and Overeating
Eating a whole pan of brownies would qualify as an eating binge, and if it's a rare thing for you, it may not cause any long-term damage. However, if you're prone to binge eating, then downing all nine brownies might trigger an eating behavior that's bad for you.
On the other hand, eating two brownies every day might establish an ongoing bad habit, especially if you find yourself seeking out sweet treats every day after you've eaten all the brownies.
American Heart Association. "Eating When Not Hungry." Accessed January 7, 2013. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WeightManagement/LosingWeight/Eating-When-Not-Hungry_UCM_307262_Article.jsp.
United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services. "2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans b(Discretionary Calories)." Accessed January 7, 2013. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/report/HTML/D3_Disccalories.htm