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This isn’t clickbait; this actually happened. The names and dates have not been changed. It’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I ate a pint of ice cream every night for a month, and I lost body fat. Seriously.
But why, you may ask. Other than the fact that we’re talking about EATING ICE CREAM EVERY SINGLE DAY, I thought it would be a thorough experiment of the age-old question: Can you out-train a bad diet? There was only one way to find out.
For some context, I’m 25, 5’9”, 175 pounds, and exercise six to seven days a week, with five of those days lifting, and the other two either playing golf, taking a long walk, or some other kind of low-intensity activity. I’m a gym rat who watches what I eat 90 percent of the time. I’d consider myself very active.
I also love pizza. And pasta. And beer. And most of all, ice cream. And much like Ludacris is open to females of all backgrounds in the aptly named ode to open-mindedness, “Sugar (Gimme Some)”, I don’t discriminate against frozen sugar cream of any sort. Give me your Rocky Road. Your Lemon Sorbet. I’d gladly eat a bowl of your Cherries’ Garcia. Hell, I’ll freeze a banana and whip it up, I don’t care. The point is, I can’t get enough.
This endeavor allowed me to do two things: test my diet and training experiment, and try a ton of new ice creams. But it wasn’t enough to have a normal helping of the stuff. I needed to go big. No, this experiment wasn’t for the faint of heart. It was the stuff of heroes. I lined up 31 pints of the country’s finest ice cream and got to work. Here’s what I learned.
Not all ice creams are created equal.
After discovering healthy alternatives like Halo Top and Enlightened, most of which hover around 300 calories per pint, I was starting to think that this would be too easy. I burn that off in my warmup. Besides, what kind of cop-out would it be if I just ate healthy(ish) ice cream every night.
That’s why I laid down this law: At least three out of seven nights per week, I’d eat full-fat, high-sugar ice cream. That means mounds of chocolate, gobs of whole cream, and payloads of sugar. One ice cream topped out at 1,320 calories for the entire pint. That was a good night.
For a definitive, but certainly subjective ranking of all 30 ice creams I ate, check out my list.
The question that I got the most often from people, who were, at best, concerned, and at worst, mortified, was this: “Are you sick of ice cream yet?” A week in, absolutely not. Two weeks, still no—not really. Three weeks? Then it really became a chore and I … just kidding, of course not, I was eating a pint of ice cream every night and I loved every damn bite. It was the best month of my life, and I look back on it fondly. It is an easy gig, and nobody had to do it.
I got some flavor suggestions from an in-office taste test we did with some different brands.
Ever heard of the diet “If It Fits Your Macros”? Popular in CrossFit and powerlifting circles, the basic gist of it is this: if you’re fulfilling and limiting your proper daily intake of the three primary macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) everything else is gravy. You can eat literally eat gravy if you’d like. It provides some flexibility on what you can and can’t eat, because you can eat whatever you want—if it fits your macros.
I don’t count calories and I don’t weigh my food, choosing instead to generally watch what I eat and maintain a clean diet 90 percent of the time, with enough margin for some pizza and beer on the weekends. So I did a little research and applied some of the core concepts I learned from my reading to customize my diet, so that I could include multiple servings of ice cream every night. I’m a relatively routine-based guy, so here’s what my meal lineup looked like most days:
Almond milk and whey protein
Tablespoon of peanut butter
2 cans of tuna
Spoonful of mayonnaise
Handful of almonds
12 ounces of ground beef/chicken
1 cup of broccoli
1 cup of brown rice
Without religiously tracking my macros every day, I knew I could apply the basic concept of IIFYM to my own diet, and make some room, nutritionally, for the ice cream. In preparation for my nightly treat, I eliminated some of the existing fat and sugar I was eating throughout the day. I slashed the almonds, mayonnaise, and avocado, which are loaded in fat.
Obviously those three foods aren’t bad for you. It’s natural sugar and healthy fat that any nutritionist would tell you is fine, even encouraged, to include in your diet. But I had to make way for number one. At the end of the day, my macronutrient level stayed as close to normal as possible, with only a small increase of my average daily sugar levels.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist and am not saying that this is healthy. It is bro-science at best, but I can swear by the results.
I haven’t been pushing hard enough.
In the same way that I only slightly modified my diet, I didn’t want to overhaul my training philosophy. I follow a pretty typical bodybuilding split, lifting for no more than two or three days straight, punctuated by some active recovery or complete rest.
So for this period, all I did was make a few small tweaks: I did more reps with less weight, shortened my rest time between sets, and added ten minutes of high-intensity interval training at the end of my workout.
If, before, I was doing strength training exercises with 6 to 8 reps and 90 seconds of rest, for these 30 days, I bumped it up to 8 to 12 reps with 45 to 60 seconds rest. At the end, I did a ten-minute sprint workout where, every minute on the minute, I would run, row, or bike for 10 seconds, as hard as I could, then rest for the remaining 50 seconds.
Just by adding ten minutes of HIIT and tweaking my reps and rest, I was working way harder than I was before. I’d always counted sweat on my brow as the mark of a good workout, but this was next level. I was Kevin-Garnett-in-the-4th-quarter-of-the-NBA-Finals-soaked.
DISCLAIMER NUMBER TWO: I’m not a licensed trainer, but I am an educated fitness enthusiast who works with dozens of the best trainers every day for my job. I’ve picked up a tip or two along the way.
You can out-train a bad diet.
After 30 days, I put my money where my mint chocolate chip-inhaling mouth was. I got my body fat tested to see what, if any, changes were made. After 30 days, my weight went up .8 pounds, but I increased my lean muscle by 3.4 pounds, and I lost 2.4% body fat. That may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind this was in a month’s time, and I was consuming an entire pint of the ice cream every single night.
Here are my test results:
My biggest takeaway from this experience was how our brains can adapt to extreme situations. I was so scared of getting fatter that, for a month straight, I worked out with an intensity that I’ve never had before, just by sheer will. It’s like a found a second gear, sponsored by Ben and Jerry’s.
Was it hard? Yes. Would I do it again? Hell, yes.
(Also, for the sake of some self-awareness, I completely understand how gluttonous and insensitive an “experiment” like this comes off. I don’t want to contribute to what is definitely a real problem in today’s world, food waste, so I donated to the Hunger Project, an organization that mobilizes villages in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and forms effective partnerships with local governments to help citizens in need find food.)