Are you having trouble losing weight? Take a break from your diet as it may help you shed more pounds and keep them off longer! This is the exact reason why diet breaks have become quite popular lately. You may ask, are they really as good and beneficial as how people claim them to be, or are they just merely excuses for binge-eating during your weight loss journey?
In this article, we’ll explain what a diet break actually represents, its concept, pros and cons, and indications. To prevent an offset of all the progress you’ve made and fat loss plateaus, we’re giving you tips too!
What is A Diet Break?
Diet breaks refer to the much-needed pause from dieting and calorie restriction. You’ll be allowed to eat more than usual! You should still lean on fiber, clean protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables, but there is no need to worry about counting calories and exercising full-time. In fact, cardio workouts should be cut in half.
Evidence supports that a diet break is needed to achieve better and long-lasting results (2). This works pretty well among individuals who are not time-restricted and are looking for ways to reduce their weight for the sole purpose of improving their mental and physical health.
The Concept of Metabolic Adaptation
Dieting will cause you to have a calorie deficit. Technically, during this phase, you are underfeeding your body. You consume less energy than your body requires so it will have to start fat as fuel. However, the human body is adaptive. If you regularly were underfed, it will adapt by burning fewer calories, which makes you feel hungrier and increase your appetite and cravings. In nutritional sciences, this is referred to as metabolic adaptation.
This topic may sound new and complicated to you, but it is not. As mentioned above, your metabolic rate is likely to decrease across the course of dieting. This reduction in energy expenditure can be significantly attributed to the non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) (3). NEAT is the energy you expend on any activity other than exercise, like when you are sitting in a chair or cleaning the house (4). It has been shown that weight loss and caloric restriction reduced the amount of energy used during exercise in rats (5). The same is true in humans, even after adjustments on weights being lifted have been made (6).
Metabolic adaptation, however, isn’t the same for everyone. Some people will have greater reductions in energy expenditure than others. While it is not easy to identify genetic and epigenetic factors that will play a role in weight loss, including individual variations in physiological responses, we can play the averages.
The Matador Study
The MATADOR study, which means “minimizing adaptive thermogenesis and deactivating obesity rebound,” looked into two groups, with each following a different weight-loss diet for 16 weeks. Group 1 followed a diet wherein caloric intake is set to 67% of their maintenance requirements. Maintenance calories were regularly re-calculated to make sure that the diet will provide the intended energy deficit. Group 2 were given the same diet, but with a little twist. They alternated 67% and 100% of maintenance calories every 2 weeks. Theoretically, the overall caloric deficit and the actual duration of dieting was equal between the two. However, it took longer for group 2 to complete the 16 weeks because of the diet breaks. Results showed that group 2 lost more weight and fat and had a smaller degree of metabolic adaptation (7).
Why Should You Not Fear A Few Days of Diet Break?
It is alright to take a diet break to restore your normal metabolism. There is nothing to fear about a diet break anyway due to the following reasons:
- You will not gain weight easily because it will require a 3500 calorie surplus to gain a single pound of fat
- You’ll not overeat as much as you think. It just feels like it because you have been dieting!
- The slight weight gain you’ll experience in the coming days comes from an increase in gut content and water. This is expected because there will be an increased salt and carb intake. Carbs, when stored as glycogen, will attract water. A single gram of carb intake will most likely bring 3 to 4 grams of water with it.
- You will subconsciously eat less in the coming next days, like most people.
Do You Need A Diet Break?
If you are on a regular dieting or bodybuilding process, you probably have all the prescribed charts that will tell you the best time to do a diet break. While it is still best to consult a doctor, you can consider taking one if you have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- If you are a bodybuilder and you notice that everything is getting alright except your muscle gain which has either stopped growing or decreasing. This is an indication that you require an immediate diet break and give some extra nutrients to your body to maintain balance. If you neglect this sign, you will probably land in further complications.
- When you are on a regular diet and feel that everything is on the right track, then suddenly you felt unexpectedly tired. This calls for a diet break. This is an indicator that your body requires more energy and your hormone level has reduced.
- If you notice that you are no more enthusiastic like before, rather you are becoming more and more irritable. This is a clear symptom of hormonal imbalance which immediately requires a diet break. You should never waste your time and go for a diet break. The sooner, the better.
- In spite of your uttermost care, if you are regularly falling sick, you should take a diet break. This is an indication that your immune system is weakening gradually and it essentially requires a boost. Diet break is the only healthy solution for you to recover and strengthen your body to protect itself from external threats.
- If you feel that you are on a prolonged dieting process and have substantially reduced your weight, and feel that you cannot go further anymore, take a break!
Do any of these sounds like you? Then, it is about time to take a calculated diet break and benefit from it.
What Are the Other Health Benefits of Doing A Diet Break?
Despite good evidence proving the importance of diet breaks in weight loss, you’re probably looking for other health benefits. Good thing we have listed them below:
1. Diet Breaks Are Beneficial For Your Mental Health
Making lifestyle changes from the core is never easy. Going on a calorie deficit and exercising regularly sure both have a huge impact not only on your physical and mental health. But even if the benefits of these changes are backed up by science, hence they are more than welcome, they can still sometimes cause you stress! This is exactly where a diet break becomes helpful!
By allowing yourself to relax and enjoy your favorite healthy recipes for a day or as much as 2 weeks, without the need to worry about exercising too, can have quite a positive impact on your mind. Whatever you do, you need a pause and going on a diet and spending countless hours in the gym is no different. You will need some time to step back and relax to get stronger and better than ever. By stepping back, you can rethink your diet plans and exercise routines, make changes if necessary, and also acknowledge how these changes have changed and influenced you (8).
2. Diet Breaks Can Help You Get Fuller Looking Muscles
This is probably one of the benefits that you’ll love the most! Imagine getting fit while taking a break from your diet. Isn’t that amazing? But, you might be asking how this is possible? How can increasing your calorie intake and decreasing your workout time help you get in shape?
With a diet break, you increase your calories to a maintenance level, instead of going on a deficit. The combination of eating more carbs and tapering activity has shown to boost muscle glycogen stores (9).
Replenishing your glycogen stores in the muscles will draw in water, giving you a fuller and stronger looking body. As long as you keep your carb loading at the right level, you get to experience this wonderful effect without adding to the number on your scale.
3. Diet Breaks Can Help Increase Your Leptin Levels
Evidence shows that the adaptations your body goes through in dieting are partially regulated by the hormone leptin. Being in a calorie deficit state will make your leptin levels drop low. This, in turn, causes you to feel hungrier throughout the day, burn fewer amounts of calories, and basically make you feel depleted (10, 11, 12, 13). Research shows that carb-loading can significantly increase your leptin levels and, thus, help in slowing down some of the metabolic adaptations that normally occur during dieting (14).
How Long Should You Take A Diet Break?
While the recommended duration of a diet break may last between 7-14 days, unfortunately, some hormones may simply take longer to go back to normal levels than others, so it should not be cut short. The human body is after survival. A constant stream of calories for 2 weeks is more indicative of food availability as compared to a day or two of refeeding. So, it makes sense that an extended diet break will be more effective in reversing metabolic adaptations.
Also, the frequency will depend primarily on your level of leanness. The leaner you get, the more adaptive your body becomes, and this will demand you to take diet breaks more frequently. Here’s a rough estimation:
- If you have a body fat of more than 25%, take a diet break every 12-16 weeks
- If your body fat falls between 15-25%, a diet break every 6-12 weeks will be good enough
- If you’re too lean with a body fat of less than 15%, take a diet break more frequently, preferably every 4-6 weeks
What Are The Pros and Cons of A Diet Break?
- A diet break is very important to help you keep your energy levels and boost your metabolism to achieve your desired weight loss. It never hampers the process of slimming down. By doing diet breaks, you will not regain the weight you lost while dieting. In fact, you’ll get more energy and strength to continue the process.
- Most of the time, bodybuilders, gymnasts, athletes, and other people who engage in manual exercises do not get enough time to recover their lost energy. But with the short duration of diet breaks, this is made possible!
- Diet breaks speak of consuming sufficient preferred food. You are allowed to eat even those products that contain weight-gaining ingredients. The food you take during this break will not be deposited as fat in your body. They are only water weight and will vanish as soon as you have completed your diet break duration.
- The decrease in serotonin and dopamine levels during dieting is critical for physical and psychosocial health. You may experience symptoms like lack of enthusiasm, anger, intolerance, and depression. This will greatly affect your personality. Diet breaks can help you re-establish hormonal balance, resulting in a healthy well-being.
- The life-long process of diet breaks is a unique way of keeping your metabolism and hormones well-balanced.
Though a diet break may seem very beneficial, there are certain things you should remember to prevent it from becoming a disadvantage:
- If you do not seek approval and assistance from a healthcare professional, there may be irregularities in your diet break. There’s a chance that you’ll not get as much weight as your body requires causing your diet break to fail.
- In some cases, certain percentages of fat and specific time gaps must be strictly followed during a diet break. Otherwise, you will not get your desired result and land in frustration with little or no benefits.
- If you do not believe in the concept of diet breaks, you will not get its maximum benefits. If you are hesitant in eating as much food as needed and end up restricting your intake, you’ll surely fall short of your weight loss goals.
Practical Tips for Taking A Diet Break
So, now that you have fully understood why it can be important to take a regular diet break, the next question is, how you’d go about it safely? There’s nothing to worry much. It is pretty easy and fun. Here are some tips about what you should be doing:
1. Follow Your Usual Meal Times
Follow and respect the schedule that you have created for yourself when it comes to eating. If you have been used to eating 3 meals and a snack in between daily, you must continue doing the same even during a diet break. Skipping a meal will not be helpful, as you are also trying to increase your calorie intake.
2. You Should Forget About Counting Your Calories
You can take an actual break from counting your calories! Give yourself some freedom, and enjoy eating! You can still eat healthily by sticking to fiber, clean protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables. You may use portion sizes to track your intake, but no calculations in between!
3. There’s No Need to Worry About Your Macros
Similar to counting calories, you can be more lenient with your macros! While it is recommended to keep eating clean foods that you usually do on a regular basis, you can try new recipes and ingredients! Several products give you a load of healthy carbs, proteins, and fats.
4. It Is Alright to Gain Some Water Weight
As discussed earlier, you will most likely gain some water weight during a diet break. This is due to the water molecules attached to your glycogen stores. But there is no need to worry! This will drop off easily after the diet break.
5. Never Take It As A License to Completely Pig Out or Binge
Taking a diet break does not mean that you can do binge-eating. Instead, try to eat only until you are full. Be mindful of how you feel. Your body will send you signals on when to stop.
A diet break is a planned pause from a calorie deficit, where you will eat at maintenance calories. While it hasn’t caught on in general, many healthcare professionals and coaches are recommending it for years now. Several studies have already supported the idea that a diet break can enhance your weight loss results long-term. It makes losing weight more sustainable and much less psychologically stressful!