Would you like to enjoy the results of your diet steadily and to jump out of those boring periods when it seems your efforts are not paying off? Can you achieve this by having a break from your diet for a few weeks? The effect of taking a break on a low-calorie diet may be more effective than you think. It may even be necessary sometimes to speed up the metabolism, stop hunger fatigue, and increase the “comfort” of your diet (1). It might sound weird at first. However, there are scientific proves behind the term “diet break” that make this trend more and more popular around the world.
What is Diet Break?
Term “diet break” differs significantly from another popular term we have all heard of – “cheat day” or “cheat meal”. The principle is similar at first–you eat different things and more from your usual diet menu. However, there are a few crucial differences that make a difference for your body and weight loss.
“Diet break” we are talking about today implies increasing the calorie intake during seven to fourteen days, on purpose (1). This is the period when you get rid of your diet “chains” and restrictions. You probably wonder whether this will ruin your diet. Stay with us and learn more about diet breaks and their benefits.
Why You’re Not Losing Weight
To understand today’s topic and the benefits of a proper diet break on your weight loss process, we want to explain some potential reasons you might not be losing weight.
We usually undergo a diet to lose weight, but it’s easier said than done. To lose weight, we need to work hard, exercise hard, and eat healthy for weeks, even months, to be happy with the results.
However, if you have been sticking to your diet for some time already and things are not going in the desired direction, you might lose your motivation sooner than you see your first results. To persist in something, and especially to persist in something as serious as a lifestyle change, we need a little incentive from time to time. A pound or two less on the scale, for example.
If this is your case, you may be pleased to find out that there is an easy way to speed up the weight loss process – you only need to “take a break from your diet” from time to time and not adhere to a restrictive diet for two weeks. This would be a summary of a new approach millions of people on a diet are looking forward to.
Namely, our body gets used to the calorie intake levels quickly. Long story short, this might make your diet less effective than expected.
Scientists also say that a long-term diet triggers several biological processes in our body that slow down the weight loss process, and sometimes can lead, paradoxically, to the accumulation of extra fat and pounds. When we stick to moderate to very restrictive diets, our body tries to preserve the supplies “just in case” and this makes it difficult for us to lose weight. Our body perceives the low intake of calories as “danger” or “wartime” and wants to spend as less energy as possible. It also can’t predict when you will provide more food and it struggles against your efforts to lose weight. This is exactly what you must avoid!
This is the right time to say that scientists are not yet sure why this principle of the two-week diet break gives better results than a 2-day or 1-week break. Maybe it is harder for our bodies to “figure out” what we are trying to do.
Therefore, if you notice that you are not losing weight anymore despite your efforts and low-calorie intake, make a break and enjoy for two weeks. Don’t exaggerate with unhealthy foods.
Here is another reason you might not be losing weight when on a restrictive diet that is related to our topic: your diet is too restrictive. As illogical as this may seem, it is true. What does this mean? Many people believe that they can’t lose weight because they eat too much and eat less. While this may be the case in certain cases, the drastic reduction in calories does not work in the long run. When you consume fewer calories than fat, you will lose muscle. Also, the body will respond to such a calorie intake by slowing down your metabolism. That is definitely not good when you are struggling with excess fat and weight. We will talk about this more in the following sections.
What is the best solution? Instead of starving, keep a diary for 2 weeks to accurately record everything you eat and drink throughout the day. This will give you a clear picture of your eating habits. Then make small changes to your diet to lose weight without losing muscle mass. Your aim should lose 0.5 – 1% of your current bodyweight weekly to maximize muscle mass retention. For example, a person who weighs 72 kg should lose between 0.4 and 0.7 kg per week, not more. You can recover from a restrictive diet by implementing a diet break for 2 weeks. Let’s learn more about the miraculous effects of this practice on your weight-loss process.
Effects of a Diet Break on Weight Loss
There are many positive effects of implementing a simple diet break after a month and a half of your diet. Those are:
- Metabolism effects
Let’s start with the most obvious and most expected effect of a diet break–the psychological effect. Perhaps the strongest advantage of the 2-week diet break is the fact that it makes it easier for us to stick to our diets for an extended period because we have these joyful little “breaks” during which we can enjoy the food we love. When you take a little break from your diet, it can give you the psychological power to keep on doing everything you know is good for a healthy life and to persist towards reaching the desired weight. Besides these psychological benefits, there are also physical or physiological benefits.
Namely, we now know that diet breaks prevent our body from entering the calorie storage and re-cultivation regimen after a long-term diet (1). What happens in our bodies? A hormone called leptin, which regulates our energy when we are hungry, decreases because of a long-term diet (2). Such a condition is characteristic for those on a restrictive diet. It puts the body into starvation mode by slowing down one’s metabolism.
This is exactly what you want to avoid. It is not only the biggest enemy of the weight-loss process, but it also negatively affects your general health. You will feel tired, exhausted, have less energy, and be sleepy without an obvious reason. The exchange and secretion of bodily waste will be slowed down and, consequently, toxins will stay in your body for a longer time. This triggers a series of negative effects and gaining weight or the inability to lose weight is only one of them.
A diet break will help you regulate your hormones without medicines. Depending on your gender, age, height, and body proportions, and some other factors, your body needs a certain amount of fat and a certain caloric intake daily. Without these two elements in order you will most probably experience mild, moderate or severe hormonal changes that can temporarily or permanently affect your wellbeing, including the ability to lose or gain weight. These conditions are related to your thyroid gland function.
Implementing a Diet Break: A Short Guide
First, let’s point out that there are two main types of diet breaks. Choose a complete diet break or a partial diet break.
Put, the complete diet break implies consuming food without counting the calories. During your diet break, your instincts and your feeling of hunger will lead you. Are there any rules? Don’t change your lifestyle drastically, for example, start drinking alcohol, eating junk food, eating during the night and not exercising at all–mixed. This will definitely ruin your health. Instead, you can enjoy your food, as your hunger tells you to, but continue your exercising routine.
The second a diet break is the controlled diet break. This is perhaps the best solution for individuals prone to breaking the rules and consuming large portions of food in combination with other unhealthy habits. Also, this diet break is an excellent solution for people who are very close to reaching their weight-loss goal. If you feel like you can’t stand your diet anymore and you want to lose only a pound or two more, this type is the best for you.
Finally, we should mention another, the third type, called intermittent dieting (3). This type is especially popular among athletes. It is based on exchanging the periods of intaking some calories and a large number of calories. The principle behind this strategy is the same as the diet break itself, basically. Energy balance (3) and metabolism improvement are the core segments leading to achieving the targeted weight loss, even in a short time, which is crucial for athletes preparing for a competition.
Remember the last time you were not on a diet? If you can’t remember right away, you’ve definitely been on a diet for too long. Most people who cannot lose weight report that they have spent a whole year on a variety of rigorous diets. Sometimes they have periods where they achieve some results, but they gain all the pounds back quickly. This vicious cycle of weight loss and weight gain is hard to break. The reason for this is rather simple.
Our body, which has a naturally determined weight or percentage of body fat that it tries to maintain, will struggle to reduce the effects of your long-term diet. Think of it as a thermostat in your house. When you are not consuming enough calories for a long time, the body regulates it on its own to slow down the metabolism, just as the thermostat adjusts the temperature when the house overheats. Your metabolic rate adjusts to your daily calorie intake and the time you spend on your restrictive diet.
What could be the solution? Give your body a rest! If you’ve been on a diet for over 3 months or spend too much time fantasizing about a delicious chocolate dessert, it’s time to take a diet break. Sometimes this break helps lose weight better than the diet itself. It breaks the vicious circle and resets your bodily functions and metabolism.
Finally, a proper diet should help you get rid of the craving for certain unhealthy foods. It will also encourage you to choose healthy foods, serve normal amounts of food, and thus lose extra pounds in a healthy and steady way.
- Wing, R.R, Jeffery R.W. (2003) Prescribed “breaks” as a means to disrupt weight control efforts. Found online on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12582226
- Davoodi SH, Ajami M, Ayatollahi SA, Dowlatshahi K, Javedan G, Pazoki-Toroudi HR. Calorie shifting diet versus calorie restriction diet: a comparative clinical trial study. Int J Prev Med. 2014 Apr;5(4):447-56. PMID: 24829732; PMCID: PMC4018593. Found online on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4018593/
- Peos JJ, Norton LE, Helms ER, Galpin AJ, Fournier P. Intermittent Dieting: Theoretical Considerations for the Athlete. Sports (Basel). 2019 Jan 16;7(1):22. doi: 10.3390/sports7010022. PMID: 30654501; PMCID: PMC6359485. Found online on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6359485/