Episode 49 – Diet Breaks

Key Topics Covered

What is a Diet Break 

  • Definition: Taking a break from a calorie deficit with periods of maintenance calories  
  • Typically 1-4 weeks long 

What are the benefits?: 

  • Reduce hunger and desire to eat  
  • Reverse metabolic adaptation (if long enough) 
  • Provide a psychological break from dieting  
  • Allows you to practice sitting at maintenance calories – so at the end of the diet, you know what that looks like and may make the transition easier long term.

1) Reverse Hunger and Desire to Eat Associated with Dieting 

  • Hunger: Physical feeling of hunger/starvation
  • Desire to eat: You can be full and still have a desire to eat a crispy cream for example.
  • Hunger and desire to eat increase over the course of a diet.
  • A study from Jackson Peos Study called the ISECAP trail.
  • Over the course of a 12-week diet, their desire to eat when from 20/100 to >60/100.
  • They had a diet break every 4th week, when they did, hunger barely increased.
  • A diet break could make this so much more comfortable and easier.
  • The Minnesota Starvation Experiment put a goup of people in a 25% energy deficit. They lost 25% of their body weight (they were already lean to start with) and they became obsessed over food. Thinking, talking and dreaming about food.
  • When you’re dieting to this extreme for a long period of time, it’s not very likely that you’ll stick to the deficit. You’re likely to cave and over eat.
  • If adding a few weeks on to your journey ensures that you’ll stay on track and lose the weight, why wouldn’t you do it?

2) Reverse Metabolic Adaptation 

  • During dieting phase there is going to be some form of metabolic adaptation. Metabolism will reduce.
  • A diet break at maintenance calories(when long enough) may be able to reverse some of this adaptation.
  • Metabolic adaptation is likely a very small factor in weight loss plateaus (increased hunger, reductions in PA, and other things probably play a way bigger role) BUT it can be A factor to consider .
  • For this to be effective, the diet break must be longer than 1-2 weeks. Ideally around 4 weeks to allow for full reverse of metabolic adaptation.
  • Metabolic adaptation may only reduce your calorie maintenance by 100-200 calories. Depending on the individual and their circumstances.

3) Provide a mental break from dieting 

  • This is obvious. Dieting can be extremely mentally fatiguing, so this will definetly help reduce some of that fatigue.
  • Because this allows you to eat the foods you enjoy in larger amounts, and incorporate more of the foods that you enjoy.
  • The MATADOR study looked at obese people, who weren’t lifters in a calorie deficit for 16 weeks.
  • The diet group had 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off of a diet for 30 weeks. They lost a significantly larger amount of weight compared to the control group.

4) Allow the benefits of spending time at maintenance 

  • Super useful for allowing a chance to practice what it will be like to eat maintenance calories for when you reach the end of the diet.
  • Also very useful for those who have not spent much/any time in their adult life choosing to maintain their weight. It can be a change how you think about food significantly. 
  • The other interesting factor is that the study, a lot of people who were at a higher body weight than they’d like to be were not meeting their calorie requirements with nutritious foods.
  • As soon as you consume higher amounts of whole foods, it’s much more difficult to over eat.

Bonus

  • Getting used to what eating at calories is super important for improving relationship with food, understanding that you can eat a wide variety of food without gaining weight.
  • 80-90% of people who lose weight will regain the weight that they loss.
  • The game is, how do we beat those odds?
  • By understanding your maintenance calories and implementing diet breaks as required, may help you stay more in control of hunger/fullness cues.

How to Implement a Diet Break

  • Listen to the cues: Are you hungry? How’s your desire to eat?
  • You could plan in advance, having an end date may help mentally.
  • We like to do 8 weeks on and 2 weeks off.
  • But sometimes more frequently and sometimes less frequently.
  • In relation to the menstrual cycle, we like to add more calories around that time of the month. ie. every 4th week is a diet break.

Useful Links/Resources

Studies Mentioned:

Related Blog Posts: