Podcast Episode 49 Transcript – Diet Breaks

Aidan Muir

Hello, and welcome to episode 49 of the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. I am Aidan Muir and I’m here with my co-host, Leah Higl, and today we are going to be talking about diet breaks. When we’re planning what we’re going to be talking about in this kind of batch of podcast recordings, I can’t remember what we’re going to do it on, but I think we were going to do it on diet breaks versus [inaudible 00:00: [00:00:30] 29].

It’s like, we don’t have a podcast on diet breaks yet.

Leah Higl

How have we missed this?

Aidan Muir

We’ve touched on stuff, but we haven’t like done it in detail and there’s a lot I want to say about it and I hope you’re the same. So like I wanted to go through it. So we will go through it today.

Leah Higl

Perfect. So let’s start with what is a diet break? That’s always a nice place to start. So anyone that follows us on Instagram will know what a diet break is, but basically it’s when you are in a calorie deficit. And then during that calorie deficit, you decide you are going to take a break [00:01:00] at maintenance calories or a surplus, but usually it’s at maintenance calories. And that’s typically one to four weeks long. So, we can use diet breaks in a lot of different ways and we’ll definitely go through how you could use them and the benefits of them. But it’s basically what it sounds like is it’s a break from your diet built into your overall plan.

Aidan Muir

So the benefits we’re going to be touching on, I’m just going to list them systematically and then we’ll go through them in more detail. So [00:01:30] reducing hunger and desire to eat, reversing metabolic adaptation, and I’ll go through that in more detail. Providing a psychological break from dieting. And it also allows you to spend some time sitting at maintenance calories, which is really important because when you get to the end of a diet, you need to go to maintenance calories. So it gives you, well, if you want to maintain your body weight at the end of a diet, you need to go to maintenance calories. So it gives you a chance to practice that and also experience what that’s like. And there’s heaps we can talk about with that as well. There’s so many angles to think about.

Leah Higl

There are so many benefits to [00:02:00] diet breaks. I’m keen to like get into the nitty gritty of it.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. So the first one, and this is the most clear cut one, is reversing hunger and desire to eat associated with dieting. Even those two terms, hunger and desire to eat. They’re kind of separate. Hunger is quite literally physical hunger. Desire to eat is a little bit separate. Like, you can be full and I know Krispy Kreme donuts. I like Krispy Kreme donuts. And like, you can be full and still want one. And like your desire to eat is like, how much you want [00:02:30] that one. So oftentimes they do go hand in hand and I think an underappreciated fact is that on average hunger increases over the course of a diet. There is a study that is useful when talking about diet breaks from Jackson Peos, it came out last year and it was called the ICECAP Trial. And it showed like two pieces of really important data.

And I have shared this in the podcast before as well, but like it showed hunger and desire to eat increasing over the course of a diet. So they had one [00:03:00] group go into a calorie deficit for 12 weeks. The thing about studies is they can get people to be a bit more compliant with a calorie deficit cause they’re being studied. So they probably were in a calorie deficit pretty much every single day. Whereas a lot of people, when they say they’re in a calorie deficit, they probably dip in and out. So they probably wouldn’t experience this as much. But, over the course of a 12 week diet, they rated their hunger and desire to eat. They were separate charts, but they ended up looking the same. They went from an under 20, out of a hundred to an above 60, out of a hundred by week [00:03:30] 12.

And at the midpoint, there are about 40 out of a hundred. And you can probably pretty safely assume that it continues increasing a little bit after that as well. So that’s useful information cause it’s like, well damn like if hunger… And like obviously people are individuals, some people can do 12 weeks in a deficit and be fine. And like, not that hungry other people get it a lot sooner, but that stands out to me because it’s like, well, one, we probably need to embrace some level of hunger if we’re going to do a significant deficit for a long period of time or whatever, or 12 weeks or even shorter. But two, you probably can’t just grit your teeth [00:04:00] and push through.

Leah Higl

It probably, I mean, I know it gets to a point just personally that is like it’s quite uncomfortable.

And then just taking a couple of weeks at maintenance calories to kind of readjust everything can make the rest of your, or the next block of dieting so much easier because it can become really intense. Hunger is not a comfortable feeling. Yeah, we have to have some level of hunger in a diet usually, but we don’t want a ton.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. And I use extreme examples a lot, particularly in speaking [00:04:30] with clients, but an extreme example I talk about before I talk about diet breaks in a second is there’s a study called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. And they put people who are, guys who are kind of lean to start off already. And it’s a pretty horrific study. I apologize for mentioning it, but like they put them in 25% calorie deficits. So that’s not massive. But to the point that they lost 25% of their body weight and because they were kind of lean to start off with, like they got quite skinny at the end of it and all of their food was provided for them. It was like starvation camp style study, so questionable ethics obviously. But [00:05:00] fascinating outcomes from this perspective where they got obsessed with food, all they would think about was food. All They would talk about is food.

They were dreaming about food. And obviously when they got out of the starvation type environment, they ate like crazy and a lot of them regained weight very quickly. But I talk about that study a lot because I view a lot of things on a spectrum and I view dieting on that spectrum where it’s kind of like when you first start a diet, you’re nowhere near that. But if you just try and go indefinitely, you start approaching that.

And [00:05:30] nobody is outside of disordered eating. Nobody wants to put themselves in that situation. You’re probably going to eat before you get to that point. And that’s what I say when I’m like, we can’t just grit your teeth and push through because at some stage you’re probably going to eat, before you get to that level, obviously. And the great thing about Jackson’s study, in supportive of diet breaks, is he got a group to do 12 weeks of deficit, but having a diet break every fourth week. So it took 15 weeks total. So a diet break every fourth week at maintenance calories and their hunger [00:06:00] barely increased over the course of the diet. They lost similar amounts of weight, if not slightly more from memory, but their hunger barely increased and they only added three weeks onto the journey. That’s a super interesting finding for me. That’s like, this is a tool that you can use to manage that hunger more effectively.

Leah Higl

Yeah. If hunger is a huge barrier for you and it’s the reason you keep failing, cause you keep trying to do an indefinite calorie deficit, this could really be helpful. Like [00:06:30] this could be the one thing that helps you get from point A to point B comfortably.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. A hundred percent.

Leah Higl

There is also the aspect of potentially reversing metabolic adaptation when we’re talking about diet breaks. So I mean during a dieting phase, when you’re in a calorie deficit, there is going to be some form of metabolic adaptation. So your metabolism is going to reduce a little bit. How significant that is probably is going to be based on the individual and how [00:07:00] big of a deficit they’re in, how long they’ve been doing it for, but it does happen to a certain degree. A diet break at maintenance calories. So in theory, if you’re at maintenance calories and you’re there for long enough, your metabolism will undergo metabolic adaptation, but in the other way, so it’s going to come up. The only issue where we’re talking about diet breaks and metabolic adaptation reversing it is how long do we need to be in a diet break in order to have that effect?

Probably [00:07:30] more than one to two weeks. We’re probably looking at four plus weeks for a reversal of metabolic adaptation, I guess in its full extent. Especially if your metabolism is decreased by one to 200 calories in a diet, it’s probably going to take more than a week of a diet break to reverse that. Another factor to kind of think of in that regard, is that how much is that metabolic adaptation actually hindering your weight loss? And you know, how is [00:08:00] it hindering your journey? Like if it is only a hundred calories per day, that your metabolism is dropped by, I don’t know. Does that really make a huge difference? It’s probably more the desire to eat and the hunger that I see diet breaks really kind of shine through, but we can’t have this conversation without mentioning it.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. I completely agree. So in Jackson’s study, they didn’t find any difference in metabolic adaptation, but my thoughts on that is metabolic adaptation has probably a pretty small effect and is three weeks [00:08:30] out of a 15 week period. Like, is that enough to like really-

… see a big difference in something that was already kind of small to start off with? We definitely know that longer periods of time do reverse metabolic adaptation. The question is just how long? We’ve seen studies where people are at maintenance for one month and metabolic adaptation is pretty much nonexistent. So it’s somewhere in that range. So I’m super comfortable saying it helps, but like I’m also not out there being like, well, doing a short diet break is going to completely reverse this thing. Like it’s-

Leah Higl

You can’t go out there saying that.

Aidan Muir

[00:09:00] Yeah. What I can go out there saying though, is that it provides… How is this segue?

Leah Higl

Such a good segue!

Aidan Muir

Yeah. It provides a bit of a mental break from dieting. That’s a bit of a no brainer. Like if you are in a deficit, there’s typically some level of restraint or restriction that comes alongside that. Obviously less aggressive deficits you probably feel it less, but less aggressive deficits mean you’re in the deficit for longer to achieve what you want. So even just the duration also plays a role in this kind of restraint and restriction [00:09:30] and stuff like that. Having slightly higher calories at maintenance calories or whatever allows you to eat foods in larger amounts, it probably allows you to eat foods that you haven’t been able to have in the amounts that you like them to have as well. Like it gives you a lot more options. There was the first major study I was aware of on diet breaks called the MATADOR Study. And they had a group that was in a calorie deficit for 16 weeks.

And this was in [00:10:00] obese people who were not lifters, whereas Jackson’s one was done on athletes. So they were in a calorie deficit for 16 weeks or they were given a diet that’d be in a calorie deficit for 16 weeks. And the diet break group had two weeks on weeks off, two weeks on two weeks off. So they took a total of 30 weeks to achieve this. And the diet break group lost significantly more weight than the other group, but it was a real world setting. And a criticism of that study that a lot of people had [00:10:30] was that it’s like, well, how do we know that this is due to metabolic adaptation? How do we know that like this is providing physiological benefits and either way it still works.

Leah Higl

It still helped. Again, like we always talk about outcomes.

We care about outcomes and diet breaks had a better outcome.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. Like the… One of the criticisms was like, well, what if it’s just because they were able to stick to their diet better because they knew they only had to do it for two week periods and then they’d get to two weeks off and like, well, that’s still a benefit. Like that’s where this mental [00:11:00] break comes into play. And there’s so many ways to use it. You don’t have to do two weeks on two weeks off because like 30 weeks is a long time in that example.

But, there is a mental break that comes alongside diet breaks.

Leah Higl

Yeah. The psychological break I think, is up there with the limiting the desire to eat and things like that. I think they’re the two biggest things that come from diet breaks and what I personally feel is really useful when working with clients. So the final part of this that we’re going to talk about is it allows you to spend time [00:11:30] at maintenance as a bit of a practice. So ideally at the end of a diet, like you’re not just going to diet for your entire life. Ideally there’s going to be an end to it where you are going to want to maintain your weight at some point. So what diet breaks allow is it gives you a snapshot of what does that look like? So, what does eating at maintenance actually look like? What does it feel like and allows you to practice that, which I think is very, very useful.

So ideally also at the end of a diet, [00:12:00] you’d have some kind of like structured maintenance phase to also allow for this. But the diet breaks are just a good little snapshot throughout your journey throughout the process that yeah. Just allow you to practice. And that can be beneficial, particularly for adults that have never really tried to maintain.

Like people that have just… Maybe yo-yo dieters, they’re always kind of losing weight, dieting, and then bouncing back up. And they’ve just done that for years and years and years and have never, just tried to actively maintain [00:12:30] their weight.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. And I’ve got so much to say on that topic. I could go for hours, but it’s kind of like when you get to a… like a lot of people when they’re dieting are in that mindset and how do you get to the end of the diet? And like, because logically, if you’re in a deficit, you’re losing weight. If you achieve your goal and you stayed in the exact same amount of calories, you’d continue losing weight. So like you’d have to increase calories by definition. How do you increase calories and probably increase carbs without going too far?

Do you open [00:13:00] the floodgates? Does allowing yourself to have a little bit more lead to… That’s why it’s cool to practice this and have some structure and everything like that. The other thing that I see is super relevant is most people who were at a higher body weight than they intentionally wanted to be, they often were not meeting their calories required to maintain their weight through “healthy foods”.

Like obviously a portion of that was coming from there. But like of another portion was coming from, [00:13:30] call it junk food, call it whatever or whatever. And when you try to reach your calorie requirements through “clean eating”, there’s a chance you fall short and there’s a chance you get full before you reach your calorie requirements. And even if not, there’s room for flexibility, there’s room for unhealthy food or whatever you want to call it and there’s room for more carbs or whatever. There’s so many people who spent their entire life avoiding or restricting carbohydrates to a certain degree in terms of bread, [00:14:00] rice, pasta, those kind of foods, even fruit to a certain degree, but they’ll be having other junk food or whatever. So it’s like on the healthy side of things, they’re trying to avoid it. And on the unhealthy side of things, they’re accidentally eating it or whatever you want to call it.

And when you switch to maintenance at the end, you are kind of faced with this dilemma of like, well now I can have larger portions of rice for the first time or more potato or more whatever. And it’s cool to like actually experience that and see what that looks like and trial and error and figure out what works for you, because it is to a certain degree trial and error [00:14:30] and finding out what you like and what you feel comfortable on, everything like that. And this gives the opportunity to play around with that while you’re still dieting or working towards your overall goal. Totally.

And like the other last thing I, cause I could go for ages, as I said, the last thing I wanted to touch on is we know that somewhere between 80 and 95% of the people who lose a significant amount of weight, regain weight. Somewhere in that range. The game we’re probably playing, if we’re choosing to lose weight, [00:15:00] is how do we beat those odds?

How do we beat those odds? And this is an opportunity to potentially improve those odds significantly by putting some emphasis on working out what maintenance is like, how does that feel and how can I improve there versus just focusing on the weight loss portion of it without any time spent trying to focus on the weight maintenance portion of it.

Leah Higl

So, let’s talk about how we actually use diet breaks at practice. Obviously they’re very useful. They have a ton of benefits. [00:15:30] We love them. We use them with our clients. I use them with myself, but there’s, there’s really no one answer to this. I find like you can use diet breaks however you realistically want. I, in practice, tend to wait until a client is feeling ready for a diet break. So say some people at six weeks into a deficit are going to go, “my desire to eat is through the roof. I’m really hungry, really struggling with this”. Okay. Let’s take a diet break whilst others can go 12 to [00:16:00] 15 weeks, feel great, and it’s only around that kind of yeah. 12 to 15 week mark that they’re like, yep. All of these things are happening for me. And then I’ll do a diet break then.

You could plan them in advance. I do that with some clients who really struggle mentally staying in a calorie deficit, because there’s no real, like soon end date to it. So maybe we go four weeks on one week off or something like that. So you can either plan them in advance. You can do them as needed based on your appetite and desire to eat and like needing [00:16:30] that psychological break. Doesn’t really matter how you use them.

Aidan Muir

Yeah. So many options. I agree. So my most common approach I use with people is eight weeks on two weeks off. That’s just because like, it seems convenient for me to do that for a variety of reasons. Even partly like honestly just transparently in inside my business model because I see people every two weeks and my first few sessions, I work with somebody, if they’re looking through this weight or whatever, I have a lot of stuff that I want to cover and I start covering those things in order before [00:17:00] I start talking about diet breaks, and then by like that third or four session is when I’m like, oh, now it’ll be time for us to like look at this. That’s one reason why I do it that way. But then there’s heaps of other approaches that I potentially take with people. If things are going great, I’m like, well maybe let’s let it run, as you kind of said.

Sometimes I’ll do it more frequently. Sometimes I’ll do it less frequently. If I’m really pushing that, like let’s practice, weight maintenance kind of thing. I like people to do it for like a month or so.

I try to give them a longer timeframe for that in a lot of cases. [00:17:30] Some people struggle with diet breaks where they like they go off track or whatever. Like they just like the floodgates do open or whatever. Like when they go to that and sometimes like spending a little bit more time, takes a bit of the novelty away and things start to settle down to a certain degree.

And another one that I’ve been using a little bit more over the last year or so is in relation to the menstrual cycle. With some people I do add more calories during one week of the month with a lot of other people I don’t. This is only a small percentage of people I work with, but if I’m already going to be doing [00:18:00] that because I think it helps them manage their appetite or whatever, or because the people I work with have found that helpful or whatever I might as well like link it in with a diet. I can just be like-

Leah Higl

Yeah, might as well.

Aidan Muir

Every fourth week we do it here. So it’s another thing. That’s not the sole reason why I do it, but that’s like the protocol that was used in Jackson’s study, like it’s like every fourth week is a diet break in that case. So it is another option. So there are heaps of options. I don’t think it matters how you really use them or when you really use them. Because going back to that chart of like 12 weeks in the calorie deficit, [00:18:30] people became three times hungrier. You probably want to consider using it or something like that. And it doesn’t necessarily matter which way you do it. It’s very individual.

Leah Higl

This has been episode 49 of the Ideal Nutrition podcast. Thank you for tuning in.