The plethora of false and misleading diet and weight loss information available to us is very troublesome.
Everywhere you look there is a new “magic”, “cutting-edge”, “miracle” strategy, supplement, or program promising quick, unrealistic results.
There IS good news however…
And that is that while there is such a frustrating amount of scams out there, there is also honest, practical, and scientific information too! (though it can be hard to find).
Strategies, advice, and tips that ACTUALLY work and do NOT promise unrealistic, ridiculous results.
But in contrast they simply show another possible option that you can utilize to better achieve your goals.
One such strategy is whats known as a diet break.
What are diet breaks?
Diet breaks are periods of time taken off from dieting (usually 1-2 weeks), in which you eat at maintenance calories in order to lessen the effects that dieting has on the body.
As with all fitness and/or dieting strategies, diet breaks will be beneficial for some and not so much for others.
Likewise, with all dieting strategies, there are both pros and cons, which I briefly go over below. Always remember NO strategy is a one-size-fits-all (i.e, a strategy can be the most wonderfully effective one for one individual and completely useless for another).
Having said that, lets get to the pros and cons so that you can decide for yourself if diet breaks are a good fit for you.
The Pro’s & Con’s of Diet Breaks
–Less metabolic adaptations: Some studies show that intermittent dieting can lessen the effects that dieting has on our bodies ability to lose weight, however, it must be noted that some other studies do not show this benefit (2). Subjects in one study (1) who followed an intermittent energy restricted diet showed to have a smaller reduction in REE/resting energy expenditure (which accounts for ~60% of your total daily energy expenditure) compared to those who followed a continuous restricted diet. Though this group of individuals lost more weight, they had a less significant drop in REE.
–More sustainable for some individuals: There could be a positive psychological aspect produced by having a period of time in which you can eat a higher amount of calories (i.e, maintenance calories). This break could help you in sustaining your diet longer by giving you “relief” from eating in a deficit. The downside to this (mentioned as a con later) is that the overall diet will last longer than if you were utilizing a continuous deficit. In my opinion, this is the most logical benefit to diet breaks and is one of the key reasons why I’d recommend them.
– Greater weight loss: “..intermittent energy restriction resulted in greater weight loss and greater (or a tendency for greater) fat loss, without greater loss of fat-free mass, than an equivalent ‘dose’ of continuous energy restriction.”(1). As with the first benefit, other studies have not shown any difference in weight loss between continuous energy restriction and intermittent energy restriction (2).
– Superior weight loss retention after 6 months (compared to an equivalent dose of energy restriction): Subjects who used intermittent energy restriction (2 weeks in deficit, 2 weeks at energy balance) maintained their weight loss better than those who used a continuous energy restricted diet. At the 6 month follow-up the continuous group showed to have no significant difference in fat mass than baseline (i.e, they gained almost all of their fat mass back within the 6 month period), while the intermittent groups fat mass remained significantly lower than their baseline.
As far as cons go, the only one I see is that when using diet breaks, the diet period lasts longer than if you stuck with a continuous energy restrictive diet and that they may not make much of a difference for some (some may not experience the previously mentioned benefits). The pros definitely outweigh the cons with this strategy.
Implementing Diet Breaks
The length of a diet break as well as the frequency of it, is usually determined by the individuals body fat level and time in which they’ve been dieting. The higher the individuals body fat level is, the less frequent and short the diet breaks can/should be and vice versa.
As you lose weight, it may be wise to take longer, more frequent breaks. One thing is fairly certain, and that is energy balance during these breaks is key to reaping the rewards.
The Possible Necessity for Energy Balance During Breaks
“While inconclusive, it is possible that achieving energy balance (i.e. avoiding energy restriction or energy excess) during re-feeding phases may be important in realizing the potential of Intermittent energy restriction” (3).
It was stated in another study that..”simply alternating between different levels of energy intake (while still maintaining a degree of energy restriction) during a dietary intervention appears to be no more effective than using a continuous fixed level of energy restriction. As such, incorporating periods of controlled energy balance, not simply variations in energy intake, may be necessary to realize the beneficial effects of intermittent energy restriction.”(1).
Considering this, it is recommended that you ensure energy balance (eating at maintenance calories) during your diet breaks.
Diet breaks may prove to be a very beneficial weight loss tool for you, in that they have shown to a) lessen the effects that dieting has on resting energy expenditure, b) produced greater weight loss as well as superior weight loss retention, and c) may be more sustainable for some individuals due to possible psychological benefits.
As with all dieting and/or weight loss strategies, what works great for some will fall short for others. Having said that, I believe because of the possible and likely psychological and metabolic benefits of diet breaks, along with the limited cons, that they are a tool that should definitely be considered while dieting for weight loss.
Everyone wants a one-size-fits-all strategy or plan but it just doesn’t work like that. We are so different as individuals that what is an advantage for one, will likely be a disadvantage for another.
Diet breaks are, like any other strategy, a tool to aid you in your weight loss efforts, not a magic bullet. Though they may carry some great benefits, they are not necessary and whether or not they ARE beneficial will vary per individual.
As long as a strategy is safe for you, it is always worth giving it a try (though you should always consult your physician and/or a dietitian before altering your diet).
I hope this article has helped you in your decision to try diet breaks as a weight loss tool.
Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts and/or opinions, as well as what your experience has been with diet breaks. Don’t forget to share this article if you believe it may benefit a spouse, friend or relative.
Thank you for reading and good luck with all of your fitness goals!
References & Sources