Why You must Take Diet Breaks

Dieting sucks.

It’s tiresome… and starving yourself for months of your favorite ice cream is a cruel and unusual punishment. Such is the case for the chase of your ideal body.At least that’s what we’ve been told.
Fortunately, there might be a savior of such pain and suffering.And that is the use of… diet breaks.It might seem counter-intuitive initially,because it is true that if you want to lose weight, you have to take in less energy, or calories, over time, than your body expends.

Adding a break, on paper, means that it will only stall your results or worse yet, gain some of the weight back.Incidentally, that belief is exactly how the idea of diet breaks being a potential weight loss tool came to fruition.

In 2003, researchers attempted to accelerate the effects commonly seen when people fall off their diets, particularly the negative effects of weight gain relapse.To their surprise, participants that were prescribed breaks during a weight loss program,either multiple 2-week breaks or a 6-week break, didn’t really gain much weight at all and had very little problem jumping back into their diet.

At 5 and 11-month follow-ups, weight loss did not differ much between the continuous dieting group to those prescribed breaks.According to the researchers, it’s seems that the PLANNING of the break, rather than the break per se, was a major factor.More on this in a second.The physiological mechanisms in play during breaks remain to be determined, with leading theories suggesting breaks repair hormonal imbalances, particularly leptin, which controls our hunger signals, and thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism.One might also suggest a diet break increases NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This assumes that during long periods of dieting,one might subconsciously be less willing or lack energy to perform mundane activities, like dancing to their favorite song or going on a walk.

The additional fuel from breaks potentially reverses that decline.Psychological benefits might exist as well. Back to the idea of planning, the researchers theorized that planned breaks essentially removed the feeling of self-blame or guilt stemming from one’s personal failures of adhering to a diet.Since it’s planned, it can lead to a positive feeling rather than a negative.Of course, there is the benefit of eating the foods you desire earlier than anticipated.

Later on, in 2014, a study on obese women using a 1-week on, 1-week off diet to break schedule, found that, after 8 weeks, continuous dieting did lead to greater weight loss (3.5kgvs 1.9kg IER), but, in a 12-month follow-up,the differences were not significant.

A 2016 meta-analysis further looked at 9 studies partaking experiments on intermittent energy restriction protocols, concluded that neither intermittent breaks nor continuous energy restriction were superior to one another interms of weight loss.But it was only in 2018 that we had research suggesting superior benefits with prescribed breaks.The study was titled “Minimizing Adaptive Thermogenesis And Deactivating Obesity Rebound,”aka, the MATADOR study.
They randomized obese men to either a continuous dieting group sustaining a 33% calorie deficit through 16 weeks, or the intermittent energy restriction group, which also sustained a33% calorie deficit through 16 weeks but with a planned 2-week break every 2 weeks.

For those that completed the entire program,weight loss was 59% greater in participants taking breaks than continuous dieting. At a 6-month follow-up, the difference jumped to 80%, or 8.1 kilograms more weight lost, largely because the continuous dieting group ended up regaining most of their weight.On top of that, the weight lost was almost exclusively fat mass, in both groups, but significantly more with intermittent breaks. Of course.… there’s one big catch. The continuous dieting intervention lasted 16 weeks. The intermittent break protocol… took 30 weeks.

That’s because the researchers wanted to match the duration of energy restriction, 16 weeks in both groups. The 2-week breaks in between cannot be accountedas part of that restriction, since they clearly weren’t restricting calories during those times.

Thus, the additional 14 weeks of breaks.This longer dieting time might be less desirable for those that need to lose weight in a short time frame. The MATADOR study also prescribed participants to eat at an energy balance, or just enough to not gain or lose any weight, during their breaks, meaning to replicate the potential benefits in the study, you can’t just eat whatever and however much you want during break time.

Also, studies that either saw superior or equal results typically used obese subjects.Whether breaks are as effective in leaner individuals remain to be seen. And one more limitation is the lack of consistent,or any, exercise protocol in these studies. As we know, exercise can very well change the entire landscape of body composition when paired with an effective weight loss program.
Still, a benefit does seem to exist, both physiologically and psychologically. As far as implementation, going off the MATADOR study, a 2-week on, 2-week off program might be a good place to start. One can argue that leaner individuals might benefit from more frequent breaks due to the greater physiological push back at lower body fat percentages.Heavier individuals might use breaks less,like a 4:2 or 6:2 ratio, since they tend to see consistent weight loss for longer periods of time.

Not much reason to throw in a break when results are flowing quite nicely. The main take away is that diet breaks do at least serve as an alternative.

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