Fat loss can be a lengthy and challenging process, and surprisingly we make it too difficult on ourselves. The simple answer to fat loss is putting yourself into a caloric deficit for a certain amount of time; whether that be from eating less than it takes to maintain weight or increasing your total caloric burn each day.
Although quite simple, the biggest complaint I hear as a personal trainer is that after a certain amount of time dieting; most people hit a plateau and weight loss slows, or stops completely.
Diet Break? Why would I STOP dieting if I want to keep losing weight?
Let me make sense of the term “diet break”. The name says it all, after a certain amount of time being in a caloric deficit; you take a short break and bring your calories back up to maintenance. This could be for as little as a week, or as long as 1-2 months (depending on how long you have been dieting for).
Although it may sound contradicting to take time off from trying to lose weight; you have to look at the whole picture. Fat loss does not happen over-night, just as your weight gain did not happen over-night. Dieting for long periods of time can slow your metabolic rate, decrease muscle mass, and make you lose strength.
When we’re looking at someone who is in the over-weight or obese category; they most likely need to diet for a long period of time to get to a healthier body fat percentage and weight. Imagine what 6-12 months of an aggressive diet can do to your metabolic rate, especially to someone who already has a slow metabolism to begin with.
A new study released this year (2017) from Burns and Colleagues; revealed that implementing diet breaks every 2 weeks was more effective than staying on the same caloric deficit for 16 weeks straight.
Group 1: Dieted in a 33% caloric deficit for 16 weeks
Group 2: Dieted in a 33% caloric deficit for 30 weeks, with a diet break every 2 weeks.
Note: Group 2 dieted for longer; but since every 2 weeks they were brought back up to maintenance calories; the researchers doubled the length of the dieting period. This allowed for a control in the study.
Upon completion of the diet; research shows that Group 2 had shown to lose 50% more fat than Group 1, AND had less metabolic slowdown.
How do I apply a Diet Break to myself?
Although the research study show diet breaks to be far more superior than traditionally dieting for a long period of time without a break; you may want to take diet breaks less often than the study had done.
I say this because; you will unfortunately be dieting for a longer period of time with that frequent of dieting breaks implemented into your period of fat loss. This will draw out the weight loss process for a longer amount of time, making it harder mentally, and physically to build muscle mass and increase performance in the gym.
Everyone will require a different strategy, but I suggest trying out a few different ways of implementing diet breaks into your current way of eating; try taking a diet break for 1-2 weeks for every month of dieting. This doesn’t mean go eat whatever you want; you just eat the amount it takes to maintain your weight, rather than being in a caloric deficit.
I hope this introduced a new tool in the tool box for some of you who may be struggling to lose weight. Remember to look at the big picture, weight loss comes with time, hard work, and consistency.