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March 10, 2020 5 min read

Diet breaks: are they necessary? The science behind it

Following a diet in order to lose weight is the most popular and common way to shed some extra pounds. However, if you are dieting for too long, you may experience some weight stagnation which may lead to frustration, sadness, and anger. For this reason, some experts recommend diet breaks but are they effective or necessary? Here is what science has to say.

 

Losing your extra weight can be a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes you feel you are up to losing the programmed weight at the time scheduled but some other you go into the scale and see – with anger and remorse – that you continue with the same weight you had before.

Before throwing the towel or killing your mood with imaginary reasons, maybe what your system is telling you is that you need a break..

 

As obesity continues as the number one public health threat for US government, with a growing percentage of citizens and cities falling over this worldwide pandemic, it is more than expected that a high volume of citizens recur to dieting in order to avoid or control the harmful side effects overweight might bring to your overall health.

 

Some side effects overweight can bring are high blood pressure, elevated sugar blood levels which may cause diabetes or develop metabolic syndrome, heart diseases, joint and back pain, and strokes. Obesity has become the most important condition to cause millions in expenses due to its side consequences.

 

Accordingly, approximately 45 million people go on a dietary regime every year, with the primary goal of losing the extra weight (1).

 

However, is pretty common to experience some type of weight stagnation or flattening after a couple of months of being on a diet. But besides changing menus or start analyzing every step made until that time, making diet breaks can help you to lose weight faster and consistently.

 

Diet breaks: the secret behind weight loss success

Studies made to a popular TV Show of weight loss The Biggest Loser demonstrated that weight-loss-plateau is something that frequently happens on dietary regimes that take over 6 weeks to make and, after dropping them, you will regain your old weight or even increase it.

 

This weight stagnation happens as the result of applying a diet that only focuses on calorie restriction; that slowed down their metabolism and leads them to regain their weight shortly after (2).

 

In addition to these facts, several scientific studies show the efficiency of diet breaks in helping people to lose weight fast and effectively. Here are some examples:

 

A study made in 2003 demonstrated that diets break help people to keep the pounds shed over time and lose the weight they needed. This study made 3 diet breaks of two weeks after a 6 week diet period or a single diet break of 6 weeks of a 14 weeks diet period (3).

 

Another study made in 2017 for Tasmania University and published by the International Journal for Obesity was applied to two groups of participants for a 16-week dietary regime to investigate the body's 'famine reaction' through diet breaks.

 

The diet consisted in take away their calorie intake by one third. Meanwhile, one group kept the 16-week diet with no breaks, the other group made a 2-week diet followed by a diet break of two weeks to then going back to the regime until fulfilling the 16 weeks (4).

 

By the end of the trial, the group which had diet breaks not only lost more weight but even gained back less after the study ended. With a difference of 8kgs off between the no diets breaks group after the study, these results show the power that diet breaks have on your system.

 

On the other hand, a study published in 2018 to test diet break results from divided individuals into two groups: one of them did a diet without a break for 16 weeks and the other diet for two weeks followed by a two-week diet break until completing a 30-week regime.

 

Their calorie intake was reduced to 65% which means 1,675 daily calorie intake of a 2,500 one. The results remained the same: the intermittent diet group lost significantly more weight than the other while their metabolism didn’t slow down that much (5).

 

Conversely, diet breaks seem to work even better on a two-week break than in other combinations. A study made in 2017 which focused on obese adults alternatively fasting for every other day had the same weight loss results than the group who practice continuous dieting (6). 

 

With these results at hand, specialist concludes that a two-week diet break over a two-week diet may seem the key to achieving the benefits from diet breaks (7)

 

Why do diet breaks work?

The secret behind weight stagnation over continuous dieting is a biological mechanism called 'adaptive thermogenesis' which is a human survival mechanism to avoid starvation by keeping stored fat and glucose. 

 

This way, inconsistent food supply was resolved by a system’s adaptation consequence of evolution which leads to your metabolism to slow down, making us harder to lose weight on this modern lifestyle.

 

By giving your body a diet break, you convince your system to not enter into the “famine reaction” since you are not starving at all. This trick will help to rebalance your body and help you to speed up your weight loss process into success.

 

If you decide to give it a shot, you need to find out how many calories do you need to keep your weight stable and then cutting one-third of that for a two-week period to start dieting. Then, go back to your normal calorie intake but take away 100 calories per day to symbolize your weight loss and practice it for the other two-weeks. Lastly, repeat this cycle (8).  

 

Do you need a diet break?

Here are some signs you might need a diet break from your weight loss journey (9):

  • Even though you keep following your diet, your rate of fat loss has slowed significantly or halted completely
  • You feel more tired than when you begin dieting
  • Experience many mood swings you didn’t have before dieting
  • You feel weaker, even losing all your strength when trying to make your exercising routine
  • You suffer from many flu or cold episodes in the last few weeks on dieting
  • You already alter your calorie intake several times with no significant changes

 

References

  1. https://www.bmc.org/nutrition-and-weight-management/weight-management
  2. Fothergill et al., Persistent metabolic adaption 6 years after The Biggest Loser competition, Obesity (Silver Spring), 2017
  3. Wing and Jefferey, Prescribed “Breaks” as a Means to Disrupt Weight Control Efforts, Obesity Research, 2003
  4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170918222235.htm
  5. https://www.optimizewithscience.com/blog/how-to-use-diet-breaks-to-overcome-plateaus-and-prevent-metabolism-slowdowns
  6. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2623528
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319474#A-superior-alternative-to-continuous-dieting?
  8. https://www.today.com/health/diet-break-t116476
  9. https://caliberstrong.com/are-you-ready-for-a-diet-break/

 

 


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