11 Feb Why You Should Take Diet Breaks
So, you’ve decided that it’s time to lose weight. You drastically drop your caloric intake, thinking it’s going to be the fastest way to drop the flab. This goes on for a couple of months; then the scale shows that you’ve lost 10 pounds! You say to yourself, “I’ll just keep dropping calories, and the weight will continue decreasing.”
A week later, you hop on the scale, and your weight stays the same. You decide to drop a few more calories.
Next week, the weight is unchanged. You decrease the calories even more.
The week after, the weight is still the same. What gives?
Why Aren’t You Losing More Weight?
When you’re losing weight for a while then things seem to stall, you’re experiencing metabolic adaptation or adaptive thermogenesis. Either way, you’ve been eating below your maintenance calories, so your metabolism slowed down to prevent too much weight loss. Due to a long period of caloric restriction, the body believes that’s in starvation mode, so it’ll do whatever it can to hold on to the weight that it’s used to.
Intermittent Energy Restriction Works
A 2017 study examined whether intermittent energy restriction (ER) improved weight loss efficiency compared with continuous ER. Fifty-one obese men participated and were separated into two groups: continuous energy restriction (CON) or intermittent energy restriction (INT). The CON group completed 16 consecutive weeks of ER. The INT group completed eight, two-week blocks of ER alternating with seven, two-week blocks of energy balance (i.e., maintenance calories) for a total of 30 weeks.
After a four-week baseline phase to establish maintenance calories, the study commenced with 47 participants. During ER, the energy intake was equivalent to 67% of weight maintenance requirements. Body weight, fat mass, fat-free mass, and resting energy expenditure (REE) were all measured.
Here’s What Researchers Found
Of the 36 participants who completed the protocol, weight loss was 50% greater for the INT group (31.02 ± 12.32 lbs vs. 20.02 ± 6.38 lbs). The INT group also had a greater fat mass loss (27.06 ± 10.56 vs. 17.06 ± 9.24 lbs). Fat-free mass loss was similar between the groups, but the other significant finding is how REE differed. After adjusting for changes in body composition, the reduction in REE was significantly lower in the INT group. This is significant because REE is responsible for 60-75% of the calories you burn each day. A considerable reduction in REE plays a big factor in how efficiently you lose weight.
What This Means For You
- After you establish maintenance calories, reduce your calories by anywhere from 25% to 33%.
- Make sure your protein intake is at least 1g/lb for women and 1.25g/lb for men.
- The mix of carbohydrates and fats doesn’t matter.
- Weeks 1 and 2: Decrease calories by 25% to 33% below maintenance.
- Weeks 3 and 4: Stay at maintenance calories.
Repeat this process, and alternate two-week cycles for 24-30 weeks. This should prove to be much more efficient for long-term fat loss. Also, the psychological break of not being in a caloric deficit consistently for 16 weeks will allow you to enjoy life a bit more and make you feel less deprived.
Byrne, N M et al. “Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study” International journal of obesity (2005) vol. 42,2 (2017): 129-138.