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Taking a Break From Your Diet Can Help You Lose More Weight and Keep It Off

Taking a diet break, and aiming to just maintain your weight during that break--not losing but not gaining weight either--can lead to more weight loss and sustained weight loss over time.

You may think that in order to lose weight and keep it off, you have to stick to a rigid diet with no room for error. This “all or nothing” mentality is not only unsuccessful, it could backfire causing overeating and may even lead to disordered eating patterns. New research finds that you do not have to be super-strict when it comes to dieting. In fact, taking regular breaks from your diet every now and then—without, of course, completely diving face-first into a trough of french fries--actually helps you lose more weight.

Recent findings from a randomized controlled trial, funded through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia and published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that study participants who took regular breaks from their diets lost more weight than those who stuck to a strict diet the entire time.

Let’s look at the study details.

The aim of the study was to compare continuous energy (calorie) restriction to intermittent energy restriction to see which was more efficient and to examine whether or not the calorie restriction caused participants’ metabolisms to slow down to compensate for taking in fewer calories. The study involved 51 obese men who were split into two groups: half of the group stuck to a 16-week diet where their caloric intake was reduced by one-third, completing the diet with no breaks. The other group completed the same 16-week diet with calories also slashed by one-third but they completed the diet over a period of 30 weeks to allow for two-week breaks during which they were advised to maintain their weight, but not lose or gain weight. So essentially, the second group did two weeks of dieting, followed two weeks of not dieting (not binging and gaining back weight, but also not restricting calories either), and the cycle continued.

Researchers kept track of total body weight, fat mass, fat-free mass, and resting energy expenditure (metabolism) during the study.

What researchers discovered is that the group of participants who dieted two weeks on and then two weeks off lost more total body weight and lost more fat mass. But did the weight loss last? Yes! In fact, what was even more striking was that the participants who followed the diet for two weeks and then took two weeks off lost, on average, 17 pounds more than those who stuck to the strict diet for 16 weeks without any breaks. Those in the two-weeks on, two-weeks off diet group kept more weight off even after the study was over.

The scientists behind the study suggest the reason for these results could be due to the fact that when you reduce caloric intake, your metabolism naturally slows to try to preserve body fat. But taking breaks from the diet revs your metabolism back up again. Researchers point out one bonus is that dieting for short bursts, followed by a more relaxed approach to eating, is more attainable and people would then be more likely to stick with it for the long haul, not just temporarily.

Keep in Mind

Of course, the goal is to maintain your weight when you are taking a break from your diet, not to completely throw in the towel and eat anything and everything in sight. The participants were instructed to just try to eat a little healthier when they were not dieting, meaning they were not binging and overeating while on the break. They were monitored and their diets adjusted if they started to lose or gain weight during the diet “break” so they could simply maintain body their weight.

Make It Work for You

Long story short, if you ditch your diet—at least temporarily—you could end up losing more weight than if you were to stick to a strict diet all the time. Being too rigid with your eating habits can have negative consequences. Focus on trying to eat a sensible, healthy, well-balanced diet most of the time and allow yourself a little wiggle room every once in a while. Eat slowly, listen to hunger and fullness cues to eat mindfully, consume plenty of plants, and stay active.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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