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What you Need to Know About Diet Breaks
What are Diet Breaks and are they Beneficial??
Eventually when dieting your progress will slow and your energy in the gym gets lower and your workouts get harder and harder, its unavoidable. For most people this is when they will chuck in the towel, while others feel this is just usual and what you have to put up with during weight loss, but there is hope. Rather than dropping your calorie intake lower or upping your cardio even more you can include occasional diet breaks.
A diet break is a planned increase in calorie intake that typically occurs when dieting and can help both psychological and physically. It typically lasts from 7-14 days while dieting is stopped.
The psychological benefits are huge and knowing that after 12-16 weeks of tough dieting you will get a diet break of 1-2 weeks is a huge motivator.
Imagine if you were told your diet will just be an endless drop in calories every week until you have achieved what you want. But knowing once you have completed 12 hard weeks of dieting you will have a small diet break will hopefully keep you on track for long term progress.
These breaks could also tie in with social or life events, like a holiday or changing jobs, making life enjoyable, great diet adherence and a sustainable lifestyle while still losing weight in the long run.
The 7-14 days with raised calories will also give your greater energy to train harder along with recover better.
When you diet and lose weight metabolic adaptions occur and your metabolism slows down mainly due to a decrease in weight. However, there is a further drop in metabolism, observed above and beyond that which is explained simply by a drop in body weight. (1-4)
Decreases are seen in hormones; thyroid (5,) leptin (6,) androgens (7,) and increases in cortisol (8) causing hormonal fluctuations that will cause a further drop in metabolism above and beyond which is expected. To read more about metabolic adaptations read this.
By moving to roughly eating maintenance for a couple of weeks, many of those hormones are given time to recover. Leptin can be raised, which regulates hunger, your metabolic rate, appetite, motivation, and libido. The benefits of this though may only been seen after a 2 weeks of a diet break as hormonal levels will not be restored after a few days.
Other physical benefits may also range from helping reduce water weight. Cortisol, which your body produces in response to stress and dieting, has shown that when increased, increases water retention when dieting. (9) To read more about this check out our last article.
So obviously the number of breaks and length of break will all depend on how over weight the individual is or how long they have been dieting for.
If you are very lean or in the deeper phases of dieting, you are more susceptible to to a slowing metabolism, due to the increased calorie deficit. So a longer break of 2 weeks more often may be beneficial.
It is vital to set a caloric goal for each break. To do this, most coaches advise take your current daily calorie intake while dieting, and increase it by 30% for the break. With regards to specific macros, protein remains constant and the majority of your calories wants to be coming from carbs with fat remaining stable.
Why so many carbs?
Because eating carbohydrates is the most effective way to increase leptin and thyroid levels. Dietary fats aren’t very effective at increasing leptin levels. Eating a bunch of carbs will also restore glycogen levels which are responsible for fuelling your workouts, improving your performance in the gym.
This is not something to be abused though and should not be an all out binge, but instead, a controlled diet break.
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Doucet E1, St-Pierre S, Alméras N, Després JP, Bouchard C, Tremblay A. Evidence for the existence of adaptive thermogenesis during weight loss. Br J Nutr. 2001 Jun;85(6):715-23.
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Leibel RL, Rosenbaum M & Hirsch J (1995) Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight. New England Journal of Medicine 332, 621±628.
Wadden TA1,Mason G,Foster GD, Stunkard AJ, Prange AJ. Effects of a very low calorie diet on weight, thyroid hormones and mood. Int J Obes. 1990 Mar;14(3):249-58.
Priya Sumithran, M.B., B.S., Luke A. Prendergast, Ph.D., Elizabeth Delbridge, Ph.D., Katrina Purcell, B.Sc., Arthur Shulkes, Sc.D., Adamandia Kriketos, Ph.D., and Joseph Proietto, M.B., B.S., Ph.D. Long-Term Persistence of Hormonal Adaptations to Weight Loss. N Engl J Med 2011; 365:1597-1604.
Roberto Cangemi1,2, Alberto J Friedmann1, John O. Holloszy1, and Luigi Fontana. Long-term effects of calorie restriction on serum sex hormone concentrations in men. Aging Cell. 2010 April ; 9(2): 236–242.
Tomiyama AJ1,Mann T,Vinas D, Hunger JM, Dejager J, Taylor SE. Low calorie dieting increases cortisol. Psychosom Med. 2010 May;72(4):357-64. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181d9523c. Epub 2010 Apr 5.
Connell JM1, Whitworth JA, Davies DL, Lever AF, Richards AM, Fraser R. Effects of ACTH and cortisol administration on blood pressure, electrolyte metabolism, atrial natriuretic peptide and renal function in normal man. J Hypertens. 1987 Aug;5(4):425-33.