What is a diet break and what is it used for?
The concept of a diet break is essentially just getting your oil changed before your car breaks down. Meaning, instead of dieting until you lose your mind and binge-eat, you simply implement a planned break to avoid the potential negative side e ects that can come with a prolonged caloric deficit. Psychologically, this puts you in control of the process versus you breaking down as a consequence of the diet.
How can diet breaks help?
The original research on diet breaks found that this intentional “disruption” of weight control in fact did not disrupt weight loss. Those who implemented diet breaks were able to lose weight just as effectively as those who did not. Psychologically, this puts you in control of the process versus you breaking down as a consequence of the diet.
What will happen to your energy expenditure if you continue to be at a deficit?
Time spent in a deficit can slowly but steadily reduce energy expenditure, thus making further weight loss more di cult as food has to be further reduced and energy expenditure increased. While much of this is unavoidable and simply a result of losing weight and thus burning less calories because you are moving less mass, a large component of this reduction in energy expenditure is what is coined “adaptive thermogenesis” or what is known commonly as metabolic adaptation.
What is metabolic adaptation/adaptive thermogenesis?
The decrease in energy expenditure beyond what could be predicted from body weight or its components (fat-free mass and fat mass) under conditions of standardized physical activity in response to a decrease in energy intake. In simple words, your metabolism slows down and burns calories at a slower rate, possibly an evolutionary adaption to stop your body from starving during times when there is no food.
How much can metabolic adaption change energy expenditure after losing 10% body fat?
One study found that those who had recently lost 10% of their bodyweight or more had a total daily energy expenditure of 18% less on average than those at the same bodyweight who had not dieted. Now this value of 18% is just the average value. Using the statistics presented in this study and extrapolating them to show the spread for 95% of the people studied, we’d get a range of 8-28%. What this means, is that some people near the end of their diet will be expending just over 90% of the calories that would be predicted by their bodyweight and activity, thus being only slightly a ected by metabolic adaptation. On the other end of the spectrum, some would be nearly down to two thirds of the energy expenditure that would be expected. As you can imagine, for some people “metabolic slowdown” can significantly frustrate their weight loss efforts.
How can diet breaks help with metabolic adaption?
Part of this adaptive component of energy expenditure reduction can be reversed by increasing calories. Thus, a diet break can reverse some of this metabolic slowdown. It can also help to improve training quality and muscle mass retention by reducing fatigue and replenishing glycogen. But most importantly, a diet break allows you to take a mental time out, get your head right, and catch a breath of fresh air before you dive back under and go through another stint of your deficit.
When should diet breaks be incorporated?
People who are dieting for 3 months or longer and who have the time to implement this strategy without missing some sort of hard deadline. So unless you are behind schedule in terms of conditioning, a diet break can be awesome for contest prep athletes and I would highly recommend it. A good example of how you might set this up would be to take someone who has planned a 24 week contest preparation diet. In this scenario you might plan out 2 to 3 diet breaks, more or less evenly spread over the time frame. So for example, they might take week 8, 16, and then 24 (which would also be peak week, so it would marry up with carb loading) as diet breaks (hopefully it’s quite obvious that this dietary practice would not be necessary for someone in a lean gaining phase).
How Do You Implement A Diet Break?
The goal is to get out of a calorie de cit and get close to maintenance. As a ballpark gure on how to do this, in most cases I recommend a 300-600 calorie increase to any days that are caloric-de cit days (depending on what maintenance was, body size, and how aggressive the diet is at the moment), concurrently with a drop of any cardio to about 50% of normal. The goal here is to eat as much as you can without gaining weight, or with only gaining minimal weight, as this weight will be predominantly water and glycogen.
How long should diet breaks last for?
Diet breaks in general should last for 1 to 3 weeks.
What Might Happen During These Diet Breaks?
You could potentially gain, maintain or lose weight on a diet break.
If you gain weight, what will it mostly be composed of?
If you put on a little bit of weight, that’s ok because you’ll lose it right back once the break is over, and the weight gain very likely will only be the return of lost muscle tissue and glycogen anyway
If you lose weight in a diet break, why might this be?
Starting (if you were stalled) or continuing to lose weight is also not uncommon, believe it or not. This is likely due to cortisol (a hormone that rises with stress and results in water retention) decreasing and water weight being lost, or energy expenditure increasing to the point where you are still in a de cit despite increasing calories and decreasing cardio, or likely a combination of these two factors.
What might happen if you maintain weight?
Lastly, you might more or less maintain weight yet simply feel and look better, be able to train harder, and get mentally and physically revitalized. This could be due to you being in a very small de cit or surplus, regaining lost lean mass and glycogen, while still losing fat or letting go of water retention.