You've been dieting for weeks on end and you're feeling more hungry, tired and irritable than ever.
You ask yourself where your energy has gone, and more to the point - why you are struggling to lose weight?
The number on your bathroom scale hasn't shifted for a long time. The weight was coming off pretty quick when you first started your diet but right now its a very different story...
Lately, weight loss is all but a happy and distant memory!
Your friend tells you that your body has gone into "starvation mode" and that you've "damaged your metabolism" from dieting.
And although the thought of sustaining permant, irreversable damage to your body and never being able to lose weight again scares the heck out of you...
YOU SHOULD PROBABLY BE SMILING!
Because its time for a diet break!
WHAT'S A DIET BREAK?
A diet break basically involves eating MORE calories to help you get back on track and losing weight again.
But how can this work? I mean, most people on instagram are saying that you need to create a calorie defcit to lose weight and that requires you to eat LESS food and move more.
So eating more can't possible help you to lose weight?
And whilst this is true (energy balance does determine if you gain body fat or lose it), most nutrition and fitness pros don't know or don't tell you that energy balance is a dynamic system.
Things change when you go on a diet.
You can't eat less without your body dialing down the number of calories you burn.
For example, eating less food = fewer calories burned during digestion. Losing weight = a lower metabolism because the heavier you are the more calories you burn at rest and during exercise.
These are expected and easy to explain reductions in your metabolism.
But a few other things change when you diet which are harder to quantify.
When you reduce your body weight after several weeks or months of dieting your body's built in survival machanism kicks in to slow down your metabolism and encourages you to gain weight.
It does this because it thinks you are at risk of starving to death and it does it by:
- Subconciously leading you to move less during the day.
- Spiking your hunger levels.
- Down-regulating metabolism and hormones that elevate your metabolism such as leptin and T3.
- Blunting the fight or flight branch of your nervous system.
This is technically known as metabolic adaptation but your not metabolically damaged.
By eating more food and increasing your calorie intake up to the amount required to maintain your body weight or even slightly above, you can reset your metabolism so that you start burning more calories again.
DIET BREAK ADVANTAGES
There are several benefits to taking a diet break, such as:
- Psychological relief from dieting.
- Being able to enjoy larger portions and/or higher calorie foods.
- Feeling less hungry.
- Experiencing better energy levels.
- Sleeping better.
- Feeling less moody.
- Improved libido.
Think of a diet break as a way to recharge your body and mind during long term dieting.
Not only will you feel mentally refreshed after a few days or weeks on a diet break, your hormones will reset which will increase your energy levels and overall metabolism, meaning when you return to your diet you'll feel better and it will be easier to start losing weight again!
WHEN AND HOW TO DIET BREAK
I tend to schedule diet breaks into my client's routines when they report certain things back to me.
There is no science to suggest exactly when you should take a diet break.
My advice is to listen closly to your body - if your hunger, energy and mood seem to be way off track and you're no longer seeing any weight loss progress it could be time for a diet break.
If this is the case, increase the number of calories you eat - mostly from carbohydrates as these will likely be used to replenish depleted glycogen stores and are shown to increase energy expenditure and leptin levels (leptin is a hormone involved in satiety and energy expenditure) where as overfeeding on fats does not.
Don't worry, despite what most fitness gurus out there are saying, carbs arent inherently fattening. In fact your body has a hard time converting carbs into body fat as its an energy expensive process.
Your aim is to eat enough calories to get your energy, mood and metabolism back towards where you'd like it to be before diving back into another dieting phase.
This should take a minimum of 3 days but you can take a longer break if you feel you need it. Just try to minimise weight gain during your diet break so that you don't start drifting too far away from your goal of looking leaner, feeling firmer and being more confident!
Hooray for diet breaks!
I hope you found this useful - let me know if you have any questions!