Dieting sucks. It’s tiresome… and starving yourself for
months of your favorite ice cream is a cruel and unusual punishment. Such is the case for the chase of your ideal
body. At least that’s what we’ve been told. Fortunately, there might be a savior of such
pain and suffering. And that is the use of… diet breaks. It might seem counter-intuitive initially,
because it is true that if you want to lose weight, you have to take in less energy, or
calories, over time, than your body expends.

Adding a break, on paper, means that it will
only stall your results or worse yet, gain some of the weight back. Incidentally, that belief is exactly how the
idea of diet breaks being a potential weight loss tool came to fruition. In 2003, researchers attempted to accelerate
the effects commonly seen when people fall off their diets, particularly the negative
effects of weight gain relapse. To their surprise, participants that were
prescribed breaks during a weight loss program, either multiple 2-week breaks or a 6-week
break, didn’t really gain much weight at all and had very little problem jumping back
into their diet. At 5 and 11-month follow-ups, weight loss
did not differ much between the continuous dieting gourp to those prescribed breaks. According to the researchers, it’s seems
that the PLANNING of the break, rather than the break per se, was a major factor. More on this in a second. The physiological mechanisms in play during
breaks remain to be determined, with leading theories suggesting breaks repair hormonal
imbalances, particularly leptin, which controls our hunger signals, and thyroid hormones,
which regulate metabolism. One might also suggest a diet break increases
NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis.

This assumes that during long periods of dieting,
one might subconsciously be less willing or lack energy to perform mundane activities,
like dancing to their favorite song or going on a walk. The additional fuel from breaks potentially
reverses that decline. Psychological benefits might exist as well. Back to the idea of planning, the researchers
theorized that planned breaks essentially removed the feeling of self-blame or guilt
stemming from one’s personal failures of adhering to a diet. Since it’s planned, it can lead to a positive
feeling rather than a negative. Of course, there is the benefit of eating
the foods you desire earlier than anticipated. Later on, in 2014, a study on obese women
using a 1-week on, 1-week off diet to break schedule, found that, after 8 weeks, continuous
dieting did lead to greater weight loss (3.5kg vs 1.9kg IER), but, in a 12-month follow-up,
the differences were not significant. A 2016 meta-analysis further looked at 9 studies
partaking experiments on intermittent energy restriction protocols, concluded that neither
intermittent breaks nor continuous energy restriction were superior to one another in
terms of weight loss.

But it was only in 2018 that we had research
suggesting superior benefits with prescribed breaks. The study was titled “Minimising Adaptive
Thermogenesis And Deactivating Obesity Rebound,” aka, the MATADOR study. They randomized obese men to either a continuous
dieting group sustaining a 33% calorie deficit through 16 weeks, or the intermittent energy
restriction group, which also sustained a 33% calorie deficit through 16 weeks but with
a planned 2-week break every 2 weeks. IE. A 2-on:2-off ratio. For those that completed the entire program,
weight loss was 59% greater in participants taking breaks than continuous dieting. At a 6-month follow-up, the difference jumped
to 80%, or 8.1 kilograms more weight lost, largely because the continuous dieting group
ended up regaining most of their weight. On top of that, the weight lost was almost
exclusively fat mass, in both groups, but significantly more with intermittent breaks. Of course… there’s one big catch. The continuous dieting intervention lasted
16 weeks. The intermittent break protocol… took 30 weeks. That’s because the researchers wanted to
match the duration of energy restriction, 16 weeks in both groups. The 2-week breaks in between cannot be accounted
as part of that restriction, since they clearly weren’t restricting calories during those
times. Thus, the additional 14 weeks of breaks.

This longer dieting time might be less desirable
for those that need to lose weight in a short time frame. The MATADOR study also prescribed participants
to eat at an energy balance, or just enough to not gain or lose any weight, during their
breaks, meaning to replicate the potential benefits in the study, you can’t just eat
whatever and however much you want during break time. Also, studies that either saw superior or
equal results typically used obese subjects. Whether breaks are as effective in leaner
individuals remain to be seen. And one more limitation is the lack of consistent,
or any, exercise protocol in these studies. As we know, exercise can very well change
the entire landscape of body composition when paired with an effective weight loss program. Still, a benefit does seem to exist, both
physiologically and psychologically. As far as implementation, going off the MATADOR
study, a 2-week on, 2-week off program might be a good place to start. One can argue that leaner individuals might
benefit from more frequent breaks due to the greater physiological pushback at lower body
fat percentages.

Heavier individuals might use breaks less,
like a 4:2 or 6:2 ratio, since they tend to see consistent weight loss for longer periods
of time. Not much reason to throw in a break when results
are flowing quite nicely. The main takeaway is that diet breaks do at
least serve as an alternative. An alternative that not many people are familiar
with and, with so many of us struggling to lose weight, any alternative is openly welcomed. If you’re one of those struggling, try taking
those breaks before the diet breaks you. Share your thoughts and experiences with diet
breaks in the comments below. Also, apologies for the lack of video uploads
in the past few weeks. It’s been a hectic 2018, but do expect more
videos more frequently in the following months. Make sure you hit that notification bell so
you can stay up-to-date with every PictureFit upload. As always, thank you for watching and GET



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