New research shows that a two-week recovery period during dieting boosts weight loss over the long term. – By Selene Yeager
If you’re constantly dieting but not losing weight, the problem could be that you’re constantly dieting. Just like your need to take an easy week after a hard training block to help your body recover, you may also need a rest period from calorie restriction to keep your metabolism from plummeting.
That’s according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity. Researchers at the University of Tasmania had 36 men follow a weight-loss plan that cut their daily calorie intake by 33 per cent. Half the men were told to follow the plan for 16 weeks straight, while the other half took a break every two weeks. This second group repeated the cycle for 30 weeks total, racking up 16 weeks of dieting over a longer period of time.
The intermittent dieters fared considerably better, losing an average of 14kg compared to 10kg lost by those who kept their dieting constant. Though both groups regained some weight when the diet was done, the intermittent group maintained an average weight loss of nearly 8kg more than the continuous group six months later.
The study group was relatively small and followup studies are needed for verification. But for now, the researchers believe their findings are due to what’s known as the “famine reaction,” or a process where your body cools its resting metabolism when you’re eating less, because it thinks you’re starving and wants to keep you alive until you find food. Eating a little more every two weeks during a diet appears to help you stay out of starvation mode and avoid weight-loss plateaus, not to mention the yo-yo affect of dramatic losses and gains.
Diet breaks may also be worth trying from a psychological standpoint, says my Bike Your Butt Off co-author Leslie Bonci, a sports nutritionist who has been helping cyclists and other athletes make healthy weight for 35 years.
“When people are in diet mode, it can be energy-draining and psychologically debilitating after a while,” she says. “Being able to take a vacay from the diet may encourage better buy-in and more long-term success, because it may be easier to stick to a plan for two weeks, then take a break and be able to resume with the same focus and commitment you have when you’re first starting out.”
Going on a diet break, however, doesn’t mean binging on cake and ice cream. Bonci warns that during these brief vacations, you should be “eating as you were before, when you were maintaining your weight.”