What is a diet break?
Exactly what is sounds like, it's a break from your diet. Normally when I'm training clients with long-term fat loss goals, it is important for me to give them a break from dieting mid-way. I do this for pyschological reasons, in some cases for hormonal reasons but most importantly, to help them understand how to maintain a healthy body once they have finished their fat loss journey. Let's take a deeper look into these factors.
First, how do we diet break?
This is actually really important. People think a diet break allows them to just go off and eat whatever they want everyday and not have to worry about calories. The situation is, that can totally fuck with your progress. A diet break consists of 7-14 days of eating at maintenance calories (sometimes longer depending on how long you were dieting for). The important thing we need to do here is try and minimize any fat gain in the process.
How do we do that?
You either eat a lower fat, higher carb diet, or a higher fat low carb diet, depending on your personal preference, of course.
If you eat a lot of carbs and fats (let's say 400g of carbs and 120g of fat) you will unfortunately store the fat from your diet as adipose tissue (body fat) because carbohydrates switches off fat oxidation. Not all the fat from your diet will be stored though, so you just have to be careful.
I know that it can be hard to eat less calories for long periods of time. Sometimes you might stress about not eating the foods you normally enjoy as often as you used to.
Less calories leads to more hunger and that hunger can mess with you psychologically. Sometimes when you look at your plate while dieting, it can be quiet depressing when you're weeks into losing fat. So, having a diet break will help.
There is no better feeling than taking a couple of weeks off from a long calorie deficit. It increases your energy levels, it minimizes stress and gives you greater feelings of well-being (happiness). Once you know you can do this, it makes dieting seem a little bit easier.
When you diet your hormones start to change. These hormones play an important role in how you feel when losing weight, so lets talk about them.
Metabolism refers to all of the physical and chemical processes in the body that occur when food is broken down, when energy is created and when wastes are produced.
The more fat you have the faster your metabolic rate and the less fat you have the slower your metabolic rate (what a shocker right?).
Your metabolism decreases as you start to lose fat, which means, the amount of calories you expend daily (energy expenditure) decreases. So let's say you expend 2000kcals in a day, and you diet on 1500kcals to be in a 500kcal deficit to lose 1lb of fat per week (3500kcals = 1 pound of fat). When you diet, the amount of calories you expend will decrease from 2000 downwards because you are losing fat.
Eventually, at some point, your energy expenditure can match your energy intake, so now you're maintaining at 1500kcals and you've stopped losing weight. This is called metabolic adaptation. If this happens, this will be an important time to recalculate your macros and see where your maintenance calories are so you can go on a diet break to increase your metabolic rate. Understand, it won't be 2000kcal anymore because you lost fat, it might be 1800 kcal. Once you've eaten at maintenance calories for a couple of weeks you can now diet again to start losing more fat.
Now this doesn't normally happen, but it's always a good idea to go on a diet break to try and prevent metabolic adaptation, or any further reduction in your metabolism. A good indicator to know if your metabolism is slow is that you may feel very cold most of the time.
Leptin is known as your satiety hormone. It is produced from fat cells and flows through the blood stream to the brain to tell your brain your fat cells are full. The less fat you have, the less leptin is produced and you will feel less satiated (fullness) after a meal. Some people, who have severally low body fat and are consuming severly low calories will more than likely experience hunger for longer periods of time. They will tell you that their metabolism is just really fast, but it's definitely not, as you already know their metabolism would have decreased.
It's important to go on a diet break to increase your leptin levels to minimize hunger. The more hungry you feel during a fat loss phase the harder it's going to be for you to maintain it.
Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the gut. It is often termed the hunger hormone. It travels through your bloodstream and to your brain, where it tells your brain to become hungry and seek out food. Ghrelin’s main function is to increase appetite.
When leptin decreases, ghrelin increases leaving you with an increased appetite. Imagine not feeling satiated and wanting to eat everything while trying to lose fat? Awful! This is why people stop or give up on dieting, because they're not educated on these hormones. This is why it's important to diet break!
Practicing Maintanence Calories
After your diet you should want to maintain a healthy body, increase your hormones and start to feel strong and energized again. Diet breaks teach you how to do that. They are practice for maintaining calories. People fear eating food again due to misinformation, or they're worried eating more will make them fat again. After you have lost weight and you are happy with how you look, you must reverse diet back to maintenance. This is essentially getting you back to maintenance calories quickly to avoid future fat gain.
Reverse dieting is just recalculating your calories/macros, and increasing your food intake until you hit your calorie/macro target. This should take no longer than 2 weeks to do. Let's say you calculated your maintenance to be at 1800kcals and your diet was 1300kcal. Week 1 you should increase calories to 1500kcals, week 2 up to 1700kcals and you then start the following week at 1800kcals. This is how you lose weight and keep it off!
So there you have it. It's a complicated piece to understand, but it's important to know. Diet breaks can be lifesavers. I put my long-term fat loss clients on diet breaks quiet often and they love it. It helps them socialize more, gives them energy for the tough workouts I give them and, most importantly, it educates them on how to maintain a healthy body.
You see, my goal as a coach is to educate people so well they can do it all by themselves because I understand they're not always going to be with me. This whole process is so simple; I know dieting isn't easy, but diet breaks make it that much easier for folks who think they have to diet straight for 6 months to lose fat.
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