Diet Breaks: Making Your Weight Loss Sustainable

Key Points:

. The longer in duration fat loss is and the more fat you lose, the harder further fat loss becomes

. Your body will up-regulate physical and mental defense mechanisms to counteract your fat loss. These are the physical and mental pressures you feel during your fat loss journey

. Everyone has a TIPPING POINT. This is the point in which the mental and physical pressures become so great that you no longer can sustain the fat loss journey you are on. Things go downhill from there!

. Diet breaks are periods of time within your fat loss journey when you bring you calories back up to maintenance or above and are no longer in a calorie deficit. These can help reduce the strength of these physical and mental pressures you feel, keeping you from reaching your tipping point. 

Dieting Is Tough!

I am sure most of you have experienced at some point the difficulties that come with dieting. I think you would all agree, losing those extra pounds is no easy task! One thing that happens when you diet for long periods of time and strip away more fat is that your body starts to fight against further weight loss. Initially, weight loss can be a pretty smooth process for the majority of people: small changes to your diet and training can make huge differences to your body and how you look. But, the deeper you get into fat loss and the more weight you continue to lose, things start to get more challenging. Your body starts resisting further weight loss in attempts to hold onto the body fat you have left. This of course is understandable! Fat is a major energy store for your body and as you lose more fat, your body is losing its primary source of energy. It is not a surprise that as you lose it, your body does all it can to resist further loses. What do I mean when I say that your body fights with you? Well, simply that as you diet deeper and longer, you become more hungry, fixated on food, you want to move less and satiety sky rocket! Not things you want to happen if you want to improve your fat loss efforts.

Recently, a lot of talk has popped up surrounding so-called diet breaks when it comes to fat loss. Now, most of what you read with regards to diet breaks will be in the context of those wanting to prepare for a bodybuilding competition and reach extremely low levels of body fat. However, even if you are not planning on doing any competitions or trying to remove every single last bit of fat off your body, in my eyes, diet breaks can even have a significant benefit to those just looking to get down to a reasonable body fat level. This is why I think they are worth a mention outside of the bodybuilding world. So, if any of you are about to embark on a weight loss journey, you might want to read this article and see if diet breaks are something you could implement into your fat loss plan.

What Is A Diet Break And Why Take One?

You are probably wondering what I mean by diet break? Well, simply put a diet break is a PAUSE in your fat loss journey. Now, some of you might be thinking: why on earth would I want to pause my fat loss?! I just want to keep going and get the fat off! While at first glance it might seem time wasting and pretty counterproductive to take a diet break to aid your fat loss efforts, but, there are some significant benefits to implementing them into your plan. With diet breaks, they work to smooth the entire fat loss process. In other words, they won’t ruin or interfere with your fat loss efforts, they will simply reduce the magnitude of the mental and physical obstacles which can act during fat loss. With diet breaks, your fat loss efforts are really made more manageable, sustainable and increases your chance of keeping fat off in the longer-run. In my experience, the larger the mental and physical obstacles during fat loss, the less potential fat you will lose and the harder it will be to keep it off once your fat loss journey has ended. If we can reduce these, then your fat loss efforts become 100x more effective. Diet breaks are a tool to help reduce the negative effects of fat loss you might come across during your journey.

So what happens when you diet? Well, generally you 1) restrict calorie intake (energy consumption) and 2) increase your exercise output levels (energy expenditure). These two together will help to create a CALORIE DEFICIT. Once you have this, you can then subtract your chosen calorie deficit from your current calorie MAINTENANCE in order to get your daily CALORIE TARGET. That is, the target number number of calories you need to consume each day in order to maintain your calorie deficit and hence stimulate the fat loss you want to achieve. The problem is, a calorie deficit sends a warning signal to your body letting it know you are depriving it of valuable energy. Moreover, the more fat you lose, your calorie deficit must become even larger in order to keep fat loss moving along. Both of these factors together can prime your bodies defensive mechanisms, protecting itself from more fat loss: such as reduced satiety, increased hunger and less motivation to move.

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Firstly, these defensive mechanisms can make you physically feel like crap! You might notice yourself being constantly tired, your gym workouts are no longer great, you are devoid of all energy and strength, muscles and joints ache, you feel sluggish and hormone levels take a hit. Ok, in a nutshell, your body really does not like this! Likewise, your bodies defensive mechanisms can also play tricks on your mind. Mentally, your behaviours toward food start to change, and you become continuously focused on food. You start craving foods you love, more often and wherever you go, the only thing on your mind, is FOOD! I think you can begin to see why dieting continuously without any breaks (certainly the longer and harder you go with fat loss) is really not great if you want to optimise your fat loss results and keep them in the long-term.

Out of experience, everyone has a tipping point when it comes to fat loss. Your tipping point is when you give into these mental and physical pressures and totally reverse the progress you have made. In other words, you give in and EAT, EAT and EAT MORE!! Not really what you want to have happen! The stronger you let these mental and physical pressures become, the more likely you are to fail in your fat loss efforts. So, this is where diet breaks come to the rescue. Diet breaks can help keep these pressures in check. While not completely eliminating them, it could make the difference!

When you implement a diet break, you are adding in more calories than you usually eat. If you have been dieting on 1800 calories, your diet break might include you eating back up to your current maintenance for a week or two (or even above it). If you ask me, I am a fan of ramping calories back up to ABOVE maintenance, probably by 400-500, during a diet break. Why? Well, depending on how much fat you have lost, and how deep you are into your fat loss plan, the physical and mental pressures you experience might be SO intense (competitive bodybuilders should know what I mean!). As a result, you probably need a larger ramping up of calories in order to reduce these to a significant degree. Simply eating back to maintenance, just might not do the trick. This is probably going to be true if your maintenance calories are already so low!

When you start ramping calories back up, your body recognises this and no longer feels in danger (or at least less danger than previously). Now, your body can start turning down those defense mechanisms which lead to the mental and physical pressures of dieting. You will probably feel better quickly! On a diet break, these extra calories will replenish depleted muscle glycogen stores giving you overall more energy, power and strength to push yourself harder in the gym. Your recovery will be 100x faster. Hormone levels will re-stabilize (great for fat loss!). You will want to move more. Overall, you will feel ready to go and motivation will be much higher! Mentally, you will also feel much better. You will be less food focused, cravings will go down, and you will be less likely to over do it on those higher calorie foods you love. In other words, you won’t feel deprived any longer and you will be able to have a much more balanced relationship with food. Reduced impulse to binge!

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So the next question is: what happens after the diet break? Well, you continue back on your fat loss journey. The difference is, you will now feel as though you have been given an extra push to continue moving forward. More energy, more motivation, less impulse to binge. Ultimately, a diet break puts you back in an optimal position to move forward with your fat loss efforts. What happens when things take another turn for the worst and your body again increases the mental and physical pressures of fat loss? Then it is time for your next diet break. The trick with these diet breaks is to implement them as often as needed throughout the duration of your fat loss journey in order to prevent you from reaching that tipping point. It is once this tipping point is reached when people begin to pack it all in and reverse the progress they have made. There are no fixed rules regarding diet breaks, but they should do one thing: prevent this tipping point!!!

The Verdict?

If you are on a fat loss journey, then you don’t have to implement diet breaks. For some of you, you might just want to get your fat loss done in one go and the thought of actually increasing calories during a fat loss period, might not sit well for some people. This is not a problem! What counts is that you can ADHERE to your fat loss plan. Some of you might not need diet breaks to accomplish this. However, for most of you, I can promise you that the mental and physical pressures of fat loss can become so tough, that the absolute best way of preventing these from sending you towards your tipping point, is to implement some form of diet break(s) into your fat loss plan. How many, when and how long these diet breaks are, will be up to the individual. But I can say one thing, since incorporating these diet breaks into my own fat loss efforts, I have been able to go longer, harder and further with my fat loss without reaching my tipping point. Ultimately, it has made fat loss sustainable, flexible and manageable. Which is really what the aim of fat loss should be.

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