If you were wondering at all about how to use a diet break to lose weight, then look no further.
You have come to the right place.
A “diet break” is something that is relatively new in recent years when it comes to dieting and losing weight.
We are going to cover exactly how you are going to use this tool to your advantage to lose more fat, be more consistent, and not hate your life so much while dieting.
Sounds pretty snazzy, huh? I know.
Let’s dive in, but forreal before we do, just make sure you don’t do one of those “skim through” jobs with this article here.
You can be easily confused and implement them wrong if you don’t understand the context around diet breaks. Just be sure to reach each and every line.
How To Use Diet Breaks To Lose Weight
Before we go to how to use a diet break to lose weight, let’s go ahead and define what a “diet break” really is.
Some people have different “phrases” or words to describe a diet break.
Some people call it a “refeed” day or a “cheat” day.
Really to me, it’s all the same thing. (Although, cheat days are kinda stupid IMO. I talk about why in another article on my site!).
Essentially what a “diet break” is going to be defined as for the purpose of this article is
Taking an intentional period of time eating at or around your maintenance calories to have a mental break from dieting.
This period of time could be a day, it could be 3 days, it could be up to 4 weeks.
After the 4 week mark I wouldn’t really say you’re taking a “diet break”, you are just eating at your maintenance calories at that point.
Remember, if you are “dieting” that means you are eating in a calorie deficit. The diet break is meant to serve as a mental break (which we will touch on a bit later) which then you will get back to the deficit after!
Also notice the “intentional” component of it. This is the reason why I think the term “cheat meals” is stupid.
What are you cheating on? Your girlfriend cheated on you in high school, you cheated on your drivers test (which is scary for ALL Of us).
You can’t “cheat” on your diet by eating a bit more calories if the plan is to eat more calories.
This is essentially what a diet break does, therefore, no “cheating”.
Now, let’s dive into things a little bit more in depth.
Why Take The Diet Break?
You may be sitting here thinking “Well, Eric, why would I want to take a break from dieting if I’m not at my goal weight yet?!”.
Great question, so glad you asked.
The answer is, you might not want to!
You might be crushing it, seeing great progress, and might be in a really good groove with your nutrition.
If that’s you, kudos! ( F you at the same time because dieting SUCKS but.. GOODIE for you.. ).
On the other hand, if let’s say you’re feeling a little burnt out.
You are getting pissed off at the thought of continuing to track your calories every single day, going into my fitness pal, logging your foods, etc.
Maybe you are becoming more irritable.. More moody.. More frustrated…
Or maybe, because you have been in a deficit for a little while now, you are getting as hungry as the cookie monster each and every single night.
Any or all of these reasons would be a great reason to take a “diet break” so to speak.
Here, let me show you an example.
This is one of our Clubhouse members Zoe.
Each and every Friday inside the Clubhouse we have a live Q&A via zoom where members come, ask questions, and get help!
Zoe asked me about something that was going on with her.
It had been about 6 ish weeks and she had been SUPER consistent with her calorie deficit (minus a little vacay thrown in).
She was down about 6-8 ish lbs and was doing great from a progress perspective.
Yet, she mentioned that recently she was STARVING.
Not like the “oh my tummy is a wittle hungry” thing. No, she could eat someone’s arm off and not be sorry for it.
So what I advised her to do was take a diet break. Give herself about 3-5 days of eating at or around maintenance calories (we will talk about exactly what this should look like in a bit).
Then I had a feeling she would feel a lot better and be ready to get right back into her deficit.
Sure enough, that’s what happened.
This is because when you’re TRULY in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time.
I say “truly” in all caps because I’m not talking about like 3 days you’re on it.. Then 4 days you fall off… then 2 days on… 3 days off.. I’m not talking about that game.
I’m talking about if you are 90+% consistent each month with eating in a calorie deficit, what’s going to happen is your hunger hormones are going to get a little out of whack.
There are two main hormones in your body that control hunger. Leptin and Ghrelin.
Leptin is the hormone that tells your body you are full and satisfied.
Ghrelin is the hormone that tells your body you are starving and want to eat more.
As you get longer into a calorie deficit, your leptin goes down and your ghrelin goes up.
Thus, making you one starving beast. So, for Zoe, she was able to use a 3ish day diet break to get her hunger hormones a bit back to balanced.
Which led her hunger to suffice and her energy to return. She was no longer feeling so burnt out or fed up with dieting, so, she was able to head back into her deficit and finish out her diet!
That’s just one example of how to use a diet break to lose weight. Let me give you another.
How To Use A Diet Break To Lose Weight : Decrease Stress
Again, when talking about being in a calorie deficit, this is a stress on your body.
Therefore what will happen is again, over time if you are actually consistent with your deficit, stress adds up on your body.
When this stress piles up you feel more exhausted, more stressed (shocker, right?!), more moody, less sleep, less willpower, less drive, and on and on.
Therefore using a diet break to your advantage can help lower your stress, put you in a better headspace mentally, which will then allow you to continue on with your diet much more effectively.
Way more effectively than if you just continued to try to beat your head against a brick all by “just keep going!”.
People often struggle with taking a diet break when losing weight because they feel like “oh, well I won’t see progress”.
Incorrect, you won’t see progress if you DON’T take a diet break sometimes because you keep trying to “push through”….
Yet you can’t ever end up being consistent because you’re so burnt out, right?
Therefore.. 3 weeks goes by and you see no progress because you can’t be consistent.
If you just would have taken the 3 day or 1 week diet break, you’d be able to be much more consistent moving forward, and see way more progress.
It’s almost like a slingshot effect if you will.
Take my client Tori below for example.
During Toris weight loss journey we implemented several diet breaks along the way. Some were a few days, some were a few weeks.
Yet the point being is Tori used them whenever she was feeling super burnt out from dieting, tracking, and just dieting in general.
This brings me to my next point in how to use a diet break to lose weight..
What’s The “Right” Way?
Quick recap, thus far we know that
- Diet breaks are an intentional period of time where you eat at or around your maintenance calories
- They can last 1 day up to 4 weeks
- They physically help your hunger hormones and stress levels, which can in turn help you stick to your diet better in the long run
Perfect, so what’s the “Right” way to take one?
Well, here’s the thing, there isn’t one necessarily.
We will continue talking about my client Tori above.
Some weeks for her diet break we still tracked calories, logged everything, and just made sure we ate about 3-600 more calories than she was currently eating.
We primarily increased the calories via carbohydrates and protein.
So if she was eating say 1500 calories in her deficit, she increased her calories up to about 2000 mainly through carbs and protein.
We did this because at the time, she wasn’t really burnt out with “tracking calories”. She just wanted to eat some more damn food.
Yet, other times, we took a break from logging / tracking food in general.
She didn’t use her my fitness pal app. She wasn’t logging and weighing her food.
We came up with other guidelines instead for that week to allow her to still be mindful & Mentally have a break from dieting.
For example, her checklist during one of her diet breaks was to..
- Get 2 fruits per day
- Get 2 veggies per day
- Drink 2 liters of water
- Have protein at every meal
- Take one 30 min walk
Because again, she was a bit burnt out from tracking, so we took the ‘diet break’ from THAT aspect of dieting.
Other times, we simply worked in some different foods with higher calories.
Let’s face it, sometimes it can be hard to work in ALL of the foods you enjoy into your calorie deficit, even with flexible dieting .
So some weeks what we did was we intentionally worked in some different foods whether a burger, or ice cream, or whatever it was, while having a little bit higher calories as mentioned earlier eating around maintenance.
Again, this is not a “cheat meal” or “Cheat day” because she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was intentionally eating more food and working in some different foods she may not always have on her deficit.
As you can see, there is no “right” way on how to use a diet break to lose weight.
Yet, there is a WRONG way.
That wrong way is..
It’s Not An Excuse To All Out Binge.
I think what a lot of people confuse about taking diet breaks is they hear “eat more calories” and think..
ALRIGHT, IT’S ON! Pizza, beer, wings, ice cream for days!
5000 calories later of highly processed, greasy, and fatty foods.. They feel like absolute garbage.
Not only do they feel like garbage physically, but mentally they feel like sh*t too. Their relationship with food is not the best because when they’re “dieting” they are only eating clean and on point..
Then, if they’re “not dieting”, it’s an all out free for all.
I would strongly recommend against that. It’s one thing to work in some different foods like I talked about my client Tori. She worked in some different foods that she enjoyed during her diet break..
But she also had all of her fruits, veggies, and protein for that day.
Therefore when you’re going to take a diet break, my favorite way to do this is
- Increase calories mainly via carbs – this is because your bodies hunger hormones responds well to them – as well as you will usually have more energy for workouts
- Keep the foods that you’re eating more or less the same
So as opposed to adding in 600 calories of ice cream during a diet break, maybe you just go from
- ½ of a bagel to a full bagel
- 1 cup of rice to 1.5 cups
- 6oz chicken to 8oz
- Add in some extra fruit at breakfast
You get the gist.
This way, as opposed to making it this all out binge, you are simply just increasing your portion sizes of what you’re already eating.
It’s also exponentially easier to then go back into your deficit AFTER the diet break is over because if you take a 3 day “diet break”, aka eat like sh*t for 3 days, is it easier or harder to get back to it after?
Much, much harder, right?
This is why I usually encourage people to try not to treat their diet breaks as this all out free for all.
Like my client Tori did above, still practice moderation.. Still get your fruits / veggies / protein..
Still do “all the things” you know you should be.. Just have a little bit more calories and or flexibility here and there.
Or, the other “wrong” way to take a diet break is..
Every weekend just because you don’t want to stay on track, call it “taking a diet break”.
How can you take a break from something you’ve never been consistent with in the first place?
I don’t want you to use “diet breaks” as an excuse to not stay on track and not see progress.
Remember, diet breaks are a STRATEGIC tool put into place with an intentional purpose to help get you results.
Just not wanting to put in the work to stay on track and calling it a diet break isn’t going to serve you much in your journey.
How To Use A Diet Break To Lose Weight : How Often?
Okay, now that you have a good sense of what a diet break is and how it’s used, how often should you do this?
Again, there is no “right” answer and it will depend person to person.
I would say if you want some GENERAL guidelines, maybe every 2-12 weeks IF you need it.
Now, I know that’s a big range, but you have to understand everyone is truly different.
I have coached plenty of clients who never intentionally needed a diet break just because of who they were, how they thought, and the way their lifestyle was set up.
Myself as an example. Whenever I do a “cut” or a calorie deficit. I will go about 6-12 weeks of just straight dieting with no diet breaks.
- I don’t have a ton of body fat to lose
- I don’t live a super high stress lifestyle with kids, families, etc
- I go pretty aggressive so I can get the cut done sooner rather than later
So for me, I generally don’t take a ton of diet breaks.
But if I am working with someone who I know has a very high stress life, they have 3 kids, they work night shift, and it’s just BRUTAL on them..
Maybe we would take a diet break of 3 days every 3 weeks.
Or if I know someone likes to ‘see an end in sight’ so to speak, I will say “Okay, after every 4 weeks of dieting, you are going to have a one week break!”.
That may help them be super consistent during those 4 weeks because they see that end in sight.
Or, for example, you can use diet breaks if you know you have some sort of event coming up.
Again, you need to be mindful of just saying “oh, diet break!” if you just don’t wanna be consistent or stay on track.
Yet for example, we have a Clubhouse member Victor pictured below.
Victor likes to treat his wife to date night sometimes because that’s the kinda guy he is ( I gotchu Big Vic!!).
During some of those date nights, he would have a planned “diet break” where he would eat a little bit more at maintenance calories.
They knew it was coming up, he planned his weeks / months around it by really being on point the other times, and he still has seen great progress like you clearly see here.
So as you can see, there is no one right answer, but that can be to your advantage because you can use it how you see fit!
You may have also heard before that how to use a diet break to lose weight has to do with the metabolism.
The thought process was that because when you go into a calorie deficit your metabolism slows down, eating more food is going to then increase your metabolism back up!
Yes and no.
Yes, for one or two days your TEF would go up. Your TEF is your thermic effect of food, this basically just means how many calories your body has to burn to digest the food you eat.
Since if you ate more food one or two or seven days, your body would have a bit more calories to burn.
As well as if you eat more food (carbs especially), you typically speaking have more fuel for the workouts you do during that time.
More fuel for workouts = push harder in workouts. If you push harder in workouts you typically exert more energy and burn more calories.
Therefore, your metabolism would “increase” those days.
But, when you head back into your deficit, because you go back to having less food your metabolism goes right back to where it was.
So generally speaking you’d typically need to eat higher calories for 3-5 weeks to see a significant uptick in your metabolism.
Which is part of the reason why I say diet breaks last up to 4 weeks because after that you’re really just eating around your maintenance calories.
The main purpose of a diet break is mental and psychologically. There may be physical benefits from a hunger hormone standpoint like we talked about earlier.
Yet from a “metabolism boosting” standpoint of actually changing this drastically, that’s usually done by eating higher calories (maintenance or above) for 3-5 weeks.
Whew, that was a lot of information.
I hope it was in fact able to help you out!
I know it was a lot, so maybe go back and re read some things to be sure!
Or, if you have any questions, you can email me at Eric Roberts.
Likewise, if you want some step by step help through your weight loss journey you can check out our coaching options.
The first option is going to be joining us inside of our Clubhouse HERE.
The second option would be applying for 1:1 coaching with myself or my team of coaches HERE.
Hope it helps and look to chat soon!