Diet breaks are something new in the world of dieting and fat loss as far as I’m concerned. It’s something I learned about last year, started incorporating with my clients and saw some immediate, very beneficial results. Let’s talk about diet breaks and what a diet break means. First, I want to get rid of the visual concept that a diet break means you don’t track, you don’t care what you eat, you just take a complete break from dieting. That’s not what we’re going for here.
When someone has been in a fat loss phase for a long period of time, we know how that can go, you get into a caloric deficit, you’re doing lots of cardio, you’re training, all for a long period of time. You will be in that place where it just feels like it’s never going to end.
One-day refeed strategies are typically used throughout a week, and those even can change and be less than a week. They could be consecutive refeeds in nature, but all of these things are used to benefit the person dieting psychologically, hormonally, glycogen, energy, performance. All these things can benefit from refeeds, but what specifically is a diet break?
What I like to think of the diet break is as a full week of refeeds while tapering down cardio during that week.
Why Would You Do A Diet Break?
Why do we do this? At the end of the day, our bodies are about performance. You can reach a place where performance begins to suffer, psyche begins to suffer, and even with low calories and really grinding it out, you’re just not making any progress. The diet break is basically just an enhanced refeed. It’s going to give you some improved performance in the gym. You’re going to look better. You’re going to feel better. A little bit less cardio means that you don’t have that cardio on our mind and so your workouts are going to be better for that reason, as well.
Lately I got pointed out to a study where they had individuals diet for 12 weeks, and they had one group diet straight through for 12 weeks and they had the other group diet through with a diet break in the middle, and both groups had the same results. If you can lose fat while incorporating a diet break at the same rate as someone who does not get a diet break, why not do a diet break? There are a lot of benefits to it.
So, I had a client who had been dieting for a long time, a few months, and we had hit a pretty severe sticking point. We weren’t dropping. We had made a few adjustments to calories and cardio. I told her I wanted her to take a diet break, but I was very specific, and I said, “Listen, we are not taking a break from the process. We are not taking a break from our goals. We are just taking a break from the cardio and caloric deficit.” We did a week full of refeeds. We tapered cardio down to just a few sessions of steady state. Low and behold, she dropped weight, and she dropped weight the week after, and then she maintained for a few weeks. We were actually able to use the diet break for several weeks in a row. Then we went back into our caloric deficit, added some cardio, and guess what? Weight started dropping again. This is just one example of the benefits of using a diet break.
How To Do Your Diet Break
The way I would handle a diet break for someone who is in a caloric deficit is basically bring calories to maintenance level. After that you will lower protein by 20%, lower fats by 20%, and raise up carbohydrates to bring up the calories back to your maintenance level because I feel there’s more benefit to higher carbohydrate refeed days. For a diet break, you will do this for a whole week.
Then we’ll look at the cardio and you will bring down the total cardio time for the week down to 50% for the entire week. You don’t want to just cut it out completely. You want to keep doing it.
Overall calorically speaking, we’re resetting our metabolic rate just for that week. You’re not fixing the metabolism, you’re not restoring the metabolism to where it was, but just allowing things to get back to where they should be hormonally speaking for a few days.
When To Incorporate A Diet Break?
If you just started a fat loss phase and you’re two weeks in, do you need to do a diet break? Unlikely. Every case is individual, but the individuals that I like to use a diet break on are the ones that I know have been putting in the work for weeks and months and were starting to get to that place where when we make adjustments, it’s really a consideration on are calories now going to be too low for you to perform in the gym, is cardio going to be too high, are you becoming an endurance athlete, where are we at? Sometimes, that diet break can really just give us the platform to move forward in our fat loss process.
I know it can be scary. When your goal is to lose body fat and someone tells you, “Eat more, do less cardio,” but our bodies are not a math equation, it’s not as simple as subtracting calories, adding cardio to get fat loss. Sometimes, you have to use these toggle switches to keep fat loss going, especially over a long period of time.
Track Everything In The Proces
You want to track your weight in the process using a scale. Remember that not everyone’s going to respond the same. Don’t get too depressed if a few days into the diet break the scale has gone up or hasn’t gone down. If after a full week the scale is up a pound or two, go back to the previous week’s macros and get started on fat loss again. Go back to that cardio that you were doing. Get fat loss started again and see how things go. If after a week on a diet break the scale is actually down, I would suggest doing it for another week, seeing how it progresses. We sometimes can reach a place in fat loss where we can get into a metabolic building phase where our metabolic rate actually increases faster than the thermic effect of food. Even though we’re adding food, we’re burning calories at a better rate and it also allows us to perform better. If you lose weight on those diet break numbers and cardio, continue it for another week.
If after a full week nothing has changed, you’re stable. That’s still a huge win because assuming that you were stable the week before with the higher cardio and the lower calories, you can now go back to those calories again and see if you start progressing again. Remember, this is all the purpose is to just a make fat loss sustainable, a life style the least difficult that it has to be. It’s going to get difficult no matter what, but if we can incorporate some things that make the process a little more enjoyable and fit it into your life, then it’s going to be more sustainable and you’re going to be able to continue for a longer period of time.
Here’s how I would like to address them: Let’s say you’ve been on a fat loss phase, 12 weeks, current macros, current cardio. Final line, how is your progress? Have you been able to drop at those numbers? Have you been stuck for two or three weeks? I will give you my recommendations for what your diet break macros and cardio would be once all my client work is done. It might take a day or two to get to these.
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