GymStreak 5

An Intelligent workout planner with nutrition tracking

Try Now

Should You Go On A Diet Break?

Cheat on your diet every so often, yet still achieve your weight loss goal? That's the promise of a diet break, but it doesn't deliver ... right?

Should You Go On A Diet Break?

“Cheat” on your diet every so often — yet stay squarely on track with your weight loss goal?

While it sounds too good to be true, that’s exactly what a diet break promises. And, somewhat surprisingly, (actually) delivers. Um, but there must be a catch somewhere … right? You’ll have to continue reading to find out.

What’s a diet break?

Diet break = taking a break from your diet.

More specifically, it’s where you eat at your maintenance calories for a period, typically 1 to 2 weeks, before going back into a deficit.

Is that … effective for weight loss?

Yes, it is.

A 2023 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics randomly assigned participants to 2 groups:

  1. Group 1: 6 weeks of continuous 25% reduction in calorie intake
  2. Group 2: 1 week of maintenance calories after every 2 weeks of 25% energy restriction (8 weeks total*)

*Remember this.

Guess what the researchers found at the end of the study? Despite the diet break, those in group 2:

1️⃣ Lost just as much weight and body fat and
2️⃣ Saw similar changes in their metabolic rate

… as those who cut calories every day.

This isn’t the only study highlighting diet break’s effectiveness at inducing weight loss. In a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, the researchers randomly assigned participants to 16 weeks of either:

  1. Continuous energy restriction (CER) or
  2. Intermittent energy restriction (IER) completed as 8 x 2-week blocks of ER alternating with 7 x 2-week blocks of maintenance calories (30 weeks total*)

*Remember this, too.

Impressively, instead of seeing comparable results across the 2 groups — as with the 2023 study — those in the IER group experienced:

1️⃣ Significantly greater weight and fat loss (~4.5 kg or 10 lbs.)
2️⃣ Better preservation of their metabolic rates

… than those in the CER group.

But why would anyone spend more time on a diet?

In the 2023 study, those assigned to the diet break protocol took 2 more weeks to achieve comparable fat and weight loss than those in the continuous calorie restriction group.

As for the 2018 study, those in the IER group "dieted" for 14 additional weeks (3+ months!) compared to those in the no-break group.

Now, imagine what would have happened if the latter had continued their diet for a little longer (e.g., 20 weeks instead of 16 weeks) — would that have offset the weight and fat loss advantage seen with IER?

TBH, we don’t know.

Because traveling back in time to ask the researchers to change their study protocol … isn't a thing. (Yet? 🤞)

But we do know for now that implementing a diet break can, at the very least, be as effective as continuous energy restriction.

And to answer the question of why anyone would willingly spend more time "on a diet" to lose the same-ish amount of weight and body fat, we’ll have to talk about the common, negative consequences of dieting for prolonged periods, including:

🚶 Compensatory reductions in activity level (NEAT levels, primarily)
💪 Muscle mass loss
😩 Increased hunger

Think about what that means for a second.

Reduction in activity level + muscle mass loss = lower metabolism (i.e., fewer calories burned). And what typically happens when you’ve got increased hunger? That’s right. You consume more calories.

Psst: if you’re struggling with hunger, like, right now?

How to Stop Appetite Naturally (5 Hunger Management Methods)
Hunger can quickly derail your weight loss aspirations. But you don’t have to be hungry — here’s how to stop appetite naturally while on a diet.
3 Hunger-Suppressing Foods Helpful for Weight Loss
You’re trying your best to stick to a calorie deficit. The only problem? All that intense hunger. Find 3 hunger-suppressing foods that may help.

Over time, staying in a calorie deficit will become a Herculean task.

✨ This is where diet breaks come in to save the day ✨

Theoretically speaking, implementing a diet break could help alleviate all these adverse prolonged-diet-associated outcomes. Increasing your calorie intake every so often may prevent your metabolism from "crashing", effectively fending off weight loss plateaus.

Beyond better preserving your metabolic rate, a diet break is also arguably beneficial for your mental health.

Those few weeks of maintenance calories could feel like a nice, warm, comforting hug after the harsh winters of a deficit. Something to look forward to. Something to keep you going.

Or, in other words, a tool you could leverage to stay consistent for longer — so you successfully achieve your body composition goals.

Is a diet break right for you?

Of course, not everyone needs or should go on a diet break. While it ultimately comes down to personal choice, here are 2 main factors to consider that’ll help guide your decision:

👆
Personality: Are you more of an intense, "I'd like to just get it over and done with" kind of person? Then maybe diet breaks aren't for you.
✌️
Time: Are you working with a strict "deadline" for when you achieve your weight loss goal (e.g., a wedding)? If so, diet breaks probably aren't the best idea since they'll lengthen your dieting period.

How to do diet breaks

To maximize the metabolic and psychological benefits you'd get while minimizing your time on a diet, you'd generally want to implement a diet break after 2 to 4 weeks of consistent dieting.

I.e., continuous energy restriction for 2 to 4 weeks, then eat at maintenance for a week. Repeat till you achieve your weight loss goal.

Don’t forget all these

Implementing a diet break isn’t the only thing you can (or should) do to stave off dieting’s many negative metabolic consequences. There’s also:

  • Resistance training (this tells your body, “Hey, I need that muscle mass!”)
  • Eating enough protein (this helps with satiety + muscle mass maintenance/building)
  • Staying physically active throughout the day (this keeps your NEAT levels high)

Oooookay. But how would you know if you’re on the “right” training or nutrition plan?

Well, good thing there’s GymStreak. This smart, AI-powered personal trainer app tailors your workout and diet plan based on your preferences and goals — so you can work on and achieve your fitness goals without frustration or second-guessing.

See for yourself below:

Workout Programming + Nutrition Tracking, Off Your Hands

*sigh of relief* We'll guide you through it all — step-by-step. Just download the app, and you'll be making progress toward your dream body like never before.

References

Byrne, N. M., et al. “Intermittent Energy Restriction Improves Weight Loss Efficiency in Obese Men: The MATADOR Study.” International Journal of Obesity (2005), vol. 42, no. 2, Feb. 2018, pp. 129–38. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2017.206.

Siedler, Madelin R., et al. “The Effects of Intermittent Diet Breaks during 25% Energy Restriction on Body Composition and Resting Metabolic Rate in Resistance-Trained Females: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Human Kinetics, vol. 86, Mar. 2023, pp. 117–32. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.5114/jhk/159960.