There are two ways most people think when it comes to eating.
1. On a diet
2. Off a diet
Being on a diet can mean various things and is usually related to the latest guru or eating fad. Being off a diet usually means that what you see is what you eat. Think about it, if everyone ate what they should off of their diet, eventually they should obtain their goal weight. Consider this in relation to your own habits. If you find you are not losing fat (or if you are gaining) over a period of time, you are not managing your diet break. It is likely you are not managing your diet at all.
When to Break
There is no hard and fast formula for when to break on a diet. General rule of thumb is 12 weeks after the starting point. This can vary depending on body fat levels, hormonal responsiveness, and psychological factors. For example, a man who has 28% body fat can ride out the whole 12 weeks in a deficit. A woman who has 19% body fat will likely have problems going that whole time; she would want to include cycling in her diet.
Diet breaks are not only relevant to body fat percentage. Several studies have shown differences in how fast the body regulates downward when a deficit begins. The point to remember is no matter what size you are, a complete diet break is needed.
How to Break
How you break is almost as powerful as how you diet. The break depends on the deficit and the person. You can simplify it and say, “Take a deficit break. Eat at maintenance for two weeks and then go back to dieting if needed.” This can work in theory, but often people need more direct instruction.
I am providing two break methods which vary enough to apply to a wide variety of dieters. Multiple methods can work, but I find the right ones make the difference. These can also be a jumping off point for your own design.
Fundamentals of a Break
There are a few fundamentals to keep in mind:
- Caloric intake needs to be at present maintenance level or slightly above. Current maintenance is what your caloric needs are at the time of diet break, not from the start of the diet. If you would like to learn more about this feel free to check out The Fat Loss Troubleshoot package.
- Caloric intake should not be excessive; it is not an excuse to be a glutton.
- Always assess the role training plays in your break and recovery.
- If you intend to diet down again after the break, do not try to make up for lost time by gaining fat back. Planning to lose it again does not make it okay.
- Expect to gain physical weight from food, water, and retention fluctuations. It can take one to two weeks to return to your pre-break weight.
Two Plans for Diet Breaks
1. Mo’ Food, No Problem
Who is it for?
This plan applies to people who don’t have a problem controlling their break. You understand that you need to refeed to offset the down regulation of your metabolic activity. You don’t have problems with binges and you stick to your dieting plan.
What should you do?
Days 1-14: Eat at your estimated daily caloric burn level. Reject carbohydrate phobia. Research estimates a need for carbohydrates in the range of 150 g (female) / 200 g (male) to start. Make sure to include starch based carbohydrates. This means if you are carbohydrate-phobic of anything that isn’t a vegetable, you may want to rethink your diet approach. Use the Bulking Cookbook for dieting break ideas to add starch-based carbohydrates to your diet.
While you should lightly monitor caloric intake, you don’t need extreme structure unless you notice an excessive increase in weight. It can sneak up on you easily. Refer to this article that discusses how much weight you should expect to gain in maintenance.
2. The Three Week Ease In
Who is it for?
This plan applies to people who have a problem controlling their break. This can happen for a variety of reasons ranging from emotions to post-dieting hypoglycemic reactions. As an aside, those who usually find themselves in this condition should strongly consider a cycle model diet/training program. Future programs I write will cover this.
What should you do?
First, you should extend your break for three weeks to include a seven day re-entry to maintenance.
Days 1-7: Increase your caloric intake by 10% of your current deficit every day (or until you hit assumed maintenance). If you were eating roughly 1,300 calories daily, you should increase it to 1,430 calories and so on.
1,300 x .10 = 130
1,300 + 130 = 1,430
This allows you to ease into eating higher calories and helps you to see how you feel as the calories increase. You might begin to feel intensely stuffed and uncomfortable when you reach the seventh day. This could be a sign that your intake is too high for your caloric need. If you feel this way several days in a row, it may be a sign you need to reduce your calories.
Lastly, while I don’t subscribe to popular multiple meal dogma, I do find increasing meal intake for this style of dieter helps with binging and carb hunger. If this is the case, try to increase your meal amounts to four to five per day. Also for larger men/women, you may find intake more comfortable this way. Personally, I eat fewer meals when dieting down and more in maintenance.
Days 8-22: Eat at your estimated daily caloric burn level. Reject carbohydrate phobia. Take in at least 150 g (female) /200 g (male) of carbohydrates to start. Make sure to include starch based carbohydrates. This means if you are carbohydrate-phobic of anything that isn’t a vegetable, you may want to rethink your diet approach.
Try and monitor your caloric intake and watch for signs of being too full day after day. A few times aren’t uncommon when coming out of a deficit; but if it’s happening repeatedly, it means you are gaining fat. Look for signs like extremely oily skin, excessive energy, back pains when sleeping, excessive bloating, and shortness of breath.
No matter which method you select, remember the break is as powerful as the diet. From a psychological and hormonal standpoint, dieting down can affect our bodies in numerous ways. And the only way to combat it is to rest and eat.
The next topic will cover the emotional side of diet breaks and how to view your goals in the right way.
1. “Role of adaptive thermogenesis in unsuccessful weight-loss intervention.” Angelo Tremblay, Geneviève Major, Éric Doucet, Paul Trayhurn. 2007.
2. “Clinical significance of adaptive thermogenesis.” Major GC, Doucet E, Trayhurn P, Astrup A, Tremblay A. 2007.
3. “Evidence for the existence of adaptive thermogenesis during weight loss.” Doucet, et al. 2001.
4. “Adaptive reduction in basal metabolic rate in response to food deprivation in humans: a role for feedback signals from fat stores.” Dulloo, Jaquet. 1998.