Like I already said in my previous article, losing weight is not a problem, maintaining it – is!
– I have spoken about the physiological processes that occur when we lose weight too quickly or have been dieting for a long time and how they make it extremely difficult to maintain the new bodyweight. Find the article here.
– I have also spoken about a very meticulous, painfully slow process of reverse dieting, that has been recommended by a leading Exercise Nutrition expert and researcher – Dr. Layne Norton. Find the article here.
Even though Layne’s approach has got its merit and I’m sure it has helped a lot of his clients and athletes, I doubt it’s a feasible approach for the majority of us. So that’s why I’m writing this article.
What will you learn in today’s article?!
What’s a diet break?
What classes as a cheat meal? Should I have one?
What’s a re-feed? Should I do it?
How long should I diet for before I can have a break?
What’s the best diet/diet break ratio for consistent fat loss and its maintenance?
So, as you see, the idea behind weight maintenance is taking a break! ‘
‘Oh, really?! Champagne everyone! Does it mean that I can eat whatever I want after my diet? And then go on another one and so on?’ Absolutely not! This is yo-yo dieting that you’re thinking of and we’re not going to fall prey to that again, we’re going to be smarter this time!
So let’s discover the strategy behind taking a diet break.
There are several ways you can do it. The option you choose depends on your personality. Only choose what you’re comfortable with and feel like you can definitely adhere to.
Option 1. Maintenance break.
– it requires to take a break at maintenance calories every 2-4 weeks of dieting.
e.g. Sally dieted for 4 weeks and lost 4 lbs, on 1400 kcals/day, now she has to increase her calories to maintenance (I’ll explain how to calculate this in a minute), and maintain that weight loss for another 2 weeks.
– you can have longer/shorter diet/break periods, it depends on how much you want to lose and how well you can sustain a calorie deficit for prolonged periods of time. There’s no a clear best pattern to follow. The most common ones are 2:2 (2 weeks of dieting with 2 weeks at maintenance), 2:1, 3:1, 4:2, it varies with your response to it and your tolerance of it.
Note: your maintenance calories change as you lose weight!
– it preserves more muscle mass;
– it reduces the extent of your body’s metabolic adaptation, that occurs in response to any diet;
– it’s very flexible
– you can maintain a higher calorie intake than you could with typical, no break diets;
– it’s a better option psychologically: there are no huge calorie and weight fluctuations, it’s least likely to develop a bad relationship with food;
– it teaches discipline;
– it’s the most likely approach to help you maintain your weight post diet.
– the problem with this option is you’ll have to say NO to a lot of fun stuff that involves food and alcohol in the weeks you’re not on maintenance.
– if you’re the type of person,who doesn’t mind passing on your social life, endure some hardships for a good while, just to know that in the end it’ll all be worth it, then go for it! If, on the other hand, you’re extremely impatient to lose as much as possible as fast as possible, this approach is not for you.
– it’s the slowest option of them all;
– it requires a lot of patience, as it’ll take longer for you to see visible changes.
Calculate your maintenance calories
1. Know your maintenance calories and your starting weight before you started your diet.
2. Go on the online Calorie Calculator, choose maintenance,input the data from No.1 and look at the calories it gives you.
3. Compare the calories you had at No.1 with the calories the online calculator gave you at No.2. Write down the difference.
e.g. Gina started at 1800 kcal/day at 145 lbs, the online calculator showed that to stay at 145 lbs, Gina has to eat, 1700 kcal/day. The difference between what she was eating and what the calculator estimated she should be eating is 100 kcal, write that down.
4. After you’ve lost your desired weight, go back on the online calculator and input your new data.
5. Use the calorie difference found in No. 3, add or substract from the number you got given at No.4
e.g. Now Gina weighs 135 lbs, the online calculator shows she should eat 1500 kcal/day to maintain that weight. Last time the calculator underestimated by 100 kcal, which means that she should be eating 1600 kcal/day.
This method is just an estimation. It’s important to monitor your weight throughout and see if it’s increasing by much when you bump the calories up. +/- 1-2 lbs is ok. If it creeps up higher than that, then you should reduce your estimated maintenance calories by something in the region of 100 kcal/day, keep monitoring and see what happens. There’s no easy answer to that. You, or your coach(if you have one), will be able to come to an educated guess using the above estimation and with several adjustments, you’ll be able to find your perfect maintenance calories.
Option 2. Cheat meals
You must have heard of this one in numerous articles online.
– a cheat meal is a strategic high calorie meal placed at equal intervals within your diet period.
e.g. if you diet for 12 weeks, you’ll be getting a cheat meal every 3 weeks on a Friday night for example.
– a cheat meal is only 1 meal, that can be as big as 1000 kcal and you can have whatever you want to fill those 1000 kcal, guilt free, because it’s a part of a plan.
– the problem with that is: you’re only allowed 1 naughty meal every 3 weeks (as per the example above), so you need to plan your social life around that.
– it might result in a bad relationship with food where you’re looking forward to your cheat day and you’re calling it ‘cheating’, which brings about feelings of guilt around food.
– if you’ve already got a broken relationship with food or did in the past, then this option is not for you;
– also, how long can you keep up this lifestyle? Realistically? you need to be extremely disciplined to not give in that cheat meal and make it a cheat week! Then you have a problem..
Option 3. Re-feed days
– this option is like a maintenance mini-break, but more frequently.
– the re-feed days are 2-3 consecutive high calorie days placed strategically at equal intervals within your diet period, usually every 1-2 weeks.
– you should eat at your maintenance calories plus (this one is my personal choice) 100-200 kcal. At the beginning of the diet you may not require 3 consecutive days, so start with 1 every week, then as you progress with your diet, add another day.
– a good strategy will be to split your diet period in thirds. e.g. you’re planning to diet for 12 weeks; the first third you have 1 day re-feed every week, the second third you have 2 days re-feed every week and the last 4 weeks you have 3 days.
– according to Eric Helms, another leading Exercise Nutrition expert, 48 hrs re-feeds are sufficient to reset female hormones when dieting and therefore to decrease the unwanted metabolic adaptation;
– this approach works similarly to the Maintenance Break, it’s much shorter though, so it can be a better option if you can be disciplined enough to stick to the more rigid rules.
As you can see, it’s all very individual. The Re-feed option is more of a middle of the road option, the Cheat Meal option can be called hard-core and the Maintenance Break is the long and steady one. It’s completely up to you what you choose. In my personal journey and with clients I oscillate between Option 1 and 3. Drop me a message if you’re not sure which one is best for you! 😉
Lots of love,