I am currently having a diet break. You are probably wondering, a break from your diet? Like a cheat day? Nope, a full week of eating more calories and not being in a caloric deficit. When you diet for long periods of time, you will eat less and less calories to keep losing fat. As the calories get lower and lower, your metabolic rate can drop as a response on lower hormonal levels.
How did I know I needed a diet break? I personally know it from experience. I have been lifting and dieting for over 5 years. Dieting for long periods of time resulted in some of the following symptoms:
- My meals were leaving me unsatisfied, even though before I did not really have a problem with eating less calories and smaller meals. It leaded up to having hunger at night and even going to sleep still hungry.
- Going to the gym is something I really enjoy and like doing. Right now I had to force myself to go to the gym, and sometimes I even skipped a session here and there because I felt too tired.
- My energy levels simply weren't there and when I woke up in the morning, I was still tired every day. It just didn't feel right.
If these symptoms happen to you, that may be a sign you need a diet break. Right now I always like to structure diet breaks before these symptoms actually happen.
Guidelines for a diet break
Length of a diet break: 7-21 days
How often should you do a diet break?
25+% bodyfat - every 14-16 weeks
15-25% bodyfat - every 8-12 weeks
<15% bodyfat - every 7-8 weeks
What does a diet break do to your body?
The hormones that will drop during a cutting phase, which are mainly leptin and T3 can only be boosted by having more calories (specifically carbohydrates). A "refeed day" or a "cheat day" can help with this greatly, but after longer periods of dieting, one day will not cut it. Especially T3 takes longer to boost than one single day, that's why a diet break is usually 1-3 weeks, depending on how long you have been dieting.
How to set up a diet break?
Simply start eating around 5-10% above your maintenance calories. Will this make you gain fat? Hell no. It's actually not strange to see a decrease in bodyfat during this period. Your hormones will be boosted and that may positively affect your body composition. Psychologically, a diet break will be a great reset as well. After the diet break your mood will increase, you will have more energy and you will be ready to tackle the fat loss journey again.
Will this ruin my progress?
No, definitely not. I used to be the same as a lot of people. I thought the more miserable my diet was, and the harder it was to stick to it, the better the results would be. Let me tell you something, it does NOT work that way. Next to having the drop in your hormone levels (which is by far optimal for fat burning) your life will be effected by having a miserable diet and that is something we want to prevent by all means.
Fat loss takes a good amount of time and there is no short cut. This one week will not effect your body composition and it might even get you leaner than you were before. People fear that one cheat day or a week of eating more food will hurt their progress but guess what? Fat loss takes a long time too. You can't lose fat in one week, just like you can't gain a lot of fat in one week.