Should you take a diet break during your weight loss process? When you have a goal to lose weight, you want to get there as quickly as possible. Yet maintenance-on-purpose during weight loss, or taking a diet break, has valuable benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.
As someone who has lost 100 pounds, I understand the desire to get to your goal weight as quickly as possible. You aren’t happy with your current weight! Yet this impatience can backfire and lead to being stuck or even worst, gaining weight in the long run.
Diet Break Experience: Let’s learn what it means to take a diet break and how about doing it in a way that will improve (and not stall out) your weight loss efforts.
What is a Diet Break?
Taking a weight loss diet break is eating at your daily maintenance calories for a set period of time.
Let’s stop right here and be very clear about what a diet break is not.
A diet break is NOT:
- Eating anything and everything you want without restriction.
- Eating calories above what it takes to maintain your weight. (Sometimes called reverse dieting.)
- Cheat days.
- Giving up on weight loss.
- A weight loss plateau. (See below for details about plateaus.)
Instead, a diet break is eating in a way that supports maintaining your weight for a set period of time, often 2-4 weeks or longer.
Eating at maintenance calories is not eating a massive amount of food. Because many of us have overeaten for years, you might be surprised to discover that eating at this level allows for some treats but still requires careful monitoring.
Why Take a Diet Break?
While it’s possible that diet breaks could give some slight metabolic benefits (see this research article for more), I believe the real benefit to diet breaks are mental ones.
Learning to maintain your weight will get you to your goal weight faster than focusing on only losing weight.
Seems crazy, right? Hear me out on this.
Very few of us with weight issues are good at maintaining our weight. I don’t know about you, but when I was 100 pounds heavier I was either gaining (fast) or losing from a highly restrictive diet. I could lose weight and actually lost 40-50 pounds many times over.
The issue was that when I stopped the heavy restriction, I rapidly regained the weight plus additional pounds.
During those years, my closet was full of clothes in a wide variety of sizes and my clothes never wore out because I didn’t stay in any one size for long enough.
I was caught in the yo-yo diet cycle that left me heavier than ever.
How to Stop the Yo-Yo Dieting Cycle
Break the unhealthy overly restrict/overeat/repeat pattern by learning to maintain your weight right now.
I know, I know, I hear you yelling at me through the computer screen. “No way, Sara! The last thing I want to do is maintain my weight,” you are telling me, “I hate how much I weigh right now.”
I understand your frustration, but I also know that slow weight loss is the way to lasting weight loss.
How long have you been trying to manage your weight? 10 years? 20 years? 30 or more years? Many of us have spent a lifetime attempting to lose weight and keep it off.
Spending a few weeks (or even months) focused on weight maintenance might seem like a stall, but is it really? Consider a few weeks compared to 30, 40 or 50 years of struggle. It’s a tiny fraction of the time.
I invite you to consider learning to maintain your weight. Get good at what it takes to maintain. Wrap your head around the amount you need to eat and what it feels like to eat in a healthy way that doesn’t make the numbers on the scale move.
Study yourself the same way a scientist in a lab would study you. Make this a grand experiment of one.
Then, once you have that skill firmly in place, you can learn to take a small, realistic deficit that will lead to weight loss that lasts.
Drastic Changes Rarely Stick in the Long Run
As much as we all love overnight success stories, this is rarely how it works in real life.
Together with my business partner, Becky (who has also lost 100 pounds), I lead a program called Faithful Finish Lines. We teach members to track their calories and eat at a moderate deficit in order to lose weight.
Yet we often see women in the program attempting to cut their calories by drastic amounts, such as eating 1,000 calories a day lower than their maintenance calorie allotment.
We understand the reasoning. These women are frustrated with their weight and want to lose it quickly. Or they’ve bought into the assumption that a 1,200 calorie a day diet is the only way to lose weight.
Yet Becky and I are both maintaining a weight loss of over 100 pounds and each of us eats more than this. We include treats like cake and chocolate in our regular diet, too.
How to Figure Out What to Eat During a Diet Break
Find your maintenance calories, which is the amount of daily calories it takes for you to sustain your bodyweight right now. Click here for a detailed description of how to find your maintenance calorie range.
That means that if you eat at this calorie range, you won’t gain weight and you won’t lose weight.
Once you’ve found a range where you can comfortably eat each day with your weight staying stable, that is your maintenance calorie range.
Will You Gain Weight if You Take a Diet Break?
One of the things women often tell us when they learn their maintenance calories is, “If I eat that much, I’ll gain weight!”.
You might experience a small initial weight gain as your body adjusts to the new, higher-calorie amount. This could be a metabolism adjustment although it is more likely due to fluid shifts as you increase your carbohydrate intake.
A true maintenance calorie range is an amount where you will neither lose nor gain weight, so continue to play around with the numbers, adjusting by 50 calories or so, until you find the amount that is right for you.
I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. Always consult with your healthcare professional for medical advice.
What are the Benefits of Taking a Maintenance Break During Weight Loss?
There are several important benefits to taking a break from dieting, diet break, for a controlled period of time.
- Learn the skill of maintaining. Most of us are good at gaining or losing, but we stink at maintaining a weight. Yet this skill is what is needed for long-term weight loss and maintenance. Once you get to your goal weight, you’ll be maintaining for the rest of your life.
- Think of this as your home base. You can always return to maintenance calorie range anytime you need it. Weight loss is hard work, it’s mentally changing and it taxes your body. Taking a break is valuable for many reasons. You may consider using maintenance calories during PMS week, on vacations, during times of stress, or when you simply need a breather. Note – Keep in mind your maintenance calorie range will change as your body becomes lighter and smaller.
- Use your maintenance calories to find a reasonable calorie deficit that is sustainable. Rather than drastically cutting calories, consider a deficit of 100-200 calories per day, or a 10-20% reduction, in order to see slower but lasting, weight loss.
Weight Loss Plateaus – Maintaining When You Don’t Want It
A weight loss plateau is not the same as finding your maintenance weight, although you might have found your current calorie goal without trying!
A plateau is when you are attempting to lose weight but the scale isn’t going down. This is a frustrating place to be and something I can totally relate to.
After many years of a weight loss plateau, I understand just how wearying it can be. It’s exhausting. During a plateau, you feel like you are working so gosh darn hard and spinning your wheels.
If your weight is stuck at a plateau, I encourage you to switch to a maintenance break on purpose. You are already hanging out at this weight so why not?
Get curious. Let go of the guilt, anger, and resentment that the plateau has brought and instead use this as a learning opportunity.
Spend a good 4-6 weeks or longer, examining exactly how many calories you are eating each day. This is your maintenance weight.
Now, you can decide what to do next. Maybe you’ll decide you want to stay here awhile, which is totally fine, or maybe you’ll discover what it takes to see the numbers on the scale continue to go down.
With this information, you have the skills and knowledge about why a diet break is beneficial. Consider if taking one would be right for you during your weight loss journey. Will you be taking a break to find your maintenance calories? Share about it in the comments below.
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