When you’re working hard to reach your goal weight by counting calories and incorporating veggies into every meal, taking a break from your diet probably doesn’t seem like an option. After all, if you succumb to a cheat day, you risk undoing all the hard work you’ve already put in. But what about a cheat week, or better yet, two?
According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity, dieters who took a two-week break from their low-calorie meal plan lost more weight than those who dieted consistently. To come to these mind-boggling findings, Australian researchers divided 51 obese men between the ages of 25 and 54 into two groups: one group followed a 16-week diet that cut their normal daily calories by a third while the second group ate the same diet for two weeks and then took a two-week break from it. This cycle was repeated eight times.
The researchers discovered that those who deviated from the prescribed diet dropped about 50 percent more weight, in addition to losing more body fat, than the consistent dieters. Although both groups gained some weight back six months later, the intermittent dieters weighed about 18 pounds lighter than those who didn’t ditch their diet for a couple of weeks.
How’s that possible? “When we reduce our energy (food) intake during dieting, resting metabolism decreases to a greater extent than expected; a phenomenon termed ‘adaptive thermogenesis’—making weight loss harder to achieve,” head of the University of Tasmania’s School of Health Sciences Professor and lead author of the study Nuala Byrne explained in a statement about the study. “This ‘famine reaction,’ a survival mechanism which helped humans to survive as a species when food supply was inconsistent in millennia past, is now contributing to our growing waistlines when the food supply is readily available.”
While taking breaks from your diet can help you finally crush your goals, that doesn’t mean you can go on a food free-for-all for two weeks. The participants in the study ate the number of calories intended for them to maintain their starting weight during the diet hiatuses. If you’re trying this diet on your own, Byrne suggests finding out how many daily calories you need to maintain your weight and then reducing that amount by a third. Make sure to only eat that specific amount of calories daily for two weeks, and then increase your calories back to your maintenance stage (subtracting 100 calories or more to account for any pounds lost) for the following two weeks. Repeat until you achieve desired results. And for more ways to shed the pesky pounds, try these 44 Ways to Lose 4 Inches of Body Fat.