Why taking a two-week break from dieting actually improves weight loss

Struggling with your diet? Take some time off: it'll actually help your weight loss goals

Fasting to lose weight: a healthy meal
(Image credit: Mariana Medvedeva on Unsplash)

If you're stuck in a dietary rut, and your eating habits aren't helping you to lose weight, you might be getting a little bit of anxiety around the prospect of switching up your diet. You might even consider giving up your diet altogether. 

However, don't despair: taking a couple of weeks off your diet might actually help you hit your fitness goals. 

Findings in the International Journal of Obesity, published by researchers from the University of Tasmania, looked at two groups of participants who each tried a 16-week diet. One group did 16 weeks in two-week intervals, eating normally for two weeks and then dieting for the same period, taking 32 weeks in total. The other control group did 16 weeks straight of dieting. 

The group who did 32 weeks of dieting in two-week intervals found they not only lost more weight during the trial, but they actually gained less weight after the diet finished. The control group, on the other hand, still lost weight, but less than the intermittent group, and they also gained more weight back once the trial was over.

Lead author of the study, Professor Nuala Byrne, said: "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."

Fasting to lose weight: a healthy meal

(Image credit: Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash)

This is why people's weight loss efforts often plateau when following diets: the body enters "famine mode" according to the researchers, holding on to as much fat as possible in case you're starving in the wild. 

A two-week break in your diet tells your body the food supply is plentiful. This takes the body out of its starvation mode and allows you to lose more weight when you get back on your diet in two weeks' time. There's also a psychological beenfit, as you don't feel too restricted if you know there's a few weeks of flexibility included in your plan. 

This two-week intermittent diet was said to prove to be a more successful means of weight loss than continuous dieting and other popular diets, which included cycles of several days of fasting and feasting. If you're struggling to maintain your diet as-is, a couple of weeks off might not be a bad idea. 

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Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.