The Weight Wait
good news for those who suffer from lack of willpower when it comes to weight loss: A new study indicates that breaking up with your diet for two weeks could help shrink your waistline. No matter the diet regimen a person chooses, weight loss inevitably slows at some point. Researchers from the University of Tasmania in Australia suspected that alternating two weeks of dieting with two weeks of normal eating could help people push past this plateau.
To test their theory, they enrolled 51 obese men for a study comparing a steady diet with one that had breaks. One group reduced calorie consumption by about one-third of their individual needs for 16 weeks straight. The experimental group followed the same calorie restrictions for two weeks and then ditched the diet for the next two, repeating the cycle for 16 weeks.
By the end of study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, the intermittent dieters had lost 47 percent more weight than the constant dieters. And the men who took breaks maintained, on average, an 18-pound loss six months after the study—an impressive outcome considering many people fail to hold their goal weights after dieting.
The experimental approach avoided the dreaded diet plateau, the halt in reduction that often happens after a few weeks. Why? Our resting metabolic rate slows when we cut calories, leaving our bodies less efficient at shedding weight, a phenomenon that is crucial for survival but frustrating for stalwart dieters. The intermittent approach avoided that slowdown. “Somehow, they’re kind of keeping the body on its toes,” says Krista Varady, an outside researcher who studies nutrition and weight loss at the University of Illinois.
Varady emphasizes that the breaks weren’t cheat days—participants in that group maintained their weight during the off period but weren’t necessarily splurging. Still, she thinks it’s probably safe to indulge a bit during a month of dieting, “just as long as it doesn’t psychologically derail people.”