Discipline is a commendable virtue, but in excess it is suffocating. Few manage to reach their ideal weight in a linear way by simply applying willpower. Discipline is a finite resource , and if you do not recharge it every so often, you will fail in your attempt.
When the diet becomes intolerable, many return to the bad habits of before, recovering all the weight lost, plus a few kilos of gift. After each failure, the desire to try again decreases.
What if there was a simpler way to reach the destination? Today we explore the benefits of taking breaks and how to incorporate them effectively to lose weight in the long term.
THE FAILED STUDY THAT SHOWED THE WAY
The Viagra was discovered by testing compounds to improve oxygenation of the blood reached the heart, while seeking a remedy for angina pectoris.
The low hygiene standards of the Alexander Fleming laboratory allowed the discovery of penicillin . Fleming left abandoned bacterial colonies for weeks, and observed one day the spontaneous appearance of a fungus that killed them. It is probably the carelessness that has saved more lives.
In the science of nutrition there are similar examples. A famous study from 2003 tried to identify the main reasons why diets failed. They knew that by the end of the sixth month of caloric restriction, the majority of dropouts occurred, usually followed by the famous rebound effect .
To avoid having to wait so long, the researchers proposed that some participants leave the diet earlier , trying to provoke a relapse and study what was happening. After leaving the diet for a few weeks they asked them to take it back, to understand also the difficulties they assumed they would have.
From this point of view, the study was a resounding failure . In the long term, people who interrupted the diet every certain time did not lose less weight than those who maintained it , and did not report any special difficulties to return to the diet after rest.
They studied the impact of two types of rest: one short (two weeks) and another longer (six weeks), with the following results.
The study lasted five months, but they followed up at eleven months. To his surprise, the group that had taken breaks of two weeks every so often had lost more weight than the group that had tried to maintain the diet steadily.
The researchers concluded the following: ” This study was not successful in developing an experimental method to produce relapses in weight loss. However, the discovery that prescribing breaks has no adverse effects could have clinical application . “
Multiple subsequent studies confirm this idea: intermittent restriction is a better strategy to maintain long-term weight loss than to force a constant deficit .
THE MATADOR STUDY
This study , published in 2017, demonstrates the power of breaks, and also the ability of scientists to invent creative names. MATADOR = Minimizing Adaptive Thermogenesis And Deactivating Obesity Rebound . That is, the goal was to use frequent breaks to minimize the metabolic adaptations that frustrate many diets and generate the subsequent rebound effect.
The second group (INT) intermittently alternated two weeks of the same deficit (33%) with two weeks of rest, during which they returned to their maintenance calories . In this group, the duration of the blocks of caloric restriction was also 16 weeks, but the total intervention lasted longer when incorporating breaks.
It was a very well controlled study. The calories were recalculated every four weeks to maintain the same deficit as the weight was reduced. In addition, participants received food at home , improving adherence and better controlling caloric intake, an important variable of confusion in many nutrition studies.
What was the final result? The group that incorporated breaks lost 50% more weight than the group with constant restriction .
Not only that. Six months after finishing the intervention they found that the group with constant caloric deficit had suffered a much greater rebound. Recovered 70% of the lost weight, compared to only 30% in the group that made breaks.
WHY DO BREAKS WORK?
The breaks are actually an extended version of the famous recharges , and work by the same mechanisms: physiological and psychological .
At the physiological level , the breaks mitigate the metabolic adaptations associated with classic diets. Brief intermittent fasts elevate the metabolism, but prolonged caloric restrictions slow it down. Decreases leptin, thyroid, tryptophan (precursor of serotonin), body temperature and sex hormones ( study , study , study , study , study ). However , cortisol and hormones associated with hunger are elevated .
In the long term, even the most iron discipline can not overcome physiology. Incorporating breaks mitigates these adaptations , reversing much of the metabolic decline and restoring hormones to more tolerable levels.
The following graph shows how the group that maintained a constant deficit (left) experienced a greater metabolic reduction than the group that performed intermittent breaks (right).
In the group with constant deficit (left), the metabolism was reduced more than expected by the weight loss experienced. In the group with intermittent deficit (right) the opposite occurred, and the metabolism was reduced less than expected
From a psychological point of view , the breaks prevent the feeling of crossing the desert . The trip becomes more bearable if you know that in a short time you can make a stop in an oasis. Do not reload only energy, also will power to face the next restriction period.
You also eliminate the typical feeling of guilt. Skipping the diet is not now a sign of weakness , but part of the plan.
HOW TO PLAN BREAKS
A simple strategy, if you are not in a hurry, is the MATADOR study: alternate two weeks of pronounced caloric deficit with two weeks of rest.
In most cases, however, so many breaks will make the process too long, and most people do not need as many vacations.
In the Revolutionary Plan we propose a mixed strategy, combining recharges with phases of rest more spaced in time . Metabolic adaptations take a while to appear, and the initial weight loss is usually rapid, helping to maintain motivation. When progress slows down or discipline falters, we use the following decision tree.
The stagnation that occurs at the beginning is not due as much to the mechanisms of compensation of the body as to the lower caloric needs. When losing weight, your maintenance calories change, and you must adjust them to continue losing fat (or increase the caloric expenditure with more physical activity ).
From a certain point, however, continuing to cut calories (or increasing physical activity) will be counterproductive, and will only raise the resistance of your body , worsening your hormonal environment and your mental state.
At this point it is interesting to start adding recharges . But over time, brief reloads will not be enough to fight against adaptations or to calm the mind: it ‘s time to take a longer break , between one and two weeks.
WHAT IS A BREAK?
A break does not imply swelling to ultraprocesses or chain food cheat daily. This would throw away all previous progress. If you arrive with much anxiety to your rest, you have waited too long .
According to authors such as Lyle McDonald, during a break you must raise the calories until you reach maintenance level, ensuring that the carbohydrate is above 100-150 grams daily. This combination will help you raise leptin and thyroid.
That said, I do not recommend counting calories or macronutrients during rest . Remember that it is not just a physiological, mental break. Registering calories contributes to the psychological stress of the diets .
If you prioritize real food and eat until you are full (not to burst), you will be more or less in maintenance (or slightly above). And if you do not avoid good carbohydrates you will reach the recommended minimum limit without problem. Finally, if you have some special whim, it is time to sin.
A benefit derived from this rest is that you will have more energy and glycogen , which you should take advantage of to train strength with more intensity. In this way you will recover the muscle mass that is usually lost with prolonged calorie deficits.
As Sun Tzu said , the war will win who knows when to fight and when to flee, when to squeeze and when to loosen . Sometimes, the best way to progress is by resting.