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To state the obvious, diets are hard. When you're watching what you eat, it can be difficult to refrain from reaching for those foods you crave most. But new research suggests that time away from the calorie counting and strict eating habits can actually be a good thing.
The University of Tasmania's School of Health Science conducted a study in which one group of participants dieted for 16 weeks straight and the other dieted intermittently — on for two weeks, off for two weeks.
Results showed that the people who took these two-week breaks shed weight faster, losing an average 17 pounds more than the participants who dieted the whole time.
Professor Nuala Byrne, Head of the School of Health Science at the University of Tasmania, led the study and told Body + Soul that weight-loss is harder to achieve during long stretches of dieting because of something called "adaptive thermogenesis," in which our metabolism decreases to a "greater extent than expected" because of reduced "energy intake."
Also called a "famine reaction," your body keeps on the pounds for longer as a survival mechanism.
Byrne said that the two-week intervals taken during this study "may be critical" if you're going for this type of dieting — that breaks taken for lengths longer or shorter than two weeks won't necessarily result in faster weight-loss.
In Leigh Peele's bookStarve Mode: Explaining & Resetting Metabolic Problems That Can Come From Dieting, she talks about dieting breaks as short as "cheat meals," or as long as a total end to your diet all together.
Peele includes the chart below in her book to illustrate the suggested break-time needed in relation to how long you've been dieting. "Generally speaking," she writes on her site, "you need to break 5-7 days for every 3 weeks of dieting down."
In reality, you should be listening to your body and doing what you feel comfortable with throughout your diet journey. As Nutrition Director at Good Housekeeping Institute Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, argues, the overall key to weight-loss is "to practice mindful and intuitive eating" that includes "regular meals and snacks."
London also says that incorporating plant-based foods such as veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds and legumes, "will help you make small changes that lead to better habits for the long-term." But when it comes down to it, she admits that "we could all use a vacation from the four-letter-word, 'diet.'"
After all, nobody's perfect — so no diet should be.
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