Do you find that sometimes you can be eating like a saint, sticking to your diet for weeks on end and the weight loss starts to plateau? It’s like your body just goes, “no, not doing this anymore.” Well, thankfully, science has an answer for your dieting woes and a trick for how to get out of the weight-loss rut.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, the secret is to give up on diet. For the study, 51 obese men were split into two groups: The first group dieted continuously for 16 weeks, eating 33% fewer calories than they would need to maintain their weight. The second group followed the same diet, on and off, in two-week cycles for 30 weeks. The second group dieted for the same amount of time (16 weeks) but over a longer period. At the end of the experiment, it turned out that the group of men who cycled through diet and maintenance lost up to 18 pounds more than those who dieted consistently for half the time.
So what gives? Well, the researchers put it down to a metabolic process called adaptive thermogenesis, which is also known as the “famine reaction.” When we diet, our metabolism slows down, a survival technique that would have helped our ancestors survive during periods when food was sparse. In modern times it just means prolonged dieting can trigger the “famine reaction” and lead to that frustrating dieting rut. Annoying, right?
And that’s not all, the hormone leptin also plays a part. Leptin inhibits hunger and tells your body you’re full. “If you lower your caloric intake, leptin goes down. When you lose weight, leptin levels go down. So if you periodically stop dieting and increase your calories, leptin goes up without regaining weight,” says obesity expert Spencer Nadolsky, DO, author of The Fat Loss Prescription told Men’s Health.
Keep scrolling to find out how to try diet cycling at home.
By cycling your diet, you avoid both the “famine reaction” and lowering your leptin levels.
If you want to try diet cycling yourself, you need to switch between a calorie deficit and calorie maintenance—in other words, you can’t go crazy during the “off” phase.
Mentally, cycling your diet can help with your willpower, “It is possible that the diet breaks would allow for more adherence during the restriction periods, thus allowing more weight loss in the end,” said Nadolsky.
Not sure how many calories you should be consuming on your weight loss and maintenance phases? This handy calculator on bodybuilding.com will help you quickly work it out.
Another reason dieting can plateau is if you don’t readjust your calorie calculations as you lose weight. For example, if you’ve lost seven pounds but you’re still eating the calories you were when you started, then you’ll probably be consuming too many, so be sure to recalculate with every five- to seven-pound loss.
Next up, how to lose weight while sleeping (we kid you not).