How many times have you attempted to lose weight only to fall short and fail? For many people it is extremely challenging to stick to a strict dietary and exercise program for more than a few weeks. The good news is research now shows that having intermittent breaks from your diet may actually help you keep the weight off in the long term.
A study receiving a lot of attention found weighing yourself daily and hence adjusting your food and exercise intake helps you achieve a clinically significant weight loss over a two-year period if you take frequent breaks from your diet. This doesn’t require a fixed calorie-counting or structured exercise regime, but it does require recording your weight daily and monitoring the trajectory over time.
This is referred to as the “Caloric Titration Method”, where weight loss is achieved in small amounts. First the individual loses 1% of their body weight, and is then encouraged to maintain their new weight for about a week. This period of weight maintenance allows the individual to eat more or perhaps exercise less than they would while trying to lose weight.
The goal is then to achieve another decrease of 1% in body weight, followed by another “break” (weight maintenance). This routine would be followed until the final weight-loss goal is achieved.
This approach is challenging the body to redefine its baseline body weight by having frequent breaks along the way. As with all weight-loss approaches, it doesn’t work for everyone, but if it’s two to three kilograms of weight you are trying to shift, this may be a very suitable option that is a proven strategy in the longer term.
Weigh yourself at the same time each day, but look at weight-loss trends over the week or month. Day-to-day fluctuations can vary significantly with different types of food.
These are a reflection of change in body water content rather than fat mass (for example, carbohydrates bind more water than proteins).
Focus on making small changes (amounting to deficits of 100 calories per day) such as: skipping dessert a few times per week; occasionally using a meal replacement for lunch or dinner; and eliminating snacking on pre-packaged (and often energy-dense, nutrient-poor) foods most days of the week.
Another approach also receiving a lot of attention, and with growing evidence, is that of “intermittent fasting” or “alternate day fasting”. This involves following a reduced-calorie diet for some days of the week, with “normal” eating on the other days.
In a recent study conducted in mice, researchers restricted and fixed the amount of food in the continuous diet, but for the intermittent diet they allowed the mice to eat as much as they wanted for fixed periods of time each week, from one to three days.
Interestingly, both groups of mice achieved the same weight loss over the 15-week period, despite the intermittent diet group eating more food. Evidence for this approach is increasing in humans too.
Perhaps having a break from our diet and exercise regime allows us to keep our goals longer because our lifestyle is not affected and we feel as though we are being “treated” every once in a while. Research shows we lose motivation after a certain period of dieting if we lose sight of the bigger picture or aren’t achieving our weight-loss goals.
We still have a way to go in proving the true efficacy of strict dieting followed by ad lib periods of eating if we are to say it is a superior approach for losing weight compared to traditional continuous programs of diet and exercise. However, intermittent fasting does appear to present as a valid option and suitable alternative.
No one approach is suitable for everyone who wants to control their weight, but this dietary strategy is becoming internationally recognised. Importantly, this approach may assist with sticking to a program in the longer term, due to the breaks (and hence allowance for our indulgences) or ad lib periods of eating it allows.
Author: Nick Fuller, Research Fellow, Clinical Trials Development and Assessment, University of Sydney
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Top Photo: MapHobbit/Flickr