Diet breaks - How, when and why.
Transcript produced with AI transcription services, errors may occur. please contact Mikki for clarification
Hey everyone, Mikki here. You're listening to another mini-Mikkipedia episode on a Monday, and I've been loving all of the suggestions that you've been putting in as to what to discuss on a mini little episode like this. And I've had a number of people ask me now about diet breaks. Mikki, what is it about a diet break? Why do you use them in Mondays Matter? Why am I seeing them in my feed? And how is this different to
say a cheat day or a cheat meal, things like that. So I thought this was a great question and I thought that I would address it today. But also to sort of give you a little bit of a caveat to this is that I use diet breaks in the Mondays Matter program. I use metabolic reset meals within my fat loss for women program. And I generally talk to people about lifting up their calories at certain times of their training cycle or menstrual cycle.
order to alleviate some of the pain if you like for a calorie deficit and how I utilize them is probably a little bit different actually to how they are utilized or described by serious experts in the field like Eric Trexler or Eric Helms a mate that's been on the show, Bill Campbell also been on the show, yet they are a similar theme or they
are in a similar context to how they are actually used in the literature as well. So I will briefly describe this stuff as we go along to hopefully give you a clearer understanding of how best to use something like a diet break or a refeed day or however you want to call it in your fat loss approach and whether or not you really need to.
they're categorized as non-linear dieting strategies, i.e. on any given day a person is consuming more or less calories, yet they are still within budget for the week. And regardless of whether you're in a maintenance phase or if you are dieting, you have a set calorie budget that extends around seven days. And for some people, this can be continuous in that
they have a standard calorie deficit for all seven days of the week, which might be 25% reduction from their maintenance calories. Or if you are having a non-linear strategy, then you may be having certain days of that week where you are actually having higher calories. You may be in a calorie deficit then that is greater, say 35% of your usual maintenance calories on five days of the week.
Then you're lifting up those calories on two days of the week to meet the demands of that day or just a social occasion. Yet overall, you've still got a budget that puts you in that calorie deficit. And that's just how you want to be able to do it. A straightforward example of this is a decision to incorporate sort of a weekly cheat day if you like. I hate that term cheat day, but I know a lot of people sort of resonate with it.
The idea is simple. So you have days where you stick to your usual calorie goal and then you have specific cheat days where you significantly increase your calorie consumption. The problem though with a cheat day is whilst it is still in the same vein as a refeed or diet break, even the terminology around it sort of kicks someone's brain or can kick someone's brain into gear and think I'm gonna go for gold on this day.
This is my one opportunity to eat all of these foods that I really wanna be eating. And then I'm gonna get back to my diet calories the following day. And in fact, if you have a mentality like that in and around cheat days or refeeds or diet breaks, then it means that you can do some significant damage actually on the day that you've noted as your cheat day. In part, it's because there's not a lot of structure around this method.
and you are in your diet phase, you are trying to put into place or implement behaviors that will turn into habits in and around your food. And having something like a cheat day really makes all of those behaviors sort of go out of the window. And I'll give you like a real world example of this is that when I was at university, me and my then boyfriend, Duncan,
Monday through Thursday. I think we were probably intending to be good Monday through Friday, but you know what it's like, weekends almost always start on a Thursday. And then we would go for gold, particularly on Saturday and Sunday. And we would go to New World and we would fill up from the pick and mix the most delicious chocolate and lollies and we wouldn't
go to the gym on that day. And at the time, I believe we were back into going to, to the gym. Like I really fell off the health hand bandwagon in my early sort of university days. I'm pretty sure a lot of people did that. I was super great when I was at high school, but first and second years of uni, I was terrible. And not Duncan's fault by the way, I was enabling, but it wasn't just him. And we would have
the most delicious meals filled with fat and carbohydrate. I can't even remember what my faves were to be honest, but I distinctly remember having these massive bags of pick and mix which we would have to finish before Monday because on Monday we were back to quote unquote being good. And don't even go thinking that I've got the skewed idea of good and bad because of my now pretty good habits. Like back then it was
was certainly a go for gold moment and it really makes sense to me now why I gained about 10-12 kilos in that first year at university because we went real hard. Anyway, let that not be you. This is why I'm not a fan of the cheat day. Refeeds though, they could be considered a more planned and regulated version of cheat meals. But instead of picking a day to eat without many
Refeeds are actually specific days where you deliberately raise your calorie intake by a certain set amount, primarily through carbs actually. Some individuals have one refeed day per week, while others might choose to have 2-3 refeeds per week. Often individuals increase their calories just to the maintenance level on refeed days, so therefore they're not in a calorie deficit.
So someone who decides to implement refeeds would generally lower their caloric intake on non-refeed days to keep their usual weekly calorie deficit. And this is what I was referring to earlier. So the conventional diet might suggest a daily calorie deficit of 25% or the refeed group has a 35% deficit on regular days and no deficit on their two weekly refeeds.
Now this might suit someone who has a little bit more of a flexible mindset in the weekend, but you don't do what I was talking about I did and have it sort of go for gold, but you literally just eat more calories on the weekend that might suit a social occasion or a heavier weekend of training something like that. And
This is why refeeds and diet breaks aren't that different, because diet breaks operate a considerably different schedule compared to cheat meals or cheat days, but it can mean actually for, and this is what you see in the literature as well, a diet break means transitioning from a state of caloric deficit, negative energy balance, to maintaining calorie intake for a minimum of one week. So you're in neutral energy balance.
And whereas a refeed, you are restructuring calories across a week, but you're still in a calorie deficit, a diet break essentially is taking you back to maintenance calories across a certain period for a minimum of one week. And this is how they're differentiated in the literature. Occasionally, dieters might get tired of their regime to...
just continually be in a deficit, and they may wanna take a longer diet break that can last anywhere from one to two months. And this can actually work really well in the real world situation for anyone who has a longer lasting weight loss goal. Yet, they may be going on holiday for five or six weeks. They might be coming up to and wanting to do an event, which requires heavier training. So,
they may be going into a key training phase for a triathlon or for a marathon where the recovery aspect of their nutrition is even more important. Also, some other dieters might employ diet breaks in a more cyclical manner. So they may repeatedly switch to one to three weeks of dieting, being in a negative energy balance, and then doing one to two weeks of a diet break where there's that neutral energy balance again.
For example, there are some women who really struggle in their luteal phase of their menstrual cycle and they may have a period of 5 or 7 days where their cravings ramp up, their mood is irritable, and they just feel that the added stress of a calorie deficit is just too much for them to handle. And in that instance…
you would want to come out of your diet and take a break from it and go back to your maintenance calories so you've got more calories to sort of work with notwithstanding that particularly for some women their energy expenditure does increase as well. Now this is an individual factor and most women will get an increase in energy expenditure in the luteal phase the extent to which of course unless you were using doubly labeled water to measure exactly what that equates
it's gonna vary woman to woman. And you see in the literature, if I've got my numbers sort of right, this is sort of off the top of my head, it's anywhere from 89 kilojoules, not, oh sorry, 89 calories, which isn't that much, up to about 250 to 300 calories, which is quite considerable. So for anyone who struggles in their luteal phase to really adhere to a diet, they are way better off taking a break from that diet, shifting back into within
maintenance calories and just riding that out. Because the flip side is if you continue to white-knuckle that luteal phase and you're really struggling, there is more likelihood of just going completely off-kilter and eating way more than what you otherwise would and eating way more foods that will just contribute to increased bloating and pre-menstrual symptoms which also play into that sort of luteal phase.
So instead, if you plan a diet break and you make deliberate and considered choices about additional calories, then you are much more likely to be able to stay the course and not go sort of dive head first into a big box of chocolates that you wouldn't have otherwise eaten. And with this sort of diet break strategy, this then extends the period of the entire diet.
So instead of doing that traditional sort of dieting straight for six or eight weeks, someone who employs a diet break strategy every couple of weeks, their dieting phase might last for, I don't know, 12 or 16 weeks. Same number of weeks spent dieting, but you've got those set sort of weeks put in there to account for being at maintenance calories. And you can tell, of course, by the way I'm talking about this.
This sort of diet break strategy and talking about calorie deficits and maintenance calories sort of does require you to have an awareness of the calories that you're trying to follow and really does work best if you're someone who tracks your calories, weighs your food and is all over that kind of data. It isn't essential though or compulsory because in the way that I use it in Monday's matter is just making, just adding more food to the meals that we already eat.
So on a diet break weekend, because I do a diet break for three days every fortnight, which yes is probably, it would be more correct to call it a refeed, but this is just, I've just called it a diet break, where we just add carbs to each of the meals that are already in the plan for Monday's matter. So instead of it being this free for all and you're having a diet break weekend or...
you're having a cheat meal and you're just going for gold, we've made deliberate decisions to up calories on each of the meals. You are getting a meal where you enjoy whatever you like within that diet break period as well. And the focus on that particular meal, it's not a cheat meal, because you're not cheating anyone. So why would you call it that? But you are eating in a way that is consistent with the habits and behaviors that we're trying to instill.
you're eating to feel satisfied and not stuffed. You're enjoying the food. You're constantly sort of tapping into those hunger cues to establish whether you are satisfied, whether you've, you could eat more, or whether you're actually, you're good. And the thing is with these kind of metabolic reset meals that are part of the diet break,
It's recognizing that there is no one meal or one food that is really going to make or break it, you know, that we can totally enjoy these types of foods as part of our overall dieting strategy, which then means that no food is really off limit. Of course, you know, food sensitivities and intolerances aside, and you really do need to be cognizant of how food affects you in that mode. But hopefully what this does is it just takes the guilt out of eating like this.
out of it for so many people because it is the guilt and the shame or this idea that you shouldn't be eating these foods that then leads almost paradoxically to people overeating and over consuming because we get so fixated on the idea that we've been bad or naughty or we've done something wrong that we might as well bugger it, we've blown it now so we may as well just go for gold and then start again on Monday.
And I certainly know that was the mindset that we used, or we had when Duncan and I would just eat those big sort of pick and mix lollies and watch movies. It was like, how many of these can we possibly consume? Because we cannot eat them on Monday, they're gone. And that's definitely a mindset that I know that people have and understandably so. So nonlinear dieting strategies, then they are some sort of continuum.
more dietary control and smaller optics and caloric consumption because in the literature they're typically sort of one week and beyond. Whereas in Monday's matter I use that sort of almost refeed strategy where for three days they are very brief or for three days, which is a long period of time, I'm sorry, there is an increase in calories but it's still a bit of structure around them. Whereas what people would call a cheat meal or a cheat day.
These are very brief, it's one meal or it's one eating period. There's very little dietary restraint and they could potentially lead to those substantial increases in calorie intake, which is one of the reasons why I'm just not a fan of that approach. So on the continuum from cheat meal to refree to diet break, you're much better off having the refeed and the diet break and steering well clear of the cheat meal or cheat day. And you know, as I suggested,
add that element of flexibility and can shift your mindset around the foods that you eat. What the research has shown and Jackson Pios led some research in this space, he published a paper in 2021, which did show that whilst there was no significant advantages of diet breaks in terms of weight loss or fat loss or resting metabolic rate,
and they alternated between three weeks of dieting and having a one week diet break, what they did do is, or what they did show were positive changes related to hunger, appetite and the desire to eat. What a another paper by Bill Campbell, as I said, he was a guest on the show. It showed again, there was no significant advantage with weight loss or fat loss. There was less dietary dys...
inhibition from the people who employed the diet breaks. And dietary disinhibition is described as a behavioral sign of losing control over eating. So if you reduce the presence of that, it means you've just got more control. People feel more confident about those food choices within that diet break strategy, because that's what you really want to do. Whenever you were trying to lose weight, ideally, you would be wanting to lose weight for good,
and you will be utilizing strategies and actions or behaviors that will then become habit over time. So you're starting to ingrain these new habits. So any sort of diet break strategy or refeed should really just be an extension of that where you're just eating more calories, but you've still got that structure. You're not mindlessly and...
Willy nilly just grabbing food whenever you get it because this is your one opportunity. So the fact that the study by Pios and Campbell found that people were more satisfied that their hunger hormones dropped, they felt like they got the psychological break from a diet and they were still in control. It does tell you a little bit about how these diet break strategies could be helpful.
for that long-term diet adherence and continuing to allow someone to practice those habits and behaviors that they want to be adhering to long-term. And Eric Helms definitely describes a diet break or a refeed day like that too, but it is that opportunity to practice maintenance calories. So often we are either on a diet or we are off a diet. And there is just no in between for some people.
Generally speaking, they may try to employ some sort of dieting strategy like extended fasting or under eating. And then the flip side is that they then over consume later on that day or later on that week. And so they're in this constant cycle of under eating, overeating and never quite establishing a middle ground. What I would say though, with the diet break strategy is it isn't necessarily that any food is, is.
on the cards for some people. Because some people really do have foods that will trigger their appetite and make them eat more. And I think this needs to be acknowledged more in this food environment where you always hear that there is no bad food. And to be fair, for some people there just really is. And these are these foods that will just trigger them to overeat. And whilst it doesn't mean that you can never eat these foods ever again,
it does mean you have to be considered about whether you can see them in your diet break. Is that then going to lead to an over consumption of them that will sort of put a bit of a break on your diet progress? So do be mindful of those foods when you have a diet break. I mean, ideally, it would be great if you could eat whatever you liked. And remember that does change over time. So whilst you might be craving junk food at the start of a diet, that could be very bad.
very well be different at the end of a diet and I see that all the time in Monday's matter. Be mindful of having to or of planning to have foods which you know you are susceptible to binge with and hey look it's not a slight on your character, it is not some sort of like deficit in you as a person if you do have these foods. You're just human right so if you can be mindful of that going into a diet break it means that you're able to navigate that maintenance
strategy so much better and then you get a bit of a refresh, a psychological break from that diet, your appetite hormone reduces as I said, then you go back into your next dieting phase, feeling more motivated and really amped to continue your progress. And the last thing I will say on this, possibly, is that this is a good strategy having those diet breaks for anyone who might travel actually.
travel for work where you find it really hard to navigate the conference food or the hotel buffet. There will always be strategies though that you can use and I will address them in another mini micropedia episode for sort of nutrition on the road. But this way, and again, it doesn't mean that you are going free for all when you're away from sort of your usual environment but maybe what you do is hit that dieting strategy hard when you're home and
when you're in that social setting where you just cannot control the food and some of the choices just aren't great. Because I appreciate that that is the reality for a lot of people who travel for work or just travel in general. However, if you are someone who travels a lot in general, then it's fine, and it makes it more important, right? Because it's not just this one-off. If it was just a one-off, then it probably didn't matter really what happens that week you're away. Just get back on it when you come home. But if this is a weekly,
a monthly or something like that occurrence, then you do really want to try and dial in some strategies that work long time for you. All right team, so a little bit on diet breaks, on refeeds, on cheat days, and what I used to do as a young university student. I'd love to hear from you, any feedback, any ideas that you would love to see for Mini Micropedia as well moving forward, or anyone that you want to see me interview on a Wednesday episode that would also be grand.
You can catch me over on Twitter and Instagram at Micky Willardin, on Facebook at Micky Willardin Nutrition, or head to my website, MickyWillardin.com, book a call with me and we can chat about how this might work in your life. Alright team, you have a great week.