Can eating more food by taking a diet break or refeed during a fat loss phase really help you make losing body fat easier?
When done properly, yes. Most people just don't understand how to apply these strategies properly for fat loss.
Today’s blog teaches you the science behind diet breaks and refeeds, and how we use them with online clients to achieve easier fat loss.
WHAT IS A REFEED?
A refeed is 1-3 days of taking your calories from a deficit (below maintenance) back up to maintenance. This is typically done by increasing calories almost exclusively via carbs.
WHAT IS A DIET BREAK?
A diet break is essentially the bigger brother to refeeds - 4 days to (usually) 2-3 weeks where calories are returned to maintenance levels. A large portion of this calorie increase can come from carbs, but it’s also more common for more protein and/or fat to be added back in during this time.
WHY TAKE DIET BREAKS & REFEEDS?
The primary reason you'll hear people promote diet breaks is to prevent metabolic adaptation.
See, your body has four different ways it burns calories:
1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns just to stay alive. Generally, the heavier you are, the higher your BMR.
2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) - Calories burned during digestion. It takes energy to turn the food you consume into energy. This is TEF.
3. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.) - All the calories you burn in your everyday movement outside the gym.
4. Thermic Effect of Exercise (TEE) - Calories burned lifting weights, doing cardio, etc.
These four mechanisms make up your metabolism.
As you eat fewer calories and get leaner, your metabolism adapts to prevent you from withering away into nothing:
→ Your body is smaller, so BMR decreases
→ You're eating less food, so TEF decreases (given macro composition stays the same)
→ TEE decreases, because it takes fewer calories to move your smaller body
→ NEAT generally decreases, because you feel lethargic due to lack of calories
Plus, levels of a hormone called Leptin also decrease. This leads to an increase in hunger, and less energy expenditure.
As you eat more and gain more fat, the opposite happens - metabolism increases, hunger decreases.
This up-regulation and down-regulation of your metabolism when dieting is called metabolic adaptation.
The thinking behind diet breaks and refeeds is...
If eating more up-regulates your metabolism and hormones, then taking diets breaks and refeeds means you'll arrive at the end of the diet with a faster metabolism and better hormones.
Which sounds pretty great, right?
The question is...
Does it really work like that?
THE SCIENCE BEHIND REFEEDS & DIET BREAKS
The reality is, there hasn't been a ton of research on diet breaks or refeeds in the sense we’re talking about here.
But a few we have that do stand out:
→ The recent ICECAPS trial on one week diet breaks by Jackson Peos and colleagues seemed to show they're an effective tool to decrease hunger and desire to eat: