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Is a Diet Break Really Effective? Here’s What Studies Say

Counting calories and sustaining the necessary calorie deficit during the weight-loss process can quickly become exasperating, even for the most ardent dieters. 

The day comes when you just want to delete it all from your phone and be free from daily watching your calorie deficit. Here’s what you could do instead: take a diet break – a planned break from being in a calorie deficit. This usually lasts for 1 or two weeks, but the duration is up to you.  

Some people even search for a special diet break meal plan to be sure they’re breaking their diet healthily. Actually, eating a balanced diet during your diet or non-diet periods is crucial for individuals who aim to lose weight or maintain their current one. 

A diet break has nothing to do with indulging in any junk food you like – you still need to keep tabs on the meals you toss in your mouth.

There are some assertions that a diet break is beneficial for weight loss. That’s why a lot of people integrate it into their daily regime. But is a diet break really effective? Here’s what studies say. 

From here you’ll begin to identify the signs that you need to take a diet break, and most importantly learn whether it’s helpful for weight loss or not. 

How long should a diet break be?

A diet break after dieting should not make you feel guilty. There is no strict rule here, as It is dependent on each individual. You could implement a diet break for as long or as often as you wish. For example, some individuals take a diet break for a week or two (or more), then switch back to their original weight loss goal after they’re done with the diet break.

That said, it’s important to keep your diet sustainable, and having well-planned diet breaks is a helpful method for achieving that. Taking a two-week diet break every 6–16 weeks may actually be good for your mental and physical health. 

The total length of your diet may also depend on how much fat you have in your body. It’s fine to diet as long as you’re not in the “at-risk” health category. You can continue to do so until you reach your goals. 

If you struggle to even flirt with the idea of giving up your favorite foods or working out till your legs give way – BetterMe app is here to breathe a fresh perspective into the way you view the weight loss process! Check out the app and experience the fun side of fitness and dieting with BetterMe!

What is a diet break period?

A diet break period means shifting from your calorie deficit to your maintenance calorie intake, or not counting calories at all, or letting go of all your diet’s restrictions for at least one week. 

Sometimes dieters are sick and tired of dieting and choose a fairly long-term diet break lasting 1-2 months (or longer). Other dieters by contrast might use diet breaks as part of a cyclical plan: they alternate between 1-3 weeks of dieting (negative energy balance) and 1-2 week diet breaks (neutral energy balance).

There are different reasons to incorporate a diet break: 

  • A psychological break from caloric restriction can be good for your mental health
  • Some people find it improves weight loss efficiency
  • It brings recovery from the weight room back up to speed
  • It helps you realize that there is a time and place to “grind”
  • It may reduce some water retention issues linked to prolonged periods of fat loss (4).


Will I gain weight on a diet break?

If we’re talking about physically gaining a noticeable amount of fat and/or muscle, no you most likely will not. Since the goal of the diet break is to eat maintenance calories, you will be consuming just enough calories to maintain your current body weight.

Yet, there is a flip side to this situation. 

During a diet break, you may likely gain a small amount of weight, which would be due to glycogen and water weight.

Glycogen stores carbohydrates in your body. If you eat fewer carbs during a calorie deficit, you likely have less glycogen stored. By eating more carbs during a diet break, you will likely store more carbohydrates as glycogen.

Moreover, shifting from a lower to a higher sodium intake also encourages your body to hold onto more water. This may increase your body weight.

In conclusion, if you go from the calorie deficit mode to eating at maintenance calories, your weight may slightly increase.

This increase is not completely related to body fat, so you shouldn’t put too much importance on it. 

Read more: 7-Day Weight Loss Low-Carb Diet: Choose High-Protein, High-Fiber, or Ultra-Low-Carb

Is it good to take a break from your diet?

For some people, it may be beneficial to take a diet break for at least one week while for others it could be a bad idea. Focus on what works best for you. Look at your lifestyle, preferences, psychology, and general goals. 

Since people are different and are not robots, it’s hard to set the same diet to everyone’s eating regime. If you’re on a sustainable, healthy, balanced diet that isn’t restrictive, you may not need a break.

However, individuals who track their weight or are trying to shed pounds may need to switch from calorie deficit to calorie maintenance every once in a while. There are 5 signs you might need a diet break (6). Check them out and if you notice some of these signs in your life, it could indicate you need to break your diet for a bit. 

1. You crave more food

Caloric restriction often leads to cravings and increased hunger. This may be in part related to increased ghrelin levels and reduced leptin. Although some hunger during dieting is normal, if you experience intense cravings, you can develop binge-eating behaviors. 

ln addition, chronically elevated ghrelin levels may boost lipoprotein lipase, which is a fat-storage enzyme (2). This means you can put on body fat after very severe caloric restriction.


2. You have a low libido

Your sex drive might decrease as a consequence of severe or prolonged caloric restriction. Here’s how it works: when you are in survival or fight or flight mode, which occurs during caloric restriction, the body will prefer producing more stress hormones than sex hormones.

When we look at it from the evolutionary perspective, reproduction is a very energy intensive process, and not something you want to do when resources are scarce. When you’ve been restricting calories, your body thinks that resources are scarce.  

3. You can’t perform well at the gym

As you continue your calorie-restriction phase, you decrease sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, plus you may not be getting enough energy to fuel your workouts, which can eventually lead to reduced muscle mass and performance in the gym.

4. You lack energy

Low energy is the usual symptom during severe or prolonged caloric restriction. This is clearly a sign that your metabolism is tanking, and your body is moving into a state of energy conservation.

5. You have low motivation

Lack of motivation typically occurs with low energy and becomes your body’s way of telling you that you’re reaching a state of exhaustion and that you need to get a rest. 

At this point, you might as well take a diet break. Some dieters eventually reach this point anyway and give up.

Besides, the Anti-Diet Culture is booming among a large pool of individuals who want to break free from dieting and establish healthy long-term relationships with food.

Whether you’re a workout beast or just a beginner making your first foray into the world of fitness and dieting – BetterMe has a lot to offer to both newbies and experts! Install the app andexperience the versatility first-hand d!

Do diet breaks help you lose weight?

Particular studies investigated the link between diet breaks and weight loss. One study was led by Professor Byrne and his colleagues. Prof. Byrne enrolled 51 obese men aged 25 to 54 years. Those men were randomly assigned to one of two diet groups. One group had to follow a continuous calorie-restricted diet for a total of 16 weeks.

The other group followed the same calorie-restricted diet, but they alternated between 2 weeks of calorie restriction and 2-week diet breaks during which they increased their calorie intake to a state of energy balance. The following cycle repeated for 30 weeks, meaning that they also engaged in 16 weeks of dieting in total. 

At the end of the study, the researchers noted that the men who took 2-week breaks from dieting lost more weight by contrast to the continuous diet group (3).

The researchers suggested that their findings indicate that a 2-week off approach to dieting may be more effective for weight loss than continuous dieting.

However, after this study, other additional diet break studies have been published. 

In 2021, Peos and colleagues published a paper demonstrating no significant benefits for fat loss, weight loss, or resting metabolic rate when comparing a diet break strategy to a standard weight loss diet. However, the diet break group highlighted more favorable changes in hunger, appetite, and desire to eat (1).

Another recent study in 2023 analyzed the effects of diet breaks on body composition and resting metabolic rate in resistance-trained females (5). The researchers concluded that the use of diet breaks does not significantly aid in fat loss and has no beneficial effect on FFM and RMR. Instead, break-diet strategies may be helpful for people who want a short-term break from an energy-restricted diet without fear of fat regain.

Therefore, diet breaks for weight loss may or may not be more effective than continuous calorie-deficit strategies. So it’s up to you whether to break the diet or not. 

Read more: 24 Weight Loss Smoothies, 2 Diet Plans, and 5 Belly Fat Smoothie Secrets



  • Is meal timing sabotaging your weight loss?

Even though there is no perfect timing for your meals, some experts suggest that eating heavier meals earlier in the day and going lighter in the evening may enhance your weight loss. However, what really matters is your total energy intake compared with how much energy you expend throughout the day. So do whatever works for you in regards to meal timing

  • Is it OK to break your diet once a week?

It is okay to break the diet once a week especially if you suffer from extreme cravings, have too little energy, and don’t perform well in the gym. Yet, even during your diet break, you should eat a healthy balanced diet that includes fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Indulging in too much junk food might set back your weight loss process. 

  • What are the phases of fat loss?

There are sometimes said to be two weight-loss phases: one is characterized by rapid weight loss (this is when you drop your weight fast). Most of the weight loss is from water, with some muscle and fat loss. The second stage is the slower one (you lose weight more slowly, but more of the shedded pounds come from fat).

  • How long to eat at maintenance for metabolism reset?

A diet break to reset metabolism might take around 1 to 2 weeks. But it could be longer – there is no evidence-based answer. The timeframe will depend on a person’s needs and goals. Also, you should look at your symptoms while taking a diet break. They may involve a lack of energy, extreme cravings, low libido, poor performance, and low motivation. You might want to continue your diet break until your symptoms resolve.

The Bottom Line

Is a diet break really effective? Here’s what studies say. Hopefully, you have clear answers to the key questions that bother many people who desire to manage their weight and become leaner. Let’s summarize a bit. 

A diet break means you move from your calorie deficit to eating at your maintenance calorie level for at least one week. It can take 1 week or longer. Some people worry about regaining weight after they break their diet. Your weight might slightly increase only due to glycogen and water weight

The main signs that you need to break from your diet are: low energy, poor libido, bad physical performance, low motivation, and extreme cravings. If you’re suffering from at least one of these symptoms, you need to consider taking a break from your diet. 

When it comes to the link between diet break and weight loss, there is conflicting evidence showing the positive effects on fat loss. Yet, break-diet strategies may be helpful for people who want a short-term break from an energy-restricted diet, without fear of fat regain.

Overall, if you’re striving to lose weight or sustain your current body weight without counting calories, prioritize healthy meals that include fiber, protein, and a variety of other nutrients. In addition, the quality of your sleep, the amount of stress in your life, and how physically engaged you are also affects your weight.
Sleep enough, stay hydrated, and move your body – choose any activity you like, whether it’s running, playing football, Pilates, or simply walking. Everything counts, as long as you move. Losing weight healthily is always the best option.


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. Continuous versus Intermittent Dieting for Fat Loss and Fat-Free Mass Retention in Resistance-trained Adults: The ICECAP Trial (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  2. Ghrelin action in the brain controls adipocyte metabolism (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  3. Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  4. OUR GUIDE TO PROGRAMMING DIET BREAKS (cleanhealth.edu.au)
  5. The Effects of Intermittent Diet Breaks during 25% Energy Restriction on Body Composition and Resting Metabolic Rate in Resistance-Trained Females: A Randomized Controlled Trial (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. The Top 5 Signs You Need a Diet Break (cleanhealth.edu.au)
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