If you want to get in shape, apparently you should cheat on your diet. That's according to a new study published in this month's edition of Nature's International Journal of Obesity, which found that people who broke up their diet with periods of normal eating ultimately lost more weight than those who stuck it out. They also kept the weight off for longer.
The small study gets at the heart of an unfortunate reality for many people trying to maintain a healthy weight: Most tend to gain all of the unwanted weight back after ending a strict diet. To break this cycle, the researchers split 51 obese men between the ages of 25 and 54 into two groups: one that followed a strict diet that slashed their calorie intake by one-third for three-and-a-half months, and another that followed the same diet but habitually broke it every two weeks by eating enough calories to meet their needs.
In the end, those that were allowed to break their diet lost 47% more weight than those who stuck to the traditional plan, and they managed to keep it off. "Interrupting energy restriction [dieting] with energy balance 'rest periods' [normal eating] may … improve weight loss efficiency," explain the researchers. They believe that this diet-break-diet structure has a way of "keeping the body on its toes" since it allows you to skip over the "plateau" period toward the end of a diet where people tend to stop losing weight (or gain some of it back).