Mini Diet Vacations

by Andie Mitchell on October 21, 2012

Or, taking breaks during weight loss.

Losing weight can be a long and difficult process.  It can take years to lose the excess pounds and adapt to a healthier lifestyle. And even if it’s not all that long, not entirely arduous, it still requires energy that you’d probably rather spend on other things. Often times the scope of the changes that need to be made can be so terrifying it can lead to failure. I know very well the feelings I had when I was on the wrong side of 200 pounds even after dieting diligently for months. I felt helpless. Discouraged. I wondered,

how much longer do I have to do this? Months, years, [gulp] a lifetime? [sob]

It just wasn’t possible to pass on dessert much longer. Certainly not forever.

While I didn’t use them more than two or three times, I found that during those moments when I was feeling particularly weak in will, just shy of empty on stamina, taking a break was the remedy. For a few days- up to a week- I’d eat reasonably. And by reasonably I mean, at caloric maintenance (the amount of calories I should consume to keep my body at the same weight). It wasn’t carte blanche to binge, to invite every fried friend into my home and my belly; it was a week of eating in a way I’d describe as…well…normal. Healthfully but with no sign of deprivation in sight. And nearly every time, I’d find myself at the end of the week feeling a bit renewed, refreshed. I’d feel less bitter about jumping back into a more conservative eating routine. Perhaps especially because I had such a long way to go weight-wise, these days of respite helped to recharge my willpower, my motivation.

It’s worth mentioning that these types of breaks aren’t for everyone. Some of us have difficulty with an all or nothing mentality that tells us we’re either strictly on the wagon or completely off and eating with reckless abandon. It’s dichotomous. It’s oatmeal and salads or ‘hey is there a dessert buffet around here?’

The advantages to diet breaks are mostly psychological, but there is also research suggesting that such a break (again, a week of eating to your maintenance calories) could help slightly increase your metabolic rate after the break.  Taking a vacation from losing weight (while remaining cautious of overeating and bingeing) can be tremendously helpful for those of us who are struggling mentally and emotionally, ready to throw in the towel. The break, in this light, gives us reprieve.

In a 2003 study at Brown Medical School, scientists sought to disrupt diets by “inducing a relapse.” They took a group of dieters and made them take a break from their weight loss eating plan. Their hypothesis was that the dieters would slip back into their old ways and regain the weight. Surprisingly to the researchers, results showed that the group who took breaks was able to slip right back into their weight loss routine. There was no difference in weight loss between the group that took breaks and the group who didn’t.

A possible conclusion we can draw from this study is that diet breaks aren’t necessarily a hindrance to weight loss. And not only are they not a hindrance, but they may serve as an aid to those struggling to reach their goals.

Read the study findings here.

Have you experimented with diet breaks? What were your results? How do you recharge your motivation in weight loss?

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristine J. Trudeau October 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Andie:
For the longest time, I had the mentality that if I fell off of my diet, for any reason, it would take me months, possibly years, to get back on it. I was going by my past failures – I didn’t trust myself.

Now that I’ve been “faithful” to my vision of finally seeing myself as the thin person I want to be, and sticking to my new lifestyle eating plan and exercise program 98% of the time for the past several months, I no longer fear a minor “vacation” from my plan. Example: Today I traded a healthy lunch for candy at the movie theater. I chose “Raisinets” because I love chocolate and they’re made out of grapes (I think). lol Anyway, I knew the “exact” calorie count of the “Raisinets” but it was anybody’s guess what was in the popcorn. I looked it up on the internet – Theater Popcorn is a dieater’s nightmare.

After the movies, I went right back on program for dinner and still managed to stay within my caloric budget for the day.

I guess what I’m saying is, I blatantly chose NOT to eat healthy for one meal, just so I wouldn’t feel deprived during my outing with my sister at the show. And since my little wicked stint of eating a whole box of candy was planned, I didn’t feel guilty or beat myself up about it.

I think a vacation from your “diet” can be healthy, but not until you’re really ready for it and know it won’t sabatoge your efforts.

Kris

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Miriam October 22, 2012 at 1:42 am

After being off my routine for the past 1-2 weeks, due to three weddings and crazy work hours, funnily – i’m craving to be back on my diet and work out schedule. After 50 pounds, this is just the break I needed to get back on track and continue the battle with another 50 pounds (ish). I feel that this was the right time for me to take this break – but really it’s an individual thing, and you have to think carefully before doing it. If I didn’t entirely trust myself that I could get back to my routine, I wouldn’t do it.

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Sonal October 22, 2012 at 5:08 am

A mini diet vacation sounds like a great idea but I would also be scared of falling off the wagon, i.e. getting too comfortable eating familiar foods, stretching the limits and ultimately losing the primary goal and focus to lose weight. However, for some people this may work very well – an example might be a “cheat day” in some of the diets?

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Heather@SugarDish(Me) October 22, 2012 at 5:16 am

I know that for some people breaks are just not possible, but for me they are so necessary. I still have 50-ish pounds to go, but I’m not in a place I hate right now. You wrote about plateaus just last week or the week before and breaks sometimes get me over the hump. It’s weird to me that I can be so focused and stay the same for weeks and then slip up and splurge on a milkshake and see the scale drop 2 days later. But I don’t think i should complain about that. Yea for a break!!

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Sarah October 22, 2012 at 5:39 am

Wow, this is the perfect time for this post. I am still on the wrong side of 200 (but just barely now!!!). I’ve lost almost 40 pounds in the past 6 months on Weight Watchers, but for the past few weeks, I have been really struggling mentally. I think I’ve lost the same 2-3 pounds about 3 times. Before, I would have given up at this point, but I don’t want to now. I am just trying to figure out what to do for this to pass. I decided to give myself a break for three days last week. I am back on track starting this week, but told myself I would take a week long break if I still struggled mentally this week. Even after those three days, I already feel better for this week.

Thank you so much for this blog. I identify with you so much… it has been such an inspiration :)

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Jamie October 22, 2012 at 6:14 am

I used to be terrified to take any sort of a break from eating and working out according to plan. However, I found that for the most part this way of thinking led me to binge when I did allow myself a cheat meal or a treat.

Now, here I am 4 years into my new way of life with regular exercise and clean eating/healthy eating habits, I allow myself to take breaks when I feel my body and my mind crying out for them. If I find that I desperately look for reasons to take a night off from my workout, or I crave a particular food for more than a couple of days, I take the time off and I allow the indulgence.

I can say that I ALWAYS crave the cleaner/healthier diet and the workout routine within a few days of a break. These little breaks or mini-vacations from my normal way of life give me the time and perspective necessary to keep moving forward with what I know is right for my body.

On a side note, I have followed you for a while from the sidelines and this is the first time I’ve commented. However, I applaud you for your commitment to the journey and for sharing so many of your honest thoughts with all of us. I find you inspiring and your perspective is so refreshing.

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Carrie @ Season It Already! October 22, 2012 at 6:45 am

The aha! moment I had was when I realized I could still get an “A” without all the correct answers. Meaning, yeah, you can not get everything right and STILL be successful. It got me over the hump of feeling that if I went off plan that it meant I failed and had to start over again.

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Jacey October 22, 2012 at 7:54 am

To answer your question, yes, I take a break from my diet about every other day. I wonder why I can’t seem to drop any weight. It’s a mystery.

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Cinnamon Vogue October 22, 2012 at 7:58 am

Andie this is exactly how everyone goes through this process. You articulated it well.

My problems are sweets. So even though I eat well I crave sweets especially after a meal. I feel ill if I don’t. A piece of chocolate, a slice of pound cake, Yoghurt with treacle and the list goes on.

So I treat myself to a sweet once a week. At first it was every other day. Now I can go seven days. But when I get to the sweets I eat just a little bit, because the body will try to replace all of the sweets it missed out over the last seven days. It’s a crafty little thing, our bodies. Trying to ambush us with a sweet craving just when you don’t expect it, like a stressful situation at work. This sweet habit came from my parents who always ate chocolate after a meal. And it’s hard to break these habits.

So taking a break I think is a must as long as you specify when you would be entitled to that break. Gradually you can increase time between these breaks. I started with every other day for my sweets and now I am at seven days.

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BreeAnn October 22, 2012 at 11:30 am

I plan ahead, if I see a social event on my calendar or a holiday but I only allow a break for a meal or 2 over the course of a weekend, then I am strict for another week. My cheat days really help my focus and dedication in between.

This past Saturday night was a cheat day, I had really delicious greasy pizza, and when I weighed myself Sunday morning, I hadn’t gained any weight, just some mental strength.

Now I’m going to tough it out all week until a Halloween party next weekend where I’ll allow myself to enjoy some sweets, but not one of everything, just enough to satisfy me.

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Bridget October 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm

This is still an area I am working on because consistently for the past few years my mini vacation, better known as summer, has left me with additional undesired pounds. Fall and winter is when I rededicate myself to healthy living, and this fall could not have come soon enough! I am hoping this is the last summer I let the mini vacation get the best of me!

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Hope October 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Personally, I have taken several big breaks through my weight loss, and it makes me confident that I can maintain very easily. From start weight to goal weight I had approximately 42 pounds to lose. I’m currently down 27 so I have fifteen more pounds to go. After I had lost ten pounds, I had a bunch of holidays, vacations, etc. so I didn’t lose at all for about two months. Then I lost the next 17 or so (and I should note, I’m currently at a “healthy” weight, but would like to lose some vanity lbs). Currently, I’m ending another couple month break from actively losing. I know this probably sounds CRAZY and slow to most people, and YES I get jealous and feel like a failure when I see people losing 50 or 60 pounds in 6 months, when it took me a year to lose about 30, but the fact is, this WORKS for me. Over my hiatuses, I have had ZERO issues maintaining. To me, slow and steady wins the race, and I’ve NEVER wanted weight loss to get in the way of living. I’m starting my last 15 “diet” today actually! I just feel mentally ready again!

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Susan October 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm

This was a perfectly timed post for me! I have been faithfully doing WW for a few months and steadily losing about a pound a week. Lately I’ve been going bonkers and battling crazy, out of control cravings. While I don’t have a lot of weight to lose and my goal is within my sights, I have not allowed myself to go off the plan. Mind you, I’ve indulged my cravings in so far as my points have allowed. But I’ve been really struggling for the past week or so.

Your post was just what I need to hear right now. I am working so hard to meet my initial goal (pre-pregnancy weight) by Thanksgiving. I’ve pushed myself with my diet and exercise that I am flat worn out! I felt so relieved reading about the “mini diet vacation” and just the thought of allowing myself a little break has been freeing in and of itself. :)

I do believe I will be heading to the Bahamas this weekend, FIGURE-atively speaking of course! :D

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Dukebdc October 22, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I’ve always said, that like many people, I can gain weight or I can lose weight, but I can’t maintain. I’m either eating what I want, or dieting. Mentally there seems to be no in-between for me.

For me, the only feasible way to take a break is to have a very strictly defined time limit for the break. One day, two days–whatever it is, I have to stick to it, or I fall completely off the wagon and gain weight over the coming months. Luckily, I do not gain weight quickly, but it’s still moving in the wrong direction.

If I’m going to indulge in something, it has to be a single serving (ie going out for ice cream vs. buying a half-gallon and bringing it home), or my resolve to stick to the time limit dissolves by the mere presence of temptation.

Once I reach my goal weight (only 5-10 pounds to go–I have a goal range and not a single number), I will try to experiment with maintaining my weight for a month without strict vigilance. From there I will have to figure out what is next.

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Jessi October 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I lost my first round of baby weight plus some (about 35 pounds) a couple of years ago on Weight Watchers. I liked the structure and sensibility of it as well as the promotion of a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. It wasn’t about “You can never have this or that” which just makes me crave this or that until I binge. Fast forward to now, 8 months post-baby #2. I started at the same post-preggo weight as #1, and it’s taken me about 4 months to drop 10 pounds where I had lost 30 by now last time. I’ve been half-heartedly doing WW online with my sisters, but there was just something “off” this time. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

You had mentioned Geneen Roth in your blog and I looked her up late one night. I downloaded “Breaking Free from Emotional Eating” and read it that night. It resonated so much for me. I also just finished “Women Food and God” and again, I had so many AHA! moments. I am an emotional eater and honestly, until I face that and deal with it, I will ALWAYS be on a diet, failing miserably in some way or another. I don’t want to live my life that way and I don’t want my daughter (and son!) seeing me constantly battling myself and food and then taking that on for themselves. Each day is a new journey, as I’m at the curious “Let’s see what this eating spree is about” phase but I feel so much more at peace. With myself, with my physical body and with my future with food. I no longer see it as the enemy but for what it is (nourishment and lets face it, pleasure!) and have the freedom to stop beating myself up.

I hope that this journey leads to a healthier weight (I have about 20 pounds to a fit, comfortable weight) but mostly I want to heal that part of me that sees a chocolate cake as a band-aid and start living in the present, feeling my feelings and getting on with the bigger, better things.

I love your blog, your story is such an inspiration and I love your writing style. Thank you for sharing your journey!

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Jessi October 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm

I guess I didn’t really address mini-vacations there, did I? I think my point was, I want to be on a permanent diet vacation. No more restrictions or counting. I want to be intuitive and trust myself. Does that make sense? But yes, I was able to take breaks from WW and maintain…

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jennifer grennan October 23, 2012 at 4:27 am

It seems every day lately when I open an email from you the post feels like it was written just for me and where I am right now. I read this one right after having taken a one day “break” and struggling with how I felt about it. Thank you!!

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Meg October 23, 2012 at 2:35 pm

This is something that I have struggled with, as I’ve been an “all or nothing” dieter since I was a teen. I’ve been working with a nutritionist the last six months, and I’ve learned a lot about my version of “normal”. I maintain a calorie deficit over the course of the week, and take a meal “off” once a week. I still track the calories, and I still plan ahead if I’m eating out, but I get to sort of let my hair down a little. Split a dessert with my husband, or have a glass of wine–whatever it is I want at that moment. It makes the rest of the week easier for me, and less of a hardship to choose not to eat that cookie right now, or to pass on Halloween candy in the break room at work. It must be working–30 lbs down and still losing.

Also, Andi, thank you for sharing posts like this. I really think it helps for all of us at different points along this journey to feel some solidarity, to realize we’re not all doing this alone. I appreciate it.

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Christen October 24, 2012 at 6:17 am

I have had great success with mini breaks like this. I’ve been maintaining my 70 lb weight loss for nearly two years. I find that a week off now and then really recharges my battery.

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Sarah C October 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm

This makes a lot of sense and compares well to the experience of training for an athletic event. Training plans (like for a running race or triathlon) always remind one to take rest days. When I trained for a triathlon several years ago I could positively feel the increase in strength and endurance after a rest day (or two), whereas training day after day my body felt the same. The rest days allow our bodies to register the changes we’ve been making and come back stronger. It only makes sense that the same would apply to dieting!

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Jodi @ Jodi, Fat or Not October 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm

I don’t usually go more than a day or two on a diet vacation, but that’s all I need to keep from feeling burnt out on calorie counting and constant attention to what I’m eating.

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Amanda @ Romancing the Unusual October 25, 2012 at 9:51 am

I love this post SO much! It’s so easy to beat ourselves up when we stray a bit from our “diet” I recently lost 70 pounds and followed that up with quite the indulgent summer. I am in a healthy weight range now and still so it’s not a huge deal, but I have been down on myself lately. Diet vacations are needed for sanity’s sake. Eating a donut isn’t the end of the world. It never will be. It’s all about balance!

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Gina October 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I find this to be very true and helpful! Well said, Andie.

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Chelsea October 31, 2012 at 7:23 am

I don’t know that I have “experimented” with the diet breaks, but I have taken breaks during my weight loss journey. The difference is that I consider them as me falling off the wagon. So with a negative connotation. I do see now a little bit of a reprieve each time I’ve fallen off the wagon. Each time I start back up I would add a new healthy guideline I guess you would say to my routine. Like taking vitamins, drinking more water, exercising, etc. Slowly but surely I’m getting there, changing my life one healthy habit at a time. But I. Like looking at those breaks as a good thing, changing my mind set for positive thinking is another healthy habit I’m currently working on.

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Gina November 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I find that if I look at how much I plan to eat in a day and I plan for an indulgence I can build it in. So, I’ll have a lighter lunch on a day I know I’ll want dessert with dinner so at the end I’ve eaten the same amount of calories just in different food. I try to keep my calories nutritious most days but sometimes I sub some out for dessert or wine or something and it’s not like “cheating” it’s just eating… but I get cake, so fun!

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Christine D September 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm

This is exactly what i just did for the past three weeks. Good to know that I wasn’t losing my mind thinking I needed a BREAK, mentally and physically, from my routine. I’m right back on the horse and it feels awesome.

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