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Want To Lose Weight? Take A Break From Your Diet, Study Says

Two weeks on, two weeks off.

21/09/2017 8:00 AM AEST | Updated 21/09/2017 8:03 AM AEST
Tara Moore
You're still not allowed to binge though. Dammit.

A new study has revealed taking a break from dieting may be the key to long term weight loss.

The study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia, saw two groups of obese men take part in a 16-week diet which cut calorie intake by one third.

Sounds pretty standard, right?

Except one group maintained the diet continuously for 16 weeks, while the other group dieted for two weeks, then broke from the diet for two weeks (so basically two weeks on, two weeks off) for a period of 30 weeks.

(It's important to note the two weeks off didn't mean a two week free-for-all, rather that the participants ate simply "to keep their weight stable".)

While the total 'dieting period' came to 16 weeks for both groups, the intermittent diet group not only lost more weight, but also gained less weight after the trial finished.

So what does all this mean?

"If you think of it from the point of view of an athlete training, when we put an athlete into an exercise training program, we don't -- or we shouldn't -- keep them on the same training dose every day," research leader Professor Nuala Byrne from the University of Tasmania told HuffPost Australia.

"We vary it. In exercise training we refer to that as mesocycles or microcycles. We do a cycled program that puts them into higher stressed periods and lower stress periods so they can get an adaptive response.

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The intermittent diet group maintained an average weight loss of 8 kg more than the continuous diet group, six months after the end of the diet.

"We wanted to do the same thing with diet -- to stress the body into weight loss but then give it a rest.

"Our belief was it would stress the body in a way that would be more typical of Paleolithic times, so when a man would have gone hunting a wildebeest, found a meal, then eat and go through feast and famine. However we didn't want there to be such a huge difference between feast and famine time."

Byrne said the period of two weeks was selected because this corresponds with the time of the rapid drop in metabolic rate (which occurs when there are less calories being consumed than what we need to fuel all the body's metabolic processes), as well as allowing time to measure people's responses in more stable phases of energy restriction and balance.

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The participants of the trial were all obese men. However, results from a woman's trial will be released at a later date.

Regrettably, there wasn't enough initial funding to include women in the study, though Byrne and her team have since secured more funding and are currently in the final stages of the woman's trial.

In terms of whether we can expect similar results, Byrne said, "We would believe it would be reasonable to assume you'd get the same response but that's why we need to do the study.

"We don't know if there would be some interaction with the menstrual cycle and the mechanisms involved in this study, so I don't want to make the simple presumption that the results would be the same.

"But physiologically, certainly some of the same mechanisms will be at play. We don't just don't know if... the menstrual cycle [will] throw a spanner in the works, so to speak."

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Byrne said the findings from the initial trial were promising in regards to the future of weight loss.

As for what these initial findings mean going forward, Byrne said more data needed to be analysed.

"Should [members of the public] want to take this dietary approach, we first need to find out what ways can we educate them to make those judgment calls for themselves," she said.

"That's part of our quest as well, to find ways in which we can take a really controlled, purposeful, really mechanistic study and transfer that to community use.

"We have more to learn is the simplest way of saying it. While there is promise here, we will be interested to understand it more."

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