To lose pounds, you have to break your own rules once a week: a diet that is too strict can ruin your weight loss efforts.

We all know how to lose weight. It seems like busi­ness is on a dime: you need to eat less, move more and buy your­self new pants. Few peo­ple pay atten­tion to the nuances. This one, for exam­ple: the more you lose, the more greedy your body becomes — your metab­o­lism slows down, the feel­ing of hunger wors­ens. Nobody wants to lose their nest egg, even if it’s just bloat­ed fat cells. That is why most diet attempts that start on the night from Sun­day to Mon­day drown in a glass of beer on Fri­day, if not ear­li­er.

But, on the oth­er hand, why is the first offense the fail­ure of the entire diet? What’s so scary? This will only set you back a day or two. In fact, some nutri­tion­ists believe that a prop­er weight loss pro­gram should leave some wig­gle room. Name­ly: you sim­ply must allow con­trolled breaks in self-tor­ture.

Rest on the seventh day

One of the most pop­u­lar weight loss meth­ods in the Unit­ed States now is the Body for Life pro­gram. Its author, Bill Phillips, in par­tic­u­lar, advis­es his fol­low­ers to adhere to a strict diet (high pro­tein, low fat, etc.) six days a week. And use the sev­enth as a free day, when you can eat any­thing: piz­za, pan­cakes, a Big Mac or even a cou­ple for lunch — your choice. This unload­ing will con­vince your body that the famine has not yet arrived and there is no need to pre­serve inter­nal fat by any means. But even more impor­tant is the psy­cho­log­i­cal impact of such breaks. If you get depressed from eat­ing broc­coli, it will not help you reach your desired lev­el.

“You don’t want to make com­mit­ments that you can’t keep,” Phillips says.
80% of over­weight guys who lose at least 10% accord­ing to the prin­ci­ple “I’ll die from veg­eta­bles, but I’ll achieve my goal” regain the lost kilos with­in a year. Who guar­an­tees you that you will be in the oth­er 20% (unless, of course, you are made of steel)?

The Body for Life pro­gram was test­ed on vol­un­teers by sci­en­tists from Skid­more Col­lege (USA) for 12 weeks. Even tak­ing into account those 12 days when you could eat any­thing, the test par­tic­i­pan­t’s aver­age dai­ly calo­rie intake by the end of the test decreased by 29%, and weight by 5.5 kg. And here’s an inter­est­ing obser­va­tion: if at the begin­ning of the pro­gram all the testers with par­tic­u­lar zeal used the entire “day off” to the fullest, then dur­ing the third month many were already lim­it­ed to one “crim­i­nal” din­ner or even just a “sin­ful” dessert. Do you want to repeat their suc­cess? Then read our FAQ on dis­crete weight loss.

Who needs to break their diet?

If you are a real giant, and even lose weight only by restrict­ing food, all this talk is not about you. What does real mean? Your weight is under 100 kg, and your waist cir­cum­fer­ence exceeds 90 cm. This is a sign that you have already vio­lat­ed enough. We’ll have to be patient. And most of all, breaks are need­ed by guys who spend gru­el­ing work­outs in the gym while diet­ing. With­out con­ces­sions, the body of such clients will inevitably rebel — as we have already said, it will under­stand that dif­fi­cult times have come and it is nec­es­sary to save itself.

“Many diets involve dra­mat­i­cal­ly cut­ting back on car­bo­hy­drates and fats,” explains nutri­tion­ist and Men Today nutri­tion advi­sor Alan Aragon. Low fat (espe­cial­ly sat­u­rat­ed fat) means a drop in testos­terone lev­els — you will be slug­gish and mus­cles will not grow. Low car­bo­hy­drates — thy­roid hor­mones are pro­duced worse, which slows down the process of get­ting rid of fat. Well, in addi­tion, the lev­el of lep­tin (the hor­mone that reg­u­lates the feel­ing of sati­ety) will begin to fall, and the lev­el of ghre­lin (its antipode, which pro­vides the feel­ing of hunger) will rise.

A planned diet break can return all your hor­mones to opti­mal lev­els and tem­porar­i­ly sup­port your metab­o­lism. But here’s what’s impor­tant: vio­la­tion does not mean fatal overeat­ing. A com­plex way to con­trol the vol­umes absorbed is as fol­lows:

  • Cal­cu­late the amount of calo­ries you burn dur­ing the week.
  • Build your nutri­tion plan so that (even tak­ing into account reg­u­lar irreg­u­lar­i­ties) in a week you would still spend more ener­gy than you con­sume.

What food is better to choose for “fat” days?

What­ev­er is not in your diet, eat on your only day off, advis­es Aragon. If you have reduced your fat intake, lean on moz­zarel­la, a good steak, or cheese­cake. If you are on a low-carb diet, pas­ta and fried pota­toes are invit­ed to your plate.

But none of this mat­ters if you want some­thing spe­cif­ic. “It hap­pens that you start dream­ing about the cov­et­ed choco­late bar every night,” Aragon clear­ly argues with knowl­edge of the mat­ter. — This is no good — it would be much health­i­er to eat this damn choco­late bar. Oth­er­wise, at some point it will com­plete­ly take over your con­scious­ness, par­a­lyze your will, and then you won’t be able to get by with just one tile.” In oth­er words, the main thing is that you get real plea­sure from your sin­ful day.

When is the best time to break?

At first glance, week­ends are best suit­ed for dietary anar­chy. But this is a dan­ger­ous time, it is easy to slip into uncon­trol­lable glut­tony through­out the week­end. It’s bet­ter to treat your­self on a week­day, the day before your hard­est work­out — the extra calo­ries plus your good mood will make it more pro­duc­tive.

And if you plan to sin with only one meal, then let it be din­ner at home (it is eas­i­est to con­trol, both in terms of vol­ume and com­po­si­tion of dish­es). And it should last no longer than 45 min­utes from the first move­ment of the fork to the last sati­at­ed burp.

How often should you violate?

Bill Phillips, as we have already said, rec­om­mends one free day per week. Our advi­sor, nutri­tion­ist Alan Aragon, is more flex­i­ble: he asks his clients to stick to the diet 90% of the time, leav­ing 10% of calo­ries for irreg­u­lar­i­ties. There are three options:

  • A. One seri­ous vio­la­tion per week — 2000–3000 calo­ries of excel­lent low-qual­i­ty food.
  • B. Two vio­la­tions per week of 1000–1500 calo­ries.
  • B. One small sin every day.

“For most guys, 200 to 300 calo­ries is enough to catch their breath,” Aragon says, adding that this is the most pop­u­lar option. Skid­more Col­lege pro­fes­sor Paul Arciero (the same one who led the field tri­als of the Body for Life pro­gram) agrees that it is not time that should be lim­it­ed, but vol­ume: he allows those los­ing weight under his com­mand 15% of free calo­ries: “Most stretch out this 15% over a week . Vio­la­tions become inter­spersed with healthy food. It’s a very effec­tive way to diet.”

So, one last thing to say: It’s okay to pam­per your­self every now and then, or even every day if you feel like it. In the end, you are not break­ing your diet — it is your diet.

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