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Diet Breaks: An Intentional Maintenance Period

With Thanksgiving this week and different holiday celebrations ahead, this might be one of those really powerful moments to test out an intentional maintenance period. When we think about the holidays, many different people want to be able to not miss out on all of the different connections and social interactions but at the same time, they are a bit stressed about possibly gaining weight too. With that said, I think one of the harder aspects of this is that we look at things more in more of an “on & off” way rather than a more balanced approach. On & off would be like restricting excessively all week long so that they can over consume during the events.

One of the more supportive ways to look at how to make it through the holidays without weight gain is to aim for maintaining instead of aiming to lose. There are many ways to do this, and some will work better for some people, and not for others. but the overall thought process is practicing intentional maintenance or a diet break. I have spoken a little bit about diet breaks previously in the seven-part maintenance series as confidence builders, but I want to dive a little bit more into things here.

Dieting can easily end up as a way of life instead of just a phase that you are passing through for many. And it is a process that is mentally and physically fatiguing. With diets, we are intentionally running the body at less than what it needs to lose weight that we are storing on the body. And there are times when we may begin to feel the stress of the diet add to the stressors that we have throughout our life. Stress has a tendency to build up over time and something like a diet break is a way to take a moment and refuel and restore.

I like to think about it all like someone setting out to run a marathon. We don’t run a marathon straight through, without stopping for fuel or hydration. OK, maybe we don’t stop because we are carrying that on us but the point here is that we do refuel. We do help ourselves continue going with food and hydration…we replenish. We give ourselves moments of support to balance the toughness and the requirements of the journey. This helps you finish the journey that you’re on strong.

Building Confidence with the Upcoming Maintenance Phase

This is directly from part 6 of my maintenance series.

A great way to take maintenance for a test drive to learn what will be ahead is taking diet breaks within your dieting phase.

A diet break is a controlled, intentional maintenance within your dieting phase. Generally speaking, I guide my clients to take a 2-3 week break, but you can take a week or four weeks. It is completely up to you.

During a diet break, your weight may go up as we explained in Part Two due to the replenishment of glycogen stores (carbs and water stored in the muscle), and an increase in food & water. We could also see weight loss or weight standing still.

Psychological Benefits of a Diet Break

Being in a calorie deficit is freaking hard. You are in a state of controlled starvation. Yes, that sounds a bit excessive but we are running your body at less than optimal to have more of a calorie expenditure than we do of a calorie consumption.

And while we’re doing this… We are possibly planning out our meals, tracking all our food, weighing everything, taking measurements, doing check-ins, reaching out to our coaches, trying to avoid certain things, trying to add certain things… This takes a lot of bandwidth sometimes.

Now as a coach, I have to say that I try not to have this be as heavy of a thing to take on but I would be lying if I said that this is not going to require extra effort that can drain you of your current bandwidth.

With a diet break… We are working to take some of the stressors off of our plates by adding back in calories to allow our bodies to be fed. We are essentially consuming the same things more or less because what we choose to consume should be food that we enjoy generally (even in a diet phase), but maybe in different portions, or some of the make-ups of our meals change a little. Maybe we add back in some of the condiments that we let go of because we didn’t have as many calories. But psychologically, we don’t want to give ourselves the added stressor of consuming everything as though this were more vacation and then having the unwanted repercussions.

Brings Back a Bit of Balance

There are plenty of times that I see clients move into a dieting phase where it is completely rigid and strict with food choices and actions they take. After a while, this gets old. It’s hard to keep pushing this level of rigidity. But that’s also a personal choice. Some people want to get in and get out when it comes to a deficit. The only time that this really brings up a bigger issue is when they have a very long road ahead even with this level of diligence. You can run out of gas pretty dang quickly, especially when a vacation, work trip, holiday, or family celebration comes about. I know this firsthand because like I’ve shared before… I was very strict when I was leading up to my bodybuilding competition to the point that I was unable to participate in the celebratory food for my husband’s birthday which was a week before my show. That took a lot out of me. It was a borderline regretful moment.

A diet break can give you a reprieve from the level of rigidity that you’re choosing. You can bring back a little bit of balance with maybe a date night or a night out with your friends. It’s definitely not a moment where you can add lots of things back in because it’s just a pause within your diet phase. There is still work to be done.

And like I said above… As a coach, I do make the recommendation to have a little bit more balance within your dieting phase. You can keep your life similar to your day-to-day while in the dieting phase by just using smaller portions and maybe adding a little bit more activity.

Practicing New Eating Habits

A diet break can also give you a moment to take off the training wheels and test out the different eating habits and behaviors that you have been building while you were in the dieting phase. The big thing to remember about the diet itself was that you entered into this diet and the need for one due to the habits you had before. During a dieting phase, you want to practice habits that align with not needing to come back to a full-blown diet.

Various eating habits like…

  • Eating slowly. Taking small bites.
  • Checking in with your body throughout a meal for the awareness of when you are reaching fullness.
  • Savoring your food. Engaging your senses.
  • Choosing foods that align with your wants now AND later.
  • Avoiding mindless distractions like tv or phones.
  • Chewing thoroughly.
  • Observing how different foods make you feel and choosing food accordingly.

How I have taken clients through diet breaks…

Generally speaking, I guide clients through taking their diet break for 1 to 2 weeks, if not more.

  1. Setting a client’s calorie and macronutrient levels to a maintenance level for their current level of activity or using this time to also plan for lower activity to fully replenish the body via lower step count goals or a deload week.
  2. A non-tracking break (non-numerical food tracking within an app) where we practice more mindful eating techniques via personal food rules, simple mindful eating habits, or using other means of tracking like food journaling, pictures, utilizing hand portioning, or simply messaging.
  3. Add in refeed meals or a refeed day, if that is preferred over taking 1-2 weeks to sit at maintenance.


A diet break can provide you with a momentary reprieve from the stress of a calorie deficit. In these moments, you may start to sleep a little bit better. You may find that maybe your stress levels aren’t as high… Because like I said, a calorie deficit is a stressor within the body. During this time, you may even do better when it comes to your training sessions because of the energy that you feel when you are fully fed.

Diet breaks do take patience. They do require you to trust the process. You may see an increase in your weight when you first go into this because the body is going to replenish its glycogen stores and become rehydrated. But there’s also a high possibility that a diet break may teach you to be a little bit more flexible with your approach. It may teach you how to transition easily into the next phase; maintenance.

And as cliche as it sounds… It may help you find a little bit more joy in the journey because the road associated with dieting is really really freaking hard to consistently travel without any breaks. This is especially accounts for the holidays with not feeling as restricted as you go out to different social events and you are surrounded by a lot more food than you would normally.

This is one of my favorite quotes/posts that I’ve seen recently in regard to a diet break.

Taking a maintenance phase is like making a pit stop on a long road trip. You pull off the highway, fill up the gas tank, stretch your legs out, and maybe get some caffeine before you hop back in for the next leg of the trip. We know we HAVE to do that otherwise, we’ll end up stranded on the side of the road with an empty gas tank. Trying to lose all the fat all in one go is like skipping filling up the gas tank, if you break down you aren’t just delayed a bit, but now you might ruin the whole road trip spending the rest of the time dealing with the broken down car!⁠

RP Strength – https://www.instagram.com/p/Cyi9TkwMlBT/

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