Now Might Be An Excellent Time To Take A Break From Your Diet…

Now Might Be An Excellent Time To Take A Break From Your Diet

Fourteen of the original “Biggest Loser” competitors lost an average of 128 pounds by the end of the first season.(Ref 1) After 6 years, they had gained back almost all of those pounds. While the first reaction is to blame their willpower, consider the impact that dieting had on their metabolism. When researchers evaluated the competitors 6 years later, they required 499 fewer calories to maintain their weight than you or I would have. This means they would need to do an hour or two of vigorous exercise every day just to overcome the loss of daily calorie burn.(Ref 2) This metabolic adaptation set them up for slow but continuous weight gain that their training, product endorsements, speaking engagements, and tremendous peer pressure to maintain a slim figure could not overcome.(Ref 1) Many other competitors on this and other shows like “Extreme Weight Loss” over the years are victims of the same metabolic adaptation phenomenon.(Ref 3,4,5)

This isn’t limited just to reality TV. Metabolic adaptation is a key component that kills diets for people across the country (perhaps including you).(Ref 6) Dieters get stellar results initially but weight loss slowly dwindles down even if you continue to cut the same number of calories from your diet each day. Cutting even more calories is only a temporary fix. The metabolic devastation that causes these weight loss plateaus also lead people to rapidly gain weight back once they stop fighting the inevitable. The truth is, all of the TV shows, diet gurus, books, blogs, and articles pushing dramatic results are setting people up for short-term benefits at the expense of long-term results.(Ref 6) Yo-yo dieting with rapid weight loss and gain is not only disheartening, it may be dangerous. Studies have shown that people with extreme weight fluctuations are associated with a more than doubled risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death.(Ref 7)

An alternative approach to achieve slow and stable weight loss is to build in dietary breaks.  When you part-time diet, you intersperse periods of active dieting with dietary rest so that you thread the needle between losing weight but not showing the body continuous daily calorie deficits that trigger metabolic adaptation.(Ref 6) The body doesn’t care how many calories it has stored as fat, if you cut calories too dramatically for too many weeks in a row, the body believes you are in a famine and metabolically adapts to compensate.(Ref 6) This is how the species survives meteor crashes and war but makes long term weight loss very difficult.  If you have been disheartened by a failed diet in the past, this might be a new approach when you are ready to try again.

The MATADOR trial looked at 16 weeks of dieting (a 33% cut in daily calories) versus 8 cycles of dieting for two weeks followed by two rest weeks.(Ref 8) At the end of 16 weeks of dieting, the group in the part-time diet regimen lost 10.8 more pounds and their metabolism was diminished by 90 calories less a day than the continuous dieters. After the dieting ended, the previously part-time dieters maintained their weight loss while the previously continual dieters had put back on 3.3 of those pounds. The difference in calorie burn between the two groups at 6 months? One-hundred and twenty-three calories a day.(Ref 8) We conducted a meta-analysis of all the trials comparing part-time with continuous dieting and when the 4 trials of higher quality were assessed, an additional 7 pounds of weight loss occurred.(Ref 9)

Exercise is a great metabolic booster and everyone should be engaging in a sensible exercise program.(Ref 6) However, it can only modify a fraction of the metabolism losses caused by dramatic dieting. While purveyors of weight loss products promise dramatic short-term results through major calorie restriction and killer exercise routines, science tells us this approach is doomed to fail and may not be healthy. You need to slow down and give your body periodic time off from dieting so you don’t damage your metabolism in the process. This means a long-term commitment to changing how much you are eating for long term-results. It is this boring and not “made for TV” challenge that delivers lasting results, whether we like it or not.(Ref 6)


1. Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, et al. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. http:/

2. Calorie Lab. Detailed results for jogging/walking combination. Available at: Accessed: 4/28/18.

3. Healthy Eater. Biggest Loser Then and Now: Have former winner kept the weight off? Available at: Accessed: 4/28/18.

4. Jarvez Hall. Jarvez Hall Extreme Weight Loss Facebook Feed. Available at: Accessed: 4/28/18.

5. Kendall EN. Former Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition Cast Member Blows Whistle. Available at: Available at: Accessed: 4/28/18.

6. White CM. The Part-Time Diet: Conquer the weight loss plateau. Amazon Publishing Company, 2018: pages 1-100.

7. Bangalore S, Fayyad R, Laskey R, et al. Body-weight fluctuations and outcomes in coronary disease. N Engl J Med 2017;376:1332-40. Doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1606148.

8. Byrne NM, Sainsbury A, King NA. Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study. Int J Obesity 2017; doi:10.1038/ijo.2017.206.

9. Roman YM…, White CM, Hernandez AV. Effects of intermittent versus continuous dieting on weight and body composition in obese and overweight people: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Int J Obes 2018; doi: 10.1038/s41366-018-0204-0.

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C. Michael White, Pharm.D., FCP, FCCP


C. Michael White is a pharmacist and researcher at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy. His work focuses on…

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