By Stefan Ianev
diet break

The Top 5 Signs You Need a Diet Break


We’ve talked about what a diet break means in the past and how they can improve weight loss efficiency, provided calories are brought up to a level which is sufficient to mitigate or even reverse some of the negative metabolic adaptations associated with caloric restriction.

However, simply incorporating diet breaks for the sake of it when they are not really needed can actually slow down weight loss. 

Therefore, it is important to know what signs and symptoms you should be paying attention to so that you know when it’s actually time to implement a diet break. Generally, the leaner someone is, the quicker these symptoms will come on, so the more often they may need to diet break.

For example, very overweight individuals may be able to stay in a deficit for 12-16 weeks before they need to come out, whereas leaner individuals may need a diet break every 3-6 weeks, depending on how aggressively they are dieting, and how adaptable their metabolism is.

Here are 5 signs that you need to pay attention to that may indicate you need a diet break.  

1. Increased Hunger and Cravings

Increased hunger is typically the first symptom to come on in response to caloric restriction. This is related to reduced leptin and increased ghrelin levels.  Although some hunger when you are dieting is normal, if you start experiencing intense cravings it can trigger binge eating behaviors.

In addition, chronically elevated ghrelin levels can increase lipoprotein lipase, which is a fat storage enzyme (1).  That means you are more likely to put on body fat after very severe or prolonged caloric restriction.

2. Low Libido

A decrease in libido or sex drive is generally the next symptom to come on with severe or prolonged caloric restriction. That is because when you are in survival or fight or flight mode, which is what actually occurs during caloric restriction, the body will prioritize the production of stress hormones over sex hormones.

From an evolutionary standpoint this makes a lot of sense because back in the hunter-gatherer days if you were starving to death, the body would shut down sexual reproductive function and mobilize its limited resources towards going out and catching pray.

3. Decreased Performance in the Gym

With continued caloric restriction, the decrease in sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, which have anabolic and anti-catabolic properties, will eventually lead to a decrease in muscle mass and decreased performance in the gym.

That is why tracking your poundages in the gym is so important. If you’re dieting and you notice your weights start tanking, that is a near damn sure sign that you are losing muscle mass. It might be time for a diet break. 

4. Low Energy

Low energy is typically one of the last symptoms to come on during severe or prolonged caloric restriction, which is a sign that your metabolism is tanking, and your body is going into a state of energy conservation.

This typically results from a decrease in thyroid levels and decreased beta-adrenergic receptor sensitivity. In other words, even though your noradrenaline levels may be normal or elevated, the receptors have become desensitized, which results in symptoms typically associated with adrenal fatigue.   

5. Low Motivation

Lack of motivation typically occurs in conjunction with low energy or comes on shortly after, as your beta-adrenergic receptors become further desensitized. This is the bodies way of letting you know that you are reaching a state of exhaustion and that you need to back off.

At this point you are pretty much flogging a dead horse so you might as well take a diet break and stop punishing yourself. Most dieters eventually reach this point anyway and just throw in the towel and give up.

You might as well plan ahead for this so that you don’t feel bad when it happens, and you can get straight back on track afterwards.

  1. Claudia TC, et al. Ghrelin action in the brain controls adipocyte metabolism. J Clin Invest. 2006 Jul 3; 116(7): 1983–1993.