No-one expects dieting to be fun. Counting calories and skipping after-work drinks in favour of the gym isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but it’s rewarding if the pounds are coming off and your self-confidence is rising. What about situations, though, where it just isn’t realistic to expect you’ll be able to stick to your plan; does eating what you want for a day, or a week, mean you should feel guilty or judge your diet a failure? Surprisingly, experts say that regularly having a diet cheat day or even a diet vacation can have a positive effect on your long-term weight and fitness goals.
Choosing one day a week to loosen the diet reins can provide ongoing motivation and optimism, especially if you’ve got a goal that will take awhile to reach. It’s a lot easier to handle having boring, low-calorie meals during the week if you know there’s one day where you’ll allow yourself to indulge on a night out with the girls or opt for dessert. Overall, if you’re dedicated to your diet for 6 of 7 days a week, you’ll continue to lose weight in spite of your day off, and more importantly, you’ll have the willpower and energy to face the harder days.
So, one day a week is OK, but what about times when you know you won’t be able to follow your diet for a longer stretch? Picture that week-long series of holiday parties in December, or a beach vacation when you’ll be craving something a lot tastier and indulgent than a diet soda as you unwind. Some experts actually recommend a diet break of one or two weeks if you’ve been dieting for awhile (typically, 12 weeks or more). Psychologically, this flexible approach can prevent people from giving up entirely, or bingeing, when they fall off the diet wagon for a few days. Physically, while dieting can decrease the rate at which you burn calories (unfair, I know), a break can help bring your metabolism back up to its normal level.
The scheduled flexibility in an approach like this can give you a greater sense of control over your diet, and some powerful motivation. If you know you’ll be vacationing for a week in March, eating well and exercising in January and February will be a breeze, and you’ll be refreshed and ready to get back to your plan after the break.