Avoid Fat Loss Plateaus by Taking Strategic Breaks from Dieting

Getting down to a low body fat level is not a linear process. At times you have to take one step backward to begin to make progress again. When you lose weight, you will inevitably reach a sticking point. You can cut the calories further or increase the cardio, but that isn’t always the best strategy. What if you are already eating low calories and doing a ton of cardio? I will discuss a very important eating strategy that will help you break through a fat loss plateau without killing yourself in the process.
girl in a bikini on black sand beach
[I have never been to a black sand beach. One of my goals is to travel more, to see amazing parts of our beautiful planet.]

What Causes a Fat Burning Plateau?

Why doesn’t the body continue to drop body fat until you reach your desired fat loss goal. The body is designed for self-preservation. When you are under a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, your metabolism slows down because the body believes that you are starving to a certain extent. This is called starvation mode and only happens when calories are kept low over a period of weeks. At this point, it is tempting to diet harder and do more cardio. To a certain extent this will help, but what if you are already eating very few calories and doing a lot of cardio? Note: To read more about Starvation Mode <---click here. A Way to Make Your Diet Effective Again

All diets work well in the beginning, but lose effectiveness over time. At some point you need to adjust your calorie intake and increase your cardio to continue to get results. The problem is that even this approach will cause you to reach a sticking point. At some point you are going to want to increase your metabolism again and get those quick results you got in the beginning of your diet and exercise plan. The way to do this is to step out of a calorie deficit for a week to 10 days.

Step Out of a Calorie Deficit to Boost Your Metabolism

You can’t really boost your metabolism with just one cheat meal per week. Just as it takes a while for your metabolism to slow down…it takes a while for your metabolism to speed back up. The good news is that you can raise your metabolism faster than it took for it to slow down. You do this by eating a maintenance level of calories instead of eating at a calorie deficit level each day. You do this for 7-10 days and then you go back to eating under the principle of a calorie deficit to lose weight again.

How Many Days in Deficit Before Taking a Break?

This is where it gets tricky. If you have a lot of body fat to lose, you can go quite a while on a strict diet before reaching a plateau. Someone who has 30-50 pounds to lose could go up to 3-4 months without hitting a plateau. They could diet hard for 3-4 months, take a one week break at maintenance level and then diet hard again for 2-3 months. The closer they get to their target goal the shorter time they should stay in a calorie deficit. A person who is only 5-10 pounds out from their target fat percentage would want to diet hard for only 4-6 weeks before taking a break. Everyone will be different, but once you look somewhat toned, plan on taking a break every 4-6 weeks.

You Will Gain a Little Weight Back in Order to Lose a Lot

When you take a 7-10 day break, make sure you are eating at least 3 meals per day (even if you are doing the Warrior Diet). This will make the break more effective at jacking up your metabolism again. There is a good chance you will some weight back. You may have to put on 5 pounds to lose 10. I know it sounds crazy, but this is how you can get extremely lean without sacrificing too much muscle in the process. This 7-10 day break is going to make your diet “work” again. Dieting hard for too long is a very common mistake that I want you guys to avoid.

This Type of Dieting is a Skill To be Mastered

I like to describe effective dieting as a skill. The skill in this case is the ability to tell if your body needs a break from dieting. Since everybody responds differently to carbs and a calorie deficit, you will need to figure out what works best for you. This principle is very sound and it is proven to work well. What will happen is that you may mess up at first and eat a bit too much the 7-10 days on break…or you may eat too little. The best way to master this skill and learn what works best for your body is to keep a diet journal. Record your weight and body fat percentage right before you take a break and right after. Do it again right before your next break in dieting. You will know you are on the right track if you make progress from the beginning of the first break…to the beginning of the second break.

You can still eat cheat meals during your time of strict dieting. If you include too many cheat meals simply stay in diet mode a bit longer before taking a break.

37 thoughts on “Avoid Fat Loss Plateaus by Taking Strategic Breaks from Dieting”

  1. Well I had no idea such thing even existed before I found this journal but I’ve been doing something very similar.I’m no this shake diet thingy and lost weight.but then after like a month my weight loss was very low to none. Even if I had cheat meals I didn’t feel different.so I decided to take a break for 3 days eating what ever I wanted.I gained weight immediately but arrrgggh that’s to be expected . So from Sunday I’ll be starting my diet again.according to ur article I’m a genius. I feel so excited to start dieting. Weight loss was never this much fun. 🙂 thank you.

  2. I am a former figure competitor and let me tell you this strategy is great! I took a break from dieting and training this weekend up until Monday, this will definitely speed your metabo up!

  3. Pingback: How to eat whatever you want without gaining fat » Crude Fitness Crude Fitness
  4. My friends and family are telling not to workout everyday. I use the machines at the gym, doing the whole routine daily. I am dieting, have lost 32 lbs so far. (19 to go) but I want to tone while dieting and feel I need this training “daily” so I don’t get flabby. I am 64 years old. I read your article about being fit as opposed to the “body building” technique with split workouts. So is a daily workout on all areas going to accomplish what I want or will this harm me?

  5. I sure hope you are right with this post, Rusty.
    Down to 7% body fat and i can’t seem to lose any more.
    Going to give this a try.

  6. Sawyer,

    This will work well at keeping a low body fat level or losing fat at a slow pace while maintaining muscle. You can be very flexible with the Warrior Diet.


    What will work for you is to eat moderate e-mails during the day…workout in the afternoon…drink a few glasses of milk or a protein shake right after your workout is done…then eat a large meal an hour later. You will feel sleepy from the food during the evening, but that is the time you want to wind down anyway. Your muscles will absorb more nutrients after your workouts compared to eating before your workouts, so focus the majority of your eating to after your workouts.

    Hope that helps!


  7. Hey Rusty,

    Hoping you can help. Im 6ft 178 pounds. After a sustaining a high protein, low carb diet i found my results not to be very effective. (in hopes of getting bigger i went from 190 to 178) Further, the protein killed my appetite so now that im trying to add more carbs i find myself never hungry! Im trying to put on weight. Im long and lean, i look skinnier in a t-shirt because i have thin forearms but i do have defined muscles. My goal is to get to 185 which for me i feel would be ideal. My question is, do i eat when im not hungry? i have done this and i feel lethargic and no energy. Or should i just listen to my body and forget the number of calories if i dont eat the 2500 im looking for? Im just sick of feeling “weighed down” throughout the day due to eating to hit the 2500 calories. But if i dont eat i feel like im wasting away! Any help or tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Rusty!

  8. Hey Rusty,

    Once again great post bud.

    I was wondering what your thoughts were on calorie cycling.
    I am trying to do it with the Warrior Diet, I like to try things personally before I recommend them, so I am doing 2 days of 3 meals at maintenance level intake and 1 day Warrior Diet lower cal.

  9. Star,

    I do have a 21 day diet plan outlined, that does talk about dropping 15-20 pounds in a short period of time. This is based on Lyle McDonald’s excellent book:

    The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook: A Scientific Approach to Crash Dieting.

    This is an extreme way to drop a large amount of weight quickly, because it involves eating 600-800 calories per day for two weeks. This is a short term solution. The majority of my site talks about slower weight loss on a moderate diet.

    Hope that clears it up,


  10. Hey Rusty,
    I’m confused. You’ve written articles saying that if you diet hard you can lose 15-20 pounds in two weeks to 21 days. On the other hand you’ve also said that people won’t lose much weight in the first two weeks and those are just a ramp up to your diet which you should stick with for 6 weeks.
    What am I missing?

  11. Yeah, I rarely see anyone doing planks, or pullups/chin-ups for that matter. I’ve really gotten into some of the bodyweight exercises like dips, pushups, chins etc….. and incorporated them into my weight lifting routine. I think it’s really paying off in improving my muscle density and body shape, mainly because I can do them 4 to 5 times a week and not overtrain. My other lifts have not suffered at all from this.
    I figured the weight I would add from my week off would be mostly from water, from the extra carbs and sodium. But its still good to hear from someone who has been there done that.

  12. Ray,

    You certainly can do the cheat day. If you get to a fat loss sticking point, then just eliminate the cheat day…at east for a while. Feel free to do it until the weight stalls…then try a more systematic approach where you go 2-3 weeks strict and one week not as strict.


    You will put on more than one pound, but it is temporary water weight, so don’t panic. Enjoy your week break from super-strict dieting and tough cardio. It is great to hear that the chin-ups and planks are paying off. Those are two extremely effective exercises. You don’t see too many people in the gym doing either…do you? I swear, I rarely see people doing planks.

    Have a great one,


  13. Ray, I’m curious as to how you’re results are going? Your routine looks like a good one. I’m curious as to how it’s going as far as your diet goes, eating 1500 calories at night. Do you eat at all during the day? Are you losing bodyfat on this diet?
    I just like to see what other people are doing to get results, thats why I ask. I’m always interested in what different methods work for different people. Thanks!

  14. Hey Rusty, I’m in the 4th week now of my first 6 week fat loss phase, by the end of this week I should be down to 186 pounds. I started at 194. I’m losing about a pound and a half to two pounds each week. I’m definitely right on track! After the initial 6 weeks is over I’m assuming I’ll be around 182-183, which will put me at about 9% bodyfat.
    I will then take a 7 day break from dieting and eat maintenance calories for a week. I’m also going to take a week off from HIIT. I can tell my legs are getting fatigued from the HIIT and I have a basketball tournament that weekend. I’m hoping the extra calories/carbs and a little break from HIIT will really get my legs fresh for the big weekend.
    My question is this, when you take you’re breaks from dieting do you gain back much weight? My goal is to not gain more then a pound. Is that realistic, especially since I won’t be doing HIIT that week?
    Anyways, things are going really well! A couple ways I can tell I’m starting lean out again aside from the scale is my face is getting more square again, and all the veins in my arms are starting to pop out again, more then usual. Definitely making progress, thanks for all the help!
    By the way, I’ve been doing different forms of pullups and chinups with each of my four lifting sessions each week for a couple months now and my back is really developing faster then it ever has before! The definition you get in you’re back from pullups/chinups is far superior then any other back exercise in my opinion. I’ve never achieved results like these before. Really starting to see the V-taper look. Planks are really helping with this too, definition in my torso is getting pretty good.

  15. how about if I were to just do a cheat day on the weekend every week
    do you think that would keep the starv. mode at bay or no?
    Im on the warrior diet so I usually have a strong coffee in the morning to get my heartrate skyrocketing, do some HIIT after the coffe, do some body weight exercises:pushups, dips pullups hanging situps, some L/V-sit and then usually weight until around 8ish to grab some grub at 1500 calories which is my BMR
    Im in serious cutting mode right now though
    so is the cheat day a good or bad or non-effective idea?

  16. Christine,

    You will lose 2-3 pounds in a matter of days when you go low carb and then you will keep on losing body fat. No need to worry at all.


  17. Hi Rusty,
    So i’ve decided to take a strategic break from my weight loss regime this past week. I literally have gone out to dinner every night, and i find myself up 2 pounds from last week. It’s a very scary feeling! Anyway, so if Monday i go completely low carb + raw foods, and do 60 minutes of cardio a day on an empty stomach, can i reverse this damage in a few days or is more like a week or two? I’m ok, with going up a couple pounds, if it means, that i’m going to lose more in the end.
    Thanks again!

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