The beginning of a diet is always an exciting phase, running high on dedication and the will to transform yourself. For the first couple of weeks/months, it’s usually smooth sailing. You exercise regularly and maintain a proper diet, and your body fat percentage declines progressively. If your goal is to lose fat, you eat fewer calories. Seems pretty simple, right? However, as most of us know, cutting calories is not an easy feat, especially when working towards a 10, 12, or even 16-week transformation challenge.
Following a strict diet requires a lot of focus and determination. As your body reaches a plateau, you decrease the calories more and add cardio, but you can’t go far by doing just that. When you’re in a caloric deficit and lose body fat, your leptin levels start to drop (Leptin is a hormone produced by the fats cells that causes suppression of hunger. Read more about Leptin below). This, in turn, causes your metabolism to slow down, your appetite to increase, your motivation to wane, and your mood to sour… but wait, there is always a solution! And contrary to your belief, the solution lies not in cutting more calories, but in actually eating more of them! I am serious when I say that eating more food once a while can be very much beneficial. Sounds too good to be true? Keep reading to find out how…
Let’s start with a little knowledge about Leptin.
What is Leptin?
Leptin is a hormone which is synthesized primarily from adipose tissue, and is associated mainly with the feeling of ‘satiety’ (feeling full). Leptin’s main function is to regulate hunger, food intake, and energy expenditure. As your leptin levels fall down, the greater your cravings become for all those foods that you used to eat when you were not on a strict diet. So, it is important in any diet to periodically boost your leptin levels back up, so as to avoid the intense hunger and the slowed metabolism.
The “trick” in here, is to occasionally overfeed yourself. Yes, you heard it right – eating more to lose more fat. Not just anything and everything though. There is more to it than that.
This weight loss technique is known as “refeeding” and here is how it works – When you give your body more calories than it needs, Leptin levels are boosted, which can then have positive effects on your fat oxidation, thyroid activity, mood, and even testosterone levels. The effect of a proper refeed is that it makes you feel better both physically and psychologically, you are less likely to fall down the slope of “just one more cheat day,” and you are also likely to experience an acceleration in fat loss over the following 3 to 5 days.
What is Refeeding?
Refeeding can be defined as a planned increase in calorie intake during dieting. Refeeding can yield a myriad of psychological and physiological benefits:
- Decreased risk for binge eating because of hunger regulation.
- Restored muscle glycogen leading to better performance at the gym.
- Increased motivation from boosted testosterone and leptin levels.
So is this the same as a ‘cheat day?’
Refeed day, is totally different from a cheat day. A cheat day is giving yourself a free day from your dietary restrictions, and you can basically eat whatever you want. A refeed day, on the other hand, is structured and controlled overfeeding. Eating like there is no tomorrow is hazardous to anyone and at any time. To know about the don’ts of dieting, read the Fitmag article at “How not to Diet”.
How often should you refeed?
This really varies from person to person but as a general rule, the leaner you are and the longer you have been on deficit, the more frequently you will need it. So, if you are closer to 10% body fat, then you can start with 1 refeed day per week. Higher the body fat percentage lesser frequently you will need it, so if you are 20% body fat or higher, then you should look at a refeed day once every 3-4 weeks.
How much should you increase the calorie intake by?
This, again, has no set formula. It is a Trial and error method – Try -> Error ->Adjust ->Repeat. Try a specific ‘refeed’ level calorie intake and see how your body responds. Notice the changes in your body after refeed. Start with a slight increase, and, depending on the results, you can slowly keep on increasing the carbs.
Nutritional recommendations for Refeeding:
Calories – Typically, you can increase your calories by 20- 30%. So if you’re cutting at 2000 calories, then you would be doing refeed days at about 2400-2600 calories.
Proteins – Protein levels can be kept unchanged, as they do not affect the overall leptin response.
Fats – During refeed days, fat should be kept to a minimum, so it doesn’t interfere with boosting leptin levels.
Carbohydrates – Carbs, on the other hand, have a positive impact on leptin. In fact, carbs with high glycemic index are seen to show maximum increase in leptin levels after meals.
So, is there a catch in Refeeding?
The downside to a refeed is that sometimes you will see a small amount of fat gain. But, when you go back to your diet, your metabolism will be humming again and you should jump start the fat loss process. Few individuals will actually become leaner during the process because of improved metabolism. It is worth remembering that just working out strenuously does never guarantee a free pass to unhealthy diet choices. Do read the article “Can you eat anything you like if you are working out” to understand the importance of making the right dietary decisions.
Take away – Refeeding is one of the many ways to boost your leptin levels and metabolism. You will see a drastic improvement once you get back to your diet, and start training. If done correctly, refeed day will allow your body to continue to burn fat at an optimal rate, and help you achieve your dream physique.
Author Credits – Dr. Aniket Jadhav