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Cheat days may actually help dieters lose weight, study finds

iStock/Thinkstock
iStock/Thinkstock

(NEW YORK) — Taking cheat days, or breaks, while dieting may actually help aid weight loss, according to a new study from Australian researchers.

The small study looked at two groups of obese men who participated in a four-month diet requiring them to restrict calorie intake by one-third.

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One group of dieters maintained the diet for two weeks, then broke from the strict diet for two weeks, and continued to go on and off the diet in two-week cycles. During the two-week cycle off the strict diet, these dieters ate calories consistent with the number of calories they were burning, creating an “energy balance.”

Meanwhile, the second group continuously maintained the diet during the entire four-month period.

The group who alternated between adhering to the strict diet and having cheat weeks lost more weight during the study, researchers said in their findings, which were published Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity. The group who took breaks from their diet also gained back less weight after the study was finished.

“While further investigations are needed around this intermittent dieting approach, findings from this study provide preliminary support for the model as a superior alternative to continuous dieting for weight loss,” Nuala Byrne, the head of the University of Tasmania’s School of Health Sciences and leader of the study, said in a statement announcing the findings.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ senior medical contributor, said cheat days allow one’s body and mind to get a rest from dieting. She said that although she is skeptical that taking cheat days can boost one’s metabolism, as some claim, she does see the psychological benefits of taking cheat days while dieting.

However, Ashton stressed the importance of consistency in building habits. Additionally, she said doing major damage to one’s diet during cheat days may be negating some of the good work put in.

Finally, Ashton shared her quick tips for those trying to lose weight:
1. Don’t drink your calories.
2. Keep your food to as much lean protein, fruits and vegetables as possible.
3. Eat from the farm, not the factory.
4. Watch your sugar intake.

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