Intermittent Energy Restriction
Most dieters fail after a few short weeks. That's because they try to do too much, too soon. A better approach is an intermittent energy restriction diet.
In 2017, the groundbreaking MATADOR (Minimizing Adaptive Thermogenesis And Deactivating Obesity Rebound) study found greater long-term fat loss with intermittent energy restriction than with a consistent energy deficit. In geek-speak, "energy" means calories in this case.
The intermittent dieters used periods of a 30-35% deficit, followed by periods at maintenance calories. The protocol prevented the down-regulation of the hormones that control hunger, appetite, satiety, and caloric expenditure.
You'll use two-week periods of aggressive dieting with a 30% deficit, followed by two weeks eating at maintenance calories. You'll continue this two-on, two-off approach until you're as lean as you want to be.
- Weeks 1-2: Below-maintenance diet with 30% calorie deficit
- Weeks 3-4: Maintenance calories
Repeat as needed.
You first need to find out your calorie maintenance level, and the best way to do that is to get tested by a qualified professional. Every other number is an estimate, especially if you've been yo-yo dieting for a long time, which means your maintenance calories may be much lower.
However, finding a qualified pro is probably daunting. So let's use bodyweight (pounds) x 15 as a baseline. It won't be perfect, but it'll be close enough to the more complicated equations to provide a solid starting point.
Let's say you weigh 200 pounds:
- 200 pounds x 15 = 3000 maintenance calories per day
We want your caloric deficit to be 30%, so now we'll multiply your 3000 maintenance calories by .7:
- 3000 x .7 = 2100 calories
- Two-Week Diet Phase: 2100 calories per day
- Two-Week Maintenance Phase: 3000 calories per day
After the month, recalculate your maintenance calories based on your new bodyweight and do it again if you need to.
Using our 2100 calorie example, we want it to consist of:
Protein – 35%
- 2100 calories x .35 = 735 calories/4 calories/gram = 184 grams of protein per day
Carbs – 35%
- 2100 calories x .35 = 735 calories/4 calories/gram = 184 grams of carbs per day
Fats – 30%
- 2100 calories x .30 = 630 calories/9 calories/gram = 70 grams of fats per day
Note: It's more important to nail your calories and protein intake than to be perfect on your carbs and fats. If you prefer higher or lower carb intake, you can adjust accordingly.
That adds up to:
- 2100 calories per day
- 184 grams of protein per day
- 184 grams of carbs per day
- 70 grams of fat per day
After two weeks, you'd switch to the maintenance phase.
Using the 3000 calorie example during the maintenance phase, it should look like this:
Protein – 30%
- 3000 calories x .3 = 900 calories/4 calories/gram = 225 grams of protein
Carbs – 40%
- 3000 calories x .4 = 1200 calories/4 calories/gram = 300 grams of carbs
Fats – 30%
- 3000 calories x .30 = 900 calories/9 calories/gram = 100 grams of fats
That adds up to:
- 3000 calories per day
- 225 grams of protein per day
- 300 grams of carbs per day
- 100 grams of fat per day
After four weeks, recalculate your calories based on your new bodyweight and repeat until you're the lean, mean machine of your dreams.
By using a cyclical approach to fat loss, you're able to push your body to burn bodyfat over the course of two weeks. But your body naturally begins to fight back, slowing down your metabolism and thyroid function as a protective mechanism.
As such, the hormones that control hunger, appetite, and satiety (leptin, cholecystokinin, and peptide YY) decrease. But instead of battling further and continuing to eat like a bird, the MATADOR approach has you increase calories back to maintenance level. This boosts your hormone profile and metabolism back to full speed.
This may lead to slower short-term fat loss, but it protects your metabolism from down-regulation. This increases the odds that you'll achieve long-term, sustainable fat loss.
This approach works well with gym rats, too. Anyone who's followed an aggressive long-term fat loss diet can tell you that gym performance will eventually suffer. It's nearly inevitable that you'll lose some strength and muscle if you diet long and hard enough. However, cycling calories back up, as prescribed by intermittent dieting, should prevent losses in strength and muscle.
Everything! The bland food bores you to tears. Hunger pangs become an unwelcome houseguest who refuses to leave. Worst of all, your workout performance falls off a cliff.
And when you extend the diet? Your metabolism fights back and you burn fewer calories at rest, thus bringing fat loss to a screeching halt.
Once the initial surge of motivation wears off, willpower drains away. You slip back into old habits and never truly get lean. You keep beating your fat head against the wall, often for years.
Isn't it time to try the science-driven method of intermittent dieting?
- Batterham RL et al. The Gut Hormone Peptide YY Regulates Appetite. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2003 Jun;994:162-8. PubMed.
- Byrne NM et al. Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: The MATADOR study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2018 Feb;42(2):129-138. PubMed.
- Liddle RA. Cholecystokinin cells. Annual Review of Physiology. 1997 Jan;59:221-242.