Has your fat loss come to a halt, even though you stick to your diet
religiously? Have you tried decreasing calories further and increasing
training? Do you always feel hungry and low on energy? Will your body just not
let go of fat no matter what you do? The next bit might come as a shock to you,
but the very fact that you have stuck to your diet 24/7 could be the very
reason why your fat loss has stalled, and everything you have done so far to
try kick start your fat loss again (reduce calories, increase training) may be
making matters worse.
So how do you ensure continued fat loss? The answer is to increase
What is Leptin?
Leptin is a hormone predominantly produced and stored in adipose (fat)
tissue. The synthesis rate of Leptin is mostly controlled by the NUMBER of body
fat cells, and the SIZE of these cells i.e. the more fat you’re carrying, the
higher your Leptin levels will be. So as you lose fat whilst you diet, Leptin
levels will fall. Leptin plays a huge role in appetite regulation, therefore, if
your Leptin levels are low, you appetite will be high; a problem if you are
trying to lose weight! Whereas when you’re Leptin levels are high, this tells
your brain that the body has had enough to eat, producing a feeling of satiety.
Dieting is known to reduce Leptin levels, which will not only make you
more hungry, but in an attempt to conserve energy, will cause your metabolism
to SLOW down, making fat loss even harder. This increased hunger and cravings can
lead to uncontrolled food intake, and coupled with a slower metabolism, fat
gain/lack of fat loss is more likely. Leptin cannot be supplemented (you cannot
buy it) so the only way to raise Leptin levels is to increase food intake for a
period of time, commonly known as cheats or refeeds.
I will get on to cheats/refeeds in a moment, but before I do, just a
quick note on how to keep Leptin levels high whilst trying to lose weight.
Firstly, you should NOT be on a very low calorie diet. Cutting calories is
always the LAST thing you do when trying to lose weight. The first things you
should be looking to do is ensure that you are getting enough of all three
macronutrients from the right SOURCES and at the right TIME with an effective
weight training routine to suit. Then comes the addition of cardio either first
thing in the morning or at the end of your workouts if doing SSCV, or separate
from your workouts and fully fuelled if doing HIIT. Assuming your diet and training
are both up to scratch, at some point, in order to maintain fat loss, GRADUAL calorie
reduction may be necessary.
As mentioned above, the most successful method of increasing Leptin
levels whilst dieting is to include scheduled periods of overeating known as
cheat meals or refeeds. This is usually once a week depending on current body
fat levels (the lower your % body fat, the greater the need for cheats/refeeds).
What is a refeed?
A refeed is when you increase calories by anything up to 100% (depending
on how long you have been dieting for, the strictness of your diet, and current
fat levels) for a period of time covering just one single meal, several meals,
or even over 2 days. The main aim of a refeed is to increase glycogen stores
which have been depleted due to low carbohydrate intake and intense workouts so
that you have sufficient energy for the following week’s workouts, and to raise
Leptin levels to increase metabolism to help maintain fat loss. Exactly how
much you consume, and what you consume will depend on your daily diet. If you
are following a low carb diet, you need to make sure your refeed is high in
carbs, hence why it is called a refeed as opposed to a cheat....
What is a Cheat?
A cheat is specifically referring to eating food which would usually
be considered a big NO whilst dieting. Foods like takeaways, sweets, chocolate,
ice cream, alcohol, etc etc. Basically food that is high in sugar and/or fat.
Be cautious if you decide to include alcohol with your cheat as research has
shown that alcohol actually has the opposite effect on Leptin levels, not to
mention the dozens of other negative effects alcohol will have on your body,
such as lowering Testosterone and increasing Oestrogen levels. Cheats are
usually restricted to one or two meals, but some people can get away with whole
Which is the right one to
People who prefer to have refeeds argue that there is no excuse for
eating rubbish and that it is not necessary, whereas others argue that eating
rubbish every once in a while helps keep them on track during the week as
dieting can be hard both mentally and physically.
Research has shown that Leptin is highly responsive to glucose, so in my
opinion you should try to obtain the majority of your extra calories from
carbohydrates, rather than protein or fat, but there is no fixed right or wrong
way; some people can get away with eating junk occasionally, whereas others
find it hinders fat loss for the next week. If you find a little treat keeps
you on track then go for it. Definitely don’t have rubbish just because you can,
do it because you want it and because it will help you get through the week.
So in summary, you ideally want high carbs, moderate/low protein, low
fat, and no alcohol if refeeding, and whatever you want if cheating, but do be
aware of going overboard!
Whichever method you choose, expect to have put on a couple of pounds
when you weigh yourself the next day. This will NOT be fat, but simply extra
weight caused by water retention and extra glycogen stored in your muscles. You
should find you baseline (return to pre-refeed weight) a couple of days later.
Use the number of days it takes you to baseline, coupled with net weight loss
for the week to determine whether or not you need to increase/decrease your cheat/refeeds.
I suppose it’s a case of trial and error, starting small, and increasing the
cheat/refeed week by week until you reach an amount/time period that works best
for you. What you don’t want to do is go
OTT on your cheat/refeeds and undo all your hard work from the week before.
When is the best time for a cheat/refeed?
Again, this is totally up to you. You may choose to have it at a
weekend so that you can enjoy it with friends or family as dieting can be very
unsociable. If you are doing a long refeed e.g. all day, you may find it easier
to do it on a day when you are not at work and due to the higher intake of food;
it is recommended that you do not train that day. If you just have one refeed
meal, it is common for this to be post workout as this is when you are most
Insulin sensitive and your muscles will be crying out for carbs, so not only
will you be replenishing your glycogen stores, but you will also be providing
your body with the necessary nutrients needed for muscle repair and growth.
How often should you have a
The majority people work on a weekly basis when it comes to dieting
and having cheats/refeeds. Most people will have a set weigh-in day, for
example every Saturday morning, so that they can easily track progress. The
cheat/refeed is usually done on the same day so that there is a full 7 days for
any temporary weight gain to disappear (and hopefully a little more). However,
how often you have a cheat/refeed will also depend on your current percentage
body fat, how long you have been dieting, how restricting your diet is, and how
much of a calorie deficit you are in. Generally speaking, at the beginning of a
diet you should only need a cheat/refeed every two weeks, but as time
progresses, percentage body fat and calories drop, cheats/refeeds can be
increased to once weekly, and even every 5 days or twice a week if you are lean
enough to get away with it. The higher your percentage body fat, the less
essential a cheat/refeed is, other than for psychological reasons to keep you
on track during the week.
Can I have multiple small
cheat/refeeds during the week instead of one big cheat/refeed once a week?
You might think that instead of having a planned cheat/refeed every
week or so, that it will be ok to spread the same amount of calories consumed
during a cheat/refeed over the week instead of having all the extra calories in
one meal(s)/day as this would stop Leptin levels from being affected. NO. That
will not work. Although we don’t want hormone levels to be permanently altered,
it is necessary for temporary alterations/hormone control to occur in order to
induce fat loss. Insulin levels need to be controlled and by eating high carb
meals during the week, your body will be constantly be switching ‘on’ its fat
gain switch, instead of fat loss, and glycogen stores need to be controlled in
order to force your body into using fat for fuel. It is for this reason that I
am totally against the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macro’s) protocol. It doesn’t
take into account the hormonal response to different food types. Your body
needs to be primed for fat loss for the majority of the time and that means
that controlling Insulin and overall calorie intake is essential. When dieting you need calorie expenditure to
be greater than calorie intake, but it’s a fine line between eating enough to
stop your body from holding onto fat, and eating with enough of a deficit to
cause fat loss, whilst still retaining muscle and not gaining fat; a very
scientific and sometimes very confusing task!
Are there any other benefits
The other benefits of a cheat/refeed, other than increasing Leptin
levels and glycogen stores, is the effect it will have on other hormone levels.
Testosterone, growth hormone and t3, all of which will be decreased when in a
calorie deficit, should all increase which will shift the body back into an
anabolic state and increase metabolic rate further, whilst the amount of Cortisol,
a catabolic stress hormone, will decrease.
For females, Leptin will also increase the levels of the hormones
necessary for reproduction and so menstrual cycles should still continue. A
lack of menstrual cycle is a sign that your body is suffering from the effects
of too strict a diet and you must increase calories/decrease training.
The increase of calories during a cheat/refeed should help strengthen
your immune system and lessen the likelihood of illness which is common with
people on strict diets.
Psychologically cheats/refeeds keep people on track during the rest of
the week. Knowing that in a few days time you will be able to have a little (or
a lot) of what you fancy helps most people through the week when cravings can
kick in and energy/mood is low. Without a designated cheat/refeed scheduled
once a week, most people will give in at some point and this can have a
negative effect on motivation because they will see it as failing with their diet,
but cheats/refeeds are not failing, and are a part of successful dieting. If
you do slip up on the diet during the week, be sure to get back on track as
soon as possible, and depending on the size of the cheat, re-evaluate whether
or not the planned cheat will still be beneficial. Be honest with yourself; if
you haven’t earned it, don’t have it.
Arguments against cheats/refeeds
The problem with cheat/refeeds is that not everyone NEEDS them, ie
their Leptin levels are not low, or not low enough to have a noticeable effect
on metabolism. This is often true of people who are overweight and/or have only
just begun dieting when calories are still relatively high, and training is
Another reason why cheats/refeeds may not be necessary is because the
majority of people are not strict enough during the week, and therefore
depleted enough, to validate a cheat/reefed. You have to earn it; otherwise it
will not be as beneficial, if at all, as it could be.
Arguments for cheats/refeeds
Cheat/refeeds keep your body guessing, in the same way you wouldn’t do
the same workout every day; you shouldn’t eat the same food/amount of calories
every day. Cheat/refeeds stop your body thinking it is only going to be getting
limited calories forever, and instead tell your body that it is not being
starved and so doesn’t need to hold on to fat stores.
And as a final note, we’re all human, and life’s too short to worry
about eating a little bit of chocolate every now and so go ahead and have a bit
of what you fancy...it may even help you lose fat!!