What Happens if You Take a Week Off from Diet & Exercise?
Sometimes following your regular diet and exercise program doesn’t make sense, like during a busy season at work.
Sometimes it just isn’t appealing, like during the holidays or on vacation.
And sometimes it’s impossible, like if you’re traveling and won’t have access to a kitchen or your normal workout equipment.
You could adjust your routine. There are always ways to do that — but what if you don’t? What happens if you take an entire week off? Or even several weeks?
You may be surprised to find out that, not only could it produce an outcome that’s not so bad, it might actually be beneficial. Either that or it could be a terrible decision.
It all depends on how you do it exactly.
An Outside-the-Lines Example
The other day my wife found the word “MOM” written in pencil all over the walls of her closet, courtesy of our almost-4-year-old. In some ways it was cute, since she’s just learning how to write. In another way, it looked like some kind of psychopathic serial killer had been hiding out in our house.
Turns out, when your kids have free time, you can’t just tell them to do whatever they want.
The same concept can be applied to the idea of “taking a week off” from your diet and exercise. There’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with doing this. But, just like a young child with a pencil during free time, it’s probably a good idea to define what’s actually going to take place, if for no other reason than to be prepared for the outcome.
I’ll address diet and exercise separately, because they come with different results.
Time Off From Diet
If your current diet is one to promote fat loss (in other words if you’re in a calorie deficit), it can be a really good idea to take a week off, or even longer sometimes. It gives you an emotional break and helps your body recover and increase certain hormone levels that potentially make losing weight easier once the break is over.
The key is to still be mindful about what you eat. You can’t use that week to eat nothing but chips, candy, and cake. You’re getting a break from eating less than your body wants, but you’re not eating more than your body needs.
In the end, only good will come from this. Yeah, you won’t lose weight during that time off, but you won’t gain weight either, and you might even lose more weight the following weeks than you would have otherwise.
But now let’s say you don’t want to do that.
Let’s say you don’t want to pay attention at all to what you eat for a week. You just want to enjoy yourself without any restrictions. That’s understandable.
There’s only so much you can do in a week’s time. Sure, you could gain a few pounds. But some of that will be water weight that’ll drop back off pretty quickly. Even if you did gain a few pounds of actual fat (I bet you won’t), you could technically lose that again in just a couple weeks.
In the grand scheme of things, setting your weight loss goal back by a couple weeks, that’s not so bad. If it’s worth it to you — and it very well may be — then go for it!
That’s still not the worst case scenario though.
Worst Case Scenario
There’s a reason I recommend going with the first option (switching from fat loss to maintenance mode) rather than just doing a free-for-all. It’s because most people have a really difficult time coming out of the free-for-all.
You won’t do much damage in just a week, but if that week turns into 2 weeks, and then that turns into a month, all of a sudden it becomes pretty easy to undo any progress you’ve already made.
This is one of those times where you just have to be honest with yourself. Are you able to eat whatever you want and then jump right back into eating well again? Or will that spiral into something else?
If you haven’t mastered good eating habits and sustained them for an extended period of time (I’d say at least 6 months), the free-for-all probably isn’t a good idea for you. But only you can decide for sure.
Time Off From Exercise
I have some very good news for you.
If you take a week (or even a few weeks) off from exercise, basically nothing will happen. You might feel a little different when you jump back into it, but a short break isn’t going to hurt anything in the long run (assuming you’ll actually start back up again).
There’s an exception to this though.
If you just started exercising in the past few weeks, or even if you recently started a brand new program, your body might have just begun acclimating to the workouts, and taking a break could bring you back to square one. That’s not a huge deal. You were barely past square one anyway. But it’s worth considering.
You can avoid this setback pretty easily. All you have to do is… something.
You don’t have to do your full program. Even if it’s just one workout during the week instead of three. Or even if it’s three 10 minute workouts in place of ones that are typically 40 minutes. As long as the TYPE of exercise is similar to what you normally do, you’ll be good to go.
That said, if you are new to exercise and decide to take a week or two off anyway, just jump back in at the beginning. If it’s a good program, it’ll have a light first week so your body can start to adjust again and so you don’t get crazy sore.
What About the Benefits?
In case you were wondering since I mentioned the benefits of taking diet breaks, there’s no inherent benefit to not exercising for a period of time (unless it’s just to give yourself freedom during a vacation or something).
There IS benefit to a smart training program that takes your lifestyle into consideration so you don’t beat yourself up workout after workout and not give your body an adequate chance to recover.
Sometimes that might mean doing a few weeks of lighter exercise when you’re busy, stressed, or just need an emotional break. If it’s benefits you’re looking for, that’s the approach to take.
But if the way you exercise makes you feel like the only way to completely recover is to stop altogether, you’re doing too much and need a different plan. Exercise should help you feel better, not run you down so you feel like you need a break.
The Bottom Line
If you’re smart about how you do it, taking a break for a week or so might not hurt anything. In the case of a fat loss diet, a break can even be beneficial.
If you approach your time off a little less strategically, you may set yourself back a bit, but not by anything you can’t make up again quickly. The biggest risk is that you won’t start up again at all. So be honest about which approach makes the most sense for you.
The real worst case scenario isn’t quite as bleak as it sounds though. Because even if you have trouble getting started with diet and exercise again after the holidays, you have us. Our coaching will not only help hold you accountable, we’ll make sure you’re on the best track moving forward so there’s no question about whether you’ll achieve your goals.