What Is Refeeding & How Does It Work?


If you’ve been trying to lose weight and have been in a long-term calorie deficit, you will eventually reach a plateau. You will stop losing weight, despite continuing to eat fewer calories, and weight loss becomes difficult

Long-term calorie restriction is linked to fatigue, low mood, and hormonal imbalances. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and you have reached a weight loss plateau, you might benefit from adding in a refeed day each week. 

In this article, I’m going to cover what refeeding is, whether refeeding is right for you, and how you can implement a refeed every one to two weeks during your weight loss journey. 

What Is Refeeding? 

Refeeding describes the process of overconsuming food (and calories) after a long period of calorie restriction. Refeeds are sometimes called ‘diet breaks’ because they describe a short break in your diet that is usually done on one day each week. 

The aim of refeeding is to negate the negative side effects of being in a long-term calorie deficit, such as fatigue, increased hunger, changes in hormones, and weight loss plateaus caused by metabolic adaptation. It temporarily halts your restricted state to reduce the physical impacts on your body and give you a mental break from your diet. 

Refeeding should not be taken as an excuse to binge, and it’s not the same as a cheat day. It doesn’t involve uncontrollable eating. Instead, it is the planned and controlled increase in food intake to provide extra calories and nutrients to your body during a diet. 

When you lose weight, your body begins to go into adaptive thermogenesis. This describes the process when your metabolism decreases and your hunger and cravings increase. 

Adaptive thermogenesis occurs because the body is trying to get you to eat more food while burning fewer calories. It’s a survival mechanism that is built into our DNA and results in metabolic inefficiency. At the same time, as you lose weight, your body requires fewer calories on a day-to-day basis. 

Leptin, the hormone that usually tells your brain that you are full and satiated decreases as you lose weight. Leptin is normally produced by fat cells, so the fewer fat cells that you have, the less leptin you produce. As a result, you can begin to feel hungrier as you progress through your weight loss journey. 

Refeed days can temporarily increase your leptin levels and signal to your brain that you are safe and that the weight is intentional. 

Should You Implement A Refeed? 

Refeed days are great for most people but not for everybody. Whether they are appropriate for you or not depends on your history with food and dieting and your present mindset around them. 

For those who haven’t previously had food-related issues, such as eating disorders or disordered eating patterns, a refeed should be generally safe. However, those who currently have a poor relationship with food or have in the past may not benefit from a refeed. 

Previous serial dieters or those with a history of eating disorders are at risk of falling back into old habits due to the increased stress that is associated with a day of increased caloric intake. If you’ve had a past eating disorder, it’s often best to avoid diets and refeeding days altogether. 

If you have a healthy relationship with food, refeeding days will be suitable for you. They are a great way to overcome your weight loss plateau and prevent fatigue and lethargy during your weight loss journey so that you can stay on track to reach your health and fitness goals. 

How To Implement A Refeed 

For maximum effects, introduce a refeed day once every two weeks. This will temporarily place your body in a calorie surplus and increase your leptin levels. If you have a lower body fat percentage (less than 10% for men or 15% for women), you may need to implement a refeed day once a week. 

On the day of your refeed, focus on consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates, as this is an important macronutrient in balancing your leptin levels, compared to protein and fat. Stick to complex carbohydrates, such as rice, potatoes, pasta, and whole-grain cereals, to maintain your energy levels throughout the whole day. 

Alongside complex carbs, you will want to make sure you are eating enough protein. Aim for at least 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight) each day. 

High-quality protein sources are poultry, fish, red meat, eggs, dairy products, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, and lentils. You can also use protein powder supplements if you’re struggling to reach the recommended amount of protein for your refeeding day. 

Create every meal with one source of healthy carbs and protein, and finish them up with some healthy unsaturated fats. Refeeding diets generally follow a limit of 20-40 grams of fat a day. Great sources of healthy fats include eggs, fatty fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. 

Make sure to eat regularly throughout the day to spread your calories evenly across several hours. If you find it easier, you can plan out your meals ahead of time and prepare some well-balanced dishes to eat on the refeed day. 

As a general rule, you should aim to consume 20-30% more calories each day than your usual number of calories. For example, if you usually consume 2,000 a day, increase this up to 2,400 to 2,600 calories on the refeed day. 

To easily calculate your refeeding calories, use this Refeed Calculator. This online calculator will help you to determine how many calories you should aim to consume on your refeeding days based on your individual characteristics. 

If you’re unsure how to implement a refeed day safely, it’s best to speak to a healthcare professional, such as a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist. They will be able to work through a diet plan that is personalized for you and your unique needs.

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