Want to control your weight? Try taking a break from your diet

Cheat days may actually help — not hurt — your weight, according to a new study of mice out of the University of Georgia.

Researchers at UGA's College of Pharmacy found that alternating a high-fat and balanced diet in mice helped them control body weight, and prevented two common side effects of obesity: insulin sensitivity and accumulated fat in the liver.

What's more, mice fed the alternating high-fat and balanced diet mirrored the control group of mice fed only a balanced diet — mirroring them in weight, insulin sensitivity and liver fat.

For the study, Dexi Liu, UGA's Panoz Professor of Pharmacy, and co-authors Yongjie Ma and Mingming Gao fed the mice a high-fat diet for five days, and then alternated regular feed for one, two or five days. The journal Scientific Reports recently published their findings.

Researchers also found that the alternating high-fat and balanced diets could reverse obesity in mice: They fed a group of obese mice an alternating diet for five weeks and observed a 12 percent reduction in their fat mass at the end of the interval, compared to control animals.

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"Maintaining a proper diet requires a lot of willpower, and one of the problems we see very often with modern weight loss programs is that people cannot sustain a restricted diet over long periods of time," Liu said in a news release.

"The temptation to eat becomes overwhelming, and many people end up regaining the weight they've lost, so we wanted to see if there may be an alternative to these diets," he said.

And while his study raised the possibility that alternating a high-fat and balanced diet could combat obesity in humans, Liu cautioned that results in animal testing may not translate directly to humans.

But he said that he and his colleagues think that an alternating diet similar to the one used in their experiments could serve as the foundation for new dietary guidelines.

To read the complete study, "Alternating Diet as a Preventive and Therapeutic Intervention for High Fat Diet-induced Metabolic Disorder," click here.