If you’re looking for a reason to take part of the long weekend off from rigid healthy eating, here’s your go-ahead: researchers at the University of Georgia have found that alternating between high-fat and balanced diets may help control body weight—at least in mice.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, observed mice fed a high-fat diet for five days before changing to a more nutritionally balanced diet for one, two, or five days, over a period of several weeks.
Researchers found that switching to a balanced diet for two or five days between the fat-fest helped control body weight, improved insulin sensitivity and prevented fat storage in the liver (two common effects of obesity). In fact, scientists found few differences between mice that did and didn’t indulge.
"The mice that received an alternating diet maintained body weight similar to mice that only received a regular diet," said researcher Dexi Liu in a press release. "They also had much lower levels of inflammation, which can contribute to the development of metabolic disorders like diabetes."
The scientists also believe this type of diet may help treat obesity. A separate group of mice considered overweight were put on the alternating diet for five weeks and lost 12 percent of their body weight (from fat mass) compared to the control group.
While the study only reflects how the diet worked for mice and not humans, Liu and his colleagues believe this may be a more practical approach to dieting for us too.
"These results suggest that it may be possible to eat the foods you like, and to do so with pleasure, as long as those habits are tempered with periods of rest," Liu said.
So, go ahead and eat that burger and fries this weekend. Just make sure to get back on track with your clean diet the next day. Also, note that we're not sure if the researchers counted the calories consumed by the mice. It could be that they ate the same number of calories on the high-fat diet as they did on the balanced diet, meaning that if you do choose to eat that delicious-looking burger, it should be in place of—rather than in addition to—what you'd normally eat. Taking in more calories than usual—whether they're from fat, carbs, or protein—will likely still make you gain weight.