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What is Reverse Dieting? Everything You Need to Know

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What is Reverse Dieting? Everything You Need to Know
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We're all familiar with traditional dieting to lose weight or gain muscle, but do you know what reverse dieting is? Unlike other calorie-restricted diets, reverse dieting is focused on slowly increasing your calories to reboot your metabolism and maintain your progress. The end goal of reverse dieting isn't to help you lose weight but to ensure that you have enough nutrient-dense foods in your body!

Reverse dieting is slowly introducing more food into your lifestyle and maintaining a healthy diet. It's becoming increasingly popular among those interested in fitness and health. With careful planning, reverse dieting can help you achieve long-term success while enjoying the foods you love.

So what are you waiting for? Get started now and learn more about this revolutionary approach to nutrition!

What is Reverse Dieting?

Reverse dieting is a method of gradually and intentionally increasing caloric intake, which allows a person to take in more calories following a period of dieting while also elevating their metabolic rate and preventing fat gain. It’s also called ‘the diet after the diet.”

This eating strategy was initiated in the bodybuilding community to avoid sudden weight regain when athletes were no longer on the very restricted and unsustainable diets they had implemented to produce their desired physique during the competition.

Once the competition is over, bodybuilders face the challenge of transitioning back to a higher-calorie diet. Returning to a much higher calorie intake can be disadvantageous for these individuals as their body's metabolism has already decreased due to the restrictive periods.

This sudden increase in caloric intake can lead to rapid fat and weight gain, making it difficult for bodybuilders to maintain lean muscle mass.

To address this issue, reverse dieting is introduced as an effective solution for helping bodybuilders transition from a very low-calorie diet to a higher-calorie regimen. Through this approach, bodybuilders can gradually restore their metabolic rates allowing them to consume more calories without an increase in fat gain.

It has become increasingly popular among non-bodybuilders, low-calorie dieters, and those struggling to break through weight loss plateaus. It is because it is believed to be an effective way of reviving a stalled metabolism, allowing for further progress with weight loss.

The concept of reverse dieting is based on the principle of adaptive thermogenesis (metabolic adaptation), which is the body's natural tendency to adjust its metabolism to preserve energy.

As such, when faced with food restriction or caloric limitation, our bodies have an innate ability to decrease energy output and increase energy intake to prevent further weight loss.

How Does It Work?

The body responds to this diet through metabolic adaptation, as discussed in the previous section:

Hormone Alterations

Several hormones, including ghrelin, insulin, leptin, and peptide YY, are released or suppressed by the body to enhance appetite and encourage you to eat more.

Decrease of the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR):

To keep you alive, your body will concentrate its energy on your essential organs. Less energy is used for "non-essential" processes like the growth of hair and nails.

Reduction in Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT):

You may experience a noticeable decline in performance or feel you have less energy to work out, resulting in you burning fewer calories while working out.

Decrease in Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT):

Walking, fidgeting, and other forms of movement are considered part of NEAT. For instance, you might unconsciously decide to park your car closer to your destination to cut down on walking, carry out fewer housework tasks, or refrain from idly moving around while on the phone.

Slow Digestion:

The body may slow digestion when calories are restricted to absorb as many calories and nutrients as possible. Also, when less food is consumed, the thermic effect of food (TEF) declines.

The good news about metabolic adaptation is that it is not likely to be permanent. Your body can gradually increase its metabolism as you increase your calorie intake. It means that if you put in the effort for a while, you can see accurate weight and overall health.

This is where reverse dieting can be beneficial. Unlike crash dieting and yo-yo dieting, which involve drastically cutting back on calorie intake and then returning to a standard or higher-than-normal eating pattern, reverse dieting slowly deliberately increases one's calorie intake to support the body in restoring its metabolic rate.

By gradually increasing your daily calories over time, your body's metabolism can improve and become better able to use the fuel it receives for energy instead of storing it as fat. It helps manage hunger levels more effectively, which can help avoid rapid weight gain after stopping a restrictive diet plan.

How to Set Up a Reverse Diet

The following are the steps for setting up the reverse diet:

Keep Track

Unfortunately, you can't only rely on your recollection. You must keep track of your intake to accurately account for the food you consume each day if you want to reverse your diet. Although most nutritional tracking apps perform well and can offer additional helpful information, any strategy you employ to lose weight is likely sufficient.

But keep in mind that accuracy is essential. Your caloric standards must be precisely adjusted if you want to gain weight gradually and steadily without gaining any extra fat. Track everything carefully.

Figure Out Your Calories

If you've been dieting, you should know how many calories you've been consuming. To get an accurate picture of your nutritional status, ensure you've consistently recorded your calorie intake and averaged your body weights for a week or two.

Once you've established that your current caloric intake is keeping you at your current weight, it's time to add in some more nutrients to help you gain weight. To start your reverse diet, aim for a minimal increase over your current intake—some sources advise a very moderate rise of 1 to 5%.

Set Up Your Macros

Protein is likely the most significant macronutrient for a reversal diet due to its impact on muscle preservation and hypertrophy. The first step should be determining your protein consumption, aiming for 0.7 to 1.3 grams per pound of body weight.

Following is dietary fat, which is necessary for normal bodily function. Make dietary fat 20 to 35% of your daily calorie intake to cover all your bases.

Evaluate and Monitor

Weighing yourself daily and then taking an average of over a week is the easiest way to monitor your reversal diet. While a visible increase in body weight is expected, especially if you're eating more carbs than usual, you can alter your overall consumption if you think you're gaining weight too quickly.

If you're using the scale to track your progress, be sure to weigh yourself consistently and under identical circumstances, ideally in the morning after using the restroom and before consuming any food or liquids.

Beyond the scale, your development should be guided by how you perform in the gym and feel in the mirror. The conservative surplus should result in little to no additional fat along the way, and any increase in calorie intake above maintenance levels should result in visible performance bumps in the squat rack or on the deadlift platform.

Benefits of a Reverse Diet

Even while it's not a miracle cure, a well-thought-out reverse diet might help you transition out of an extreme weight loss program and back into the gym.

You Get to Eat More Food

Restoring calories allows you to eat more food! You can minimize fat accumulation while improving your quality of life and mood as long as you gradually bring back these calories.

Maintain Results

Following a diet by immediately resuming your regular eating routines and drastically upping your calorie intake is a common mistake. Usually, this causes fast weight gain.

However, a well-planned reverse diet gets around this and can help you maintain your results you achieved in your calorie restrictive diet, while increasing your caloric intake.

Mental Peace

It might be mentally taxing to restrict calories for a lengthy period. You might occasionally feel lethargic, worn out, and angry because of it. You can safely end your caloric deficit with reverse dieting, which should provide psychological relief, especially if you've been dieting for months.

Who Should Do a Reverse Diet

A reverse diet is not the right course of action for everyone. If you have only recently implemented a slightly reduced calorie regimen. Or, if you have simply ceased to consume refined sugars and soda, resulting in a slight caloric deficit and weight loss, you likely do not need to engage in a reverse diet.

A reverse diet is specifically designed for those who have experienced significant and prolonged periods of restrictive calorie intake over an extended period.

Physique Athletes

Bodybuilding and physique athletes can significantly benefit from a reverse diet after contest preparation. During this time, they often reduce their calories to relatively low levels to become as lean as possible.

This significant decrease in intake can cause the metabolism to slow down, which makes them more vulnerable to gaining weight afterward. A reverse diet can help mitigate this by gradually increasing the number of calories consumed.

These competitors must slowly add more food after contest prep, as it helps their bodies adjust and become accustomed to higher calorie levels again. Doing it too rapidly can damage their metabolism and make them readily gain weight.

Chronic Dieters

If you consider yourself a so-called "yo-yo dieter," constantly fluctuating between restrictive and indulgent meal plans, then a reverse diet may be the perfect solution. This type of cycling between deprivation and indulgence can have a detrimental effect on your metabolic stability, making it difficult to determine your nutritional needs accurately. A carefully planned reverse diet is often the best way to establish a reliable baseline to use as a guideline when deciding how to nourish your body.

Those on a Plateau

It's possible that the scale won't move farther even if you've been consuming incredibly few calories for months. If you've reached a weight reduction plateau, taking a step back can help you advance.

Over time, a gradual increase in calories can significantly impact your metabolism and provide much-needed emotional relaxation. Even while a reverse diet can temporarily halt your weight loss efforts, it will benefit you long-term.

The Bottom Line

Reverse dieting is a way of slowly introducing more food into your lifestyle and maintaining a healthy diet, and it can be a great way to contribute to your overall health and wellness. By carefully tracking calories and macros and monitoring the progress, you can use reverse dieting to your benefit.

It makes cutting out unhealthy habits easier by allowing you to enjoy more food while providing consistent weight control. Additionally, some of the positive effects on mental health are worth noting during this process.

The diet is best for physique athletes, chronic dieters, or anyone on a plateau looking for something new in their nutritional journey. At this point, it's important to mention that reverse dieting isn't without limitations and will require more effort than regular eating. With some discipline, the rewards will be well worth the hard work!

Reading List

Article Sources

  • Johannsen, Darcy L., et al. “Metabolic Adaptation Is Not Observed after 8 Weeks of Overfeeding but Energy Expenditure Variability Is Associated with Weight Recovery.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 110, no. 4, Oct. 2019, pp. 805–13. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz108.
  • Martínez-Gómez, Mario G., and Brandon M. Roberts. “Metabolic Adaptations to Weight Loss: A Brief Review.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 36, no. 10, Oct. 2022, pp. 2970–81. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003991.
  • Martins, Catia, et al. “Metabolic Adaptation Is an Illusion, Only Present When Participants Are in Negative Energy Balance.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 112, no. 5, Nov. 2020, pp. 1212–18. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa220.
  • Müller, Manfred J., et al. “Changes in Energy Expenditure with Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Humans.” Current Obesity Reports, vol. 5, no. 4, 2016, pp. 413–23. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-016-0237-4.
  • Trexler, Eric T., et al. “Metabolic Adaptation to Weight Loss: Implications for the Athlete.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2014, p. 7. BioMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-7.

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