What is a reverse diet?
A reverse diet refers to a strategic calorie controlled plan that will help reverse the negative metabolic adaptions that occur through long term dieting. This is not the ‘diet’ that you may recognise with fat loss, it is a diet focused on eating more calories and improving your health. A reverse diet is usually recommended for those dieting for long periods of time with stunted progress, or those who have successfully met their desired weight after 12 weeks+ of dieting (in a calorie deficit). Essentially it’s been labelled the ‘diet after the diet’ or the ‘plan after you diet’, and for good reason. The purpose of a reverse diet is to boost your metabolism, through reversing a lot of the negative adaptions occurred through dieting, by strategically increasing calories. So, another diet, yes. But ya know, an enjoyable one – because we get to eat more!
During long periods of dieting, metabolic adaptions occur. You may associate this better with the term “a slow metabolism” or stalled progress. A diet may stall, or prove extremely difficult to drop body fat, when we are eating too few calories and we just can’t shift the weight. This is our metabolism adapting to our current diet and calories (which are very low). These adaptions are encouraged by the body to slow our metabolism and preserve our life – after all we are not feeding it a lot of energy (calories). This process is linked to our evolution safeguard, the body’s way of ensuring our metabolism preserves energy when food was scarce and we had to hunt and gather with sticks and stones. The same process occurs when we have been dieting for a prolonged period of time.
Let’s look at an example:
Jane started dieting 4 months ago (16 weeks) and exercised 4 days a week every week. Before the diet Jane was happy to eat to her hearts content but she felt that she could lose a little weight (7kg/ 10% Bodyweight). 4 months later, she had lost and gained weight, but overall lost weight –she met her target. For the past month Jane has been eating only 1300 calories per day (on average). Due to metabolic adaptations during the 16 week diet, her calories had to keep dropping to continue getting a fat loss response. However, the weight loss stalled 2 weeks ago.
Review: Jane’s metabolism has adjusted to the 1300 calorie limit that she has gradually set herself. In order to drop more weight Jane must either eat less or exercise more to create a calorie deficit. Given the circumstances, Jane does not have the time to exercise more and she is currently struggling with the meagre 1300 calories. Progress has stalled. It’s time to reverse the metabolic adaptions that have occurred. It’s time for a Reverse diet
As our diet progresses for long periods of time our metabolism essentially slows down and preserves our energy. At this point the body wants to put all of the weight we have lost back on. In fact, our fat cells are primed to grow at this point – they are anabolic and they are sending your brain signals like “I’m not full” and “I need more food”. The body wants to gain fat and we typically obey. Usually after hitting a certain weight goal the “f#$k it” approach comes in. The diet is relaxed and now reverted back to the usual binge that we enjoyed before the diet. As we overeat/binge our fat cells are accelerating in size daily. This is the major reason as to why dieters will regain the exact amount of weight lost in half the time it took them to diet. Imagine that, you’re dieting for 16 weeks, finish, then in 6 weeks you are back to square one!? All that effort and sacrifice lost!
Through utilising a reverse diet we are essentially not taking the “F#$k it” approach and we are trying to strategically adjust calories to our new weight (that weight we want to stay at permanently) and, of course, eat more food but prevent major fat gain. This is where a strategic reverse diet of increasing calories at a linear progression comes in. A reverse diet is utilised to help prevent a massive return of accelerated weight gain through another controlled diet.
By eating more calories we are looking to reverse the negative metabolic adaptions by progressively increasing our calorie allowance. Now, yes, unfortunately you will put on weight, there’s no way around it. This is a result of a reverse diet – remember it’s about health not a ‘diet’. However, if used strategically, the weight increase will be minimal – 1lb increase every 1-2 weeks, maybe! Ideally you will regain up to, or less than, half of the weight you lost. For example, if you dieted for 16 weeks and lost 7kg, through utilising a reverse diet I would expect a gain of 3.5kg, or less, during the reverse diet. On the plus side, with this improved metabolism we can now eat significantly more calories that truly represents our metabolism. Remember, this is the purpose of a reverse diet, we want to increase our metabolic rate. In Jane’s example we could potentially jump from 1300 Calories all the way up to a 2500 calories or more!
So, you are now enjoying a leaner physique, you can enjoy larger quantities of food, you are worrying less about a diet, and improving your relationship with food. Additionally, you are now in a better position to diet down again in the future. Think of it as 2 steps forward and 1 step back, but the 1 step back is your sweet aunt who has your best interests at heart and she’s feeding you lots of delicious food.
Let’s look at an example, Jane again:
Jane has achieved 7kg of weight loss in her 16 week diet (70kg down to 63kg) and she would like to maintain this weight. Jane ended her diet on 1300 Calories and 140g of protein. Through certain calculations we have estimated that her maintenance calories, for this weight, should be around 2400 (especially with Jane’s activity – 4 days gym per week). Jane needs to build up her metabolism through this 1100 Calorie deficit. For the next 16 weeks Jane will reverse diet. We will break these 16 weeks in 8 blocks (8 x 14 day increments) and increase periodically.
1100 deficit ÷ 8 = 137 Calories
– Week 1-2 Jane will eat 1437 Calories
– Week 3-4 Jane will eat 1574 Calories
– Week 5-6 Jane will eat 1711 Calories
– Week 7-8 Jane will eat 1848 Calories
– Week 15-16 Jane will eat 2400 Calories
Review: We know that Jane’s progress stalled at the end of her 16 week diet, so we knew she was not in a calorie deficit (weight loss). If we Jumped Jane’s calories up to 2400 immediately that is a 1100 calorie increase and I would expect to see, at least, 2lbs of weight gain in the first week and each week after until her body fat levels are at a comfortable level for her metabolism. So, to prevent this, the increments started smaller at 137 Calories for 14 days to let the metabolism adjust. It would be a more aggressive reverse diet if we changed calories every 10 days, but with 14 days we can be a bit more conservative and monitor the weight better over more time.
Every 2 weeks the calories increased. After 16 weeks you can see that Jane has increased her calories significantly. Jane may have increased her weight up to 3kg or less. However, Jane weighs 4kg less than her pre-diet weight, she is eating 2400 Calories and she is visibly leaner. Jane is now feeling better and probably a dress size smaller. Moreover, she’s in a better position to drop another 7kg if she wanted to repeat the process.
With all things considered, there are outliers and variables. If you have been dieting for, say, 12 weeks and you were already relatively lean, but decided to diet at a slow and steady pace, you may want to take an aggressive approach to your reverse diet. Instead of reverse dieting for 12 weeks, you may achieve relatively minimal weight gain with a 6 week reverse diet. Each person is different. Additionally, if you have been dieting for a long period of time (1 year plus) you may need to spend a year reverse dieting – this can be disheartening to hear, but it’s necessary. Of course, these are just a few exceptions, there is no one approach that fits all.
If you are struggling and you would like some direct support or more information, then please get in touch with me and we can go over a reverse diet in detail. I’ve seen people struggle for months on low calories because they think it is the only way to stay skinny. Food is fuel and it should be enjoyed! Discussing the psychological aspects of society on dieting is for another post and another day – regardless, it still remains a serious issue.
This is just a little snippet into reverse dieting. There is a lot of information that I have not included and, truthfully, a lot of information I don’t know myself. If you are interested in reading more about reverse diet I would recommend a couple of e-books to consider, Layne Norton’s “The complete Reverse Dieting Guide” and Mark Carroll’s “The Exit Strategy”. Additionally, I believe Sohe Lee’s e-book “Reverse Dieting” is also a good read.
If you have any comments please leave them below. If you would like to discuss working with myself, please get in touch today, I’m happy to just chat and help. Online training and one-to-one training is available.