What Exactly Is Reverse Dieting?

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Eat more food without gaining weight! Gain muscle and lose fat! Raise your metabolism! These are all things that you can achieve with reverse dieting. I know it sounds like BS but hang on, I’ll explain it. Trust me, it’s a super simple concept.

Reverse Dieting Explained

Reverse dieting is when you slowly and intentionally increase your daily food intake. The goal with increasing your food intake is to raise your metabolism.

It’s no secret that diets don’t work. You follow a restrictive diet for a set time or until you hit your goals and then you go back to your old way of eating and gain it all back, usually even more.

Instead of going wild and eating whatever, you strategically and took your time to add in the right amount of calories you would be more likely to maintain your weight loss.

Reasons to Reverse Diet

  1. You hit your goal weight and want to eat more without gaining weight. You can’t be in a caloric deficit forever. You’ve lost the weight but want to return to a more realistic way of eating but don’t want to end up yo-yo dieting. Example: For you to get to your goal weight you consumed 2000 calories a day. To maintain your goal weight you can increase your caloric intake to 3000 calories. Instead of just eating an extra 1000 calories a day suddenly, you would slowly, week by week adding 50–100 more calories per day, increasing the amount every 2–4 weeks.
  2. Your diet stopped working. You have been restricting your calories to X amount of calories a day and after a while you haven’t lost any weight. When you restrict your calories for a long time your BMR (basal metabolic rate which is amount of energy you need to live when at rest) slows down. Taking in more calories may help boost your metabolism and your body will start to burn more calories through Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). So even though you are taking in more calories, you have more energy to burn more calories.
  3. You want to build more muscle. The more calories you take in, the more energy you can expend at the gym. If you have the ability to increase your output (exercise) more than you do now, when you take in more calories you will improve your athletic performance be it muscle growth or endurance. You are eating more to support your athleticism and body composition goals.

How To Reverse Diet

  1. Start tracking your calories. If you have been on a diet or tracking macros you probably already have a preferred method of tracking.
  2. Figure out what your maintenance calories are. I use the Precision Nutrition Calculator. Select “improve health” as your goal and enter the rest of your personal details. The calculator will suggest calorie, macro, and hand portions close to your maintenance intake. Before adding calories, experiment with your maintenance intake for 2 to 4 weeks, monitoring whether you gain, lose, or maintain. This will help you personalize what the calculator recommends. Source
  3. Figure out the right macro balance. Protein is the most important macro when it comes to reverse dieting, especially for body composition. A higher protein diet helps maximize muscle protein synthesis while minimizing protein breakdown. This will result in more muscle gain. If you are trying to lose fat while gain muscle you should aim for the higher range of the recommended protein intakes which are 1.3 to 3g/kg or 0.6 to 1.35 g/lb for women and 1.4 to 3.3 g/kg or 0.65 to 1.5 g/lb for men.
  4. Decide how quickly you want to do this. I recommend if you have been dieting for six months to reverse diet for six months or until you reach your goal. This is an experiment so everyone reacts differently. I usually increase calories during a reverse diet every 2–4 weeks.
  5. Track your progress. Measure and weigh yourself weekly. I’m a fan of progress pictures because a lot of the times the results are visual and not reflected on the scale. Also keep a journal of how you are feeling during and after your workouts and your day to day energy levels. (Note: If you have an eating disorder or are recovering from an ED please don’t attempt this or any diet without seeking professional guidance).

After your reverse diet is over and you hit your goals you can continue with your maintenance calories/macros. I don’t think people should track calories or macros forever (torture!) but by this time you should be pretty adept of knowing your what your body needs and could look into a more intuitive way of eating. Tracking calories and macros are a good tool but not something you need to do all the time. They are just something you can use whenever you need.

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Lisa Lindey

Lisa Lindey

Plant based ultrarunner living in brooklyn. Vegan Nutrition Coach for endurance athletes. Health coach/PN1. I run a lot and eat even more. www.lisalindey.com

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