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Reverse Dieting 101: What is it and how to start

There’s a lot of buzz around reverse dieting right now, specifically around the thought that it’s a magical way to eat more while still losing fat. That’s not completely accurate. So if it’s not magic, what is reverse dieting?

First let’s define it:

Reverse dieting is slowly & strategically increasing your calories up to maintenance levels. Often this results in changed body composition and yes...sometimes even fat loss.

So is reverse dieting magic and will it work for everyone? Can we all just start slowly adding calories to our diet and getting these magical results? No. For most of us that would result in fat gain which is often the opposite of what people are hoping to achieve when jumping into a reverse diet.

So who IS a good candidate for a reverse diet? A few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Have you been in a calorie deficit for a long period of time and are plateauing? (and I mean a real plateau, not a week with no progress)

  2. Are you having trouble sleeping or experiencing very low energy? Ladies, have you even lost your period?

  3. Are you mentally just so over your calorie deficit & having a hard time adhering to it?

  4. Have you been at a very low amount of calories for a very long time(months & months)?

  5. Do you feel like you’re skinny fat? You don’t have much fat to lose but still haven’t achieved the body composition you’re looking for?

If you answered YES to any of these, you might be a good candidate for reverse dieting.

How to actually reverse diet

Alright you’ve decided a reverse diet is for you….now how do you actually execute this? Remember that reverse dieting is SLOWLY adding calories back over a long period of time. For the sake of this example let’s say you’re currently eating in a calorie deficit at 1400 calories/day. Your reverse diet may look something like this:

Week 1: 1450 calories/day

Week 2: 1500 calories/day

Week 3: 1550 calories/day

Week 4: 1650 calories/day

Week 5: 1700 calories/day

Week 6: 1800 calories/day

Week 7: 1850 calories/day

Week 8: 1900 calories/day

And so on and so forth until you hit your maintenance calorie levels. Your reverse diet does not need to look exactly like this or add calories back at the same rate. The idea is just that you SLOWLY add calories back into your diet until you hit your maintenance calories. In general(and as shown in the example above) I recommend adding between 50-100 calories/day per week.

Why should you reverse up your calories so slowly?

You absolutely could jump right back up to maintenance without the slow reverse up but doing so will cause a larger spike up in the scale then if you took it slow. You’ll have more food in your stomach physically & will likely be eating more carbs than you were in your deficit so you’ll probably see a big increase in water weight & a jump in the scale. Maintenance calories are always changing as well based on your current activity levels, etc so they are always really a guesstimate. If you immediately hop up to your assumed maintenance calories without slowly adding calories back in, you may guesstimate too high and some initial fat gain may occur. Absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I want you to be prepared for what may happen.

Will this slow reverse up feel tedious? Hopefully not! If you’ve been in a sustainable calorie deficit and not something overly restrictive you shouldn’t be clamoring to get up to maintenance calories ASAP. These extra daily calories will give you more flexibility but hopefully your deficit has already been feeling pretty manageable.

How do you know if you’re truly at maintenance?

Again like I mentioned your maintenance calorie range is often changing. As a result we will never truly know our maintenance calories exactly. How can we be pretty sure? When your weight on the scales stabilizes between 3-5lbs it’s a good indicator that you are in maintenance. This means your weight is only fluctuating between 3-5lbs for a few weeks.

Why do some people still lose weight while reverse dieting?

The whole reason you’re probably here is for the “magic” of reverse dieting. Losing weight while eating more. How is this possible? 3 main things are happening here:

1. When you’re in a calorie deficit there is more stress on your body and your cortisol levels are raised. Higher cortisol levels will cause your body to retain water. Once you start eating more your body likely will be under less stress and you’ll see a big whooooosh of water weight as a result. Of course you’ll see a drop in the scale along with this.

2. Until you hit maintenance calories you are still in a calorie deficit! If you’re in a calorie deficit you’ll still be losing fat. Even as you add calories into your diet if you remain in a calorie deficit the scale will continue to drop down.

3. Oftentimes your adherence to your diet will increase as your calorie levels increase and you’ll actually be more consistently hitting your calorie deficit than before. Think of this example:

You were eating 1200 calories a day which is pretty darn restrictive. You stuck to that Monday-Thursday but on the weekends your calories were closer to 2500/day. That means on average you were eating about 1,757 calories/day which may or may not have been keeping you in a calorie deficit.

Now let’s say you’ve been reverse dieting and your calories are now at 1500/day. Since this is more manageable you’re able to stick to these calories and successfully hit them Monday-Sunday. You’re now eating 1500 calories/day as opposed to 1,757 calories/day so you’re actually in a deeper deficit than before. More sustainable calories means more consistency which could lead to more weight loss.

Please be aware that everyone’s body is different and it’s very possible you do not lose weight while reverse dieting. A reverse diets purpose is NOT fat loss. It is for bringing your body out of a deficit into more sustainable maintenance level calories. Do not approach reverse dieting with the hopes of losing fat.

How long should you reverse diet for?

This is going to be unique to you and will depend on how steep of a deficit you are in and where your maintenance calories land. In general you should expect a longer process. It could be 4 weeks or it could be 8-12, maybe longer! Reverse Dieting should last as long as it takes you to get to maintenance.

I hope you now have a clearer picture on Reverse Dieting, what it is and how to start one. Don’t be fooled by all the “gurus” out there advertising reverse dieting as a magical fat loss solution. Reverse Dieting has HUGE benefits and is a very viable solution for some people but it is not magic and it is not the right fit for everyone.

If you have any questions on this article please shoot me an email, I’d love to help. If you think you’d be a good candidate for a reverse diet and want some 1:1 accountability, I’d love to work with you! You can apply for coaching on my Online Coaching tab. I’ll take all the guesswork out of it for you and give you a plan you just need to execute on :)

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