Reverse dieting is a contentious subject for many.
Often referred to as the diet after the diet, some skeptics argue that it isn’t a diet at all. But indeed, this may be the case.
What’s shocking, however, is the fact that there likely is merit in the diet after all.
Not in the sense that it’s a superior way to diet, but rather in the same way that starting a run after a period of otherwise restrictive dieting really highlights its effectiveness.
In other words, reverse dieting is not an effective stand-alone tool if you’re aiming for weight loss.
If anything, it will likely result in a greater fat weight regain or even no loss whatsoever.
The bottom line is that the majority of people dieting for weight loss are using a combination of calorie deficits, fewer calories consumed, and dietary manipulations to achieve their goals.
And reverse dieting appears an effective way to enhance the speed in which someone loses body fat, or prevents its gain.
This article will explain what a successful reverse diet actually is, why it may be beneficial and who might benefit from its use.
The Essential Guide to Reverse Dieting
What Is Reverse Dieting?
Simply put, reverse dieting is the reverse, or opposite, or what you would expect a typical diet to look like.
Think along the lines of no restriction- but not an immediate free-for-all food fest, rather a slow and controlled increase in daily calorie intake.
This can be implemented more or less immediately after cessation of a more traditional calorie deficit diet, but it does depend on the person and their ability to control larger appetites which may result from such extensive dietary restriction
people embarking on a reverse diet will typically begin with a small caloric surplus and then progress this daily until they reach their maintenance intake.
And from here, weight loss/maintenance is achieved as per usual.
This dieting style is attractive to bodybuilders that may have just come off of competing and looking to regain some off-season mass.
Negative Implications Of Dieting
Limiting the number of available calories available for the body to use does not linearly translate to a reduction in body weight as might be expected.
Rather, the body enters starvation mode; a primitive survival instinct embedded into our DNA for species preservation.
While this survival mechanism does what it was designed to do, it has a somewhat negative impact on several other body processes/ systems. these include:
1) Reduced organ efficiency
Including the brain and heart.
Their basic requirements are met, but changes such as decreased heart rate and impaired executive functioning are also evident.
2) Hormone levels are disrupted-
These include reduction to testosterone and thyroid hormone, as well as diminished ghrelin secretion (which stimulates hunger), but increases leptin levels(the satiety hormone).
3) Caloric usage decreases
This is because of increased efficiency; less is lost as heat and also because mitochondrial energy production is improved – less wastage overall.
This also translates to less being used for digestion of food, and low-intensity activity such as walking, doing the dishes or other similar activity, otherwise referred to as non exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
4) Performance decreases
One of the major implications of a reduced-calorie diet is the impact it has on performance. Anaerobic endurance is reduced, and less explosive power is evident.
These reductions are not to be trifled with; they can lead to rapid fat gain in the discontinuation of dieting (which occurs even faster after a restrictive phase) and make losing weight significantly more challenging for the individual.
Reverse dieting combats these issues by gradually adding more calories to the diet.
It allows the body and hormones to gradually adjust, and in this way begins a gradual return of processes such as hormone levels and organ function back towards normal.
Over the long term, you can see how this metabolic adaptation is not suited to fat loss- but then again, why should you want to lose weight when calories are low?
This would be foolish, from an evolutionary standpoint.
Luckily, while the metabolic slowdown is possible, so too is the possibility of increasing your metabolism beyond the baseline.
How To Pull Off The Reverse Diet
The first thing to keep in mind is the fact that the diet style does not give you the license to fill.
You will fail utterly in this regard if you abruptly make an about-turn to increase caloric intake far beyond your normal maintenance zone.
You will get fat.
With that in mind, it’s important to understand that the underlying premise of the diet is to avoid metabolic adaptation and slowdown.
Metabolic rate plummets rapidly after a period of calorie restriction and tends to have far-reaching implications on subsequent weight management.
Here’s a solid plan to successfully hit the ground running:
1) Calculate Your Current Calorie Intake and What You Should be Aiming For
There’s a saying that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are.
How will you make the necessary adjustments, and where will you go from there if you don’t know where you are?
You need to figure out how many calories your body needs to fulfill its mandate of basic functions.
Upon calculating your basal metabolic rate and caloric requirements, you can start by slowly increasing over this.
Typical bodybuilding diets say 500 calories more than necessary daily is a good point to gain weight – but this isn’t your goal per se.
Instead, increase in very small increments.
50-100 calories added to your diet weekly is a good way to prevent fat gain at this time as your metabolism adjusts to the increase.
2) Increase Protein Intake Substantially
A point often neglected in reverse dieting style diets is that of protein consumption. A low calorie diet is notorious for restriction of this macronutrient.
To start formulating your macronutrient requirements, bring protein to the forefront. Aim for 1g per pound of bodyweight, and slowly increasing calorie intake over time.
3) Change Up Your Training Style
You might be glad for the change of pace which means reducing the frequency of cardio sessions.
Of course, this does not mean that you can ignore them completely, but your primary goal is no longer fat loss.
Instead, your goals should revolve around building muscle mass and improving performance for the purposes of dietary control- cutting back on cardio will help you to avoid metabolic slow down as well as preserve as much lean body mass as practical.
Start- or rather, resume, moderate to heavy weightlifting.
This is one of the best ways to really kickstart a sluggish metabolism once more.
Always keep in mind that muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body, and you should try to maintain as much lean tissue mass as possible.
4) Weigh Yourself Frequently
No, you’re not weighing just for the fun of it, but to gauge if you are increasing calories at a decent speed.
If you notice the scale going up too rapidly, there is a high likelihood that you are gaining fat and not lean muscle.
It is best to weigh first thing in the morning before you have any food or liquids.
Do this three times weekly and you will be able to form a decent picture of if you’re on point or not.
Who Is Reverse Dieting Best Suited For?
While anyone can start reverse dieting today, results are not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination.
It is, however, a powerful tool to help you avoid the dreaded weight loss plateau and learn how to increase your metabolic rate over time- and it can be used simultaneously during cutting and bulking phases to great effect.
Earlier we discussed that one of the primary goals of reverse dieting was not just avoiding metabolic slowdown, but preventing it in the first place.
It should be noted, however, that reverse dieting can be used by anyone to increase their metabolic rate- if you are simply tired of feeling lethargic or slow, this is a great way to get back on track.
With that in mind, it might be best suited for you if you fall into one of these categories
Bodybuilder In The Off-Season
Bodybuilders are generally not known for their massive metabolisms year-round, and as such should strongly consider reverse dieting.
In fact, it is ironic that at the time of their peak appearance (on stage), they are actually at their most vulnerable- critically dehydrated, starving, and one mistake away from hospitalization.
Basically, the off-season is the perfect time to reverse diet because it means that you can spend more of your efforts building muscle instead of cutting fat.
This is, of course, provided that you don’t embark on an absolute assault on all food in sight.
The metabolism that has been crippled and subjected to tons of cardio over the past weeks is now on the slow path to recovery.
Chronic Dieter/ Trying To Lose Weight Frequently
Many, many people find themselves in this category without knowing it.
Sometimes known as a yo-yo dieter, these individuals will embark on weight loss phases characterized by calorie restriction several times per year, each time with no clear plan in place.
This wreaks havoc on their metabolism and prevents them from achieving the permanent caloric deficit that would allow for substantial fat loss.
Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to change this behavior– just as they are about to lose all hope of ever seeing their abs again, a new “diet” comes out.
After all, rapid weight loss is almost always more exciting than a slow, gradual change in the long run.
If you are in this category, there is the likelihood that your metabolism will be wrecked significantly, and require repair over many months, maybe even years.
Reverse dieting can help you to jumpstart the process of rebuilding it over time with a steady dose of calories over weeks and months.
How do you know if you’re in this category?
Because even when you “diet” down to sub-2000 calories, you don’t lose any weight.
So you quit after a few days, only to try the same insanity again in a few weeks.
From a psychological standpoint, it is understandable- you want to show that you can achieve the weight loss others are having.
Overeating will cause weight gain. That is not an assumption, but rather, a fact. However, reverse dieting might be helpful in this case as well.
In order for it to be successful, however, there are some other criteria that must be met. For instance, overeating on a daily basis will result in failure.
If you, however, classify yourself as more of a social binge eater, there is the possibility that it will work for you.
By gradually increasing the caloric consumption threshold, you can safely eat more without the corresponding weight gain.
This means eating out won’t be as deleterious as it can be.
Reverse Dieting Caveats
This type of diet is not a walk in the park. In fact, unless you have all your ducks in a row, it’s bound to be an utter mess. Here are some things that MUST fall into place before you can attempt this
1) Rigid Calorie Counting
You need to be counting calories or make very close estimations about the foods you eat. No randomly drinking calorie-laden drinks or snacks. Each item must be logged into a food diary.
2) Requires Patience
Metabolic adaptations do not occur overnight (especially when trying to improve your metabolism). A slow, and gradual increase in calories is highly advised.
How Do You Know Reverse Dieting Is Working?
1) Energy Levels Improve
This usually means that you are metabolizing your food much better and generating energy as a result. A very positive sign.
2) Better Appetite Control
You aren’t hungry all the time since hunger hormones are optimized, and nutritional requirements are being met. Of course, it is also important to consume quality foods and not those laden with additives.
3) Body Recomposition/ Body Fat Reduction
If you see your body composition improving while the scale says you are not gaining weight, then it likely means that you are losing fat and gaining lean muscle in its place.
This is excellent and shows that your anabolic switch has been activated.
So, with all that’s been said, it should be clear that reverse dieting certainly has a lot of potential in the weight loss space.
By facilitating nutrient partitioning, hormonal balance, and metabolic adaptation, it can be an excellent aid in your journey to achieve leanness.
In addition, by understanding what you need to focus on before implementing this technique, you’ll be more likely to get the best results from it.
Just enter with the expectation that it is not a way to rapid results, but a lifestyle adaptation to reducing body fat and staying lean.
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