Reverse Dieting: Here’s How It Works
The story is always the same. You embark on a new diet, something low-calorie with a strict set of rules to hold you accountable. Maybe you are doing this on your own or maybe you have paid a coach to do it for you. Either way, you have decided that you are going to lose weight.

After several grueling weeks, the scale is dropping. Finally! You continue this low-calorie, restrictive eating plan for several more weeks and months, determined to meet your goal weight.

Eventually, you find yourself mentally and physically exhausted. Your workouts begin to suffer, your energy has tanked, and the scale starts to creep back up. Everything you eat seems to stick to your thighs, butt, and stomach. Frustrated, you slash more calories and increase your cardio. That has to work! It worked before…

Little do you realize, you are treading in dangerous waters. Your metabolism is slowing down and your body is storing fat as reserve fuel. You have essentially told your body “I will not be feeding you enough to function.” Your body is smarter than you and it will not allow you to starve. When your push your body into starvation mode, your metabolism slows to a crawl, burning calories as slowly as possible to conserve its energy stores.

Simply put, your body becomes more efficient at operating at a lower calorie intake.

You continue to gain weight and eventually “plateau” exactly where you were before you started dieting. Frustrated, you give up and resort to your old bad habits.

What went wrong?

What you do after a diet is just as important, if not more important, than what you do during a diet. Dieting properly is an ongoing cycle. One that includes a period of calorie deficit to lose fat and followed by a reverse diet to increase metabolism.

Mistake #1: Embarking on a super low-calorie diet

Most women are already under-fueling. Calories tend to be the enemy when it comes to fat, weight, and health. They are portrayed as little demons that we must slash, restrict, and avoid.

The simple reason behind your weight loss plateau... #diet #calories #reversedietThis couldn’t be further from the truth. Calories are your source of fuel and energy. Without the proper amount, you and your goals are going to suffer.

A small deficit in calories combined with an increase in daily activity is usually just enough to jump-start weight loss. The problem is that many women are already painfully low on their daily recommended caloric intake. At this point, they have already done damage to their metabolism. The appropriate method here would be to begin a reverse diet and slowly add calories back into your diet.

Mistake #2: Slashing more calories when hitting a plateau

A plateau in weight loss is your body’s way of saying “I am under fueled and overworked!”

Cutting additional calories and adding in more cardio is a band-aid, not a fix. By reducing your daily calories again, you are exacerbating the problem. It’s easy to think “cutting calories worked last time, I will just cut again!” but this mindset brings you closer and closer to complete metabolism meltdown and dieting failure.

Mistake #3: Giving up and reverting back to old habits

Calling it quits and smashing an entire cake is not in your best interest. You will put on all the weight you lost, and possibly more, by giving up and quickly downing 3,000 calories. Why waste all your hard work?

The simple solution to stalled weight loss is a proper reverse diet.

What is Happening to my Body?

When you eat below your TDEE (or too close to your BMR) for an extended period of time (eating fewer calories than you burn in an effort to lose weight) your metabolism slows and your body reduces hormones that aid in weight loss in order to promote homeostasis.

(TDEE – Total Daily Energy Expenditure: the amount of calories your body burns in a 24 hour period, sleeping, working, exercising, playing and even digesting food.)

(BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate: an estimate of how many calories you’d burn if you were to do nothing but rest for 24 hours. It represents the minimum amount of energy needed to keep your body functioning, including breathing and keeping your heart beating.)

Many women find themselves frustrated because they have hit a plateau and are simply not progressing in the way they had hoped. Some have dealt with coaches who have put them on low-calorie diets or insanely restricted diets that did not allow any sort of freedom in food choices. When progress stalled or the weight wouldn’t budge, calories got lower and the cardio got longer.

At the end of this exhausting dieting cycle, all you have managed to do is “train” your body to operate at 1,200 calories with zero weight loss. You are tired, depleted, hungry, and fed up.

This is the vicious fad-dieting cycle.

What is a Reverse Diet?

If a diet is caloric reduction, a reverse would be a caloric increase. A reverse diet is essentially adding calories back into your current diet with minimal (if any) weight gain.

Step 1 of a reverse diet is never weight loss. The goal is repairing a damaged metabolism.

The simple reason behind your weight loss plateau... #diet #calories #reversediet

Reverse dieting involves a controlled, gradual increase in total daily calorie intake with the purpose of increasing metabolic rate and health.

The key word here is controlled. Reverse dieting is not uncontrolled cheat meals, binges, or weekends off from dieting.

When Should You Reverse Diet?

The problem with the majority of fad diets is they focus on restricted calories. In the short run this leads to effective weight loss as excess water, fat, and possibly muscle are lost but eventually, this caloric deficit ends at a weight-loss plateau and results wane. For many, this plateau is disheartening and frustrating, leading them to give up on the diet completely and resort to old habits.

In order to remedy the plateau problem, you must add calories back into your diet. Does this seem counter-intuitive? Of course! We have been told our entire lives that in order to lose weight, we have to eat less and run more.

You may need to reverse diet if you are experiencing…

  • Weight loss plateau
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight gain (while continuing to diet)
  • Eating below 1,200 calories per day for a prolonged period of time

These are all indicators that you should take a step back from weight loss and work on overall health and metabolism.

The idea behind slowly increasing your calories is to boost your metabolism and get those weight loss hormones (TSH, Leptin, Testosterone) spiked again. By slowly increasing calories, you can bring yourself back up to your individualized TDEE without significant (if any) weight gain. Once your metabolism is humming along, you can focus on slower, more sustainable fat loss.

A Healthy Weight Loss Cycle

(These numbers are randomly chosen for the purpose of providing an example and not necessarily what you should be eating.)

For example, you begin your fat loss journey at 1,700 kCals per day. Drop to 1,500 kCals per day with increased activity. You keep tabs on your energy levels, measurements, and the scale. When progress halts, you slowly add 50 calories back into your diet every 1-2 weeks. When done correctly, this will increase metabolism and spike weight loss hormones all while keeping your weight and measurements the same. You will not lose additional weight during this time but you will not gain either.

Calories are up to 1,900 kCals per day. You cut again but this time, you only cut to 1,700 kCals per day. Again, keeping a close eye on measurements and progress. Because you started at a lower weight or lower body fat level this time around, you continue to decrease. When you hit another plateau, you slowly increase your calories again. You manage to get yourself up to 2,000 kCals per day while maintaining your new, lower weight. If you desire, you can begin to cut again at 1,800 calories!

Do you see how this is a much happier cycle?

Both Current and Future Competition Prep Ladies

Reverse Dieting: Here’s How It WorksWhen thinking about competing, doing a proper reverse before you begin and after your show is extremely important.

Let’s use a 500 calorie deficient for example.

Cutting 500 calories per week, scientifically speaking, results in about a pound per week of weight loss. This obviously isn’t going to happen forever or you would wither away to nothing. When competitors continue to eat far below their TDEE or close to their BMR (or even under their BMR) they are setting themselves up for failure. Fat loss will stall and they will plateau.

Many women and their coaches get frustrated by this plateau, which results in cutting more calories or adding in more cardio. You can see how this process becomes a vicious cycle and women get stuck in terrible, lower calorie diets with no results. I am not sure why more coaches are not familiar with the concept of reverse dieting and metabolism function. I wish more utilized this information. It would save many women from this nasty cycle.

By the time the diet is finished, the poor girl is eating 900 calories and running on a treadmill for 2 hours a day in order to maintain consistency with her fat loss.

Then comes the aftermath.

The diet is done and calories are consumed at an ungodly rate. Weight is put back on, fast. The unsustainable low-calorie diet is finally taking its toll. Yet, the solution was simple. Reverse your way back out of your diet, the same way you entered into your diet. As opposed to cut calories each week, you increase.

Things To Remember

When competing or cutting, you want your metabolism to be as efficient as possible and your calories as high as possible from the start. Beginning your weight loss journey eating 2,000 calories per day is a much better situation than starting your weight loss at 1,400 calories per day.
  • At 2,000 calories per day, you can “cut” down to 1,800 calories per day while slightly increasing your physical activity and lose weight! You will still feel fantastic because you are eating plenty of food. With properly scheduled re-feed days (which put you at or above your TDEE for one day), your body will run like a well-oiled, well-fed machine.
  • At 1,400 calories per day, you are immediately stuck in a situation where you cut to 1,200 calories per day and increase cardiovascular activity, possibly lose weight, creep closer to your BMR, and eventually halt your metabolism. This results in another cut in calories and additional cardio. You may see a quick weight drop then catch another plateau. You cut again, hitting your BMR resulting in sequential fat gain. This is a very bad situation to find yourself stuck in. 

My first goal when working with new clients is to build up their metabolism without weight gain. I know it’s frustrating because everyone wants to see weight loss right away. Give your body a few weeks to trust that it’s being fed enough and you will start to see results.

Remember that a reverse diet has several steps and goals

  1. Boost metabolism and get those weight loss hormones (TSH, Leptin, Testosterone) spiked again through increased calories and proper macronutrient percentages.
  2. Maintain a consistent weight (i.e.; no weight gain) while slowly increasing calories and carbs.
  3.  Get that metabolism working properly again on a high-calorie diet.
  4. Once the work has been done on repairing a slow metabolism, healthy fat loss can happen.

Industry recommendation is to increase about 5% (or 50-100 kCals) per week or bi-weekly depending on your metabolism and body type. This results in slow and steady caloric increase and very minimal weight or inches gained.

Want to learn more about healthy weight loss? Check out these articles!

The Tools You Need For Healthy Weight Loss

Is Carb-Free The Way To Be?

Does Weight Lifting Cause Weight Gain?

Navigating MyFitnessPal

7 Comments on Reverse Dieting: Here’s How It Works

  1. teeghanlouise
    August 11, 2015 at 5:41 pm (3 years ago)

    Reblogged this on When Tez Shredz and commented:
    Perfectly explained for those ever questioning the need to reverse diet.

  2. Ana Filipa
    March 18, 2016 at 7:53 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi! unfortunately, after a bad series of binges lasting for 3-4 months, I’ve put on a solid amount of weight. I’m sure some was muscle (I’ve noticed strength gains and hit many PRs in the process) but I also gained a substantial amount of fat. I know that fat loss involves calories in vs. calories out for each person and their specific needs, but is it possible to actually experience some fat loss while increasing calorie intake? I reverse dieted about a year ago up until july 2015 and i gained weight (was maintaining 130 pounds once i hit that weight) and getting leaner (but i was also much lighter when i started reverse dieting (125) and had less muscle than i do now so my goal was to slowly increase. i went from 180carbs to 310carbs and was able to maintain at 310carbs). now that i am actually trying to lose body fat, would slowly increasing macros result in that or would i just put on more weight?

  3. Kym
    March 20, 2016 at 6:41 am (2 years ago)

    Thank you so much for this wonderful article that perfectly explains what I’m doing… I’ve been reversing for almost 3 months… Starting at 1200 calories, and currently at 2500 per day…. I haven’t gained or lost a single pound in the process, but have gained a lot of strength, lost inches, and gained muscle mass… When I first started, I was using 10lb. dumbbells in my workouts and now I’m up to 30lbs!! I’m not going to lie though, I’m excited for my cut, as I still have about 70lbs. to lose, but considering my entire life I’ve eaten 1200 calories or less, binged and starved continuously, I can dedicate this year to getting healthy…


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