It’s not uncommon for dieting regimens or fads to become a large part of popular culture. People gather together to swap what’s worked for them and what hasn’t, and cheer one another on as their weight loss goals are achieved. However, if you’ve found that certain dieting plans aren’t working for you and your goals, it may be time to try a different approach, like reverse dieting.
But what exactly is a reverse diet? Essentially, it’s an eating plan that involves slowly increasing your body’s calorie intake over the course of a few weeks in order to boost metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day, and ultimately, trim body fat as a result of your adjusted metabolic rate.1
How It Works
Reverse dieting is said to be based on a premise called adaptive thermogenesis, which is essentially your body’s ability to adapt to a change in calorie intake.2 Where many weight loss or fat loss goals are hindered by an increased calorie intake, a reverse diet allows adaptive thermogenesis (more commonly known as “metabolic adaptation”) to work in the opposite way, by “firing up” your metabolism and shrinking the amount of hunger hormones, like leptin and ghrelin, your body releases.
In turn, your new metabolic rate helps you feel fuller and more satisfied after a meal and less likely to wander to your fridge late at night for a snack, which can spike your sugar levels and lead to an increase in body fat and weight gain, further obstructing your ability to attain your weight loss goals.
Here are just some of the ways that metabolic adaptation affects your body:3
- Organs consume less energy.
- Less energy is burned during non-exercise activities (like puttering around the house, chores, etc.).
- Fewer calories are used to absorb and digest food, thus slowing down your metabolism.
- Muscles become more efficient and require less fuel for certain kinds of “work.”
By slowly upping your total calorie intake over the course of several weeks, your body has plenty of time to adapt and use those nutrients to aid in reaching – and maintaining – your goal weight.
How To Begin
To begin a reverse diet, first understand how many total calories you are consuming on a daily basis. From there, increase your calories by 50 – 100 for a minimum of 4 weeks. The overall goal is to slowly increase your calories over time without gaining any fat or weight so ensuring you are consuming healthy calories is important. Continue to track your progress by monitoring your weight on a weekly basis. If your weight increases, then try to avoid increasing calories. If your weight remains the same, increase calories again by another 50 – 100 using smart food choices.4
What Can Reverse Dieting Be Used For?
Due to such fascinating and mostly positive effects on the body, it’s no wonder that countless bodybuilders use this tactic and have coached others on how to use it, too. Here are just some of the things that a reverse diet may help you achieve:5
1. Building More Lean Muscle
If you’re looking to effectively bulk or tone up certain muscular areas, you may have turned to weight training. However, if you’re not seeing any results, it could be that you’re just not eating enough. Pumping iron without eating enough calories can lead to a calorie deficit and, in turn, actually losing muscle mass.6
Reverse dieting helps build more lean muscle and a lean body mass while simultaneously minimizing fat gain through the consumption of more healthy calories. When you’re adapting your metabolism in order to build muscle, extra calories are a must in order to avoid a calorie deficit and other reverse dieting pitfalls. (Be sure to watch that sodium intake, too.) These are called maintenance calories (also referred to as your total daily energy expenditure) and are necessary for keeping fat off of the body while making sure muscle stays on.7
Think of a reverse diet to build more muscle as a more mellow form of bulking up – let’s call it “leaning up.”
2. Maintaining Weight After A Diet
If you’ve tried countless diet regimens with success only to quickly gain back all of the body weight you’d lost, reverse dieting may be able to help. The hardest and often most criticized part of dieting is that it can be hard to maintain your goal weight, no matter how much cardio you’re getting.
Remember metabolic adaptation? It plays a large part when it comes time to “loosen the reins” on how much you’re eating. Too much change at once to your body causes it to gain fat back faster due to an increased metabolism.
While it’s been found that most people put back on the weight they’ve lost within a year of dieting, restricting your food intake is extremely unhealthy. Reverse dieting can be a great solution as it allows your body to slowly readapt to your weight loss and maintain the results you’ve worked so hard for.
3. Helping Your Metabolism Get Through A Weight Loss Plateau
Perhaps you’ve managed to lose a little weight and keep it off for the most part. Perhaps you’ve hit a “weight loss plateau” and don’t know how to keep pushing for those few extra pounds to fall off. It can seem easy to give up at this stage, but don’t.
Your body may have adjusted to a calorie restriction, and your metabolism is working to preserve and consume more energy. A reverse diet provides a strong solution that won’t leave you feeling miserable or ready to throw all of your dieting plans out the window.
Bodybuilders and reverse dieters oftentimes use the technique in this stage or before their next fat loss phase because it allows them to go back to dieting after re-kickstarting their metabolism without the dangers of extreme caloric restriction, allowing the body to reach a new dieting stage more naturally without the rapid weight gain.
Creating A Calorie Intake Plan And Battling Fat Gain
How do you appropriately increase your calorie intake? By planning, of course. If you’re looking to start a reverse diet, you should increase your calories by 50-100 calories per week above your recommended baseline (which is the number of calories you typically consume to maintain your current body weight). This period lasts around four to 10 weeks, or until you’ve reached your target, pre-diet intake.8
It’s common in this stage for many reverse dieters to gain more fat when their metabolic rate starts to change. Whatever you do, don’t panic. There are plenty of ways for you to help your body achieve muscle gains and minimize fat gain while your metabolism adapts.
Here’s a quick, five-step process that can help minimize fat gain:9
- Calculate calories: Plenty of online calculators can help you determine just how many maintenance calories and macronutrients you need to maintain your current weight and not cause a caloric deficit.
- Identify your dieting goal: Knowing what you want at the outset of starting a reverse diet is imperative. If you increase your number of calories per week too quickly, you can end up gaining extra, unwanted fat. This is where your calculator comes in handy.
- Add calories: Once you have a goal and timeline mapped out, slowly start adding more calories to your healthy carb and fat intake every five to seven days. (A 5% increase is a good starting point.) By slowly increasing your daily calorie intake, your body can start to adjust easier.
- Track your progress: It’s important to keep close track of your progress so that you can adjust your intake accordingly, thus another way of minimizing fat. For those who find they’re gaining weight a little too quickly for their liking, this step allows them to decrease their caloric intake in order to stay on track.
- When to stop: The goals you set for yourself back in step two help tremendously here. Most dieters tend to stop once they’ve reached their goal, but sometimes goals need to be reevaluated. When you should stop depends entirely on you.
It’s important to mention that a reverse diet is all about making sure your metabolism is geared up for success when it comes to increasing calories (a.k.a. a “metabolic slowdown”). If you find that you have gained more fat than intended after following these five steps, there are other ways to trim down body fat after you’ve finished your reverse dieting phase, like a balanced exercise regimen that utilizes plenty of cardio.
Does Reverse Dieting Work?
The signs point to yes, but only if utilized properly. The dangers and pitfalls of extreme dieting and food restriction paired with so many calories should be mentioned again. Don’t put your body in danger for the sake of fat loss.
It’s important to do your research and of course consult a doctor or personal trainer whose opinion you trust so that you can avoid the pitfalls of a calorie deficit or weight gain. It’s possible that a reverse diet may work for some aspects of your weight loss journey and not others. Your doctor can aid you in figuring out what works best for you and your needs in order to maintain a healthy body composition while still losing body weight.
Once you’ve found if a reverse diet works for you, prepare a meal plan that will help guide you through the various calorie increases with ease, as well as plenty of cardio and other exercise. This diet plan can prove to be instrumental in getting rid of belly fat and help you reach your goal weight. Be smart, plan, and go reach those weight loss goals. Reverse dieting is a marathon, not a sprint.
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