What is Reverse Dieting?
Reverse dieting is the process of slowly adding in calories to speed up the metabolism. When you constantly restrict your calories, your body naturally slows down its metabolism as it loses mass, in order to survive on lower calories. This is known as “metabolic adaptation” and it’s actually what your metabolism is supposed to do.
As humans were evolving thousands of years ago, it was more beneficial to survive off of lower calories as food was sparse. This was a mechanism of survival and completely necessary. However, in the context of modern life, it is far more important to have a faster metabolism to prevent chronic disease and negate the effects of our sedentary modern lifestyle.
What is Reverse Dieting NOT?
Reverse dieting is not a magic pill. There really is only cutting calories, maintaining calories, or increasing calories. Reverse dieting is a method of increasing calories slowly, which has been shown to make some people feel more comfortable with the caloric increase process.
When Should You Reverse Diet?
The following scenarios are examples of times you may consider reverse dieting:
Scenario 1: Chronic Dieting
You’ve been dieting for years (i.e., 1,200 calories or less per day), doing chronic cardio, have little muscle mass, and can’t seem to lose body fat. In order for you to get the body composition you desire, you probably have to be eating more calories so you have greater room to cut from in the future. If you’re at 1,200 calories and seeing no progress, you’ve got nowhere to cut from. Reverse dieting could be a solution to help return to maintenance calories slowly then build.
Scenario 2: After a Cut
You’ve just come off of a calorie cut (maybe for a bodybuilding show, photoshoot, etc.) Let’s say you dieted for 8-12 weeks, gradually dropping your calories in order to lose weight/body fat. In order to add calories back in without gaining significant body fat, you may consider reverse dieting.
Scenario 3: You’re Hungry
If you want to eat more food to fuel your performance because you feel hungry all of the time, you could increase your calories through a reverse diet. You want to feel satisfied and happy at your maintenance calories. There are strategies to do this, but you have to be eating enough to feel satisfied in order to get there.
Scenario 4: Stuck in a Diet/Binge Cycle
Also known as “yo-yo dieting,” this roller coaster method of trying to find balance and reach your goals is not efficient and can be extremely harmful fo physical and mental health if prolonged. If you are stuck in the starvation/binge cycle, you may consider reverse dieting.
(Note: if you are stuggling with disordered eating of negative feelings toward your body and food that affect your mental health, please seek out a qualified professional to help).
How to Reverse Diet
You can go about reverse dieting in a few different ways.
First, you’ll need to know your general maintenance for caloric intake. If you’re unsure of your maintenance calories, see our blog post for general tips or scroll down below this post to download our complete Nutrition Mastery Guide which includes a full breakdown to finding your maintenance calories.
Keep in mind we are not registered dietitians and we do not give meal plans but rather guidance on understanding your maintenance calories and food choices.
The Faster Approach
If you are not super concerned about your aesthetics or weight, then you could significantly bump up your calories (150-300 per week from where you ended your cut or where you were maintaining before – or hop right up to what you believe is your maintenance) to speed up the reverse dieting process. With this faster approach, you may find yourself gaining weight and body fat at a faster rate, but this may not always be the case as every individual is different. If you naturally have a higher metabolic rate, then you can most likely get away with this approach while still feeling comfortable with the process.
The Slower Approach
A slower, more sustainable way to reverse diet is to slowly increase your calories from week to week. An increase of 30-50 calories per week will suffice with this approach. Also, if you want to minimize the weight you gain during this process, this is probably the way to go. You can track your weight and try to average 1 pound of weight gain per week. If you find your weight going up too fast, you could stay at the same calorie number for another week or two so your weight will stabilize, and then continue reverse dieting once it stabilizes. Either way you’ll be heading up to “maintenance” for your body, but sometimes people feel more comfortable with a slower approach.
As you were reverse dieting, your body continued to adapt to the higher amount of calories weekly. So, in order for your body to stabilize at the current calorie range you are eating, you will probably find that most people who reverse diet incorporate a maintenance phase.
This simply means maintaining the calorie range at which you ended your reverse diet for at least half the time you actually reverse dieted. So, if your reverse diet lasted 6 months, then you would maintain your new, higher calorie range for at least 3 months.
Patience is Key
The key to success when reverse dieting is patience. It may seem counterintuitive to eat more and possibly gain a little weight, BUT you must switch your mindset from fat loss to fueling and nurturing your body when working on building muscle and building your metabolism.
If you are reverse dieting in order to get back to maintenance slowly, you’ll probably be paying attention to your weight, but be sure not to stress about the number. If you continuously stress about the number on the scale, you are always going to lose the battle and find yourself in this continuous loop of dieting and binging. Appreciating the strength and energy you feel with a higher calorie intake can be a huge benefit to reverse dieting or heading back up to maintenance.
Reverse Dieting Examples
The following are examples of reverse dieting and are in no way intended to be instructions for you. These are samples of what two types of reverse dieting could look like.
Don’t mind gaining body fat a bit faster
Start at current maintenance calories
Add 150-300 calories each week depending on metabolism
Want to slowly increase while minimizing or slowing body fat gain
Add 30-80 calories each week depending on metabolism
Tips For reverse dieting
When tracking your weight (if you are during this process), weigh yourself 3-5 x per week and take an average of those numbers. Account for fluctuations such as menstrual cycles, hard training days that cause inflammation, sleep, stress, and hydration levels.
Stop reverse dieting when you are happy with the amount of calories you are eating and/or you are gaining too much weight each week for comfort.
If you’re hoping to move into a cutting phase to lose body fat, you’re going to be tempted to cut right away, but don’t forget the maintenance phase. Your body needs time to adapt to the new higher calorie range in order for you to see results if/when you cut.
Reverse dieting is a long process and increasing your calories and building muscle will leave you feeling energized and healthier as you’re able to eat more nutritious foods every day.
Interested in learning more about some basics of nutrition? Sign up to receive our guide: 3 weeks to dialing in your nutrition. You’ll get three different guides (one per week) helping you find your maintenance calories, understand and track your macronutrients, and get more intuitive with your food choices.
*Disclaimer: We are not registered dietitians and this is not medical advice. You should seek medical advice from your doctor or work with a licensed professional if you are undergoing a new specific nutrition plan for you.