There is a great deal of confusion when it comes to Reverse Dieting. What is it and why do people do it?
Reverse Dieting can be done for a few different reasons:
- To increase the amount of calories someone is able to maintain weight on so they can diet down at a later date
- To increase the amount of calories someone is able to eat while keeping their current body weight and composition
- To increase the amount of calories someone eats in order to gain muscle
Let’s go into detail about number 1 above:
Oftentimes clients come to me wanting to lose weight and once they turn in their introductory questionnaire and food logs to me (this happens prior to my creating their nutrition program) I see that they have been maintaining their weight on very few calories. If they are consuming on the low end (1200 or below in my opinion) and not able to lose weight, I do not want to reduce their calories any further because it will damage their metabolism (and let’s face it…eating that little is too hard to maintain and usually results in a cycle of restriction followed by overeating). At this point I am forced to discuss Reverse Dieting with my client. There are times when a client does not want to go through the process of Reverse Dieting and I let them know that their health and well being are more important to me than the income I would get from coaching them through a metabolically damaging diet. If they decide to pursue nutrition coaching with someone else, I understand.
Once a client grasps the importance of Reverse Dieting we begin. From their food logs I am able to establish a starting point and from there we slowly work their calories up week by week which generally allows them to maintain their current weight. No two bodies are the same, so it is important to understand that there are times when a client will actually LOSE weight during this process (these clients are referred to as hyper-responders and this is not the body’s usual response), and also times when a client will gain some weight throughout the process. It is important to always keep in mind the fact that the Reverse Diet is being done with one main goal in mind; to increase metabolic capacity so that once you are done you can lose weight while eating more calories. For example, a client might come to me eating 1100 calories and then take 5 to 6 months increasing their calories to 2200 at which point they are able to diet on 1800 calories and lose weight.
In this situation and in most situations it’s worthwhile to take the time to try and repair your metabolism and increase the amount of calories you’re able to eat on a daily basis. How long someone has to Reverse Diet depends upon how long they have been dieting. It is generally thought that the time spent Reverse Dieting should equal the amount of time the client has spent living life in a caloric deficit. Someone who has spent YEARS yoyo dieting may have to invest more time Reverse Dieting.
I also have clients who come to me wanting to lose weight and we diet them down until their calories get down to the 1200 mark at which point we Reverse Diet their calories back up for 20 weeks and then begin the process all over again. Some clients have a lot of weight to lose and prefer to lose as much weight as they can prior to beginning their Reverse Diet. For example, a client may come to me with 50 pounds to lose and eating 1600 calories a day. We may begin their weight loss on a diet / macros totaling 1400 calories, they will lose 15 pounds and then hit a plateau, so we reduce their calories / macros to 1200 calories where they will lose another 10 pounds. Once they hit another plateau we will begin the Reverse Diet and bring their calories back up before beginning another weight loss phase.
Let’s go into detail about number 2 above:
Then there are the people who have achieved the look that they want and have the body percent fat percentage that they are happy with, so they choose to Reverse Diet slowly in order to maintain their current look on more calories. Who doesn’t want to be able to eat more on a daily basis?
I have personally gone through the Reverse Dieting process twice. The first time was when I dieted down for a High School Reunion (the ultimate motivator, right?). In the picture below you will see my starting point at the top and where I was 13 weeks into the Reverse Diet on the bottom.
At the time I shared my progress on my Instagram account:
“I am 13 weeks in now and am so glad I am investing in my metabolism this way.
In the top two pictures my weight was 130.6 and my macros were 1543 calories 155P / 125C / 47F and now my weight is 133 and my macros are 1844 calories 155P / 180C / 56F.
Have I been perfect along the way? Nope. I’ve had a cheat meal every week, went on vacation for almost two weeks (where I tried my best to track, but stopped and indulged at the end), and have had a couple of candy gone wild incidents which left me feeling disgusting, but I jumped right back in and NEVER restricted myself…I stuck to my current macros.
I plan on continuing this reverse at least through April / May (which will be a full 20 weeks). This is seriously one of the best things I have ever done for myself.”
That being said, Reverse Dieting is fun, but it is also a process where if you are looking to maintain your current physique you need to be very precise and follow as closely as possible (no unplanned binges) or your body will put on weight. It is a ton of fun to eat more week to week, but like I said, it required vigilance. As you read in my Instagram caption above, I wasn’t perfect and I did put on some weight. Had I been on track the entire time I am almost positive I would have stayed the same weight. I actually ended-up liking the fuller look in the bottom pictures since looking back I felt a little too lean in the pictures at the top.
Let’s go into detail about number 3 above:
In order to gain muscle you need to eat in a caloric surplus and put a lot of work in at the gym lifting heavy. When I say that I don’t mean eat gluttonously or you will likely gain a lot of fat with the muscle you are working so hard in the gym to build. This is where a sensible and controlled Reverse Diet works best.
I follow Hana DeVore’s Instagram Account. She is a 3 time NPC Nationally Qualified Bikini Competitor for Team FitBody Fusion and she has definitely put the work in Reverse Dieting in order to keep her metabolism healthy and to help increase her muscle mass between competitions. It is so inspirational to watch her compete while taking care of herself. So often bikini competitors are put on strict meal plans and extreme levels of cardio to diet down for the stage after which they go nuts with cheat meals and put a TON of weight on post show (20 pounds in 2 weeks is not unheard of). Hana does NOT do this because she works hard to Reverse Diet and has a coach (Jami Bernard) who has her best interests at heart.
Above you see Hana’s 7 month transformation. On the left she was 6.5 weeks out from one of her bikini competitions eating 1350 calories and on the right was 7 months later and 7.5 weeks out from another bikini competition eating over 2000 calories daily. By eating more calories and continuing to work hard in the gym she was able to build muscle while staying relatively lean.
Below you can see her July to October glute gains thanks to Reverse Dieting (remember you have to be in a caloric surplus to add muscle) and continued training in the gym.
I asked Hana about her experience with Reverse Dieting and she said:
“Before I met my coach, I was only eating about 80 grams of carbs per day and doing a ton of cardio, simply because I thought that was what I needed to do to get a lean, ‘toned’ physique. Jami slowly rebuilt my metabolism to the point where in my offseason I could eat up to 300 grams of carbs a day while barely gaining any body fat. I also meticulously reverse dieted in between each competition to avoid rebounding, in order to build my strength back up, and to make the next prep that much easier. Reverse dieting can actually be a tougher process for some than prepping for a competition, since boosting your metabolism can definitely boost your hunger as well. But if you can stay in control and closely monitor your progress, you can get some really amazing results. And of course being able to eat more each week is always fun!”
Another great example of Reverse Dieting can be found on JoSandiFIT’s blog. She documented 15 weeks of her Reverse Diet with weekly blog posts. Click HERE to read those posts.
I hope this post has helped clear-up any confusion as to what a Reverse Diet is and why someone would want to go through the process. As you can see, there are many reasons to Reverse Diet. Please let me know if you have any questions.
If you are interested in working with me, click HERE for information about the nutrition coaching programs I offer.