Raise your hand if this sounds familiar:
You want to lose weight, so you get on a diet and cut your calories way back – you start working out, doing cardio, and in general try to clean up your habits. The weight starts to come off, usually a good amount in the first week. You keep seeing fairly steady progress for a few more weeks after that, and then it slows down.
You try to work out a little harder, eat even less, but you also start to feel like you’re hitting a wall.
You’re feeling pretty good because you dropped 15-20 pounds, maybe even more so you tell yourself that’s good enough. Time to go back to eating “normally.”
You’re not trying to bankrupt any buffets, and you’re doing your best to eat reasonably healthy, but for some diabolical reason the weight seems to be creeping back on. You’re still going to the gym, but each week the scale keeps ticking back up and you don’t know why. Eventually, you feel frustrated and just want to say “screw it” and throw in the towel.
Now it’s a few months down the road from the end of your diet, and you’re right back to where you started, only now you’re demoralized.
Why did this happen?
Because you needed to do a reverse diet!
What a Reverse diet is NOT:
Before we dive into exactly what a reverse diet is, we need to hammer out the basics of what it is NOT.
1. A reverse diet is not a quick fix
2. A reverse diet is not a weight loss tool
3. A reverse diet is not a game to see how high your calories can get
If you go into a reverse diet with any of the above ideas in mind, you’re going to wind up disappointed.
What a Reverse diet IS:
Alright – this is the part you’ve been waiting for, the defining moment where you’re going to learn how to break free of the hamster wheel diet cycle forever. Through understanding the purpose of a reverse diet, and when to start one, you’re going to be able to keep the fat loss progress you worked so hard for, for the rest of your life.
1. A reverse diet IS what you use to KEEP your fat loss progress
2. A reverse diet IS an opportunity to improve body composition
3. A reverse diet IS intended to increase the amount of food you eat
If you really want to break down the definition into one grand statement, you could think of a reverse diet like this:
“A reverse diet IS the process through which you gradually add carbs, fats, and protein (macronutrients) to your daily intake, through controlled weekly increases, typically after a period of fat loss, in order to return to maintenance calories while keeping any weight or fat regain to an absolute minimum.”
A reverse diet is not a magical process, but when you are in a good position to start one, the first time you do a reverse there’s a good chance it will feel Gandalf assembled a team of nutrition wizards to handle your macros.
When you should reverse diet:
The most obvious time to start a reverse diet is when you’re at the end of a fat loss phase, and the end of a fat loss phase is typically indicated by the following:
1. You’ve reached your goal amount of fat loss (congratulations!)
2. Your calories required to continue losing weight are very low, and you can’t stick to them any more
3. You find yourself going over your targets every week, or are feeling the urge to binge
If you find yourself in any of the above situations, it’s a great time to reverse – the first is of course the most obvious, as that’s how you’re going to lock in your progress and keep a physique that you’re happy with while also eating an amount that you’re happy with to maintain it for the long haul!
The other two situations (urge to binge and calories too low to deal with) tie into an economic principle called “The Law of Diminishing Returns.”
This basically means that the same amount of effort you’re putting into something gives you less and less results over time, and eventually with a fat loss diet you’re going to be putting in more work for less results the further you push it – this puts you at risk for completely falling off the wagon and losing that progress you worked so hard for. This is why it’s so important to recognize the signs that it’s time to call it a day on your fat loss and swtich over to a reverse!
It’s perfectly okay to break out your fat loss journey into phases, we call this “phasic dieting”, and you can learn more about it in this VIDEO.
So a reverse diet is sounding pretty great by now, right?
We’ll before you dive straight in, let’s talk about some things that you’re going to want to look out for during the process – you could almost call them, “dangers!” (Spoiler alert, they really aren’t that scary.)
Reverse diet dangers:
One of the biggest dangers when going into a reverse diet is having misconceptions about what the purpose of it truly is – fortunately, we’ve already covered this topic! However, it’s important to drive the point home here because if you approach this with the wrong expectations, you can really set yourself back.
A reverse diet is NOT something you do to lose weight – while we have seen people continue dropping weight when starting a reverse diet (after coming out of fat loss), and there’s a number of REASONS WHY this might happen, but as calories continue to increase, eventually you’re going to get to a point where you would be breaking the laws of physics if you kept losing weight.
Energy in vs. energy out is the ultimate deciding factor for gaining or losing weight, and when energy in greatly exceeds energy out, the risk for weight gain goes up right in line with it.
There’s also a lot of people who will try to see “how high” they can get their calories on a reverse diet, and will go well past the point where they are simply happy with what they eat to maintain their weight, and in going beyond that hit a point where weight gain on the scale starts to come up every week. At this point, they may switch their goal over to maintenance, but it’s too late – you’re at a level of energy surplus that’s going to cause predictable weekly weight gain, and going into maintenance at this point is going to at best create the need to drop your caloric intake back down.
You can’t reverse diet into infinite macros, and if you stayed on a reverse for too long you’re just going to wind up gaining weight that you don’t want. We’d recommend checking out this VIDEO if you want to know more about the signs when it’s time to stop a reverse diet.
Reverse diet benefits:
Now that we’ve got the dangers out of the way, let’s take some time to reflect on the benefits of a reverse diet, when to start one , and what it can really help you with long term.
It’s easier to hit your macros with higher targets
It’s a great time to build muscle with absolute minimal fat gain
It’s very helpful for building a more positive relationship with food
It’s a wonderful tool for aligning your physical goals with your social life
It’s the key to maintaining your results at the end of a diet
A reverse diet is a slow process, but that’s a good thing. It gives you a lot of time to learn and grow, and really build the skills necessary to make flexible dieting as flexible as it possibly can be. If you’re not worried about having to drop weight every week with the fear of your macros being reduced, it relieves one of the biggest stressors dieters experience, and allows for more freedom in terms of food choice, and more comfort when beginning to estimate portion sizes.
The extra energy you have when on a reverse diet allows for things like NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) to increase, and also give you the ability to get more out of your workouts to really make noticeable improvements. If you are strength training, a reverse diet allows you to keep your weight relatively constant, and can result in improvements in body composition – the more muscle you have on your body as it relates to your total weight, the more energy you will burn going about your normal daily activities. This is one of the factors that can contribute to you maintaining your weight at a higher caloric intake than you probably thought possible for yourself, and gives you so much freedom to experience the flavor of life.
Flexible dieting is truly about having the confidence that YOU are the one in control of your body, and that food is something you can enjoy without any kind of guilt – you have the understanding that all food comes down to the protein, fat, and carbs that it’s made out of, and YOU get to choose what you want to eat to fill out your targets for each!
If you’ve got high targets, you can really play around with your food choices, loosely estimate sometimes, measure new foods you want to try others – and live your life with unparalleled freedom and confidence.