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Why Your “Eat Less, Exercise More” Mantra Isn’t Working

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As a dietitian and nutrition coach, I get a lot of inquiries from prospective clients who want to lose weight. But really, not everyone should be trying to lose weight.

Here’s an all-too-common scenario to illustrate my point:

Jenny has been in perpetual diet mode for years. She eats a whole food diet, limits portion sizes, and always chooses fat-free, sugar-free, and calorie-free food options when she has the chance. She works out 6 days a week, motivated by the desire to make her fat cry. She feels like she’s been doing everything right but hasn’t seen any results in a very long time.

Little does Jenny know, after years of compliance with the “eat less, exercise more mantra,” her metabolism has taken a nosedive. It has adapted to her 1400 calorie per day diet and high activity level. Now more efficient, she burns fewer calories when resting, exercising, and even when digesting food!

“I’m hungry, I’m doing cardio… now where is the magic weight loss button?”

To make matters worse, Jenny is being held hostage by her low-calorie diet. Her body is primed to gain weight. One major slip up and her fat cells will soak up extra calories like a dry sponge soaks up water.

Frustrated and frazzled, she comes to me for help, convinced that I have the solution to her weight loss problem—and I do, but it’s not what she thinks!

Jenny needs to reverse diet.

 

How Reverse Dieting Works

If you can relate to Jenny’s situation, you’re not alone. The thrill of seeing the numbers on the scale drop week after week can become addicting, and it’s easy to get locked into a long-term diet mentality. But the problem with “forever-dieting” is that at some point your body will stop responding. When this happens, you need to switch gears and start a reverse diet!

A reverse diet is a strategy used to bring calories up and improve metabolism. Now, if you’re anything like Jenny, I know what you might be thinking—you’ve been fighting to drop weight and stay as lean as possible, so why would you sabotage all of your hard work by eating more?

The answer is simple—the very process of reverse dieting is meant to limit weight regain! Reverse dieting isn’t some smorgasbord free-for-all where you eat as much as you want every day. Instead, it’s a very controlled process where calories are increased in slow, calculated increments each week.

By increasing calories slowly over weeks and months rather than all at once, the body has time to adapt to the increased food intake. With each slight increase in calories, metabolism is triggered to burn through fuel faster. In this way, your metabolism can catch up to the surplus calories each week and burn through most of them, rather than allowing all of them to be stored as fat. Once a healthy metabolism is restored, you will have room to cut calories again, but this time from a higher food intake.

 

When You Should Consider a Reverse Diet

Reverse dieting is a great tool, but it can be difficult to know exactly when to use it. If you find yourself in any of the following situations, you should probably consider switching your goal with Avatar Nutrition to “Reverse Dieting!”

  • You’ve plateaued – When you hit a major sticking point on your weight loss setting, rather than beating your head against a wall and torturing your body, refocus your efforts on restoring metabolism.
  • You’re coming off a diet or show prep – If you’ve just finished a diet or fitness competition, you will need an organized plan to minimize weight regain and to ensure metabolism and hormones return to pre-diet levels. Leave nothing to chance.
chocolate chip cookies
Maybe you just want to be able to eat more of these… it’s as valid of a reason as any.
  • You’re maintaining weight on miserably low calories – Even if you reach your ideal weight, no one wants to subsist on water and kale for the rest of their lives! You will want to re-establish a normal food intake so you can live life comfortably.
  • You plan to get super lean but aren’t eating much – If you intend to get competition lean, you will need room to drop calories. By reverse dieting to a higher starting point, you will be able to diet on more calories and hit your target stage weight easier.
  • You experience uncontrolled urges to binge – If you find yourself preoccupied with food and battling a relentless urge to binge, you will benefit from reverse dieting. By giving yourself more calories to work with, you will have more room to fit in the foods you crave.
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