Introduction into Reverse Dieting
Eat less, work out more. It can work wonders for a while, but definitely not forever. When you can’t cut any more, it’s time to turn your diet around. Here’s how!
For those with a history of crash dieting, severe calorie restriction, or multiple failed diet attempts, jumping once more on the diet bandwagon is unlikely to yield results, and will probably do more harm than good. Even trying the old tried and true exercise more will have you spinning your wheels and possibly gain weight.
Over repeated bouts of calorie restriction, your metabolism takes a beating. When you drop calories too low for too long, your body intervenes on several fronts. Most notably, it reduces the number of calories you burn throughout the day, often priming your body for surprisingly rapid weight gain.
This biological phenomenon, known as “metabolic adaptation,” can really throw a wrench in your weight-loss goals. With your body continuously fighting to erase the calorie deficit necessary for fat loss, eating fewer calories than you burn can eventually become very tricky. You can only drop calories so far and increase exercise so much before that lifestyle becomes miserable, as well as impossible to maintain.
Fortunately, for anyone fighting an uphill battle against a slow metabolism, there may be a solution. It’s possible to reboot metabolism and ultimately lower what’s known as your “body-fat set point”—or the level of body fat your body finds easiest to maintain— through a process known as “reverse dieting.” Here’s everything you need to know to get started with what may turn out to be the best diet of your life!
What Is Exactly Reverse Dieting?
Reverse dieting is pretty much what it sounds like: a diet turned upside-down. Instead of cutting calories and ramping up time spent on the treadmill, you increase metabolism by gradually adding calories back into your diet while reducing cardio.
Although it sounds very simple, there’s more to reverse dieting than just “eat more, do less.” If you want to maximize gains in metabolic rate without storing a ton of body fat, you must be strategic and patient. This means giving your metabolism time to adjust by making slow, deliberate changes, rather than hitting the buffet every day and cutting out cardio overnight. To grasp the science behind the theory of reverse dieting, you need to understand what happens in your body during metabolic adaptation.
Metabolic Adaptations From Dieting
When you drastically restrict calories or lose weight, your body senses the energy gap and your departure from its body-fat set point. In a desperate attempt to erase the energy gap and put the brakes on fat loss, several body systems work together to orchestrate a reduction in metabolism:
- Your organs consume less energy.
- Your heart beats slower as sympathetic nervous system activity declines.
- Hormones that influence metabolism and appetite, such as thyroid hormone, testosterone, leptin, and ghrelin, are adversely effected.
- You burn less energy during nonexercise activities, such as fidgeting, walking around the house, working, and doing chores.
- You use fewer calories to absorb and digest food because you’re eating less.
- Your muscle becomes more efficient, requiring less fuel for a given amount of work.
These changes ultimately boil down to burning fewer calories, both at rest and while working out. This sounds bleak, but luckily, metabolic adaptation is not a one-way street. You can slow down your metabolism, but you can also speed it up! This is what the concept of reverse dieting is built upon. Many of the physiological changes that work to slow metabolism during calorie restriction can occur in the opposite direction when overeating to make metabolism faster.
How To Reverse Diet in 6 simple steps
1. Calculate Your Current Calories And Establish Starting Macro Targets
To avoid jumping up in calories too quickly, you need to know how many calories you’re currently eating to maintain your body weight. From there, you’ll use this to establish baseline macros. First, track everything you eat for a few days to determine your average caloric intake. Let’s say it’s 1,800 calories.
Second, set your protein target at 1 gram per pound of body weight (or 2 grams per kilo). If you weigh, say, 150 pounds, your protein intake will be 150 grams of protein.
Third, subtract your protein calories from your current total-calorie goal to determine the remaining calories:
- 150 grams of protein x 4 calories per gram = 600 calories of protein.
- 1800 total calories – 600 calories from protein = 1200 remaining calories.
Take your remaining calories, and split them 40/60 or 60/40 between carbs and fat. These numbers can be manipulated, but either one of the above is a good starting place.
Let’s say in this example that you love carbs, so you decide to set carbs at 60 percent and fat at 40 percent of the remaining calories.
- 1200 x 0.6 = 720 calories from carbs
- 1200 x 0.4 = 480 calories from fat
To determine your macros, divide the carb calories by 4 and fat calories by 9.
- 720 calories of carbs / 4 calories per gram = 180 grams of carbs
- 480 calories of fat / 9 calories per gram = 53 grams of fat
You now have your baseline macros. In this example, they are 150 grams of protein, 180 grams of carbs, and 53 grams of fat.
2. Decide How Quickly You Want To Increase Carbs And Fat
To figure this out, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I care more about reaching a higher caloric intake than I do about gaining excess fat?
- Am I trying to overcome a history of binge-eating behavior?
- Am I planning to hit the weight room hard and add muscle while I reverse?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may benefit from a more aggressive reverse. Although you’ll likely gain more body fat by increasing carbs and fat quickly, you’ll feel better and less deprived, you’ll have more flexibility to fit in the foods you crave, and you’ll be less inclined to binge. The extra calories that accompany an aggressive reverse may also give you more energy to train, allowing you to build muscle.
If you’re concerned about gaining body fat, you may benefit from a more conservative reverse. For example, if you’re coming off a reasonable diet where you reached your goal body weight, you may want to increase fat and carbs more slowly to better maintain your results.
3. Raise Carbs And Fat At A Rate Compatible With Your Goals
If you’ve decided that a slow reverse is more in line with your goals, start by increasing your carb and fat intake by just 2-5 percent per week, depending on how concerned you are with gaining weight. If you’ve decided that a fast reverse is for you, you should start by increasing your carb and fat intake by 6-10 percent per week. You may even want to increase fat and carbs by 15-25 percent the first week to give yourself a jump-start.
4. Weigh Yourself Multiple Times Per Week To Control Weight Gain
Choose 2-3 days per week, and weigh yourself first thing in the morning. Assessing your average weight change over the course of the week will help you evaluate your macro manipulations and decide on your next increase (if necessary). Additionally if you have access to some form of bodyfat measurement tool this will help give you a better picture. If you see a large jump in weight gain over a one-week period, you may want to scale back the rate at which you’re increasing your intake. On the other hand, if you maintain your current weight, or even lose slightly, bump up both carbohydrates and fat.
5. Slowly Reduce The Time You Spend Doing Cardio, And Add Heavy Lifting To Your Workout Routine
Lifting heavy 3-6 days a week is a great way to build muscle, which increases metabolism not only in the short term, but also over the long run. Long sessions of steady-state cardio do little to build muscle, and they may even interfere with muscle-building pathways. For real life example look at the physiques of marathon runners, vs sprinters
6. When You Reach Your Desired Caloric Intake, Stop And Choose Your Next Action
Once you’re satisfied with the amount of food you’re eating, stop adding calories and go from there. If you feel good, you may want to stay at this level. If you’d like to lose weight now that your metabolism is at a better starting point, go right ahead! But be smart about how you go about it; don’t recklessly slash calories. You’ll want to diet on as many calories as possible while still losing weight.