How To Reverse Diet Correctly by Baraa El Sabbagh, Nutritionist and Personal Trainer in Dubai
“I was on a 1200 calorie diet. I was working out 6 times a week. I was staaaaarving and barely losing any weight and dragging myself everywhere because of low energy.
I tried reverse dieting by myself: so I’m eating more calories now, and I’m actually still the same weight as I was when I was strict dieting! Should I continue doing this? Why was I suffering so much and not seeing results?”
Doesn’t that sound intriguing? What is reverse dieting? Why was this person super strict before but not seeing real changes? And how does reverse dieting help her here?
What Exactly Is Reverse Dieting?
They call this “the diet after the diet”. The main goal for someone that’s reverse dieting is to increase how much food they’re eating, and increase their metabolic rate while limiting body fat gain after being on a diet or program for some time. This method is used to maintain weight or to lose weight more efficiently in the future. By the way, if you want to hear me talk about reverse dieting instead of reading about it, you can find the podcast episode here.
Reverse Dieting Is Not A Weight Loss Strategy
If you’re looking to reverse diet, you will have to put fat loss goals on hold for now. If you have a long history with dieting, this is a method to try and undo some of the dieting effects. The name of the game is to function on your day’s calorie needs without the feeling of hunger that you’d experience on a diet. It’s a weight maintenance strategy if you’ve reached your goal.
This Diet Can Enhance Your Metabolism
If you simply want to enhance your metabolism by getting your body used to a little more calories and getting yourself out of a chronic calorie deficit, think of reverse dieting. If you still have more weight to lose, even after you’ve been dieting for sometime, you would reverse diet, then you would get back to a calorie deficit afterwards and your body and mind will be a lot more ready to take it on and get better results.
Think of reverse dieting as an investment in your long term metabolic future!
The Diet After The Diet
Reverse dieting is like an “exit strategy” after your 8, 12 or 24 weeks of being on a weight loss program in a calorie deficit, because you can’t last on whatever diet you were on forever (not mentally or physically).
So you need to find a way to maintain the healthy weight or goal you’ve reached without gaining the weight back. Or simply taking a reverse dieting break and then getting back to your weight loss journey.
How Do You Speed Up Your Metabolism?
Reverse dieting will be responsible for controlling the increase of calories after the “diet” phase ends in order to maintain your weight and boost your lowered metabolism. Why is it a lowered metabolism? Because of the chronic calorie deficit you were on. Which means you’ve been dieting for a long long time, so your body has learned to function at lower calories.
Our bodies are made to adapt to change, so if your body thinks that there's too little food coming in because you’ve been on a low calorie deficit for so long, it eventually learns to adapt to burning less calories.
Is Starvation Or Metabolic Damage A Thing?
Let’s say you were starting a diet, this would need a calorie deficit, right? So to maintain your weight, you need to be on a 2,000 calorie diet (if you don’t know how much calories you need, refer to the calorie episode #78 on B for Better Health or the blog post on the subject.)
You dropped your daily calorie intake from 2,000 to 1,500 calories per day.
So far, so good. In the first 8 weeks of following the program, you drop a lot of weight, maybe 6-8 kilos. What happens next is one of the most common and frequent issues people face with dieting today.
Metabolic adaptations start to take place after 8 weeks of dieting so your overall metabolism, your total energy expenditure, is actually lower than it’s natural original state. This generally happens when you’ve been dieting for SO LONG.
How To Solve A Plateau In Weight Loss
People believe that after a certain point in dieting, they reach a plateau. They can’t lose body fat even though they’re still eating 1,500 calories, and they already lost 8 kg before, so how come it’s not working anymore?
Now, if you’re actually STILL in a calorie deficit, then you would still be losing weight. When you’re eating less calories than your total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE for short, you will lose body fat. Simple as that!
But if your TDEE has generally lowered, then you actually have to drop your calories even more. So you would drop it to 1,400 or 1,300 calories. Also, if you’ve actually lost weight, and your body weight is now lower than before, then you generally burn less calories too! If you weigh 65 kg you burn more than if you weigh 60 kg. So, will it be harder and slower to lose fat over time? YES. That’s due to our METABOLISM.
What Is Metabolic Adaptation?
This doesn't mean your metabolism is damaged or anything, but it’s pretty easy to slow it down by undereating for a few months or even years. This is called “metabolic adaptation”.
This is one of our body’s evolutionary defenses to protect us when we lose fat. So now, instead of your body burning 2,000 calories it’s at 1,800 calories a day, which means it’s preserving your energy. It slowed down because of that evolutionary defense mentioned. And since you’re still eating 1,500 calories, but not losing as much weight as before, you consider your diet to be over, and so you're going back to eating 2,000 calories a day.
The Problem With Dieting For So Long
Bringing your calories back up to 2000 calories won’t make sense, and it will make you regain some of the weight you lost because now you have a lower TDEE and your body considers you to be in a calorie surplus at 2000 calories. To maintain your weight, you would actually need to be at 1,800 for example.
So is the solution to stay on lower calories? Or keep cutting calories every 8 weeks for the rest of your life? Nope!
What To Do After Reaching Your Goal Weight
Let’s say you were on 1,500 or less calories for so long because all you've ever wanted to do was lose weight. And you did, congratulations! Now that you’ve reached your goal weight, you want to calculate your new post diet calories per day. If you go on TDEE.net, you might find your needs are 2,000 calories a day. That’s a big jump from the 1,500 you were on,
The trick is not to over do it with increased calories during this process. A good idea would be to increase 150-200 calories every week or so, to reach your true TDEE. Overdoing it would mean adding an extra 800 calories a day, which would inevitably lead to weight gain. We want to teach your body to function at a slightly higher number, without the extreme weight gain that would come with it.
So the purpose of reverse dieting is to find the happy middle between your calorie deficit and your actual needs, all while maintaining your weight.
Do You Need A Break From Dieting?
Now if you haven’t reached your goal weight, but are struggling to reach your target weight for several reasons, then that’s another reason for reverse dieting, because being on diet after diet is very draining. This could be the mental break you need!
Picture a 4 week vacation of not religiously counting calories or following a low calorie meal plan, but without gaining or losing weight. Giving your body this controlled break could do wonders for you and your goals in the long term! You would apply the same strategy of increasing a few hundred calories a week and take it from there.
HOME IMPROVEMENT: What can you do?
For a successful trial of reverse dieting, you need to think about a few things:
If you’ve reached your goal weight, congrats! On with the reverse dieting.
If you’ve been dieting for so long and not getting any results, taking time off to reverse diet might give you the mental & physical break you need. Put your fat loss goals on hold and think of this diet as investing in your long term metabolic future.
If you’ve been chronically dieting, do NOT go back to your pre-diet calories or the TDEE number from the website. That will make you gain weight if you don’t gradually move back up there.
MAINTAIN & progress in your strength training. Take advantage of those extra calories that will give you power!
- Measure your food and calories. Do the math so you can stick within your day’s limits.
All Your Reverse Dieting Questions Answered (I hope!)
This was a tricky topic to cover because there’s so much information I want to share with you, but at the same time I don’t want to overwhelm you & I want to keep it simple!
I hope you got the basics of reverse dieting and if you have been on-off diets for some time now and are looking for a more permanent and solid solution, this could be the one for you!
And one last thing, if you are looking for a program that’s going to get you on a healthy path to reach your goals, you might want to consider my 8-week nutrition and exercise program. You get weekly guidance from me on nutrition & exercise for a total of 8 weeks. I only take on a few people so I can divide my time evenly and properly, so if you missed out last time, be part of the program this round! Sign-ups start August 9.
Till next time, folks!