Reverse Dieting

Engineering the Reverse

Reverse Dieting is not so much a new concept as it is more coming to light and garnering attention due to its benefits.  It has been made popular by the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) nutritional approach. Reverse Dieting was proposed to help individuals avoid substantial weight re-gain once they have reached their desired goal weight by slowing reintroducing calories. Staying at a lower level of bodyfat while eating more food. It’s like a dream come true. The Holy Grail of Nutrition. Is it even possible?

Let’s take a look…

FIRST THINGS FIRST

What you have to realize is that like Newton’s Third Law, for every interaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction. (Thanks Sir Isaac.)  So, what is a reverse diet?

Although you won't find the term in any dictionary, reverse diet is a term used within the bodybuilding and competitive weightlifting communities (aka “bro-science”) to describe a period after a calorically restricted eating protocol during which you slowly work to increase calories back to a maintenance level. 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 simultaneously reducing cardio.

START AT THE BEGINNING

After a long stint of low-calorie dieting, weight gain is normal and expected especially when adding in extra calories. This is often observed in bodybuilding competitors who, after a long prep season, may overeat or even binge eat. When this happens, the competitor is said to be going through a rebound, which is distinct from metabolic damage because the individual is putting him or herself into a caloric surplus, albeit unintentionally. You also have people who may have been handed the short end of the genetic stick and consequently have naturally slower metabolisms than normal (through no fault of their own, might I add). If this is the case, then what may be considered a standard caloric deficit for the average Joe may not be enough for this specific individual. As such, it becomes necessary to cut calories further in order to elicit the desired fat loss response. Metabolic adaptation, conversely, is the result of a period of chronic dieting and is typically exacerbated by multiple weight loss and regain cycles.

Originally coined by Scott Abel, the term metabolic damage describes a phenomenon in which the body refuses to shed fat despite what would typically be considered dieting calories and activity levels. Conversely, the body may also experience fat gain in excess of what is predicted by caloric intake and activity level.

WHO IS REVERSE DIETING FOR?

But don’t be fooled – this is not for the weak-hearted.

The purposes of reverse dieting are as follows:

  • restore metabolism

  • restore hormonal health

  • build muscle

  • minimize fat gain

  • prime the body for easier fat loss later down the road

 
All of this to say, this is not a weight loss program.

If you’re looking to whittle your middle right at this very instance, this is not the right product for you.

On the other hand, if you want to make your long-term health a priority and get that metabolism raging, then keep reading.

Bear with me here.

I understand that the idea of intentionally eating more food and possibly watching the scale weight go up is not inherently enticing. It can be downright scary.

And you may be wondering, why in the world would I do that?

If you’ve been dieting for a long time and you’ve found yourself spending increasingly more time in the gym while your food portions have dwindled away with not much to show for it in the way of results, you may want to consider reverse dieting. In fact, I would urge you to do so.

Because the fact of the matter is, if you starve your body enough, it will stop responding. Instead of blasting the fat away as you diligently track your food, chug your water, and squat squat squat, your body will work that much harder to hold onto every ounce of fat that it has.

Maybe you’ve found yourself working increasingly harder to no avail. You’ve been feeling like you’re throwing yourself against a brick wall that simply refuses to budge.

It’s time to give your body a break.

Hear me out. If you’re careful and calculated with your food increases, so many great things can happen. You’ll feel much more energized, all of your lifts will go up in the gym, and you can bid adieu to poverty macros.

VERDICT: ANECDOTAL AND OTHERWISE

Although evidence is mixed on Reverse Dieting, the concept of following a slow and steady increase of adding calories back into the diet is a good one. For one, it can reduce subsequent weight gain caused when coming off a restrictive diet and help maintain your best condition for longer. It can also help give structure to those who have been following a diet plan for an extended period of time and are unsure how to go about maintaining weight loss without a plan.

Like the saying goes, slow and stead wins the race. In my own experience and having watched others, I’ve seen the best results and benefits of coming off a diet in a controlled fashion.

References:

1. Chan J.,  HeistK.,  DePaoli, A., et al. “The role of falling leptin levels in the neuroendocrine and metabolic adaptation to short-term starvation in healthy men.” JCI. 2003;111(9):1409–1421. doi:10.1172/JCI17490.

2. Heilbronn LK,  de Jonge L,, Frisard MI., et al. “Effect of 6-Month Calorie Restriction on Biomarkers of Longevity, Metabolic Adaptation, and Oxidative Stress in Overweight Individuals: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” JAMA. 2006;295(13):1539-1548. doi:10.1001/jama.295.13.1539.

3. Norton L., and Lee, S. Reverse Dieting. 2014

4. Trexler E., Smith-Ryan A., & Norton L. “Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2014; 11(7).

Jacobsen, L. (2014, March 16). Reverse Dieting: Is it the key to maintaining weight loss? Retrieved December 27, 2016, from http://www.fitnessrxwomen.com/nutrition/healthy-eating-tips/reverse-dieting/

Ballor DL, Harvey-Berino JR, Ades PA et al. Decrease in fat oxidation following a meal in weight-reduced individuals: a possible mechanism for weight recidivism. Metabolism 1996; 45(2): 174–178.

Ballor DL, Harvey-Berino JR, Ades PA et al. Contrasting effects of resistance and aerobic training on body composition and metabolism after diet-induced weight loss. Metabolism 1996; 45(2): 179–183.

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Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Clark KL et al. Physiological adaptations to a weight-loss dietary regimen and exercise programs in women. J Appl Physiol 1997; 83: 270–279.

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Daniel Saunders