What Is Reverse Dieting? Everything You Need to Know

What Is Reverse Dieting? Everything You Need to Know

Reverse dieting is often used by athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts who have been dieting for an extended period and want to increase calorie intake without gaining body fat. A reverse diet typically involves increasing calorie intake in small increments while monitoring weight, body composition, and other markers. Read on to learn if reverse dieting is effective and how to do it properly.

What Is Reverse Dieting?

Reverse dieting is a gradual and structured approach to increasing calorie intake after a period of calorie restriction or dieting. To lose weight, you needed to consume fewer calories than you burned. Over time, however, this causes hormones to slow your metabolism so your body can make the most of the calories consumed. The goal of reverse dieting is to increase your metabolism as you slowly add calories to your diet.

How Dieting Can Affect Your Metabolism

When you significantly reduce your caloric intake, your body may respond by slowing down your metabolism in an effort to adapt and conserve energy. The body perceives a reduction in calories as a threat to survival, and can respond with a decrease in thyroid hormone production, which plays a key role in regulating metabolism. When the levels of thyroid hormone decrease, your body's metabolic rate slows down, leading to a decrease in energy expenditure.

The idea behind reverse dieting is to have the opposite effect of calorie-restrictive dieting, and increase metabolism by increasing caloric intake.

How to Start Reverse Dieting

Here's what the process of reverse dieting typically looks like:

1. Calculate Your Current Caloric Intake

Find out roughly how many calories you're consuming in an average day, so you can see where your starting point is. Write down everything you eat and drink, including the portion size and the number of calories per serving. There are various apps and websites out there that can help you track your calorie intake, including MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, and Fitbit. These tools allow you to log your meals and snacks and provide you with the total number of calories you've consumed. After three days of tracking your calories, calculate your average intake per day.

2. Set Your Macro Goals

Set your target protein intake at 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, if you're 180 pounds, you'll set your target protein intake at 180 grams. There are about 4 calories of protein per gram, so calculate your protein calorie intake based on your protein intake. Then, subtract your protein caloric intake target from your current average intake of calories. With the resulting calories, divide them 40/60 or 60/40 between carbohydrates and fat. Given fat has about 9 calories per gram and carbs have 4 per gram, you can calculate how many of your calories should come from fat and how many from carbs. 

This ratio of macronutrients gives you a larger share of protein than a normal diet would, but over time you'll increase your intake of carbs and fat.

3. Determine Your Carb and Fat Increase Stages

Based on how slowly or quickly you'd like to reverse diet, you'll want to set stages for increasing carbs and fat. Reverse dieting slowly, where you increase carb and fat intake by just 2 to 5 percent a week over time, is more conservative in preventing weight gain after dieting. If you're planning to do a lot of strength training and aren't too concerned about weight gain, a faster diet reverse looks like a carb and fat increase of 6 to 10 percent each week. Keep your protein intake the same.

4. Replace Cardio with Strength Training

Strength training builds lean muscle mass, so focus all your workouts on weight lifting. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolism rate will be. During strength training, your body burns a significant amount of calories to repair and rebuild muscles after a workout. This process is called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), and it can elevate your metabolism for several hours after your workout.

5. Weigh Yourself Regularly

Throughout the reverse dieting process, it's important to monitor your progress by tracking your weight to ensure that you're not gaining too quickly. Rapid weight gain is unhealthy, so be sure to reduce your calorie intake slightly if you're gaining 5 or more pounds in a week. If you want, you can also track body measurements. If you have a skinfold fat caliper or other device that measures body fat percentage, you can track your body composition. By monitoring your body composition, you can prevent gaining too much fat for your bodyweight as you increase calories.

6. Stop Increasing Your Calorie Intake

You can't continue increasing your calorie intake forever, so stop reverse dieting when you're happy with the amount of food you're consuming a day. The goal is to reset your metabolism to work at the level that will manage your weight most effectively. Try to maintain a steady diet from this point on and avoid drastic changes that shock your system and offset your metabolism's balance.

Final Thoughts on Reverse Dieting

Reverse dieting is best suited for individuals who have already achieved their weight loss or fitness goals and are looking to maintain their progress in a sustainable and healthy manner. It is not recommended for individuals who are still actively trying to lose weight or who have not yet reached their desired level of fitness. Reverse dieting is a slow process, as your body needs time to adjust to the changes. It can take several months to see the full benefits of reverse dieting, so be patient.
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