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  • Writer's pictureStacey Marino

What Is A Reverse Diet And Who Is It For?

Reverse diets are absolutely necessary.

You don't just cut calories, lose weight, and then stay at those low calories for the rest of your life.

Or what if you're already eating very low calories, training your butt off.. and weight loss just isn't happening.

Dieting is PERIODIZED. You go through fat loss cycles, reverse dieting cycles, and maintenance cycles. This allows your body to keep progressing with fat loss, and keep the weight off when you do increase calories back up.

What is a reverse diet?

With a reverse diet, you simply increase calories back to your maintenance point over time. The rate at which those calories are increased depends on how much time you spent in a deficit. The longer you've been restricting your calories, the slower this approach will be, to allow your body to adapt.

The goal of a reverse diet is to increase your metabolism and hormone function back up. When you cut calories, your body protects itself by slowing down your metabolism and hormone function. This is what's called metabolic adaption. This is why cutting calories works for a period of time, and then you hit a plateau, because your body has adjusted its metabolism to operate on the calories you're putting in.

It's very common for people to not even be aware that they are under eating. They become used to low calories, they're metabolically adapted.

Some common signs that you aren't eating enough include:

-Always feeling tired and exhausted with low energy levels

-Always hungry or never hungry

-Moody and easily irritated

-Regularly constipated


-Poor mental clarity and focus

-Loss of period and inability to get pregnant

-Always cold

-Pale complexion

-Hair loss and brittle nails

The goal of a reverse diet is to increase calories and metabolism, while mitigating any fat gains. We generally see 5 main groups of reverse dieters.

1) Fat loss goal is achieved, but calories are very low

The goal with a reverse diet here is to slowly increase calories back up to a sustainable level, while avoiding any unnecessary fat gain. This is done diligently and carefully, usually over the course of a few months.

In doing so, you're able to maintain the results that you got from your fat loss phase, increase your energy back up, and be able to eat enough calories to support your body and activity level without gaining fat.

2) Fat loss goal is not achieved, you hit a plateau, calories are extremely low

This makes up a large percentage of our clients. Here, you've gone through multiple diet cycles, where the methods are drastic and unsustainable. Just as quickly as you lose body weight (which in most cases isn't fat), that's how quickly you regain it (plus extra!). The typical yo-yo dieter.

When you drop your calories that low, you slow your metabolism. Without a proper reverse diet out of this extreme deficit, you regain all the weight back + more, as soon as you increase your calories back up.

Think about it, your metabolism is slowed down, and when you start eating like you were before, your metabolism can't process all the extra calories since it's operating at a percentage of its normal rate. So you gain the weight back. Also, what you usually end up losing on the scale on these extreme diets is water and muscle (very little fat). The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is.

So by going on a crash diet and dropping weight fast, you can expect that most of this weight is water and muscle. Yes, the scale weight is down, you're smaller.. but you've lost muscle and slowed your metabolic rate.

So now that you have less muscle and metabolism is slowed, you pack it back on as soon. as you eat normally. And in most cases, you go on another crash diet, only this time, you need to drop calories even lower to accommodate for your slowed down metabolism. And so the yo-yo diet cycle begins. The longer you're in the cycle, the longer it will take to safely reverse you out of here!

But when you do a proper. reverse and stay in maintenance for a good chunk of time, you will be able to go on successful diets again. This time around, on much higher calories than you were consuming before. Weight loss would come from fat cells, and stick.. as long as you do it correctly and reverse out of it.

3) Extreme fat loss goal is achieved, through an extreme, unsustainable diet

Some people diet down to an extremely unsustainable body fat. Physique competitors as well as people with extreme eating disorders for many years.

The goal here is to increase body fat levels to a healthy and sustainable range. In this case, yes, you will definitely gain some weight on a reverse diet, but that weight is necessary to be healthy and to survive.

Reestablishing a healthy relationship with food, is a key factor here as well.

4) No fat loss goal, just want to increase your "metabolic capacity"

The goal here is to increase calories as high as possible. Push the limit without gaining any fat. Be at your highest tolerable caloric level while maintaining body weight and fat levels.

This is used for better athletic performance, to set yourself up on a future successful diet, or just to be able to enjoy more food!

The rate of this reverse is highly dependent on the individual.

5) Went through fat loss phase, and new focus is building muscle

Whether the fat loss phase was successful or not, in order to build lean muscle, calories must be increased.

The goal is to build calories to maintenance to reverse out of deficit, and increase to a surplus for mass gain. A surplus is not always necessary, but again it depends on your goals. You do build lean muscle during a reverse diet, a "lean muscle gain" phase. You can continue building muscle just by staying in maintenance, but it will take much longer than if you are in a surplus.

The rate of this reverse diet and the surplus depends on tolerance to body fat gain and personal goals.

Let's take a common example and a well planned out approach, as most people who diet are looking to lose body fat.

Let's say a client goes from 150 pounds to 135 pounds in 3 months (25% body fat to 20% body fat). From 2,500 calories to 2,000 calories. In order to maintain the new body and weight, they MUST increase calories back up, NOT stay at the same calories.

Staying at the low calories for a long period of time will successfully lower your metabolism and hormone function.

On the contrary, raising calories back up will increase your metabolism back to base! As you keep increasing calories, metabolism will also keep increasing.

What about the client who is eating 1,000 calories a day and working out for an hour.. 6 days a week and hasn't seen any weight loss for weeks.... or months.. or years...

This is what's called metabolic adaption. Your metabolism is so used to operating on such low calories, that fat loss becomes impossible. Your body is just struggling to keep the lights on.

In this case, a much longer period of a reverse diet and maintenance is necessary. There may be 3 outcomes during a reverse: weight loss, weight stays the same, or weight gain (if coming from a long history of this deprivation).

This is all necessary to get your body healthy!

You need to INVEST TIME in this process to set yourself up for a lifetime of success with maintenance and dieting. Otherwise nothing you do will work.

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