Every trainer and nutritionist loves to toss around fancy new terms to draw you in. These days it seems like I can’t go 2 hours without someone claiming that a reverse diet could be the key to your weight loss goals. But what is a reverse diet, how does it work, and is it really the remedy to everyone’s weight loss goal? These are all valid questions that I rarely see answered so let’s dive in.
What is it?
A reverse diet is the act of slowly increasing your calories. So, if you were dieting at 1400 calories per day, we would gradually add calories back. The rate at which calories are reintroduced will differ between coaches. If calories are added back too quickly, your body could overcompensate and become too greedy, causing you to gain weight quite quickly. Depending on how low your calories are, I would usually increase caloric intake by 50-100 calories per day each week. If you were at 1400 calories, I would increase your calories by 50 and see what the results were, and slowly adjust from there.
A reverse diet could have 2 purposes. One purpose could be to come back out of your diet and find your maintenance calories, the second purpose would be to break a plateau and continue losing weight. Using a reverse diet to find your maintenance calories is essential, or else we run the risk of regaining some of the weight back. Reverse dieting to break through a plateau is not essential, as there are other methods, we can use to keep from hitting this plateau all together.
Why does it work for weight loss?
We know that weight loss occurs through a calorie deficit, so it seems backwards that adding calories causes more weight loss. The key is that a calorie deficit is measured by how many calories you burn compared to how many calories you consume. So, by gradually increasing your calorie intake, the goal is to jumpstart your metabolism to burn calories at a faster rate. When you reduce your calories, the body is going to adjust to this reduction in energy by reducing how much energy it burns. You could have less energy to do physical activity, normal body functions such as speaking, blinking your eyes, and walking could also slow down to reduce calorie expenditure. You also burn calories by digesting food, so when you are on a reduced calorie intake, you burn fewer calories during digestion. By increasing your calories, a small amount, you will be eating more food (burning more calories while digesting), and giving your body a little more energy, hopefully increasing your physical activity.
We also know that diets that get too low in calories become harder to follow, causing people to cheat on their diet more often. Increasing calorie intake can sometimes relieve the pressure of dieting and help you track more of your food. Even I have issues sometimes where I only have 200 calories left for the day but I’m starving, so I don’t track a couple snacks. By increasing your calories, you will be more likely to hit your goal exactly, and not go over by 100 or 200 everyday in untracked snacks or drinks.
Is A Reverse Diet for Everyone?
Nope. Unless you are speaking simply in terms of finding your maintenance calories again. Some people aren’t stuck because they are eating too few calories, which would be the reason a reverse diet would be necessary. For those that can’t lose weight because they eat too much, the reverse wont work. For those that are strictly trying to cut carbs or fats, it may not work. The reverse diet is useful for those that are eating too few calories and being too aggressive with their weight loss.
Is a diet plateau avoidable?
The simple answer is yes. But the secret is, you need to speak to a real professional about it. Not Becky from down the street or Chad the skinny guy. Losing weight is never the hard part, but sometimes losing weight without the plateaus and gaining the weight again can be difficult. If you create a SMART plan, and stick to it, you will have a much smoother process of losing weight, and you may even enjoy yourself a little more.
BS Exercise Science