Reverse dieting. Sounds like a joke, right? Wrong! It is one of the best nutrition tactics I’ve ever discovered. To understand reverse dieting, you first have to understand that your body has a set point. A set point is when your body is in homeostasis. In other words, it is the state in which your body likes to operate – this is the number you see on the scale, but it also is the ratio of lean mass to fat mass. When you go on a “diet” and cut your calorie intake, your body goes into survival mode and fights to return to its set point by sending you hunger cues, having restless sleep, and other biological feedback. No wonder everyone loves dieting, right?!
These are normal responses from your body in a caloric deficit, but with prolonged, severe dieting, your body’s survival response switches to fat-storing mode instead of fat-burning like you would want on a diet. Extreme hunger plus fat-storing means your innocent cheat meal will likely turn into a cheat day → the number on the scale creeps up → you tell yourself you should cut calories further → the vicious cycle continues. The end result being that you are seriously underfed, hangry, and not seeing any weight loss because your body has adapted again and again to your calorie cuts.
If you keep dieting and restricting calories more and more, your metabolism will keep down regulating and you may never hit your fat loss goals. This is where the reverse diet comes in. It can be mentally tough to increase your calories when fat loss is your goal, but when your body has adapted to diet after diet of calorie restriction, the only option is to try to reboot your metabolism by slowly adding more calories.
One example of a reverse diet is to maintain your macro balance (maybe it’s 40% complex carbs, 30% lean protein, and 30% healthy fats) while increasing your total daily calories 150 calories each week. The increases are small enough to prevent binging, but large enough for your body to notice the increase in calories. This allows you to monitor how your body, and metabolism, responds. You can keep increasing the calories each week for a few weeks until you get back up to your normal calorie range.
Some people are hyper-responders and burn fat like crazy with a reverse diet. Other people have a little fat loss while the scale increases slightly. And the less lucky people gain weight for a period of time on a reverse diet before being able to cut calories again. No matter how your body responds, it will likely be extremely beneficial to your metabolism and your overall health to get back up to maintenance level calories, especially if you are an athlete.
By: Caroline Ofenstein, CFL1, Pn1