What is Reverse Dieting?
If you have not yet read the article on ‘Why do we gain weight after dieting’ then I highly recommend that you do in order to fully understand your body’s defence system which will give you a fair idea of why reverse dieting is so important.
Just to summarise, when you go on a diet, your body activates its defense system where your metabolic rate slows down and your caloric deficit becomes your caloric maintenance. So after a diet, when you go back to eating normal, your body puts on weight. So how do we stop this? The answer is Reverse Dieting.
There is minimum research done on this, but it has proven its effectiveness. Doctor Layne Norton, who is a bikini contestant coach, has stated in many of his articles and even in his ‘Fat Loss Forever’ book and now his newly released book called ‘The Complete Reverse Dieting Guide’. Dr Layne Norton is probably a person you’d want to follow. His instagram and especially YouTube channel are filled with some great information, and he always backs up his claims with scientific facts and studies, so you know this guy is in this industry to help people. So, in this article I will go over the basic rules of reverse dieting that I’ve learnt from his channel, his books and from my own research, but if you’d like to know more I’d strongly suggest reading his books!
So what is reverse dieting?
This is not a diet used to lose fat or lose weight, this is a strategy which can help you speed up your metabolism after a diet so you can increase your calories whilst minimising your weight regain once your diet has been completed.
Just imagine, many people on a diet will reduce their calories by at least 500 calories per day which is great for a temporary period but its unlikely to be sustainable. During a caloric deficit you are likely to feel hungry, agitated, and may even have really bad mood swings due to hormonal changes, and that’s understandable. However, my point here is that dieting is a temporary phase, a phase which forces your body to lose weight. After your dieting phase, you’d like to reward yourself for the hard work, the sweat and tears you’ve just went through so since you lost weight you should be able to eat now right? Unfortunately this is where things get complicated, and this is where reverse dieting comes in.
How does reverse dieting work?
One you have lost enough weight and you feel happy with your body, it is time to complete your diet. This is where many people trip up and regain all the weight, if not more, they lost prior to dieting and the reason behind it is your metabolism.
So, in order to minimise your weight re-gain, you need to be strategic and the best way to do this is through a reverse diet. To reverse diet, you need to gradually reintroduce calories back into your diet. For instance, if on your initial diet you ate 1,500 calories then every week you should increase your daily calories by 50-100. The trick here is not to jump back to eating the same amount of calories that you did prior to your initial diet because your metabolism will be too slow to process that increase causing weight gain. This will give your metabolic rate a chance to speed up again and replenish itself roughly in line with the calories you’re increasing by each week.
How to start a reverse diet?
Firstly, you need to recalculate your maintenance calories (can be done on our macro-nutrient calculator) and start at your maintenance, if you have reached your weight goal then there is no point on staying in a caloric deficit. This is the time to slowly introduce your calories back into your diet.
You should increase your fat and carbohydrate calories, not protein, as protein should be calculated separately.
Why should protein be calculated separately?
When you calculate your maintenance calories or your caloric deficit you should first calculate your protein. This is because your protein is a set amount for your body weight whereas carbohydrates and fats are calculated using a % from the remaining calories.
For example, the recommended amount of protein for an average person is 1g of protein per 1kg of bodyweight and for an athlete / bodybuilder is 1g of protein per 1lbs of bodyweight. So, if my current weight is 50kg I will need to consume 50g of protein (1g x 50kg). To convert these grams into calories, you’d need to multiply 50g x 4 because there are 4 calories in 1g of protein.
50 x 4 = 200 calories
So, I can now take away 200 calories away from my total daily calories which means that whatever calories I have left I can use to calculate my carbohydrates and fats.
There is some evidence that due to low fat turnover during a caloric restriction, you may benefit more by increasing more carbohydrates than fat in post-diet to reduce the fat regain. Just make sure this is something you can adhere to as well.
Continuing with our example
Let’s presume that I currently eat 1500 calories per day, and I have just taken away 200 calories for protein. This means that I have 1300 calories remaining to be divided between carbohydrates and fats.
Please bear in mind that different macro-nutrients can vary in the amount of calories per gram they provide. Carbohydrates and protein both provide 4 calories per gram but fats provide 9 calories per 1g.
To continue, I have 1300 calories left for fats and carbs. I wish to divide these using a ratio of 40/60 (40% carbs, 70% fats). You can choose whichever ratio you prefer. The best way to choose is by thinking about how your body reacts to carbs and fats. If you have dieted before, you should have affair idea of how your body responds to different foods.
At this point, you know how many calories you have left to distribute between carbs and fats and the ratio how you’d like to divide them.
Let’s firstly calculate the carbohydrates; 1300 x 0.4 = 520 calories/ day, and now if we divide that by 4 (as that’s the calories per gram) we get 130 grams/ day for carbohydrates.
Moving onto fats, 1300 x 0.7 = 780 calories/day and diving that by 9 (calories per gram of fat) giving us 87 grams/day of fats.
The reason why we multiply carbohydrates by 0.4 and fats by 0.6 is because of the chosen ratio of 70/30.
Double check your maths
200+520+780=1500 total calories per day. For those who hate maths, go onto our link for the macronutrient calculator and you can use the tool to calculate all this for you for free!
- protein– 1g of protein per 1kg of body weight but if you exercise regularly then you should consume 1g per 1lbs of bodyweight. Multiply that figure by 4 to get your calories.
With your remaining calories:
Choose a % ratio to divide between carbohydrates and fats.
- Carbohydrates– Calculate your % from the remaining calories and divide by to get grams.
- Fats- from the rest calories and divide by 9 to get grams of fats
How to reverse diet?
Putting all this information into practice, it is recommended to add calories on weekly basis, but keep monitoring your weight in case you are gaining more than 0.2-0.5% of your body weight, you can keep increasing your weight.
Reverse Dieting: How many calories to increase by?
Depending on your weight and your metabolism, we cannot tell you this, but it has been recommended to be conservative and increase your calories in fats and carbohydrates by 2-5%.
If you feel your body may respond okay to the increases then a moderate weekly increase of 5-8% is okay or whether you are looking to be more dramatic, then it is also okay to increase your carbohydrates and fat calories by around 8% (Norton and Baker, 2019).
REMEMBER, the caloric increase should only come from fats and carbohydrates as you calculate protein separately as we have discussed previously.
What’s the best way to monitor my weight?
The best way to monitor your weight is to weigh yourself every morning, naked, before breakfast and after you have been to the toilet as this is when your bodily fluids and weight should be at your true weight. And at the end of the week take an average from the 7 days. If you think you will get stressed or depressed from seeing your weight fluctuate on daily basis (which it will) then maybe weigh yourself just three days a week and get an average from those.
Why should I weigh myself every day?
Simply because your body fluids will vary from day to day, on one day you could have eaten more foods, different food types or even just drank more water so your bowel movement will vary from day to day. For example, if we weighed ourselves at the start of the week at /50kg and at the end of the week when we weighed 51.3kg, we would have thought that we have put weight on by 1.3kg.
However, if we took weight over a week and took an average, it could look like this; 50 /51.3/49.2/50.4/51.2/49.8/50.2, the average weight will be 50.3kg; (50 + 51.3 + 49.2 + 50.4 + 51.2 + 49.8 + 50.2/7=50.3kg) so in this example we would have only gained 0.3kg.
When do I stop reverse dieting?
When you feel like your calories are high enough that you can adhere to them and you don’t want to increase the calories any more, simply decrease your total calories by 5% (Norton and Baker, 2019) so you have a wee bit of a gap between energy intake and expenditure which minimises the weight regain.
In conclusion, the reverse diet is not a diet where you lose any weight or burn any fat. It is a diet where you gradually increase your calories per week so you can recover from your caloric deficit. This will increase your metabolic rate again, letting you eat more calories. Below you can find the books I was referring to at the start of this article incase you were looking to get more information.
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Norton, L. and Baker, P. (2019). Fat loss forever. 1st ed