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 self 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 calorie deficit becomes your calorie maintenance. So after you’ve completed a diet and you start eating your pre-diet calories, your body starts to pile the weight back on. So how do we stop this? The answer is Reverse Dieting.
There is minimal research done on this, but people who have tried it have agreed that reverse dieting works. 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’ that reverse dieting helps to slowly increase your metabolism.
So, in this article we will take a look at how weight and fat gain can be minimised with the use of this dieting strategy.
What is reverse dieting?
This diet is well summarised by Dr. Norton, he says that it is “a strategy of dieting where calories are increased in a controlled manner over time to increase metabolic rate while minimising body fat gain”. This is not a diet that helps you lose weight, it’s a strategy to help you eat more food without gaining weight.
This is to help you maintain weight after losing weight. It’s all about slowly increasing your calorie intake to avoid any drastic changes to hormone levels.
During a caloric deficit, you are likely to feel hungry, agitated, and may even experience really bad mood swings. This may be due to hormonal changes, and that’s understandable. However, my point here is that dieting is a temporary phase, a phase that forces your body to lose weight.
After your dieting phase, you’d like to return to eating more food right? And since you’ve worked so hard you should be able to eat whatever you like now right? Unfortunately, this is where things get complicated, and this is where reverse dieting comes in.
How does reverse dieting work?
Once you lose weight and you feel happy with your body, it is time to end your diet. However, don’t just go back to your pre-diet calorie intake, you need to be strategic about eating more calories. To maintain your weight, you will need to speed up your metabolism first, and the best way to do this is with the reverse diet.
To do this right, you need to slowly increase calories back into your diet. The best way to do this is to increase your daily calories by 50-100. However, before you start reverse dieting, make sure to follow a few guidelines:
- Always count your calories to know how much you are eating so when you go to increase your calorie intake, the calories are accurate
- The increase in calories should come from two macronutrients: carbohydrates and fat
- Protein is calculated based on your weight, and therefore the intake should not be adjusted when reverse dieting. Leaving protein intake as it is will also help to maintain your muscle which may assist in speeding up your metabolism too.
This will give your metabolic rate a chance to speed up again and replenish itself roughly in line with the calorie increase.
How to start a reverse diet?
Firstly, you need to figure out how many calories your need to eat to maintain your current weight. This is also known as the maintenance calories. Remember, your maintenance calories will be very different compared to when you started. This is because your weight is now lower. You can recalculate your calories using our macro-nutrient calculator or manually using these calorie calculations.
When you know how many calories it takes to maintain your weight, that is your starting point. That’s the number of calories you should start with.
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 intake should be based on 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 body weight and for an athlete/bodybuilder, it’s 1g of protein per 1lb of bodyweight. So, if my current weight is 50kg then I will need to consume 50g of protein (1g x 50kg). To convert these grams into calories, you’d need to multiply 50g by 4 because there are 4 calories in 1g of protein (50 x 4 = 200 calories).
So, I can now take 200 calories away from my total daily calories which means that whatever calories I have left I can use to divide between carbohydrates and fats.
There is some evidence that due to low-fat turnover during a caloric restriction, you may benefit from 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.
Please bear in mind that different macronutrients can vary in the number of calories per gram they provide. Carbohydrates and protein both provide 4 calories per gram but fats provide 9 calories per gram.
To continue, I have 1300 calories left for fats and carbs. I wish to divide these using a ratio of 30/60 (30% fats, 70% carbs). 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 a fair idea of how your body responds to different foods.
However, that’s the ratio I prefer to go with so I will simply take these percentages from my remaining calories.
- 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. This usually suggests that you may be gaining weight too fast and it’s best to reduce the calorie increase to 30-70 calories per week (for instance).
Reverse Dieting: How many calories to increase by?
Depending on your weight and your metabolism, it has been recommended to be conservative and increase your calories in fats and carbohydrates by 2-5%.
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 weight should show 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 weight fluctuates 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 movements will vary from day to day. For example, if I weighed myself on Monday and the scaled displayed my weight to be 50kg, and at the end of the week when I weigh myself again and the scales show 51.3kg, I would think I gained 1.3kg.
However, if I weigh myself every day for a week and take an average, the results may be different.
For instance, let’s say my weight fluctuations look like this; 50 /51.3/49.2/50.4/51.2/49.8/50.2. The average weight calculated to be 50.3kg; (50 + 51.3 + 49.2 + 50.4 + 51.2 + 49.8 + 50.2/7=50.3kg) so in this example I 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 anymore, simply decrease your total calories by 5% (Norton and Baker, 2019) so you have a wee bit of a gap between energy intake and energy 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. If you’re interested in learning more about reverse dieting, then make sure to check out Dr. Layne Norton’s books which can be found on Amazon. ‘The Fat Loss Forever‘ book is a more in-depth book on weight loss that briefly touches on reverse dieting whereas ‘The Complete Reverse Dieting Guide‘ provides great insights on the mechanics of this type of diet.
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Norton, L. and Baker, P. (2019). Fat loss forever. 1st ed