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Reverse Diet Plan: What Is It And How To Get Started

By Tami Smith

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Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in your fitness journey? You’re doing all the right things, including following your diet and working out, but your results are mediocre at best? 

Have you been dieting for a significant amount of time? If so, there’s a good chance that it might be time for a reverse diet. Even if you're new to macros, wondering what macros are, don't worry, this is often a great place to start!

If you’ve been spinning your wheels and are ready to safely and effectively reverse diet and go back into a more sustainable maintenance phase to restore biofeedback and give yourself and your metabolism the boost it needs, then this reverse diet plan is a great place to start.

If you're someone who struggles alone and needs accountability, then personalized macro coaching might help you take that next step forward if you're considering a reverse diet. Likewise, if you're ready to go at it on your own, this article will give you all the details you need to get started.

What is a Reverse Diet?

reverse diet calories

A reverse diet is the process of bringing your calories up to maintenance levels (the caloric point where your body maintains its weight). Reverse dieting is commonly done after a dieting phase.

When you’re in a dieting phase (eating fewer calories than you’re expending), your metabolism will down-regulate to that calorie intake. In other words, your body will become more efficient with the lower calories that you’re giving it. Much of this downregulation can be attributed to reductions in NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis).

NEAT includes all of your general movement throughout the day, including steps, fidgeting, standing, etc. The fewer calories you give your body per day, the more your body will adapt by slowing down these things in an attempt to conserve energy.

Due to these metabolic changes, you will likely need to adjust your calorie intake even lower as your progress through your diet. Plus, it takes fewer calories to support a smaller body, so as you lose weight, you will need to decrease your calorie intake in order to continue to lose.

At the end of your diet, you will be eating less than you want to and have to, and this is exactly where a reverse diet comes into play. 

Can You Lose Weight While Reverse Dieting?

weight loss reverse diet

Some people do find that they lose weight while reverse dieting, however, that shouldn’t be the reason that you start a reverse. Reversing is designed to help you begin to eat more calories while maintaining your current body weight. If you go into a reverse diet thinking that the scale will continue to drop down, you will likely be very disappointed and may even jump ship and go back to your deficit, which is counterproductive.

The reason why you might see some people talking about losing weight during their reverse diet could be linked to the fact that they were severely undereating and their bodies were basically in survival mode, slowing down their metabolism and preserving any extra energy it was given. When more food is added to their diet, their body might respond by letting go of some of the excess fat because it no longer feels threatened.

Do You Gain Weight During Reverse Dieting?

gain weight reverse diet

Some people will gain weight during a reverse, it all depends on the individual and the reversing protocol. For some, adding in calories too quickly can cause a spike in the scale, but it’s not likely fat gain, it’s water weight and the weight of the extra food volume. These spikes are normal, expected, and will eventually work themselves out.

For others, they make the mistake of getting a little too sloppy with their tracking during their reverse, which can lead to inadvertently overeating and causing them to put on a few pounds. It’s very important to be just as diligent about tracking macros and/or calories during a reverse as it is during a fat loss phase.

Lastly, some people will gain weight because that’s what their body needs in order to function optimally. For those who got too lean, a few extra pounds might be what your body needs to restore your metabolism and improve your biofeedback (sleep, digestion, menstruation, etc.).

Who Is Reverse Dieting For?

reverse dieting for results

Have you ever heard that statistic that claims that 95% of diets fail? The truth is that, more often than not, the dieting phase works just fine, but most people don’t know how to sustain that weight loss so they gain it all back. This is exactly why we want to learn how to reverse diet.

You might be ready for a reverse diet if:

  • You have spent 12 weeks or longer in a diet
  • Your adherence to the diet is waning and inconsistent
  • Hunger is high
  • Sleep is poor
  • You find yourself obsessing over food
  • You have lost 10% of your body weight or more

How Does Reverse Dieting Work?

Reverse dieting works opposite to dieting. So instead of lowering your calories gradually as your body adjusts to the diet, you will be increasing your calories until you get to your maintenance point. 

There are several different approaches you can take to reverse diet, and your preferred method will depend on your unique situation and goals. However, a common misconception is that you need to reverse very slowly, incrementally adding calories week by week. While this process can certainly work, it also drags the process out, therefore prolonging the time you’re still in a calorie deficit.

The problem with remaining in a caloric deficit for too long is that it is also delaying your improvements in biofeedback (sleep, hunger cues, energy levels, motivation, your cycle, etc.). With this in mind, I recommend that you start your reverse diet with a 10% increase in calories right off the bat. The increase should come in the form of adding additional carbs and fats to your macro targets. 

How to Start

start reverse diet

To start reverse dieting, you will be adding carbs and fats to your daily intake at your desired frequency and in accordance with your comfort level. Keep in mind that you will also be closely monitoring your results all throughout your reverse, so you will be able to identify and track any and all changes to ensure you don’t overshoot your maintenance, which can put you in a surplus and cause weight gain.

Here’s how to get started with a reverse diet:

Step 1:

Increase your calories by 10% (5-8% if you’re being extra conservative), adding those calories to your carbs and fats.

  • Ex: End of diet calories = 1400
  • New estimated maintenance calories = 1900
  • Initial increase of calories = 1400 + 140 = 1540 calories

Step 2:

Monitor your weight and measurements for the first week with your initial increase of calories. If your weight stays the same or even dips a little, you are safe to increase again the following week. If your weight jumps up over .5% of your body weight, you can hold steady for another week at those calories to give your body more time to adjust.

Step 3:

Continue to track food diligently and aim to hit your macros as close as possible. Weigh in daily and take weekly measurements. Each week, you can increase your calories by another 5-10% until you reach your new maintenance. This process should only take a few weeks but can depend on the individual and their comfort level with increasing.

Progress Tracking Recommendations

progress tracking reverse diet

Tracking your progress during your reverse diet is crucial for your success, which is why I want to be very clear about what tracking your progress looks like so you’re aware of what to expect.

Weight

It’s highly recommended that you weigh in daily during your reverse to keep track of your daily fluctuations and to be able to see your weight trends over time so that you can compare week to week, month to month. Our weight fluctuates daily, so weighing in infrequently or even once per week is a poor example of your overall progress. You need daily weights or, at minimum, 3 weigh-ins per week for best results.

Measurements

You should be taking your measurements weekly or bi-weekly. The measurements you should take include; bust, hips, and waist at a minimum. Some people also like to measure their biceps and calves, too.

Progress photos

Photos should be taken weekly with the same background and same (or similar) clothing if possible. Be sure the lighting is good and you are wearing clothing that is revealing enough to see progress i.e. shorts and a sports bra, bathing suit, etc.

Biofeedback

This is perhaps the most important measurement of progress because it’s the whole point of a reverse. The goal is to be feeling GOOD again, so checking in on things like sleep, hunger, energy, mood, and your cycle if you’re a female will be crucial during this phase. When done right, you should be seeing marked improvement in all of these areas as you add in more calories.

What to Expect

expectations reverse diet

Education is key when it comes to entering a reverse diet. But you also need to know what to expect so you’re not coming into it with the wrong intentions or expectations of the outcome. Below are a few points on what to expect during a reverse diet.

1. You will likely gain weight, not lose weight

Unfortunately, there are a lot of popular coaches out there claiming that all their clients lose weight during their reverse diets when in reality, this isn’t the case for the majority of the population. Reverse dieting will inherently cause weight gain (NOT fat gain) because you are adding more food to your body. With increased food volumes comes increased scale weight - the food you consume weighs something!

Please know that at some point during your reverse, the scale will likely go up a little. Your body is taking in more food, more sodium, more carbs, and carbs alone store 3-4g of water. So, yes, you will more than likely see some increases, but it’s not fat. Fat gain only happens when you are eating in a surplus, which you won’t be if you’re reversing correctly.

2. You will want to try to keep your NEAT (nonexercise activity thermogenesis)

Often, when we’re in a fat loss phase, we are not only dieting but also adding in more cardio and steps to amplify our results. When starting your reverse, it can be tempting to add in calories and discontinue or scale way back on your cardio, however, I would advise you to try to keep your movement relatively the same for at least the first few weeks of your reverse so that you’re not shocking your body with too many changes at once. After a couple of weeks, you can slowly begin to scale back your cardio by 5-10% each week until you get to the point where your movement is sustainable and enjoyable.

3. Your new maintenance level post-diet will be lower than it was pre-diet.

Because you dieted down and are now living in a smaller body, it takes fewer calories to maintain that weight than it did when you weighed more. So don’t expect to be able to go all the way back up to where you were maintaining before as you will likely then be in a surplus.

Once you reach your maintenance calories, you are going to need to sit tight for a while, especially if you have a history of eating chronically low calories, yo-yo dieting, or experiencing prolonged poor biofeedback. It’s recommended that you stay at your new maintenance calories for at least 3 months before you go back into a dieting phase, but a longer stint in maintenance is preferred.

Concluding Thoughts About Beginning a Reverse Diet Plan

reverse dieting and adding calories

Reverse dieting is an incredible tool for those who have finished a diet phase and are ready to restore their biofeedback and get back to feeling well again. Dieting is stressful on the body as you are giving your body fewer calories than it needs, which is why doing so for a long period of time can be damaging to your metabolism.

Starting a reverse diet can feel both scary and exciting. For many, the thought of eating more food and gaining weight is downright frightening. It can feel as though you’re losing all of the hard-earned progress that you just made. However, that will not be the case if you execute your reverse diet properly. In fact, failure to reverse to maintain will eventually lead to a deterioration of your progress that will be difficult to recover from.

Reverse dieting is like coming up for air and getting your body back into the flow state where it wants to be. Reaching your maintenance calories is giving your body the chance to thrive, grow, and feel good. Plus, the longer period of time that you spend in maintenance eating to fuel your body, the easier your next dieting phase will be.

Fitness is a lifelong process, and spending time fueling your body properly will help you achieve the long-term, sustainable results you desire.

About the author 

Tami Smith

Tami Smith is a certified Nutritionist and an ACE certified fitness trainer, specializing in pre and post-natal fitness. She studied business and earned her bachelor's degree in Business Economics. Tami is a mom of two and women's health advocate. Her passion is to help people live a fit, healthy life through proper nutrition and exercise!

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