In this article you will learn about the following
1. What reverse dieting is and how to use it to eat more and get more lean.
2. The theory of metabolic damage and why it matters.
3. How and when to properly execute a reverse diet.
What is reverse dieting?
A common diet means eating less and losing weight. Therefor a reverse diet (RD) must mean eating more to gain weight, right?… Not exactly.
When you go through a weight loss diet or program the goal is to lose body fat while hopefully maintaining lean muscle in order to give you that “toned” or “ripped” look.
However, in order to get leaner you had to be consistently eating less calories. When you diet, your body fat percentage drops, and so does your daily calorie intake. Once you’ve reached your goal weight, you want to go back to eating more calories without putting all the weight back on.
A reverse diet is the process of eating more (increasing daily calories) without gaining body fat. It is the process of repairing your metabolism from being in a low-calorie state for an extended period of time.
Why you should reverse diet after a diet
The problem with a lowered calorie intake is that if it is sustained for long enough, then the resulting fat loss is also accompanied with a lowered metabolic rate.
When you decrease your daily caloric input, your body tries to maintain and store body fat. Going back to the days of hunters and gatherers, this is a natural method for your body to protect itself during times of scarce food. As soon as you start introducing more daily calories your body wants to store it as fat.
However in modern times, where people diet often, this metabolic slowdown can set you up to gain more and more weight every time you diet down and go back to eating normally again (i.e. yo-yo dieting).
A RD allows you to increase you calorie intake and repair your metabolism after a diet without packing on body fat.
Why do you need to repair your metabolism after dieting, is it damaged?
Let’s dig into the science real quick…
A damaged metabolism is one that is permanently lowered due to prolonged low calorie dieting. It is directly related to your fat cells and their regulatory hormones.
Your body has a set number of fat cells and they cannot be destroyed. They only change in size in response to the volume of fat stored in the cell. Your set number of fat cells at their most stable size represents your body fat set point, or the body fat percentage your body is most comfortable with. As you lower your calorie intake these fat cells will shrink as you burn fat, but they prefer to be at a certain median size to maintain homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the tendency for a biological system to try and maintain regular and stable internal conditions. When you diet, your body must halt fat loss in order to maintain homeostasis for survival otherwise you would waste away! Therefore your body slows down your metabolic rate.
Your body stops putting calories towards generating body heat (thermogenesis) and your hormonal profile shifts towards an affinity for weight gain rather than further weight loss. You are now in survival mode.
When you are in survival mode, weight regain is almost inevitable. Your body is set up to store fat rather than burn it because your fat cells want to return to their regular size. So as soon as you go back to eating your regular amounts of food you will regain the weight back, and you may even gain excess weight.
If you gain back all of the weight you lost too quickly because your body was set up to do so, then you can overshoot your body fat set point! Your body can actually produce more fat cells in order to accommodate the excess fat storage and still maintain homeostasis. So now your body has more fat cells at their same median size. This means your body is holding the same amount of fat in each cell, but with more cells. So your body fat set point is now higher. This is called body fat over-shooting.
Having more fat cells due to body fat over-shooting is an example of a damaged metabolism. You now have more fat cells producing more hormones working against you to lose body fat making it even harder to achieve lower body fat percentages.
You need to raise your metabolic rate to accommodate for the increased calorie intake as you go back to normal eating habits. The RD is a method used to repair metabolic damage and return to your normal eating patterns, but with a higher metabolism and leaner physique.
So how does reverse dieting work?
The RD requires a slow increase in calories over a long period of time in order to repair metabolic damage (raise your metabolism) and set you up for further fat loss. It can be used to raise your maintenance level of calories, or the amount you can eat without gaining or losing weight. If you raise the amount of calories you can eat then you have increased your budget from which you can cut calories, making fat loss a breeze.
To start, it involves adding 50-100 calories to your diet each week after your diet is over. This slow increase is not enough to cause significant fat storage all at once. In fact, if you are training and working out during this process (which you absolutely should be), then the tiny surplus of calories each week is allocated towards training adaptations and muscle gains rather than fat storage.
Example reverse diet
Remember, before starting a RD, review IIFYM Explained: A Simple Guide To Flexible Dieting. The principles of the RD rely on IIFYM.
Starting from the bottom of a fat loss phase/ calorie deficit, add 2-5% to your fat intake and 5-10% to your carb intake, each week. Continue this slow increase until you have surpassed your original maintenance calorie intake.
You should increase for as long as you want to in order to see progress in the gym. Once you’ve surpassed your initial pre-diet daily caloric intake, it will make starting a new diet that much easier. (I shoot for about 500 calories over my initial daily intake)
Once you’ve reached a daily caloric intake above your pre-diet caloric intake, you can cut back down to a body fat percentage below where you started before the RD. From there, you can RD again to further your metabolic enhancement. It’s a cycle that can continue until you reach your goal body fat percentage.
Your starting point will depend on how long you want to cut for and your ending point will depend on how long you want to focus on gaining muscle and strength.
Pro Tip: During the RD, since you are eating more calories, a little bit of fat gain can be expected. If at any point you feel like you are gaining more fat than you should be, simply stay at your current calorie level for a few weeks before increasing again. This should give your body a chance to adapt to the current calorie level and add progress to your workouts and training.
My own reverse dieting cycle, a success story
I reverse out of any cut that I go through. You can find a high level of success by cycling calorie cuts and RDs. I will share with you a short history of my reverse dieting:
1st cycle: I cut my calories to ~2500 kcal at 13% body fat (BF). I reversed back up with some fat decrease during the process (hyper response) up to 3500 kcal. I ended up back at ~13% BF though now with more muscle mass
2nd cycle: I decreased calories and cut down to ~10% BF with two deficit steps of 2900 kcal, then 2600 kcal. Reversed back up to 3800 kcal with a slight fat regain. Ended at 11-12% BF, but with 300 extra calories and more muscle!
3rd cut: Decreased down to ~8% BF with two steps of 3200 kcal, then 2750 kcal, making this cut the easiest cut of all time.
So, using reverse dieting, I successfully raised my calorie budget while increasing muscle mass and performance, lowered my body fat percentage, while looking better and better throughout the process. Mind you, I did use specific conditioning techniques in order to speed up each cutting phase. Check out my article on sprints if you want to leverage the best fat burning methods possible.
So if you are already a flexible dieter or are used to tracking your macros, then this is a breeze. Again, the idea is to repair a crashed or damaged metabolism and/or set yourself up for fat loss by raising your calorie budget. You can also use a RD as a “lean bulk” in order to gain muscle and performance without all of the fluff. It’s a chance to adjust your body composition more permanently. Though it takes time and care, the results can be outstanding if done properly.