By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
In my article on how to design your own diet, I outlined the steps to calculating the caloric deficit one may need as a starting point for their fat loss diet.
In this week’s piece, I aim to talk about reverse dieting, a strategy that originally became popular among bodybuilders following a physique competition.
Now reverse dieting is also recognised as a helpful method to bring calories back to maintenance after a fat loss phase. Furthermore, it can potentially aid in producing further fat loss in the future.
Does any of the scenarios above resonate with you?
Then reverse dieting might be a good fit.
What is reverse dieting?
When you are reverse dieting, you add calories to your daily intake instead of reducing them, hence the name. In general, this is done in a gradual manner, not all at once, in order to avoid the urge to overeat and thus cause excessive weight and fat regain after a productive fat loss phase.
A good rule of thumb would be to up calories by 50 to 100 per week, although the specific frequency and caloric increment will vary depending on the individual.
Who is reverse dieting for?
You could consider reverse dieting if:
You have been working on healthy habits that might still be new to you.
You have also been in a caloric deficit for a sustained period of time, so you may be not only hungry, but also looking forward to having the foods you might not have been able to fit into your caloric requirements until now.
Lastly, you may know how many calories you need to lose fat, but not how many calories you need to maintain your newly acquired weight.
Without a careful segue from the fat loss phase into your maintenance phase, you run the risk of reverting back to the pre-diet habits and losing your hard-earned accomplishment.
To prevent this unfortunate outcome, controlling your dietary habits for a period of time after the diet whilst you slowly increase your intake to find your maintenance calories will prevent you from regaining all the weight lost and more.
You might have more fat to lose, but dropping calories further or increasing activity levels would be unsustainable for you. In fact, your current regime may already be unsustainable, but you haven’t seen results for at least two to three weeks in a row. This is generally true for smaller individuals, who already start with a lower maintenance than most and need to introduce cardio into their fat loss plan sooner than others.
By “critically low calories” I mean an amount of calories that you feel you can’t sustain any longer. In this scenario, you might encounter some or all of these signs and symptoms:
Instead of dropping your calories even lower or doing even more physical activity, this can be a good time to reverse diet.
During this prolonged period of heavy restriction and progressive fat loss, the amount of energy you burn in a day has been decreasing at pace with your weight.
You may be undertaking the exact same amount of activity as usual: the same steps, the same house chores, the same training. However, people in a smaller, lighter body also expend less energy than they did in a bigger, heavier one.
Moreover, the longer you spend in a caloric deficit, the more efficient the body becomes at performing those same tasks at a lower energetic cost.
As a consequence, your caloric deficit shrinks and fat loss either slows down or plateaus.
If you raise your calories at this point, the size of your deficit will get smaller and smaller, until you reach maintenance calories. As you will be eating more, the psychological and physical stress of dieting will hopefully go down, enabling you to prepare for more fat loss in the future.
Furthermore, more food means you will have more energy. As a result, your training will get better and your excitement to work out will come back.
Lastly, the caloric increase will help your metabolic rate, or the rate at which you burn energy, increase a little. This way, when you find your maintenance calories, you will be burning more energy than you did when you were plateaued in a very steep deficit.
For this reason, the caloric drop necessary to kickstart fat loss again will be smaller than it was before, thus allowing you to lose fat on higher calories.
What do you do after reverse dieting?
If you decide to reverse diet back to maintenance and take a break from dieting even if you have more fat left to lose, you might benefit from a maintenance phase before you jump into another deficit.
Reverse dieting is very much still a diet, as you are not yet at maintenance calories. Although it is less stressful on the body and mind than trying to keep up an excessively low caloric intake, it is still more stressful than simply maintaining your weight.
Moreover, after reverse dieting you will still not have experienced any time trying to maintain the results you have achieved. Practising this will help you retain your current physique for years to come.
You might also choose to spend time maintaining if the intention were to start building muscle and therefore enter a caloric surplus.
Due to the fact that reverse dieting is still part of a fat loss phase, you may still experience an elevated hunger level during this period. If you were to try to eat in a surplus straight after, you might consistently overshoot your caloric target, get frustrated with yourself for gaining too much weight too fast, and potentially develop a not-so-great relationship with food.
On a personal note, I believe maintenance is what allowed me to start a muscle-building phase without feeling over-restrictive and thinking about eating all the food in sight all the time.
For full disclosure, at the time I was still learning about the dieting process, so it happened by mistake and not by design.
My original plan was to lose the fat I wanted to lose, then start to bulk right away.
What happened was that, once I achieved a shape I was content with, I got scared of excessive fat regain. So, whilst telling myself that I was trying to increase calories to attain a surplus, I was actually reverse dieting and then maintaining for several weeks after the fat loss phase ended.
In hindsight, I think this was a positive development.
By the time I began eating in a real surplus, I had a pretty good idea of what my maintenance calories were, so I could estimate my surplus more accurately. Moreover, I hadn’t been dieting for a while, so I was ready to increase my food intake without going crazy.
In closing, whatever choice you make after your reverse diet, some time at maintenance is likely to set you up for more successful diets of any kind in the future.
Have you ever thought about your post-diet strategy?
An online fitness coach who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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