Have you ever dieted for fat loss and then once the diet was over your weight just slowly crept back up to where it was before?
If so, this is normal. Most people can lose weight, but keeping it off is the issue.
For a few reasons.
- You go from structure to then no structure and back to how you were eating before.
- Maintaining a new low weight is TOUGH. Tougher than you think.
Insert the concept of reverse dieting.
Essentially you slowly increase your calories following your fat loss diet because you need to take a break from fat loss dieting or want to return to your maintenance calories.
Read HERE about metabolic adaptation.
While this is a strategy we use with clients, most people overplay the benefits of reverse dieting.
So in this blog post I want to go over myths around reverse dieting, then some truths/why we will use them with clients, and a case study.
Myth 1 It will increase your metabolic rate from previous numbers.
There is a myth that by reverse dieting you will see an increase in your metabolic rate over your previous maintenance calories.
What will happen is that as you get closer to your maintenance energy balance you will see your metabolic rate start to tick back up.
But it being higher than it was the last time you were at your maintenance is highly unlikely.
One thing you can try and do is add more muscle as this may help increase your metabolic rate slightly over time.
But just by increasing your calories, you will not see some magical fat loss benefit.
Myth 2 It will make your next fat loss phases easier.
It will not make future fat loss phases easier.
How your body responds to an energy deficit is very individual. Some people will just always have a tougher time than others. You see more side effects like more hunger, lower energy levels, etc.
Yes adding muscle can make future fat loss phases easier (and more experience fat loss dieting) but reversing your calories back up will not make future fat loss phases easier.
Myth 3- You will get leaner adding in calories/going to maintenance.
Part of the reason you stay lean is that you slowly add calories and are still in an energy deficit for some time.
This is also more of an illusion because body fat takes time to accumulate so you dont notice it. Therefore as you are increasing your calories you still feel lean because you are still leaner than you were before.
So you think you’re able to eat more and stay lean.
You also may have really been restricting calories so adding more calories helps you with hunger, cravings, energy levels (you end up moving more throughout the day) etc.
Or maybe adding slightly more food means you can adhere better to the deficit.
But you aren’t getting leaner because you are reversing your calories.
Myth 4 You need to do it to jumpstart weight loss again.
Two scenarios here.
1. You have a lot of diet fatigue (hunger, cravings, low energy etc.) from being in an energy deficit for a period of time. Because of this adherence becomes challenging, so by slightly increasing your calories your adherence is better.
2. Maintaining an energy deficit consistently is freaking tough (especially if you go at this alone).
AKA in both scenarios you think you’re in an energy deficit but you’re not.
You might need to take a break from fat loss dieting for a bit of time or check your adherence if this is you.
Check out this post HERE on tracking inaccuracies.
You can listen to this topic HERE.
Some truths and why we will use them with clients
-Helps you make sure you dont overshoot maintenance.
We use this with clients to help make sure they dont overshoot their maintenance calories.
Most people just wing their post-diet period.
Read HERE about common post diet mistakes.
By slowly increasing their calories it helps them stay on track AND ensures they dont overeat following their fat loss diet.
–There will be some weight gain following your diet.
When you increase your food intake you will see your weight go up.
You’re basically like a dry sponge, ready to soak up anything and everything. However if done right, most of this will just be water weight increases, not fat gain (unless you overshoot for an extended period of time.)
Plus you will simply have more food in your body at any one time.
The leaner you are, the more likely you dont want to reverse diet and instead just get back to your maintenance calories.
If you are sub 15-17% for females and sub 8-10% for males, you likely want to get back to maintenance ASAP. Whereas if you are over these numbers a reverse diet will be better for you if you want to stay leaner for a little longer.
–The main goal is to get you to your maintenance calories.
The main goal of the reverse diet is to simply get you back to your maintenance calories as this will alleviate any fatigue you accumulated from being in an energy deficit.
Not for any other reason.
The other option is to keep your calories lower while staying at your lowest weight but you will have a much tougher time maintaining that (fewer calories, higher hunger/cravings, lower energy, more stress, etc.) and the likelihood you would go off track and overshoot at some point is higher.
Client Case Study
What good is this if you can’t see how this actually plays out in practice.
This is my client Laura.
She came to me after running her own building phase (she admits it wasn’t done in the best way) BUT the main thing is she took the time to get away from fat loss dieting for a period of time, which is key.
When we started her weight was around 142.
We spent the first 4 weeks getting her maintenance calories dialed in.
From there she entered a fat loss phase. This was 13 weeks long.
We also implemented multiple diet breaks to account for travel.
She went from 142 to 125ish.
Those were the first two pics from left to right.
Then we entered her into a reverse diet to get her back to her maintenance level calories.
The main goal was to alleviate any diet fatigue she accumulated, higher hunger levels, cravings, lower energy, and just the extra stress that comes from losing body fat and being in a calorie deficit.
We also did it to ensure she didn’t overshoot her maintenance following the fat loss phase.
Week 1 Post Diet
Increased cals from 1750-1850 to 2000-2200.
Avg weight: 125
Weight actually continued to trend down from her last week of fat loss (125.3).
Sometimes you will see this happen in certain cases.
Likely from a reduction in overall stress, and with more calories your body might start to increase spontaneous movement, among other things.
Going into this I told her that her weight will probably end up somewhere between 127-130lbs.
Week 2 Post Diet
Increased to 2150-2350
Avg weight: 125.7
Another solid week. Average weight did trend up slightly to 125.7, but this is to be expected.
Towards the end of week 2, she had events and extra stress come up, which combined with not seeing weight go up much from the end of the fat loss diet (she was still likely in a deficit) was a recipe for going off the plan.
Week 3 Post Diet
Avg weight: 130.6
Weight spiked up from going off the plan but most if not all of it was water weight.
Her body was still somewhat depleted at 125, so it was ready to soak up anything and everything and we hadn’t had any weight gain yet from increasing the calories.
Side note: I see this a lot when you increase calories there is sort of a lag time and it takes a bit for weight to go up. During building phases I will see weight stabilize for 2-3 weeks at a time and then bam it goes up, opposite of the whoosh effect on the way down.
So that and the fact she had trouble moderating for a few days were the culprits here.
Things that caused her weight to spike up:
- lag time from increasing calories
- saltier foods
- likely increased glycogen storage
- just more food in her body overall.
Going into this reverse diet I gave her a number of around 127-130 for weight as everyone is really different when it comes to how their body will respond.
Weight may have jumped up a bit more than what we wanted in this one week, but this is likely where she was going to end up and feel her best overall anyways.
But since she was still showing some signs of diet fatigue (having trouble moderating and having cravings) we went ahead and increased her calories again to 2250-2400 and to make sure she stuck to the plan.
Also knowing that her previous maintenance was around 2300-2700.
Week 4 Post Diet
Avg weight: 130.1
Weight went down and started to stabilize. Again a good sign this is where her body feels best.
We increased cals again to 2300-2500.
This ended up being her true maintenance at that time.
As her weight has since stayed around 130lbs and things like hunger and cravings have gone down and she feels stronger in her workouts and in general.
Here she is 2 months post diet.
As you can tell in the pics her physique looks nearly identical to the picture at the end of her fat loss phase, but she has a much fuller look (in a good way), and a much-improved look overall from when she started.
This is reverse dieting.
It isn’t some trick thats going to cause you to get leaner while you increase calories.
It’s there to help you not overshoot your maintenance post diet and gain a bunch of excess body fat and get rid of fatigue from dieting.
Yes, she had one point during the reverse where weight went up a bit quickly, but again that was where she would’ve ended up anyways and where her body is most comfortable and not showing signs of diet fatigue.
The other option would’ve been to keep her calories lower while staying at 125lbs but she would’ve had a much tougher time maintaining that (fewer calories, higher hunger/cravings, lower energy, more stress, etc.) and the likelihood she would’ve gone off track and overshot at some point would’ve been higher.
The moral of the story is you can’t expect to stay the same weight when you are at your lowest calorie amount and dont feel your greatest.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is BSing you.
Some things Laura does well that helped with this process
- Great at tracking. This is a skill that is super important for a reverse diet.
- High activity levels.
- Plans ahead.
- Lifts weights atleast 4x per week.
- High protein.
If you need more structure and guidance around your nutrition/training then fill out the link HERE and let’s get to work!