Your Comprehensive Guide to Reverse Dieting

What if we told you that you are not cursed with a "slow" metabolism? That you are able to repair it by going on a nutritional plan that allows you to eat more (instead of less!) and achieve your goals...? Would you believe us?

Most of the times, we do place the blame on genetics. When in reality, it is actually our culture's obsession with fad diets that restrict foods and/or calories that lead to metabolic damage (adaptation) in the place. It is time for you to get educated with a (not so) secret weapon for rebuilding and maintaining a strong and healthy metabolism: reverse dieting.

Let's do this!

What Does A Reverse Diet Look Like?

Reverse dieting is a slow methodical approach typically taking around three to six months (depending on how well your body responds to it). The idea behind reverse dieting is to gradually strengthen your metabolism's efficiency, so you can consume a higher caloric intake without drastic changes (i.e., unwanted weight gain) to body composition. This means that you will be able to eat more food without gaining body fat.

Wait, does this mean we're able to eat more without gaining fat?

It might sound like a crazy concept, but your body is designed to be highly adaptable. The idea of a reverse diet is that with small and controlled increases in your caloric intake, your metabolism will adapt and speed up.

Julie Ledbetter's Reverse Dieting Chart

Julie Ledbetter's Reverse Dieting Chart

Your resting metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn daily to sustain yourself) decreases when you dramatically reduce the calories your body is used to running on. This is the problem many have experienced in a dieting past (or present). In an effort to conserve your limited supply of energy, your metabolism slows down and adapts to burning fewer calories to sustain essential life functions.

Now, what happens when you stop dieting and start eating "normal" again?

When you resume "normal" eating, your body will hold any "surplus" calories, and store it as fat in anticipation of the next starvation period. This is why those who lose a large amount of weight usually gain it (and more) back quickly.

Chronic dieting or extreme caloric restrictions can cause permanent damage (adaptation) to your metabolism. This makes it difficult to continue and lose weight, but, unfortunately, much easier to gain weight. However, because your metabolism is adaptable, the opposite effect can be achieved as well – your metabolism can be trained to be more efficient at burning calories. 

The trick is moving slow. You cannot simply eat an entire pizza and expect your metabolism to adapt to a giant caloric surplus overnight. Your body needs ample time to adjust. Following a reverse diet requires patience, discipline, and consistency. A slow and gradual reverse diet process will ensure that all of the fat you worked so hard to lose will not come back.

Let's Talk About The Benefits of Reverse Dieting.

One of the best benefits? You get to eat more! But not as much as you want right away. Instead, a small, gradual increase in caloric intake is going to begin restoring metabolic function. As you gradually increase your intake, daily life will continue to get better as well. You'll begin to appreciate small things again. Like going to social events... you get to fit many of those yummy foods into your meal plan instead of getting distracted by your hunger cues and/or cravings.

As you continue to increase your caloric intake, it'll provide you with more energy. That leads to an improvement in mood (no more hangry!) and mental health by freeing you from the "dieting" mindset.

Reverse dieting gives you a structured "break" from being in a caloric deficit due to limited food choices. Thus, it will help you relax, which will help decrease cortisol levels (stress hormones), therefore enabling you to focus on what you enjoy doing with your loved ones without worrying about gaining fat. It means you're able to have the best of both worlds: eat more and maintain your body.

Not to mention how much enjoyment you're able to get back with your training sessions – No more mental and physical fatigue. You'll have more glycogen in your muscles and liver, which means higher energy level amounts to spend! Your ability to build muscle increases, along with building strength, endurance, agility, and stamina!

Convinced yet? Good!

Now, Let's Learn How to Set Up Your Reverse Diet.

First Week - This is the starting point for you if you have already been eating in a severe caloric deficit (25% or beyond). This is intended to help you kickstart your reverse diet phase.

  • Protein: Maintain the same protein intake. We recommend 0.8g-1.0g/lb. as a general rule of thumb.

  • Fats: Increase fat intake by 10%.

  • Carbs: Increase carb intake by 10%.

Each (Subsequent) Week - Start here if you have already been eating in a caloric deficit (20% or less).

  • Eat plenty of protein with at least 0.8g-1.0g/lb. based on your eating preferences (vegan, vegetarian, paleo, etc.). If you'd like to eat more protein, aim for the higher end of the protein intake range. If you have a hard time getting your protein intake in, aim for the lower end of the range. We try to recommend 1.0g/lb. to help promote muscle growth.

  • Fat intake should be increased 2-5% (from conservative to aggressive approach). This range is going to allow you to customize your plan based on your approach (especially with your eating preferences).

If you're not sure about the percentage increase, here's a simpler approach below.

- Slow Approach: Fat increases by +1 to +2g (or 9-18 calories).

- Moderate Approach: Fat increases by +2 to +3g (or 18-27 calories).

* We highly recommend a moderate approach for most people. Make sure that your macros between fat and carb come with an increase between 50-100 calories.

- Aggressive Approach: Fat increases by +3g to +5g (or 27-45 calories).

* Important Tip! You don't need more than 0.3-0.4 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight to maintain health. Once you reach this goal, you simply can focus on increasing your carb intake until you get out of your caloric deficit.

This is designed to ensure you'll build up plenty of caloric intake (especially carbohydrates) to prime you for your next body fat loss phase, leaving you tons of room to cut down when you enter a caloric deficit! More food now means more food later!

  • Carb intake should be increased 2-5% (from conservative to aggressive approach).

If you're not sure about the percentage increase, here's a simpler approach below.

- Slow Approach: Carb increases by +3 to +5g (or 12-20 calories).

- Moderate Approach: Carb increases by +5 to +8g (or 20-32 calories).

* We highly recommend a moderate approach for most people. Make sure that your macros between fat and carb come with an increase between 50-100 calories.

- Aggressive Approach: Carb increases by +8g to +10g (or 32-40 calories).

You'll want to follow your reverse diet until you a.) get out of your caloric deficit into maintenance, or b.) go into a caloric surplus to start building muscles.

Here are additional tips:

  • With your weekly check-ins, you'll want to make sure you're able to track and compare your weight and body measurements to decide if you'll want to increase your macros or to keep your macros the same for another week.

Adjusting Your Macros while Reverse Dieting

Adjusting Your Macros while Reverse Dieting

  • If you are unsure about your weight and/or body measurements because they have been fluctuating back and forth for the last week or two, we encourage you to download this weekly check-in progress checklist.

  • You can implement reverse dieting when it comes to building lean muscles by going into a caloric surplus.

When to End Your Reverse Diet Phase?

Determining when to end your reverse diet phase is based on your personal preferences and goals; however, we encourage you to finish your reverse diet phase when you are at least completely out of your caloric deficit. This helps you know you have a fully functioning metabolism.

However, you can end your reverse diet phase if you begin to gain one or more pounds and/or 0.5" or more inches for three consecutive weeks. It is likely you have reached your metabolic capacity. Be sure you are consistently adhering within 1g-5g of each macronutrient goal (+/-) and maintaining your current training regimen before you determine if you have reached metabolic capacity.

When you get out of your caloric deficit, you have three options as to what you can do next.

  1. Recalculate your new maintenance and stay there as long as you'd like.

  2. Continue to reverse diet by bringing your body into a caloric surplus, which will give you an opportunity to build lean muscle tissues while minimizing body fat gains (we said "minimize", not prevent).

  3. Modify your current calories/macros to kickstart your body fat loss phase.

When Building A Meal Plan, Be Sure to Make It Flexible For Sustainability Long-Term.

When it comes to labeling foods, we recommend that you do not label them as if they are good or bad; otherwise, we will be setting ourselves up for failure. Labeling foods as "bad" can become restrictive, which limits your choices and creates an unhealthy relationship with food. The more resistance you develop against a "bad" food, the more likely you will develop an emotional trigger, falling prey to binging and overeating on the "bad" food.

Fortunately, there is a way to make it right: by labeling foods as nutrient-dense or non-nutrient-dense. Instead of viewing food as "good" or "bad" and restricting them like a light switch, look at nutrient-dense and non-nutrient dense foods like a dial (special thanks to Carter Good for this analogy). This will help you create a much healthier relationship with food.

We recommend starting with the 80/20 approach. Your goal is to eat 80% of your meals from nutrient-dense sources and 20% from non-nutrient-dense food sources. This allows freedom and flexibility to fit foods that you love into your macros without feeling guilty and keeps cravings at bay.

[clickToTweet tweet="By practicing this approach, it helps to shift your mindset from being a 'restricted' eater to a 'disciplined' (everything in moderation) eater. - Joshua & Julie Ledbetter" quote="By practicing this approach, it helps to shift your mindset from being a 'restricted' eater to a 'disciplined' (everything in moderation) eater."]

Will You Gain Weight When You Reverse Diet?

It depends on you and your body's response to your reverse diet. You may or may not gain weight, but you may also lose some as well.

If you happen to lose weight while reverse dieting, keep in mind that it is mostly the water-retention loss, which is normal as your hormones begin returning to their normal levels.

However, if you happen to experience weight gain – don't fret. When you increase your carbohydrate intake, your muscles and liver are going to hold on to water and glycogen. Your weight can easily fluctuate (up/down) with little to no changes in your body fat levels.

How to Overcome Your Fear of Reverse Dieting.

The concept of reverse dieting – eating more now to improve your subsequent weight loss efforts – seems to defy logic. This doubt allows a host of insecurities and fears to creep in. It is completely normal to fear in gaining weight, becoming impatient with the process, or to feel uncomfortable with the amount of food you're eating each day.

The number one fear associated with this phase is weight gain. It is important to remember the purpose of a reverse diet is not to reach your goal weight or to lose body fat; the goal is to increase your metabolic efficiency and capacity. With a proper reverse diet, the hope is to improve your overall metabolic health while keeping additional body fat gain to a minimum.

Remember that weight gain is not necessarily the same thing as body fat gain. Some of the weight you gain during a reverse diet may be due to an increase in lean muscle mass – it is necessary to eat in order to gain muscle.

Body composition is a more important factor to consider than scale weight. We have never experienced a teammate gaining more than an inch or two on their waist and/or hips during a properly executed reverse diet. That is not to say it's not possible to gain more. Depending on the length of the reverse diet, some individuals may gain five to ten pounds, while others maintain or even lose weight. When it comes to our bodies, it is an error to speak in terms of absolutes. Results will differ between individuals, but the overall goal of a reverse diet – an improved metabolism – should stay the same. 

The fear of not progressing fast enough goes hand-in-hand with the fear of weight gain. Reverse dieting is a test of patient and consistency. Your body needs time to adapt to the new changes you're making, so rushing the process does you no good. If you feel stuck waiting for your body to catch up, be patient and show yourself grace. It's normal to experience lulls in progress.

The scale will likely fluctuate throughout a reverse diet. When your weight goes up one pound or more, we recommend holding off on any macro increases that week and waiting for your body to adapt (maintain or lose) before moving to your next macro set.

The last obstacle people face is the difficulty of hitting your ever-increasing macros. You may experience days when the amount of food you are supposed to eat exceeds your appetite. A trick to combat that is finding foods that are more calorie dense from non-nutrient-dense food groups. It's harder to eat 50 grams of carbs from broccoli than bread. Use your discretion to decide when you may sacrifice more nutrient-dense foods for higher macronutrient foods.

Going through a reverse diet is a learning experience for many people. It teaches diligence and patience, and equally as important – balance. Don't begin with a mindset of wanting to look a certain way; instead, focus on how you feel, on increasing your strength in the gym, and the overall goal of a healthy metabolism long-term. You must remember that you are making an investment in your long-term metabolic health.

Those who have successfully completed a reverse diet often end with a greater awareness of their bodies and a greater sense of how to eat according to what their body needs.

What's Our Take On Reverse Dieting?

Unfortunately, in our health and fitness industry – there are millions of people who truly want to lose weight, but they have no ideas about where to begin. They also don't know the actual goals of a successful weight-loss plan. Which means focusing on losing fat (not muscle) and maintaining their improved body composition for the rest of their lives while adhering to a healthy, sustainable lifestyle long-term.

If you want to separate yourself from others, be willing to learn and break away from the mainstream of fad diets and eating restrictions! Especially with the nonsense (un-researched and/or un-tested) stuff, they preach daily. Instead, learn by understanding how you are able to work with your metabolism in its current state and come up with a game plan without the need to fight against your metabolism.

Reverse dieting is a strategy that many competitive athletes (including bodybuilders) use that you can implement into your lifestyle. We hope to see reverse dieting continue to grow in the mainstream and help people overcome their current diets to build a healthy sustainable lifestyle for the first time in their lives.

[clickToTweet tweet="Instead of seeking a 'quick fix,' invest in your long-term sustainability and, ultimately, freedom." quote="Instead of seeking a 'quick fix,' invest in your long-term sustainability and, ultimately, freedom."]

If you happen to find this article to be helpful, share it with your loved ones to help spread the concept of what a reverse diet is all about to help prevent them from the negative experiences of fad diets and vicious cycles!

What is your take on this topic with reverse dieting? Do you have anything you'd like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below!