04 Oct A Short and Uncomplicated Guide to Reverse Dieting
Instead of deep diving into every piece of science ever on reverse dieting, metabolism, and a buncha shit you don’t care about – I’m gonna tell you a story.
Let’s make up a guy named Chad.
Chad’s got a pretty fast metabolism, works out a couple times a week, and maintains his weight by eating 2,500 calories per day (his “maintenance calories”).
But Chad is trying to get #shredded and wants to lose some body fat.
We know to lose fat, he needs to be in a calorie deficit (i.e., below 2,500 kcals/day).
And if you think Chad is gonna be slow and steady with his cutting strategy — you apparently don’t know enough dudes named Chad. It’s all or nothing, bro.
Instead, he decides to aggressively diet by cutting 1,000 calories per day by eating less food and adding tons of cardio. Chad could probably do an aggressive cut if he had a coach helping him out, but that is obviously never gonna happen because he’s “done his research.”
When Chad does this cut, his body will adapt to the lower energy intake by losing body fat (and possibly muscle if he’s not eating enough protein and resistance training) and his metabolism will “slow down.” Which is normal because the body is trying to preserve as much energy as possible.
Fast forward a month, and Chad’s metabolism has slowed down to maintaining his weight on 1,500 kcals per day instead of his initial 2,500 kcals (this is just a rough example, by the way).
It’s been a long month of hardcore dieting and Chad is sick of this shit. He wants food. LOTS of food (because his aggressive dieting has ramped up his hunger).
So, he starts crushing food each day and eats 2,500+ kcals per day.
But his metabolic rate hasn’t had time to adjust yet.
His maintenance calories are still at 1,500 kcals/day and he’s eating at least 2,500 kcals per day. This means he’s gonna start gaining fat at a very high rate. It’s possible he could re-gain all the fat he lost when dieting for that month-long period, PLUS even more.
This is why people tend to gain even MORE fat after they’ve dieted for a long period of time.
Think about bodybuilder or actors who diet for weeks and weeks, finish their competition or movie, and then eat everything in sight. They blow up, get sad, start dieting again, and it’s a vicious cycle of gaining and losing.
“But Matt, is there any way to prevent people from blowing up after they lose weight and their metabolism slows down?!”
ENTER THE REVERSE DIET.
The “reverse diet” is exactly what it sounds like: you’re doing the opposite of slowly taking away calories to lose weight.
Instead, you’re slowly adding in calories week-to-week so that you can match your metabolic rate in parallel as it increases (yes, this means your metabolism actually gets faster as you eat more food — this is why people get confused when others say, “eating 6 small meals a day speeds up your metabolism.” Yes, it does. But if you’re eating too many calories you still gain weight).
HERE’S WHAT CHAD SHOULD HAVE DONE
- Calculated a calorie deficit.
- Slowly decreased calories week-to-week (doing it slowly allows you to retain more muscle and doesn’t ramp up your hunger) by 100-200 calories (this will vary by individual). These calories should be decreased mostly from carbs and fats because we want to keep protein high (around 1g/lb of bodyweight).
- Aimed for 0.5-1% loss of total bodyweight per week.
- Then, once he reached his desired level of leanness and/or his diet ended, he should have started a reverse diet by slowly adding in calories by 100-400 calories per week (this will vary by individual). I would recommend adding in calories mostly from carbs and protein to begin, then slowly increase fats as weeks go on.
- I can’t give broad recommendations for weight re-gain because it will be largely dependent on how lean Chad is at the end of his diet and how fast he’s willing to gain fat. But typically 0.5-1% is a good start. Using pictures and body measurements are other tools I would recommend in addition to the scale.
Here’s the kicker: reverse dieting isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s typically harder than the dieting part because Chad’s ready to eat all the food and he’s not getting the reward of being shredded anymore. So he better make sure he’s mentally prepared for this.
And if you haven’t caught on by now, I’m also saying you better be mentally prepared when you plan on dieting down and/or reverse dieting.
Some people may lose weight when reversing after a long period of dieting due to lower stress (water retention diminishes). But others may not be so lucky and have to cope with putting on some body fat.
I know you’re just gonna think I’m plugging here, but if you want to diet down the right way and not risk screwing up your metabolism (I say that lightly) — you should hire a coach.
Long story short: don’t be a Chad.