What is a Reverse Diet? An Easy Guide

Reverse dieting

With a lot of my weight loss clients, when they hit their goal weight we do what is known as a reverse diet.

You don’t want to jump straight back into old eating habits, but at the same time, you don’t want to feel overly restricted. Here’s where a reverse diet comes in handy!

What is a Reverse Diet?

The concept of the “reverse diet” doesn’t have a single originator but has evolved over time in the fitness and bodybuilding communities.

The principle behind reverse dieting is gradually increasing caloric intake after a period of caloric restriction, with the intent of ramping up metabolic rate without significantly accumulating body fat.

Notable figures in the fitness industry, such as Layne Norton, have popularised and refined the concept, emphasising the importance of slowly reintroducing calories to optimise metabolism and body composition. However, while many individuals claim success with this approach, scientific research is still ongoing regarding its effectiveness and best practices. In my experience though, with both myself and my clients, it is a useful tool.

Why Consider a Reverse Diet?

When we’re on a strict diet for a long period, our bodies adapt to the reduced calories. Our metabolism – think of it as our body’s engine – can slow down because it’s getting used to running on less fuel. If we then suddenly return to our old eating habits, we risk piling on the weight.

The reverse diet helps in preventing rapid weight gain and assists in “resetting” our metabolism and habits, so it’s more in line with our new weight and food intake.

When Should You Start a Reverse Diet?

  1. Post-Diet Period: The best time to begin a reverse diet is immediately after coming off a strict calorie-restricted diet.
  2. Post-Competition: For athletes or bodybuilders who’ve been preparing for an event, a reverse diet is a gentle way to return to regular eating patterns.
  3. If You Feel Stuck: Sometimes, even when we’re eating less calories, we stop losing weight. A reverse diet might help in giving your body a gentle nudge.

How Does it Work?

  1. Gradual Increase: Start by adding a small number of calories to your daily intake. This can be as little as 50-100 extra calories a day.
  2. Monitor and Adjust: Keep an eye on how your body responds. If you’re maintaining your weight and feeling good, consider adding a few more calories the following week.
  3. Focus on Nutrition: This isn’t a free pass to gorge on junk food. Prioritise whole, nutritious foods. Think lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs.
  4. Exercise: As you increase your food intake, ensure you’re keeping active. It’s not just about what you eat but also how you burn it off.
  5. Listen to Your Body: If you start to feel bloated, overly full, or like you’re gaining weight too quickly, slow down the process. Remember, it’s about finding balance.

In conclusion, a reverse diet is all about reintroducing calories in a controlled manner, allowing our bodies to adapt without sudden weight gain. It’s a way of finding a happy middle ground after a period of strict dieting, ensuring you can enjoy your meals while maintaining a healthy weight. Like any dietary approach, it’s essential to consult with a nutrition professional, such as a weight loss coach, before starting to ensure it’s the right choice for you.

For Those Who Want to Dig Deeper…

Here are some related studies that touch upon the principles above, but may not directly mention “reverse dieting”:

  1. Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Norton, L. E. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 7.
  2. Rosenbaum, M., & Leibel, R. L. (2010). Adaptive thermogenesis in humans. International Journal of Obesity, 34(S1), S47-S55.
  3. Dulloo, A. G., Jacquet, J., & Montani, J. P. (2012). How dieting makes some fatter: from a perspective of human body composition autoregulation. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 71(3), 379-389.
  4. Redman, L. M., Heilbronn, L. K., Martin, C. K., Alfonso, A., Smith, S. R., Ravussin, E., … & Pennington CALERIE Team. (2009). Effect of calorie restriction with or without exercise on body composition and fat distribution. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 92(3), 865-872.
  5. Campbell, B. I., Aguilar, D., Conlin, L., Vargas, A., Schoenfeld, B. J., Corson, A., … & Couvillion, K. (2020). Effects of high versus low protein intake on body composition and maximal strength in aspiring female physique athletes engaging in an 8-week resistance training program. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 30(3), 165-175.
  6. Koehler, K., De Souza, M. J., & Williams, N. I. (2017). Less-than-expected weight loss in normal-weight women undergoing caloric restriction and exercise is accompanied by preservation of fat-free mass and metabolic adaptations. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71(3), 365-371.

It would be advisable to search databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, or Web of Science for new papers on the topic of reverse dieting as they become available.

I can help you…

I am a Weight Loss Coach, successfully helping people just like you to lose weight and keep it off: