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Published: June 8, 2024

What Is a Reverse Diet?

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Originating in the world of bodybuilding, reverse dieting has more recently caught on in the mainstream wellness sphere. The basic concept is eating more to lose weight, but it sounds too good to be true, right? With some strategic nutrition and careful calorie monitoring, reverse dieting could be an option for you.

How the Reverse Diet Works

Reverse dieting involves increasing your calorie intake over time to boost metabolism and teach the body how to burn more calories more effectively. This diet is often followed by people who compete in bodybuilding competitions as it can help “reset” their metabolism after periods of especially high or low caloric intakes.

For the weeks leading up to a bodybuilding event, competitors follow extremely restrictive diets. These diets result in the sleek, toned bodies that make for winning trophies, but they’re unsustainable in the long term. After the competition is over, bodybuilders may follow a reverse diet to slowly reintroduce their bodies to a more sustainable way of eating that works for them, while focusing on not losing too much of the muscle mass they achieved.

The reverse diet isn’t just for bodybuilders, though. Anyone can follow the reverse diet if they’re experiencing a plateau in their weight-loss journey, including if they’re experiencing slow metabolism. Metabolism can slow down for a number of reasons, the most common being aging – the older you get, the more your metabolism slows down.

It may also slow from not eating enough calories, such as during a very restrictive diet. Most traditional diets emphasize a lower caloric intake to create a calorie deficit, meaning you consume fewer calories than you burn. Over time, your body adapts to the lower number of calories and slows down your metabolism to help conserve energy to sustain basic bodily functions. This phenomenon is also called metabolic adaptation, metabolic damage, or sometimes starvation mode.

When you begin a reverse diet, it’s recommended to slowly increase calorie intake around 50–100 calories per week from your baseline (the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight). These increases can take anywhere from several weeks to several months and last until you’ve reached your pre-diet caloric intake.

Reverse dieting allows you to gradually increase your calories, helping to avoid food binges or shocking your system with a sudden uptick in calories that could make you more prone to weight gain. Consult with a nutritionist or dietitian to make sure you’re implementing an increased caloric intake safely.

What Foods Should You Eat?

Although everybody and every body is different, macronutrient intake is an important aspect of a reverse diet. Getting the right balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for your body and your goals can be tricky – working with a nutritionist or Health Coach can help! A nutritionist can help create a personalized meal plan, while a Health Coach can help you set goals around following it.

How to Follow a Reverse Diet

If you’re interested in pursuing reverse dieting for weight loss, focusing your energy on maintaining your results is key. It’s easy to overeat when on a reverse diet, so figure out what your ideal caloric intake and macronutrient needs are before you begin.

Consult your doctor

Be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning any diet to determine if it’s safe based on your specific health concerns.

Determine caloric need

You could estimate the number of calories you need to maintain your pre-diet weight based on your current weight and activity level, but this isn’t the most accurate method. For a complete look at your caloric needs, having a body composition test allows you, your doctor, and your dietitian or nutritionist to identify exactly how much muscle and fat you have. This will give you a better understanding of your resting metabolic rate and daily calorie needs before beginning a reverse diet.

Slowly increase your calories

Begin to slowly increase your calories around 50–100 calories per week from your baseline. This level of caloric intake can last anywhere from four to 10 weeks, or until you reach the number of calories you were consuming before you started the original diet you lost weight on.

Track your daily caloric intake

A food scale can help make sure you’re calculating the right amounts when it comes to calorie counting. Using food and exercise tracking apps can also help you stay on track.

Hit your maintenance goal and stick to it

Once you’ve reached your maintenance calorie level, your focus may shift to maintaining that weight and body composition. Continuing to choose healthier food options, exercising regularly, and paying attention to how much you consume on a consistent basis can help.

Pros and Cons of the Reverse Diet

Like every diet, reverse diets have pros and cons. While there isn’t an abundance of research on reverse dieting, many studies have been done on how calorie intake affects metabolism and weight loss in general. Since low-calorie diets can result in a slowed metabolism, increasing your calorie intake to a more sustainable level can help reduce some of the effects associated with metabolic adaptation.

Pros of the Reverse Diet

Reduced hunger

Restricting calories can mess with the hunger-regulating hormones ghrelin and leptin, igniting cravings for processed foods and increasing appetite and “hangry” feelings. Learning how to feed your unique body with proper nutrition has been shown to help increase energy levels, improve mood, and regulate your appetite – which can all support your overall health and wellness goals.

More food!

One of the main draws of reverse diets is getting to eat larger portions. As long as you control your calorie intake in the long term and stay at or below your baseline, you can enjoy the extra servings while following a reverse diet.

Cons of the Reverse Diet

Limited research

Reverse dieting hasn’t been researched as much as other diets, especially since studies have been primarily focused on bodybuilders. The jury is still out on whether reverse dieting works or if it’s simply a new name for improving your slow metabolism.

Heavy focus on calorie counting

While counting calories is an effective way to make sure you’re hitting your caloric goals and macronutrient intake, it’s not always accurate – and it’s not right for everyone. Studies have shown that when estimating the amount of calories consumed daily, people tend to severely underestimate – some by as much as 45%. These miscalculations can lead to overeating and unwanted weight gain. Plus, it might illicit unwanted stress, which can be emotionally and physically detrimental to reaching health goals.

The Bottom Line

Reverse dieting is popular among bodybuilders looking to regulate and rehabilitate their metabolisms after training. But does it work for non-bodybuilders? The science isn’t there yet to confirm this idea, but there haven’t been reports that it’s harmful, either. Increasing calories doesn’t always mean instant weight gain – keeping active and feeding your body with healthy, whole foods may help improve your sluggish metabolism.

Before beginning any new diet or nutrition regimen, make sure to speak with your doctor to determine what’s best for you. Calorie counting this way may not work for everyone, and IIN’s core concept of bio-individuality advocates for people to live their healthiest lives in whatever way works best for their unique health, fitness, and wellness needs.


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