Reverse Dieting – The Diet after the Diet
By: Lynsey Martin
Congrats! You hit your goal weight!… Now what?
Can you see yourself eating your current amount of food forever? Do you feel like you’re eating enough to support your current everyday activity and performance? Are you able to fit most foods that you enjoy into your diet without worry? Are other biofeedback markers like sleep quality, mood, or libido indicating you’re in good metabolic health? If yes, carry on!
If you answered no or maybe not to any of those questions, you may want to explore a “reverse diet.”
There are a few ways to go about implementing a reverse diet but the general idea is that you slowly add calories back in every ~1-2 weeks until your calorie intake is at what you feel is sustainable or until you’re eating within range of your predicted maintenance calories based on your basal metabolic rate and activity level. The amount of calories you add back in at a time is based on how aggressive of a deficit you had to implement to get to your goal. Someone who had to lower calories significantly may want to add food back in more quickly at first to help with adherence and reaching a healthier hormonal state. Because hunger hormones are elevated during a calorie deficit, being too conservative with adding food back in can lead to more extreme hunger and over-eating or bingeing in some cases.
For a conservative approach, add 2-5% in grams of your current carbohydrate and fat intake back into your diet (I usually do 5% from carbs and 2% from fat). For a moderate approach, a 5-8% increase, and for a more aggressive approach, 8-12%.
For example, if your current macros were 145g of protein, 145g of carbohydrates, and 58g of fat and you wanted to be conservate, you could take 5% of 145g to get a ~7g increase of carbs and 2% of 58g to get ~1g increase in fat. It can be helpful to pay attention to your total macronutrient ratios and redistribute them down the road if you feel one is getting disproportionally high. Protein can usually stay the same at ~1g of protein per pound of body weight but can be adjusted based on preference.
To understand how often to increase, track your weight. If your weight goes up by a faster rate than you’re comfortable with, stay at that intake until it either stabilizes or comes back down, then add by the same percentages based upon your macronutrient targets.
One thing that can happen is that you’ll actually lose weight while reverse dieting. The reason for this isn’t that you’ve “stoked your metabolism” but it could be that you had subconsciously down-regulated your non-exercise activity – things like fidgeting, daily steps, even blinking all down-regulate when less energy is available to the body. If this is the case for you, you might be able to get more aggressive in your weekly additions for a period of time and then go back to a conservative approach.
A reverse diet can sometimes take more diligence than the initial diet. It can be a slow process but for those looking to maintain their results long-term without feeling restricted forever, it can be a very worthwhile endeavour.