Reverse Dieting 101

Today we’re talking about a proven technique for getting your metabolism to “rev-up” again after you’ve spent months or years eating too little food.

What is reverse dieting?  Summarized, it means you’re going to re-train your metabolism to need and process the correct number of calories for your body-type, height, weight, gender, and build.

Who should do reverse dieting?

Reverse dieting is often the perfect solution for a variety of situations, including:

  • People who are unable to lose weight when the math says they should.
  • People who’ve spent long periods of time eating at a caloric deficit, and found themselves completely unable to break a plateau.
  • People who can’t lose weight unless they eat dangerously low amounts of food.
  • People who are ready for the transition from “weight loss” to “maintenance”.

Adaptive Thermogenesis (Metabolic damage due to long-term dieting)

It’s usually not the news people want to hear — but at a certain point, a metabolic process known as “adaptive thermogenesis” will actually slow your metabolism to match the amount of food you’ve been eating.  Or, put another way, after several months of eating at a caloric deficit, most people find that they are no longer able to lose weight, despite changing nothing.

The reason, as described above, is because their body adapts to the food intake, believing this is the ‘new normal’. Fat loss halts and energy levels drop.  If you start eating more food too quickly, you gain weight IMMEDIATELY due to the “shock factor” of the additional food.

For example: If you’re used to eating 1,300 calories a day for months on end, and you suddenly eat 1,600 calories one day, you WILL gain 2-3lbs of water weight literally overnight, even though 1,600 calories is still LESS than your body generally requires for normal functioning.

You can picture the mental battle that happens here.  “I can’t lose weight at 1,300 calories.   But if I eat more, I GAIN weight.  I guess 1,300 is my new normal”.

This is often where eating disorders are born.  People cut calories even further, which induces starvation mode (where fat-burn is nearly impossible, and the body starts attacking muscle). This, in turn, leads to even more damage to the metabolism, which leads to a new “low calorie normal”.

So you can’t eat more, or you “gain weight”, and you can’t eat less, because your body is already starving itself (quite literally, to death).

You’re trapped.

Step #1:  Know what your REAL maintenance number should be

The first step in reverse dieting is to understand how many calories you SHOULD be able to eat without gaining fat. (Note that I didn’t say “without gaining weight”, because gaining “fat” and gaining “weight” are two different things.  Gaining “weight” can, and often is, water).

Weightix will actually show you what your maintenance number is.  If you’re a weightix user, login to your account, open up your plan, pull up your “metabolic profile”, and look for your “TDEE” (total daily energy expenditure).  This takes into account your height, weight, gender, activity level, and workout schedule to determine how many calories you should be able to eat without adding fat.

Your TDEE is effectively your target. We want to get you to a point where you can eat THAT many calories, every day, for 6 to 8 weeks in a row, in order to fully reset your metabolism, restore your energy levels, and get your body back to “normal”.

Step #2:  The “ramp-up” period

Map out a plan to get from “where you are now” to “where you need to be”.

If you’re currently eating, say, 1,300 calories a day, and the math says your maintenance number (your “TDEE”) is 2,000 calories a day, then that’s your target.

Plan to add roughly 100 calories to your daily total, each week, until you arrive at your TDEE.  The plan might look like this.

  • Week 0 (Today): 1,300 calories a day
  • Week 1: 1,400 calories a day
  • Week 2: 1,500 calories a day
  • Week 3: 1,600 calories a day
  • Week 4: 1,700 calories a day
  • Week 5: 1,800 calories a day
  • Week 6: 1,900 calories a day
  • Week 7: 2,000 calories a day

Mind your macro ratios: During your “ramp-up” period, you should KEEP YOUR MACRO RATIOS THE SAME and you should be eating clean foods. A once-a-week cheat-meal is still okay.

You WILL gain water weight each time you increase calories:  Your body requires a certain amount of water “on hand” in order to process food. All food. So if you eat more food, you’ll gain a little bit of weight.  But more importantly, any time you increase calories and “surprise” your body with -extra- food, you’ll have a huge “pop” on the scale. You might gain 2-3lbs literally over night, on the first day of each week.  You’ll spend the remainder of the week watching most of that “pop” fall off the scale again.

Don’t be surprised if, once you reach your maintenance number, you’re 2 to 4lbs heavier than you are right now. That’s just how much water it takes to ‘process’ your food.  It’s also why I recommend that people who are transitioning from weight-loss to maintenance probably ought to try and lose about 5lbs MORE than their goal, so that when they transition to maintenance there’s room for that water-weight to come back on.  (Remember when you started this journey and the first 5lbs came off REALLY easy?  Yeah. You borrowed that, and now it’s time to pay it back).

Don’t screw with your TDEE:  This means don’t increase your workouts to try and compensate for the extra food. This would, in turn, also increase your TDEE, which means the more workouts you do, the more food you have to eat to make up for it. Our goal is to eat ALL of our calories, so doing extra work to compensate is sending you in the wrong direction.

Stay consistent. Stay with the plan.

Trust the math: Psychologically speaking, this is a frightening journey, because you’re simply not used to eating the amount of calories you’re going to be eating, and you’re going to be watching the scale go UP! (Yes, it’s scary).  But the math isn’t wrong. You really CAN eat more without storing fat. (Water-weight looks and feels JUST like fat, so don’t be deceived).

Remember, it takes 3,500 EXTRA calories (above and beyond your TDEE) to store just ONE pound of fat. So you’d have to be seriously pigging out to gain fat during this process.

Again, stay consistent. Stay with the plan.

Step #3:  The “stabilization” period.

During the stabilization period, you’re going to eat at maintenance every day with perfect precision. Do not come in UNDER your calorie goal for any reason, or you’re defeating the purpose of this phase.  Make sure your body knows that you will feed it everything it needs, and stick with it.

If you intend to go back into a weight-loss mode again, you should plan to stay in this phase for 6 to 8 weeks.  If your weight loss journey has come to an end, 3 to 4 weeks in this phase is plenty.

Stick to your ratios. Log everything you eat. Always +/- 50 calories on your goal. Weigh-in every morning, but don’t let the small fluctuations on the scale scare you. +/- 2lbs in a single day is normal.

After about 2 weeks in the stabilization phase, you should know your upper and lower limits.  If you start to exceed your upper limits, you need to cut the food back a little. Your goal should be a STABLE weight.  Again, though, it could take 2+ weeks before you know what your “normal” upper and lower “normal fluctuation” numbers are. This is why you really should weigh every day.

And once your new weight is stabilized (again, after 6 to 8 weeks of eating at your full TDEE), you can go back into weight-loss mode once again, and you’ll find that the pounds fall right off!

One alternative: Calorie Cycling

If you’re not interested in taking the longer-term break from weight loss, you might find that Calorie Cycling is an easier / better answer to getting the metabolism moving again!! Read more about it, here.