Reverse dieting may not be a phrase you’re super familiar with but this is how I help the majority of my clients when we begin working together. It requires a high level of trust because I usually have my clients start out eating more than they ever thought possible to lose weight – BUT that’s actually the reason they were having a hard time losing weight or they were stuck in a weight loss plateau in the first place. They simply weren’t eating enough! With that being said, let’s dive head first into reverse dieting.
What is a reverse diet?
This term is something that is really uncommon but it truly shouldn’t be. A lot of times reverse dieting is referred to as “the diet after the diet.” To make it simple, a reverse diet is a way to gradually increase calories over a few weeks or months to allow you to eat more food after you’ve been on a “diet,” or series of diets for that matter (where you are restricting calories or just not eating enough to fuel your body properly). This increase of calories also increases your metabolism and prevents fat gain or regain.
I know what you’re thinking…”Rachel, that doesn’t make sense. You’re telling me to eat MORE and I’ll finally begin to lose weight.”
Yes. I am! Let me explain.
When we go through restrictive periods (which most of us have in the past), and when we try these fad diets where we are eating 1,200 calories or less, our metabolism decreases. This is where we start to see weight loss plateaus. Think about it: you can only go so low with your caloric intake, right? Once you do, you can’t go any lower and your body stalls out in a lot of ways. There are also a lot of things going on behind the scenes in our bodies when we limit the amount of fuel we are taking in. We have been conditioned to believe that we are doing our bodies a service by restricting them, but here is actually what is going on:
- We experience hormone changes, and this is where things can start to get out of whack pretty fast. Our bodies begin to either suppress or release various hormones to increase hunger and push us to eat more. Think about it: your body needs more fuel and you aren’t giving it the fuel it needs. So it starts using these hormones to send you signals that it needs fuel. Your body is literally saying “feed me!”
- Our digestion slows down because it’s trying to absorb as many nutrients and calories as possible because it isn’t sure when you are going to give it adequate fuel again.
- Our resting metabolic rate decreases, which causes our bodies to redirect all focused energy on vital organs to keep us alive. When you are eating a minimum amount of calories, your body has to focus on the essentials because you don’t have any extra fuel in the tank to dedicate to anything else – your body is almost in survival mode. You don’t have adequate energy to dedicate to “non-essential” functions, like hair and nail growth. If you’ve been restricting calories for a long time, you may notice that your hair is thinning or your nails are brittle. This is why. When I was in my 20s and was eating less than 1,000 calories a day, I saw a noticeable difference in my hair. I have always had super thick hair, but I noticed that it was becoming extremely thin. I didn’t know why back then, but looking back I had physical evidence of the damage I was doing to my body by not feeding it what it needed.
- You may also feel like you have less energy to exercise or you see a noticeable difference in stamina and endurance, even in day to day activities (cleaning, washing dishes, playing with your kids). This also means you burn less calories through the activities that you do. The good news is though that this metabolic adaptation likely isn’t permanent! Your metabolism can gradually increase as you begin to increase your calorie consumption. And this is where reverse dieting comes into play.
So, how do you know you need to do a reverse diet?
There can be many reasons to try reverse dieting. For example, if you want to eat more without gaining weight or if you are someone who has been dieting for a long time and you are ready to maintain your current level of body fat, then the reverse dieting method is right for you. This method is really great for the transition period from dieting to maintenance because it teaches you how to increase calories without going crazy in the process and regaining all the weight you worked so hard to lose.
If you have been eating 1,200 calories (or less) a day and not losing weight, reverse dieting may be something you can try. Low calorie diets may result in weight loss for some, but it’s usually temporary – it isn’t sustainable. They can also trigger physical and emotional side effects, such as nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, irritability, anxiety or depression, and obsessive thoughts about food and weight. Studies have also shown that following a 1,200 calorie diet or living a restrictive lifestyle actually boosted levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone known to increase belly fat.
Reverse dieting can also help improve body composition. In other words, you want to lose fat, gain muscle, and maintain your current weight. Increasing calories while keeping activity high is a really effective strategy for muscle growth.
Reverse dieting can be pretty great, right?! So why doesn’t everybody try it?
Eat more food without gaining weight. That sounds too good to be true, right? And since we live in the glorious era of social media, it can be hard to know who and what to trust. But more importantly, what MOST of us are thinking is that we don’t fully trust our bodies. We have been conditioned to believe that we should punish ourselves for reaching this point (with starvation diets and overexercise), and we’ve tried ALL the things out there to lose the weight and none of it has worked – so something must be wrong with us. And that simply isn’t true. God created your body to work FOR you – not against you. Give it a chance – and GOD a chance – to take care of you. Work with your body – fuel it properly – take care of it – give it what it needs…and I promise you – it WILL respond.
If this concept resonated with you and you’d like to learn more, I invite you to schedule a discovery call and see if it’s a good fit for us to work together. Click the link below to find a time that works for you. More importantly, I’d love to help you get clarity on what’s holding you back from trusting your body to work for you and not against you. Remember, you have to do the work – there is no quick fix, no magic pill, or end all diet…but when you do it God’s way, lasting change begins to come.