We know it all too well: the "yo-yo"-effect. You worked so hard and lost a ton of weight, then gained the weight or even more right back, over and over again. It's really discouraging and after the 3rd trial you ask yourself what the heck you're doing wrong. Is there even a way to not sabotage my hard work?
Yes, indeed there is. And I will tell you, how you can keep the weight off. Rest assured, it's not even difficult. You've already done the hardest part - you got into the mindset of dieting. Well done!
Reverse dieting - What is it?
A 'normal' weight loss diet is based on a caloric deficit. Contrary to that, the reversed diet is a caloric increase. Essentially, it's adding calories slowly and controlled back into your current diet, while gaining minimal weight.
The key word being "controlled". Because a lot of people start to go back to their normal caloric intake, or worse do uncontrolled cheat meals, cheat days, binges or weeks off from dieting.
The main goal is to recover your metabolism after a longer period of restricted dieting.
What happens with my metabolism after losing weight?
We told you over a hundred times: dieting is all about energy balance (for weight loss you need a negative energy balance, for weight gain a positive energy balance).
But that's not all. Living on a restricted calorie diet affects not only your body fat, but also your metabolism.
In fact, you force your body to do something it doesn't want to do.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Basically, your BMR is the amount of energy your body needs while it rests. Placing your body in a caloric deficit, hormonal adaption occurs, which may cause your body to burn less energy while at rest.
Those hormones are leptin, ghrelin, thyroid hormones and testosterone. And yes, all of them are affected on a weight loss diet.
Furthermore, even on the best high protein diet, you'll lose some muscle mass, which burns most of your calories. Hence, after a long diet, you burn less calories on a normal day than you did before.
Thermic effect of food (TEF)
The TEF is the amount of energy our bodies need to eat, digest, absorb and store the food we just ate. It accounts for around 10% of our total daily energy expenditure (specifically 0-5% for dietary fat, 5-15% for carbs and 15-30% for protein).
Living on restricted calories doesn't affect our TEF directly, but the reduction in our calories and therefore food intake results in a reduction in our total energy expenditure.
It's as simple as that: It costs more energy to move a heavier body. Hence, reducing your body weight will also reduce the amount of energy expended during your exercises.
See, your body is a lot smarter than you think. Your metabolism adapts to the amount of energy you feed your body. It's main goal is to balance energy intake with output. By decreasing your calories and eating less than your body burns, your metabolism naturally begins to be more efficient. Hence, you burn less energy.
You get it, one of the worst things you can do after losing weight is to dramatically increase your caloric intake back to normal.
What you need is slowly raising your food intake back to normal levels without gaining body fat.
And if you had a very bad diet before, don't even think about eating like that again. People somehow think after they lost weight, they can eat exactly the way they ate when they gained all that weight. Doesn't make much sense, does it? Change your lifestyle forever, to stay lean! You don't have to restrict yourself too much, but a healthy diet is certainly a good idea - not just for keeping they weight off, but also staying clear of things like diabetes.
Who needs to reverse diet?
Do you want to start a cut and lose body fat, but you already have to eat a very low number of calories in order to do so?
You're on a weight loss diet for several weeks or months now, but your progress has slowed down or even plateaued?
You just finished a cut or contest prep and want now to repair metabolic slowdown and increase your calories the right way?
Sounds appropriate? Reverse dieting might be the right choice for you.
How to calculate your macros
Actually, this part is very easy. The main goal is to speed up your metabolism. That's why you'll always base your initial calorie target on what you're currently eating.
Let's say you just finished a cutting period - like me (female, 26 years old, 53.6kg/118 pounds). I ate 1400 calories at the end of my cut, with 130g of protein, 40g of carbs and 80g of fat (I was on keto).
To calculate your new initial caloric target, simply add 150-200 calories per week to what you eat at the moment. For me that is a new caloric target of 1600 calories per day.
It's no myth that protein is absolutely crucial for building and maintaining muscle mass, to recover faster from your workouts and feel more satiated after meals.
How much is enough? Eat 2g of protein per kg bodyweight, or 1g of protein per pound per day. That's totally enough and easy to remember.
Fat won't make you fat and it's really important to get enough of it, but it will typically make up the smallest portion of your daily calories.
To get your minimum fat intake in grams just multiply your weight in kilos by 0.5. So a 60kg person would need at least 30g of fat per day to keep hormones in check.
With reverse dieting, carbs are very important, because they influence the regulation of certain hormones like leptin, which are important for your metabolism and hunger.
After defining your protein and fat targets, just fill out the remaining calories with carbs.
Let's put it all together in my case of ending a cutting phase with 1400 calories and 53.6kg/118lbs.
- New calorie target for week 1 of reverse dieting: 1600 kcal per day
- Protein target: 118g per day
- Fat target: 35.5g - 53g per day
- Carbohydrate target: 190g per day
Each week (every 5 to 7 days) you increase your daily caloric intake until you reach the amount of calories that you're burning every day, meaning maintenance levels.
You do that by increasing any carbs or fat. Protein is fixed, unless you have too much money or just like the taste.
That's all there is to do.
Foods to eat
The foods you eat are completely up to you. Specific foods won't make any difference when it comes to weight gain/weight loss, as long as you're hitting your calorie and macronutrient goal.
However, the foods you eat do matter when it comes to micronutrients, vitamins, your health and how you're feeling in general. As well as satiety.
I personally recommend the 80/20 approach. 80% of your diet should come from clean whole foods and 20% can come from less cleaner foods. Balance, peeps! You only live once, so if you want that snickers bar, work it in your plan! At the end of the day 'black and white'- thinking doesn't help if you can't enjoy life.
How to workout during your reverse diet
Weight lifting plays another key role while reverse dieting! Why? Because it keeps your metabolism going and sets you up for some potential muscle gain. So push those weights hard, it will be much easier for you, because you will have more energy. It is also a crucial part for improving your body composition.
Focus on more heavy compound exercises, like squats, bench press, military press and deadlifts. As always, really.
We made a video for you, showing you how to perform those exercises properly.
Doing more compound lifts is the most effective way to overload your muscles and force muscle growth and increase your overall strength.
How long should you reverse diet?
Continue with the reverse diet until you reach a caloric level where you gained weight for 2 weeks. Best case would be no more than 0.5kg/1lbs per week.
Once you hit that level, you are at the point where increasing your calories again will only cause a gain in body fat, not muscle mass.
Now you have two options: you can choose to bulk by keeping the calories where they are, or maintain your current weight by going down 100-200 calories again and staying there.
Maintaining your hard earned new look can be really tricky, but you don't want to sabotage yourself. Just stay in the mindset and go with the flow.