If you’ve been on a diet and find that the scale is holding steady at one number, reverse dieting may be the answer. Reverse dieting is a technique to stop “metabolic adaptation,” which stops your body from plateauing before you reach your weight loss goal.
When you’re struggling with a restricted calorie diet and want to keep losing weight, increasing your caloric intake can help. Yes, it’s true: you can actually eat more and still lose weight. If that sounds incredible, read on—reverse dieting might be just the solution your body craves.
How does reverse dieting work?
Reverse dieting is a technique where you actually eat more, for a certain period of time, which helps your body get used to burning more calories. Don’t get us wrong—it’s not a technique where you gorge yourself like Homer Simpson—but you will take in more calories for a set period of time. When done right, you might not even gain any weight.
When you’ve been on a diet for a while, your metabolic rate usually decreases. That means it’s harder to lose weight, because your body needs a lot fewer calories to sustain itself. This is called metabolic adaptation, and while it often comes as a result of significant weight loss, it can be frustrating to dieters who just can’t seem to break that plateau.
The problem with long-term dieting is that when you hit that plateau, your body goes into “starvation mode.” Basically, your body thinks that it has to conserve every calorie you give it in order to survive, rather than using fat stores as fuel. When this happens, it’s practically impossible to lose weight.
When you hit this plateau, you might feel completely lethargic and lose motivation for working out. (After all, it’s not having any effects, and you’re tired.) You might also notice changes in digestion, like bloating and constipation. When the hormone leptin drops, you’ll probably feel increase hunger and cravings.
Reverse dieting works by gradually increasing your caloric intake, which stops your metabolic rate from slowing down. Yes, that’s right: you can actually eat more to lose weight.
Benefits of reverse dieting
It’s actually possible to lose weight and increase your muscle mass by eating more. If your body is experiencing a calorie deficit—especially after you’ve lost most of your excess weight—it’s hard to create more muscle mass. You actually need more calories to fuel your muscle and strength-building.
Another benefit of reverse dieting? Handling those frustrating cravings. If you’re dying for a bacon cheeseburger, reverse dieting might make it possible to enjoy those high-calorie meals—once in a while—without gaining significant weight. This is especially important if you’ve been unhappy with your dietary restrictions, because it gives your brain a break from craving “forbidden” foods. You can enjoy that bacon cheeseburger, but you’ll probably decide on your own to return to healthier foods.
Reverse dieting also ensures that you get more nutrients, both macro and micro. The more food (and variety of food) you eat, the more energy you’ll have. That translates to better performance in the gym, but it can also improve your cognitive function and learning. That’s not bad for enjoying some of your favorite foods! The key is balancing your cravings with healthy food and exercise.
How to reverse diet
If you think reverse dieting might be the answer to your prayers (at least if you’re praying for that bacon cheeseburger, fries and a crisp IPA), be sure to check with your medical doctor ahead of time. There is, of course, a genetic possibility that this method won’t work and you’ll gain back all the weight you worked so hard to lose. Your medical doctor can help you devise a plan to prevent this.
The best way to get the benefits of reverse dieting is to gradually increase your calorie intake, while adjusting your physical activity based on the results. Many reverse dieters find that a cyclic approach helps—they have set days and times where they’ll enjoy high calorie meals, then get right back into that exercise and weight loss program.
No matter how you lose weight, it’s always wise to work with a medical professional. They can verify that you’re losing fat, not muscle, and doing so in a healthy manner.
Could reverse dieting be for you? Give it a try (with your doctor’s blessing) and report back!