When I first heard the term reverse dieting, I had no idea what it meant. I figured that if I, a fitness professional, was in the dark, many others would be too.
That’s why I decided to write a simple comprehensive guide to what reverse dieting is and how it can be used to help people get the body they want.
I’ve been a gym owner and personal trainer since the mid-1980s. I first came across reverse dieting through the works of Tom Venuto when working with bodybuilders in the 90s. Since then, I’ve used it to help hundreds of everyday people avoid their post-diet weight rebound.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly what reverse dieting is, what it can do for you, how to get started, and what foods to eat.
What is Reverse Dieting?
Reverse dieting involves gradually increasing caloric intake after a restricted-calorie diet. Rather than jumping directly back to your pre-workout calorie level, you steadily add back 50-100 calories per week. It may take as long as 12 weeks to get back to the pre-diet level.
Reverse dieting was first used by bodybuilders. They go on very-low-calorie diets to attain their ripped on-stage condition.
Following the competition, many bodybuilders would splurge on food. This inevitably resulted in unwanted fat gain, along with stomach upset and general discomfort.
Disciplined reintroduction of calories on a gradual basis was the answer to the bodybuilder gorging problem. It involved a reversal of their pre-competition diet. Here’s an example of what the process looks like …
- 12 Week Pre-Contest Diet – reduce calories by 100 calories per week from 3000 to 1800 calories per day.
- Day of the Contest
- 12 Week Reverse Diet – increase calories by 100 calories per week from 1800 to 3000 calories per day.
It is a great strategy of strategically upping your caloric intake and is essential to include if you really mean business.
Reverse Dieting Benefits
Reverse dieting claims to provide 2 key benefits:
Prevents post-workout gorging
Reverse dieting imposes eating discipline at the end of a reduced-calorie diet.
Over the past 40 years, I’ve helped hundreds of people lose weight. Many of them came to me after years of frustration with low-calorie dieting. A common theme was that they would follow their diet with a week of binging.
When I put these people on a reverse diet, they suddenly had a barrier that prevented their post-workout binge. As a result, they were able to avoid the horrible bloated feeling that followed the binge. They also avoided the inevitable feeling of guilt that came with their post-diet pig out.
Overcomes metabolic adaptation
When you dramatically reduce your caloric intake your body responds both metabolically and hormonally. This is known as the starvation response. The metabolism slows down to better use the lowered calorie intake. The cost for this is that you will have less energy.
When you go off a restricted-calorie diet, your reduced metabolism will not rebound automatically. That means that, at the same time that you are adding a large number of calories, your ability to convert those calories into energy remains low.
More food and less ability to convert it into energy is a recipe for fat gain.
Reverse dieting promises to overcome the metabolic adaptation problem. The gradual reintroduction of food may lead to adaptive thermogenesis. This allows for a return to your pre-workout metabolism.
Research supports the ability of reverse dieting to overcome metabolic adaptation. In one study, people who ate 20 percent more calories than their maintenance level did not gain weight. However, those who ate between 40 and 60 percent of maintenance did gain weight.
We can translate this finding to a post-dieting situation. If you ended your diet at 2000 calories, you can add 20 percent or 400 calories without the risk of weight gain. But if you added 800 calories or more, you would probably gain unwanted fat.
By preventing post-workout weight gain, reverse dieting may help prevent the cycle of yo-yo dieting that so many people are familiar with.
How to Reverse Dieting
Reverse dieting begins with an analysis of your total calories and macronutrient intake at the end of your low-calorie diet. You need to know the following …
- How many calories you’re eating each day.
- How many grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat you’re eating.
You should plan to increase these numbers by 10 percent each week. The length of your reverse diet should mirror the number of weeks you were on the original diet.
When it comes to your macronutrients, you should keep your protein count the same. As long as you are maintaining around one gram of protein per pound of body weight, you will be getting all the protein you need.
Your carb and fat intake should increase by 10 percent each per week. This should automatically result in a caloric intake of the same amount.
Let’s consider an example …
You finish your diet at 2000 calories and a macronutrient profile as follows:
- Protein – 150 grams
- Carbs – 120 grams
- Fats – 45 grams
By increasing carbs and fat by 10 percent, your first week of reverse dieting will look like this:
- Protein – 150 grams
- Carbs – 132 grams
- Fats – 45 grams
When you focus on these macro increases, your 10 percent caloric intake will take care of itself.
Continue increasing your carb and fat intake by 10 percent each week.
In addition to meeting your daily macro targets, you should also aim to eat around 50 grams of fiber each day. Two to three cups of vegetables will achieve this.
Want to make your macro tracking easier? Check out our review of Avatar Nutrition.
To get the maximum benefit from a reverse diet, we recommend following an exercise program. This will help to make sure that any weight gain is pure muscle. Check out this thorough review of the best all-in-one home gyms by clicking here to help achieve this.
What Foods to Eat on a Reverse Diet
The types of foods you eat on a reverse diet are just as important as the amounts you’re increasing them by.
A simple question that I encouraged my personal training clients to ask themselves was, “Is this food going to make my body better or worse?”
If the answer was ‘worse’, they had a simple mantra; That doesn’t apply to me.
Of course, there are exceptions. We are not robots and we deserve to be able to enjoy treat foods occasionally. But they need to be infrequent – and they should be factored into your macros.
The bulk of your food choices should come from whole, unprocessed sources. Here are some of my favorites …
- Greek Yogurt
- Chicken Breast
- Canned Tuna
- Cottage CheeseWhite Fish
- Brown Rice
- Ezekiel Bread
- Sweet Potatoes
- Fibrous Vegetables
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- Fish Oil
- Grass-Fed Butter
- Almond Butter
Alcohol is allowed on a reverse diet. However, it, too, should be factored into the macro and calorie count. There are 7 grams per calorie of alcohol, so you don’t want to go overboard here. Add alcohol to your carb count.
When to End A Reverse Diet
At a minimum, you should continue your reverse diet until you have gotten back to your pre-diet calorie level. Assuming that you have been gradually tapering your original diet, this should take the same number of weeks that you were on the diet.
If you did not taper down gradually on your original diet, continue adding calories by 10 percent each week until you are back to your maintenance level.
Reverse Dieting FAQ
Can you lose weight with reverse dieting?
No, you cannot lose weight with reverse dieting. What you can do is to prevent the rebound weight gain that often happens when people come off a restricted-calorie diet. By gradually increasing your calories, you can ramp up your metabolism to meet the higher caloric intake.
It helps to include an exercise program with fitness equipment to burn more calories to lose weight.
How do I start reverse dieting?
Begin reverse dieting by working out your starting calorie, protein, carb, and fat daily averages. Then increase your carb and fat numbers by 10 percent each week. Keep your protein count constant.
Continue to increase your carb and fat counts by 10 percent each week until you are back at your pre-original diet levels.
Will you gain weight by reverse dieting?
You may gain a small amount of weight on a reverse diet. Over the course of a 12-week reverse diet, you may gain up to 12 pounds. If you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet most of that weight gain should be lean muscle mass.
How do I know if I need to reverse diet?
If you have been on a reduced-calorie diet, you should reverse diet at the end of it. You should make the switch when you have achieved your weight loss goal or when your weight loss has come to a halt. Bodybuilders should reverse their diet from the day after a competition.
Reverse dieting is a tapered increase of calories following a restricted-calorie diet. While it won’t help you lose weight, it can prevent post-diet weight rebound. It will also allow you to return to maintenance level eating more healthily.
Want to know how to lose weight the right way? Check out the complete guide to fast weight loss.
About The Author
Hi, my name’s Steve Theunissen. I joined my first gym at age 15 and, five years later, I was managing my own studio. In 1987, I became the first personal fitness trainer in New Zealand. Over the past decade, I have built a freelance fitness writing career to share my fitness passion with the world.