Reverse Dieting is a relatively new concept made popular by the If It Fits Your Macros nutritional approach. Reverse dieting has been suggested to help individuals avoid significant weight gain once they have reached their desired goal weight by slowing the reintroduction of calories. Wondering if you should try reverse dieting? Read below to find out what …
What is reverse dieting?
The concept of the reverse diet is based on research suggesting that after a prolonged low-calorie diet, metabolic damage or a slowdown in metabolism can occur, and that reintroducing more calories into the diet can result in significant fat gain. This fat gain is believed to occur because the body is in starvation mode and instead of burning those extra calories, it stores them in the expectation of no more food.
What does science say about diet and metabolism?
Currently, there seems to be a little bit of mixed research on the need for a reverse diet to accommodate a slowed metabolism. There is research to both support the concept and research to support the opposite. A recent study looked at the effects of losing 25 pounds on 94 women who did strength training, did aerobic exercise, or did not exercise while on an 800-calorie diet. The women followed the protocol until they reduced their BMI to less than 25, which was approximately 5 months.
Research showed that the women who did strength training maintained their muscle mass and lost 25 pounds of fat while dieting. They also found that the group of women who did strength training maintained their metabolic rate and did not experience “metabolic slowdowns” even though they only ate 800 calories a day for an extended period of time. Other positive results of a reduced calorie diet are improved blood sugar levels and insulin.
However, there are also research studies that suggest a reduction in short-term resting metabolic rates after low-calorie diets between 800 and 1200 calories. One study found that the significant decrease in metabolic rate was greater in those who did not exercise. The decline in dieters was only moderate; compared to the decline in those who both exercised and dieted, this was considered small.
Other things to consider when looking at the research are the type of diet that was used in the studies. The diets were higher in carbohydrates and in contrast to the diets followed by most active fitness diets. More work is needed to determine whether milder calorie deficits with higher protein intake combined with strength training can actually have a positive effect on resting metabolic rate. It is also uncertain whether, when the calorie balance is restored, the resting metabolic rate will depend on the new body mass, particularly the lean mass.
How do you use reverse dieting?
The concept of the reverse diet is pretty simple; Basically, you are inverting your diet. Instead of adding a large amount of calories quickly when you come off a diet, add calories back slowly. This is a great way to control what you are eating and how much of it.
Weaning off restrictive diets can lead to binge eating because of changes in the biochemical reactions to the foods you eat. For example, if you’ve been on a low-carbohydrate diet for a long time, your blood sugar and insulin levels will be balanced. If you decide to get a lot of carbohydrates back into your diet, it can lead to a sharp spike in blood sugar. As soon as insulin has removed the sugar from the blood, it can lead to an energy crash and subsequent hunger and cravings for sugary foods. The reverse diet recommends adding only 50 to 100 calories per day to your current diet each week to avoid gaining weight on the scales. Sound impossible? Well, it is probably more realistic to expect some weight gain due to changes in your macronutrient profile and the fact that ultra-restrictive diets can cause not only fat loss but water loss as well. When you add some carbohydrates back in, your muscles retain a little more water.
What should your macronutrients be?
Ideally, your protein intake will stay the same. This is pretty standard for any diet. By maintaining a high level of protein, your hard-earned muscles will be preserved and body composition will be improved. The extra calories come either from carbohydrates or from fat. A good rule of thumb for pretty much any maintenance diet is to follow a diet that contains 40% protein, 30% to 40% carbohydrates, and 30% to 20% fat. It’s nothing revolutionary. The amount of carbohydrates and fats you consume should depend on how much activity you are doing in your maintenance phase and how efficiently your body is using each macronutrient.
Takeaways from the reverse diet
Although the evidence for reverse dieting is mixed, the concept of following a slow and steady increase in calorie intake in the diet is good. For one, it can reduce the subsequent weight gain caused by a restrictive diet and help keep you in your best condition for longer. It can also help structure those who have been on a diet plan for an extended period of time and are unsure how to maintain weight loss without a plan.
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