As a Registered Dietitian who has successfully lost 30 pounds and maintained it for five years, I can tell you firsthand that the “dieting” part of weight loss isn’t the hard part. It’s what happens after the diet is over that is the true struggle. The maintenance phase that comes post-diet requires a delicate balance of maintaining your healthy habits while also incorporating more decadent foods in moderation. Praised by fitness moguls such as Kim Kardashian’s trainer Melissa Alcantara, reverse dieting is touted as the diet after the diet solution.
What is reverse dieting?
Reverse dieting is popular in the fitness competition world, as many bikini body pros start reverse dieting after a competition. These physique athletes often excessively restrict food prior to competition, and post-competition end up facing rapid weight gain since they have difficulty easing back into a normal diet. Reverse dieting provides a solution for these individuals and involves a very gradual yet controlled increase in daily caloric intake after a prolonged period of restriction. Typically, reverse dieters will increase their calories by 50-100 calories per week for about 1-3 month, or until they reach their target or pre-diet intake.
Can reverse dieting help you lose weight?
Although there is very limited research on reverse dieting, proponents of this diet trend suggest that the small caloric surplus can help recover your metabolic rate without rapid fat gain. Many claim that reverse dieting can also reduce the risk of binge eating after prolonged caloric restriction, so theoretically it may help ease individuals back into a normal diet. However, there is no current research to support that reverse dieting will help you lose weight.
The pros and cons of reverse dieting
You get to eat more: Dieting sucks and who wants to feel hungry all the time? Reverse dieting is really the anti-diet and encourages you to actually eat to help fuel your metabolism.
You get to do things at your own pace: I’m a big advocate of gradual change to allow your body time to ease into things. Extreme measures never bode well and may lead to emotional turmoil in addition to physical stress. Reverse dieting allows you to do things at your own pace which can helpful.
It doesn't necessarily work for non-athletes: Reverse dieting is typically popular among body builders who are decreasing their calories before a show. It might not work if you're someone who isn't significantly lowering their calorie intake for a long period of time.
It can be difficult to follow: An extra 50-100 calories per day can be difficult to measure and requires very strict caloric monitoring. You can totally blow this with just one small snack, thus making the small increases hard to manage.
Calorie counting is no fun: If you've been calorie counting for weeks or months, the last thing you want to do once the diet is over is continue to calorie count. I’d argue that increasing your food intake should be done more intuitively and by listening to your body.
It’s all about quantity: Not all calories are created equal. Quality of the foods you eat is just as important as the quantity and portion sizes of what you are eating. Two hundred calories of cake isn't the same thing as 200 calories of broccoli.
Minimal research: There is little to no research on reverse dieting and whether or not it’s truly a successful approach.
The bottom line: Making gradual changes is key with anything, and it does take your body time to adapt to change. The problem with reverse dieting is the prior restriction period that gets you to try reverse dieting in the first place. Approach weight loss in a sustainable manner and utilize small caloric deficits daily. The goal with any diet or change in your eating pattern should be for it to turn into a lifestyle and not something that warrants a diet after the diet. Eat intuitively, listen to your body, and stay active to keep your metabolic rate high.
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