What is Reverse Diet? Incredible Pros and Cons- Nutrionist’s View

Reverse Diet

When a person follows calories restricted diet, there comes a time when a person feels that now it’s the time to get back to the old dietary habits. It happens because a person might have reached goals set for following a calorie-restricted diet, and now there’s no use in following such a diet. But, the main thing after achieving weight goals is weight maintenance and slowly adding the calories to the diet. A person can achieve it by following a reverse diet instead of directly jumping to an old routine. But the question arises what a reverse diet is?

A reverse diet is the kind of diet that focuses on increasing the daily food intake in a slow but consistent way after a calories-restricted diet for promoting long-term weight maintenance. It is simply an act of avoiding sudden weight gain after a calorie-restricted diet and resumes regular healthy eating habits after a cut. All effort is made to increase the metabolic rate.

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Metabolic Adaptation:

Consuming less energy than a person throughout the day is necessary to lose fat. A correctly applied calorie deficit ensures a safe and steady fat loss up to a certain point.

During a limited calorie supply, the body makes efforts to utilize the available resources efficiently to prioritize the needs for pumping blood, breathing, brain functionality, and staying alive. This whole thing is referred to as metabolic adaptation. It involves several factors which contribute to this process.

Reverse Diet

Factors Contributing to Metabolic Adaptation:

Reduction in NEAT:

NEAT is non-exercise activity thermogenesis which is the energy exerted out when non-structures activity is performed. These levels dropped when the body signaled that calorie intake is low.

It will lead to brain signals that the body is not getting enough energy and will move towards sedentary habits. 

Lower Levels of EAT:

EAT is the exercise activity thermogenesis, which means that the body cannot put much energy into the exercise during lesser consumption of calories.

Because the muscle glycogen stores are also less in quantity which leads to less energy to lift weight and hinders the performance for explosive cardio movements. It lowers the activity thermogenesis level.

Changes in the Body Mass:

Losing fat from the body leads to being lighter in weight, and in this way, a person will need less fuel for a smaller body weight and contribute to maintaining metabolic adaptation. 

Alterations in Hormonal Levels:

Various hormonal changes are also associated with the lower calorie intake, such as the increased levels of ghrelin and cortisol hormones and reduction in the leptin hormone. These altered hormonal levels lead towards:

  • Increase in stress
  • Changes in bodily functions such as the reproductive system
  • Delayed metabolism control
  • Boosting hunger
Reverse Diet

Adaptive Thermogenesis:

Gradually increasing the calories in the diet leads to adapt the body a healthier way to calorie excretion. It is known as adaptive thermogenesis. In this, the body wastes calories in the form of heat.

Reverse dieting provides various metabolic benefits, including the following:

  • BMR, which is Basal Metabolic Rate, rises, leading to more energy out.
  • More available energy leads to an increase in energy out and workout capacity.
  • NEAT also increases, which results in more energy out. 
  • The digestion system returns to normal levels, and the gastrointestinal tract no longer squeezes the sustenance from every morsel, leading to a decrease in energy. 

Working on a Reverse Diet:

Before talking about the working of a reverse diet, let’s talk about how weight loss and gain work. These phenomena include BMR and TDEE.

Basal Metabolic Rate:

BMR, also known as Basal Metabolic Rate, is the number of calories burned for survival. Everything we do in our daily lives, such as blinking, breathing, and all other essential human functions, requires energy for their performance, and BMR is responsible for this.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure:

Total Daily Energy Expenditure involves the number of calories burned to perform daily activities. These are also known as maintenance calories which are the number of calories required for maintaining the current weight.

For losing weight, a person needs to follow the calories in and out of the formula. People often consume a meager amount of calories to lose weight and become calorie deficient. The simple mechanism behind this is:

  • When a person consumes more calories rather than utilizing them, it leads to gain weight. 
  • When a person eats fewer calories than it burns, it leads to weight loss.
It is a balanced equation that needs to be considered and is known as calories in, calories out (CICO).
Reverse Diet

Factors Influencing Energy In:

  • Appetite: it is influenced by the hormones that regulate appetite and satiety
  • Food consumed: It is influenced by the availability, palatability, energy density, sleep quality, education, socioeconomic status and culture.
  • Calories absorbed: It is influenced by macronutrient intake, food prep, age, personal microbiome, health status and energy status.
  • Psychological factors: It is influenced by stress levels, mindset, perceived control, self-esteem and sleep quality.

Factors Influencing Energy Out:

  • Energy burned at rest: It is influenced by body size, hormonal status, dieting history, genetic factors, health status, and sleep quality.
  • Energy burned through exercise: It is influenced by the exercise ability, intensity, duration, frequency, type, environment and hormonal status.
  • Energy burned by non-exercise activity: It is influenced by health status, energy status, stress levels, hormonal status, occupation and leisure activities.
  • Energy burned by the metabolizing food is influenced by macronutrient makeup and how processed food is.

Other factors are often overlooked by people, such as absorption, stress, genetics, and metabolic adaption. These also have the potential benefit of balancing the energy scale in either direction. 

Starvation Response:

It is a type of metabolic adaptation and is different from the starvation mode. Obesity is a global issue nowadays, but starvation has been a real threat before this issue. 

Whenever a person starts consuming lesser calories, the body starts preparing for famine by following specific ways such as:

  • The person’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) starts to decline, which reduces the energy out. BMR is regarded as the amount of energy to live at rest.
  • When a person has lesser amounts of energy, exercise becomes difficult. 
  • The body gets smaller and lesser energy is expanded out through exercise as it doesn’t require much fuel. The metabolism of the body adapts to make a person more efficient. In this way, fewer calories are burned, which results in less energy out. 
  • Digestion rate also slows down so that body can absorb nutrients. It increases the energy in the mechanism. 
  • Daily activities excluding the workouts also decrease, which results in lesser energy out rates from NEAT. 
Large brown eggs-1 serving70156650
Pumpkin spice bagel-1 serving26051294309
Reduced-fat peanut butter-1 tbsp958641252
Ultra mega green women’s multivitamins-2 tablets2070100
Triple strength fish oil-1 capsule1502000
MEAL 2      
Whole grain instant brown rice-2/3 cup cooked1503423100
Spinach in raw form-1 cup7101240
Balsamic vinegar and rosemary chicken breast-3 oz13034202002
Almond nut and rice crackers-5 cracker41711360
MEAL 3      
Extra-lean turkey breast-3 oz900120530
1 flatbread14024352400
Classic hummus-2 tbsp704521300

Steps to Follow a Reverse Diet:

Calculating the Current Calories and Building Macro Targets:

Instead of jumping quickly to the calories, it is necessary to know the number of calories consumed to maintain weight. After this, a person can establish the baseline macros.

  • First of all, track the average calorie intake for a few days. For example, it comes out 1800 calories per day.
  • Set a protein target around 1g per pound of the body weight. For instance, if a person weighs one pound, then its protein intake would be 150g.
  • Subtract the protein-based calories from the total current calories. It will give the remaining calories. 
  • One hundred fifty grams of protein x 4 calories per gram = 600 calories of protein.
  • One thousand eight hundred total calories – 600 calories from protein = 1200 remaining calories.
  • The remaining calories are further split in between carbohydrates and fats intake in the ratio of 60:40. 
  • Now, to determine the macros, carbohydrates are divided by four and fats by nine.
  • These are the baseline macros that are calculated. 

Guide to Reverse Dieting:

WeightBody MeasurementsAction with Macros

The Decision Regarding the Increase of Carbs and Fat:

Ask yourself some questions for this aspect, such as:

  • Do I want to gain excess fat or to reach a higher caloric intake?
  • Am I trying to overcome my binge-Eating behavior?
  • While doing reverse dieting, am I thinking of adding muscle? 

If your answer is yes, then your body might get more benefits from an aggressive reverse. A person will gain more body fat by quickly increasing the carbs and fat.

The person will feel less deprived and have more range to include foods related to their cravings, preventing binge eating episodes. The extra energy added through aggressive reverse will give the energy to build muscle during training. 

If a person is concerned about gaining body fat, then the conservative reverse is best. After an appropriate diet, a person wants to increase fat and carbs slowly to maintain better results. For this purpose, the conservative reverse is best.

Increasing Carbs and Fats According to Weight Goals:

For a slow reverse, increase the carb and fat intake by just a 2-5% increase per week in a diet that depends on weight gain.

For a fast reverse, increase the carb and fat intake by 6-10% increase per week in the diet. 15-25% increase per week can also be initiated for a jump start. 

Reverse Diet

Evaluate Weight per Week for Weight Maintenance:

Decide two or three days in a week and weigh yourself on those days in the morning. Assess the average weight change over the week. It will help to evaluate the manipulation of macros and will decide the subsequent increase. 

If you observe a significant jump in weight gain during the assessment, scale back to the rate which is increasing the intake. Bump up to both carbohydrate and fat intake for maintaining the weight. 

Reduce the Time for Cardio and Add Heavy Weight Lifting:

Stop doing steady-state cardio, which helps little build muscle mass and interferes with the muscle-building pathways. Lifting weight for 3-6 days in a week helps build muscle mass, increases the metabolism for the short term, shows results, and maintains them for a more extended period. 

Stop and Choose the Next Action after Reaching Desirable Goals:

Once the satisfying amount of your weight goal is reached, stop adding the calories at this point. If this level of caloric intake feels better for you, stay at this level. But if you want to lose weight after this point, you can go ahead as the metabolism is in a better position now. Avoid the slash of calories.

Reverse Diet

What to Expect in Reverse Diet:

  • Recovering of metabolism: The body will function at higher levels as energy needs increase.
  • Improvement in hormones: Thyroid and sex hormones show improvement with time. 
  • Increased hunger (it is a good thing): It’s your body’s way of telling you it’s used up the energy, and it’s ready for more calories. 
  • Better sleep: Good sleeping pattern will be observed.
  • Better levels of energy: No more afternoon crash or need for morning caffeine. 
  • Better workout: More energy to pick up new goals at the gym due to an increase in food intake. 

Challenges in a Reverse Diet:

  • Increasing calorie intake daily is not bad, and you need to remind this thing over and over during the period of the reverse diet. This needs a significant mindset shift regarding calories. You will not feel hungry, but still, you need to eat more. 
  • You will observe an increase on the scale, and weight might increase from 5-10 pounds. It depends on the dieting done before and its demerits on the metabolism. It is a common thing that reverse dieters gain weight firstly and then lose it. 

Potential Benefits of the Reverse Diet:

Reverse diets add potential benefits to health too. Lower carb diets are linked with lower metabolism rates, and increasing the rates of carb in this diet leads to reducing the effects of adaptive thermogenesis. Some of the benefits are as follows:

You Eat More on a Reverse Diet: 

An increase in calories means more intake of food. A reverse diet means eating more food along with maintenance needs and controlling the long-term calorie intake. It is one of the positive effects for those who enjoy eating food.

Reduces Hunger and Fatigue: 

Proper nutrition reduces unhealthy food cravings, better mood, and overall well-being. Restriction in calories is associated with a mess creating a disturbance in hunger-regulating hormones, which leads to cravings for sweets, and a person feels cranky and hungry. Feeding the body improves the energy need on an overall basis. 

Drawbacks of The Reverse Diet:

It can Lead to Fat Gain: 

Without maintaining the maintenance calorie need, a reverse diet can increase the calories to a high level, resulting in weight gain. There are also some water weight changes which is not possible for an average man to distinguish.

For instance, if a person cuts a majority of carbohydrates in a diet, then later, some of the additional water will start to store in the body as water weight.

It Only Focuses on Calories:

This diet only focuses on calories, but a person must fuel up the body with the appropriate amount of calories for mindful eating. It helps in daily performance and is a key to long-term adherence—a balanced approach in any diet in the long term and proper maintenance diet. 

Limited amount of research: There is minimal research on reverse diet and its practical approach.

Tips for Reverse Diet:

  • Correctly plan the macros during the start of a reverse diet which leads to a good protein target. As soon as the calories increase, the intake must be from carbs and fats.
  • The increase in weight gain during the initial days of reverse diet is not the increase of body fat, but instead, it is an increase in fluid retention, which is a regular and temporary thing and resolves within few days.
  • Monitor the changes with control and be consistent towards your goal. Access your progress through photos and stick to your nutritional targets. 
  • It is advisable not to stick for a longer time in any restricted and reverse diet. It will slow down the metabolic progress as each diet has its consequences. 

Also Read: Clear Liquid Diet: An Incredibly Easy Method That Works For All

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Can a person lose weight on a reverse diet?

Research is limited on this fact, but still, it is known that the increase in calorie intake boosts up the burning of fats and excess calories and normalizes the hormonal levels in the body. It could lead to weight loss and management of weight.

Does reversed dieting show effective results?

There is no current evidence about the exact working of reverse diet. However, it is still studied that the gradual increase in calories after a deficit diet planning boosts the metabolism by adjusting the weight regain.

Does a person gain weight on a reverse diet?

During the initial days, gaining weight is normal due to the water weight, and it can take 4-6 months to reach the desired goal by gradually increasing the calorie intake per week.

How long should reverse diet be followed before cutting?

A reverse diet is followed for almost 6-8 weeks and depends on the calorie Maintenance to hit goals and current TDEE.

How to start a reverse diet?

Figure out the daily calorie intake and then increase the calories in small increments per week. Track the daily intake of calories and stick to your maintenance calorie needs.

How can a reverse diet be followed without gaining weight? 

To avoid weight gain:
1. Eat plenty of proteins and drink more cold water.
2. Try high-intensity workouts and lift heavy things.
3. Drink green or oolong tea and eat spicy foods.

How many calories be increased on a reverse diet?

Target 300-500 calories per day for slow weight gain and 700-1000 calories if you want to gain weight fast.

How to do a reverse diet on a 1200 calorie intake?

 Add 30-100 calories per day in a week and for a 1200 calorie diet, try to consume 1250 calories per day. 

Dr. Zainab Naeem

Hello! My name is Dr. Zainab Naeem, and I am a Nutritionist/Dietitian by profession. I am also impassioned to spread knowledge about ‘9Lifestyle medicine’, ‘Human Nutrition’, and ‘Dietetics’ so that people can stop believing the wrong concepts about food and habits they have adopted over the years, which hinders the real joy of their life. This site is an excellent platform for me to share some of my medical knowledge and experience extracts. The power of words helps me to spread up-to-date and current research studies.

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