Liz, your BBR Dietitian here!
You often hear me mention some mysterious ‘reverse dieting’ when describing possible nutrition strategies recommended within any my programs, being that for a brief nutrition education course, an 8-week coaching experience, or the BBR challenges. Reverse dieting can be a confusing, counterintuitive concept – or you may not have heard about it ever before!
If that sounds familiar, you’re in luck: this blog is all about understanding the processes involved in reverse dieting! By the time you’ve finished reading, you will be able to confidently apply the principles of reverse dieting and start fuelling your body for optimal results, without unnecessary restrictions and crazy cravings.
What is reverse dieting?
To put it simply, reverse dieting (RD) refers to the strategic, consistent and incremental increase of one’s caloric intake. In particular, it’s often utilised in cases when someone has been restricting their intake for prolonged periods of time (there is a variety of reasons for those suboptimal intake patterns, from dedicated competition prep to incorrectly applying principles of calorie restriction). In a way, reverse dieting is an approach involving progressive overload with energy and nutrients as opposed to a sudden surge.
Why can’t you just start eating much more overnight?
We often come across clients who have been drastically undereating – this is not sustainable for health, happiness or correct daily functioning. Or in a different scenario, someone might have reached a fat loss plateau, and nothing seems to be helping. In both cases, food is the answer! And technically (unless you are very severely malnourished), you can just pile the calories back up to the target rate – however, what you may find is that unwanted fat gain follows!
See, when you remain in a considerable calorie deficit for prolonged periods, your body learns to preserve energy and holds on tightly to any available resources – after all, you know that the restriction phase is not forever, but your body doesn’t. In extreme cases of severe restricting, several things happen:
- Metabolism slows down, meaning you burn less calories a day
- Fat loss slows, resulting in a dreaded plateau
- Certain hormone levels drop, including leptin, testosterone and thyroid hormone, so you feel sluggish and tired all the time
- In contrast, cortisone and ghrelin go through the roof, making you stressed and hungry, respectively
Those are not the processes that can be reversed with even less food and even more exercise! Instead, you will need to actually consume more calories and nutrients. However, by increasing your intake dramatically, you’re running a risk into sending the body a wrong signal: still in starvation mode, it will attempt to preserve a sudden surge of food in case you keep starving – which means turning it into fat storages!
In contrast, gradual increase in intake allows your body sufficient time to stop freaking out and adjust. By making small incremental, calculated caloric increases the metabolism is able to adapt to the increase with a paralleled surge in metabolic output and thermogenesis. Go slow and remember: your body will not reach a new equilibrium overnight!
Additional benefits many people report from sticking to reverse dieting protocols as opposed to random tweaks of intake include:
- Boosted energy levels
- Improved quality of sleep
- Better appetite
- Better performance, both mental and physical
- Improved focus and clarity
How to implement reverse dieting?
Reverse dieting is an intricate process, so make sure you’re doing it correctly by applying the tips below:
- Consider your current intake your baseline, including both calories and macronutrient ratios. You will increase your intake from this point.
- It’s important to establish whether your body is better fuelled by higher carbohydrates or fats. Generally, you start by increasing your carb and fat intake by just 2-5 percent per week or fortnight based on progress – this will change both your calorie intake and the macros split.
- Assess progress fortnightly or weekly. Take assessments approximately 7-14 days after your last calorie increase. Remain consistent with the timing. It is also very important to note that reverse dieting works best if you are consistent with your macros.
- Make increases fortnightly or weekly, progress permitting. If body fat increases by more than 1% each week, then I would suggest that you do not increase calories until the body adjusts.
- When you reach your desired caloric intake (aim for 10% under your theoretical requirements initially to account for slowed down metabolism), stop increasing. Obviously, you cannot keep increasing calories forever! Eating 10,000 calories a day won’t work and isn’t really possible or maintainable. Once you’re satisfied with the amount of food you’re eating, stop adding calories and decide on your next plan of attack. Speaking of which…
Where to go from there?
I hope you found this information useful!
Want to know more about reverse dieting, or try a BBR Program to guide you through your journey?
Simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out which Program is right for you :)