14 Feb How to end a diet without gaining weight- Reverse Dieting
You’re hungry, moody and can’t be bothered doing anything. The only thing you can think about is how good it’s going to be to end your diet… if you can make it to the finish line.
A lot of people will tell you that there is no finish line when it comes to dieting. It’s a lifestyle right?
Yes it is a lifestyle, but this lifestyle is more to do with your behaviours you set up whilst dieting. Behaviours like tracking macros, choosing to eat mostly whole-foods and not going crazy on the weekend just because it’s the weekend.
This lifestyle doesn’t have to include constantly being hungry, having no energy, lacking sex drive and being miserable. Living in a calorie deficit is not ideal long term. You need to come out of it at some point!
One of the biggest mistakes people make when dieting is not having a plan to follow for after the diet.
Just like there are a variety of diets that you can choose from to get results, there are a variety of ways to end a diet. Reverse dieting is one of them. It will help you end a diet without gaining much weight back.
Who is reverse dieting for?
– If you have ever been part of the yo-yo dieters club
– If you have been dieting for awhile and plateaued on very low calories but still have more fat to lose
– If you have successfully lost weight and don’t want to regain it back but you want to be able to eat more food again
If you ticked yes to any of the above then you will want to know the answer to the questions covered in this article:
Why should I reverse diet?
How should I set up my reverse diet?
When do I stop my reverse diet?
Why you should reverse your diet
Basically because you want to be able to eat all the ice cream again and not get fat.
When you finish a dieting phase you have a few options to come out of it:
1.Keep eating the same amount of food and probably be miserable
2.Go on a binge eating rampage and gain the weight back pretty quickly
3.Go back to eating at your maintenance calorie intake and maintain the weight lost
The problem with option 3 is that your maintenance calorie intake, or the amount of food you need to maintain your body weight, changes during a significant time dieting.
Plus when you diet you get hungry. If you have an end date and don’t have some self control afterwards it is very likely that you will go overboard with your eating and overshoot your maintenance. Especially if you are a yoyo dieter and go straight back to old habits. This means quick weight regain!
Reverse dieting is the process of slowly adding calories back to your calorie deficit. Doing it in a controlled way prevents the likelihood that you will binge eat or go back to a maintenance calorie intake that is much higher than what it actually is. It allows you to work out where your new maintenance calorie intake is, without guessing and potentially gaining a heap of weight back.
It is thought that when you diet your metabolism adapts to the lower food intake by becoming more efficient. This means it slows down in an attempt to conserve energy. It is not permanent and you don’t “DESTROY” your metabolism from dieting on low calories. But just like it takes time to slow down, it will also take time to increase back to where it was. It is hard to estimate how much it decreases so predicting your new maintenance calorie intake after a diet is difficult. Furthermore, your non-exercise activity (NEAT) naturally goes up again when you stop dieting which compounds this. By reverse dieting you allow your metabolism to slowly increase again so you can maintain your weight on a more sustainable amount of food.
For these reasons, people who use a reverse dieting approach generally gain less weight back than those who just go straight back to eating whatever they want. Note that the research on reverse dieting is limited in a scientific setting but I have helped plenty of people do it, including myself, with great results.
This is how reverse dieting would look in real life:
Let’s say I finish my diet at 1200 calories per day and weigh 53kg. I am happy with the results and my body but I hate having to be so limited with my food intake. I would love to be able to maintain my results on a higher calorie intake so I have more flexibility to go out with my friends and eat more food. I decide to reverse diet and get my calories up to 2100 calories. I gain 2kg during the process but am still really happy with how my body looks, and I get to eat a normal amount of food again! Plus, now I can go back into a fat loss phase if I want to and lose the 2kg pretty easily, on a more reasonable amount of food.
How to set up your reverse dieting
All you need to do is continue tracking your macros for a bit longer!
Basically you are going to start with your current deficit calorie intake and add 80-100 calories to it per week. If you are paranoid about gaining body fat then you can go even slower and add 30-50 calories per week.
The extra calories should come from mainly carbohydrates. Overall adherence is key so if you prefer fat then you can add fat instead, or you can add a bit of both. The main reason I would add carbs is that they are least likely to be stored as body fat. Protein intake can stay the same or slowly decrease as calories come up. This is because your body needs less protein when you are no longer in a calorie deficit.
How to measure progress
It is normal for body weight to fluctuate throughout the week. For this reason, waist measurement should be taken weekly as well as body weight during your reverse diet. If waist measurement stays the same it is likely that you are not gaining body fat, even if your scale weight increases.
Body weight may go up slightly as a result of adding more carbs to your diet. This is because your body will begin to replenish its carbohydrate stores in your muscle and liver which requires water as well. Don’t be scared of this! It will help you make progress with your weight training in the gym!
When to slow down or stop your reverse diet
The point of reverse dieting is to increase calories while minimising fat gain. This means that you may need to slow down if your weight increases too much (usually more than 0.5%) in a week. If it increases by a very small amount but does so for three weeks in a row then you might want to stay at your current calories for a week or two before trying to increase again.
You can end your reverse diet when you get to a point where you are happy with your body and your calorie intake. These will be your new maintenance calories.
If you still want to lose weight and are using reverse dieting to improve your metabolism then you should aim to keep reversing until your calorie intake matches your predicted maintenance calories and you are maintaining your body weight on these (see this article to work out your predicted maintenance calories).
You can keep going for longer if you want to try to get your calories up even more before starting another fat loss phase. The actual time of your reverse diet will largely depend on how long you have been dieting for. If you’re aiming to increase your metabolic rate, expect it to take 6 months or more to do it properly.
How to do you know whether to lose fat or reverse first?
If you would need to drop down to super low calories (around 25% less than your predicted maintenance calories) then you would be better to reverse diet first and then start a fat loss phase on higher calories.
This is super important! To make the most of your reverse diet you need to maintain your weight training routine! If you were weight training for 3 days a week whilst losing fat, then you want to keep doing this whilst you slowly increase your calories. More food should enable you to increase strength week by week which will help with building muscle and losing fat in the future.
That’s it! It may sound complicated but honestly the toughest part of reverse dieting is mental. It can be hard to resist binging and going crazy when you have finally reached the end of your diet. If you still have fat to lose then it can be difficult to have a break knowing you’ll have to wait a bit longer to get to your goal. It will be totally worth the wait!
Ps. Layne Norton’s Fat Loss Forever book explains this in much more detail and is highly recommended for further reading on the topic of reverse dieting!