Reverse Dieting, what is it exactly? According to the internet, reverse dieting is gaining weight without rapidly gaining fat to allow your metabolism to gradually improve and adjust to a higher intake of calories. I'd say that is a pretty fair definition of the word but I want to take a moment and flesh it out in much greater detail. Why?? Because NOT taking the time to reverse out of a diet is one of the most common and most damaging mistakes I see in the health and nutrition space. I have to assume that this mistake is made out of ignorance. I hope to shed some light on the topic and at least offer my stance on the concept of reverse dieting.
In my opinion, everyone who has dieted down, dropped their calories, gone through a competition prep, chronically under eaten, struggled with eating disorders, struggled with their weight, doesn't have a high metabolism, or wants to know more about their body and how to optimize it with regards to their nutrition. So, basically, everyone! I'm sure either you or someone you know fits this description perfectly...
You're not happy with the way you look, you're holding a bit of extra fat. You decide to do something about it and watch what you eat. The best way to lose weight is eat less right? So, that's exactly what you do. You start dropping your calories bit by bit week after week. Or, you take a much more aggressive approach and slash your calories significantly to help jumpstart things. Before long, you're living on iceberg lettuce and miracle noodles and constantly starving. You're not eating hardly anything and confused with why you're not dropping some serious pounds. Sure sure, you may have lost a few lbs initially but not near as much as you would like. You're still nowhere near your goal except now, you're hungry ALL the time! You convince yourself that it's ok to overindulge a bit for one meal because heck, why not. The iceberg lettuce diet isn't working anyways so what do you have to lose??? The next thing you notice, that one binge turns into two, then five, then a daily occurrence. Before long, you're fatter than when you started and you have no idea what to do next! Guess what, you should have reverse dieted 😉
In short, anytime you decrease your caloric intake, your body's metabolism is going to slow down. That's not even a bad thing, it's just a thing. It happens to the best of us so don't fret it. However, learn to deal with it correctly. Your body is smart, it's evolved to survive. If you're consuming less energy, it only makes sense to down regulate your body's internal thermostat. That is the best way of ensuring you don't die. Your body is resilient, you can push it much harder than you may realize. For this reason, it's ok to drop your metabolism a bit temporarily. I literally do this every single time I go through a competition prep. I drop my calories and my metabolism follows suite. However, it's equally as important to ramp up your metabolism after the dieting is over.
Like most things in the nutritional world, this is going to vary from individual to individual. I personally recommend transitioning into a reverse diet immediately following a competition prep, a 90 day cut program like DSK, any kind of caloric deficit protocol really. If you are chronically under eating I also recommend starting a reverse diet. Now, I would be remiss if I didn't include a little blurb on how long a cutting protocol should last. That also depends on the individual but I don't typically recommend staying in a caloric deficit for more than about 5 or 6 months. Now, there are some outliers such as people that are incredibly overweight BUT, make no mistake, it's still not optimal for them to be chronically under eating. What if 5 or 6 months passes and you still haven't reached your goal??? I still recommend transitioning into a reverse diet and then returning to your goal after your metabolism has had a chance to recover. If you are going through a "cut" the right way and gradually tapering your calories as needed, you're going to eventually run out of macros. If you continue dropping calories well beyond what is healthy or sustainable, your metabolism is basically going to shut down and you're not going to make any headway towards losing bodyfat. In fact, your body is going to fight you and work to store as much food as it can as bodyfat because it's afraid it won't get any more caloric energy. This is why chronically dropping calories beyond a healthy limit can do so much more harm than good.
If you've gone through the Deeper State Keto course then you're familiar with the "Off-boarding" phase. Off-boarding is basically the same concept of reverse dieting. For those that haven't gone through off-boarding, let me explain how I recommend reversing out of a caloric deficit. Before I do though, let me forewarn you...reverse dieting will very likely result in an increase on the scale. WHAT??!!! I know, I know, crazy right. Why would you want to do something that is going to move you farther away from that lower weight you've been striving for. Well, because it's absolutely necessary! Body recomposition is a marathon, not a sprint. You are playing the long game here. Sacrifice a slight increase on the scale to reach the goal in the end. If you've been dieting down for long, your body is going to assume food isn't readily available and it's going to store any surplus you give it. This is why you can expect a slight increase in weight in the beginning. However, after a time of caloric increase, your body will recognize that food is no longer scarce and it won't be as likely to store it as bodyfat. That is when things start improving. Just as decreasing your caloric intake results in a slower metabolism, increasing your caloric intake leads to a faster metabolism.
However, this doesn't mean go out and eat everything in sight. I recommend you take a strategic approach to your reverse dieting just as you took towards your actual dieting. Keep the foods clean and make small, incremental changes. Generally speaking, you can be slightly more aggressive with the reverse diet than you were with the depletion diet. Try and increase by 50 to 150 calories week after week depending on how your body responds. If you start to notice adverse effects, take a slightly more conservative approach.
This increase in caloric intake is adding more fuel to the furnace. Put that furnace to use. Train harder, eat more, and reap the benefits of a healthier metabolism. No matter what diet you're on, chronic under eating and long term caloric deficits are damaging to your hormones and your metabolism. Make sure you emphasize the reverse diet and give your body time to recover and improve it's foundation.
In all honesty, reverse dieting is what makes dieting sustainable in the first place. You couldn't possibly stay in a caloric deficit indefinitely, your hormones would tank, your metabolism would shut down, your performance would plummet, eventually....you could die. Rather than fight your body, work with it. It's healthy to cycle your caloric intake. Leverage periods of healthy caloric depletion to shed body fat and improve your composition. Be excited about the opportunity to eat more and reverse out of that deficit to improve your metabolism and hormones. If you so choose, enjoy the maintenance intake for a bit and focus on other areas of your life that need attention. If done properly, going through these different phases is incredibly sustainable. Each time you cycle through, your composition and metabolic baseline will improve. You can consistently be moving the needle forward in the long game of life. Don't think shortsightedly and damage the only body you have. Play the long game and win!