Diet culture puts such a heavy emphasis on losing weight and often the most important piece of the puzzle is ignored either before or after the process of dieting begins. Enter the reverse diet. What is a reverse diet? Put simply it is the opposite of a diet. A reverse diet is the process of eating more to decrease the energy deficit caused by a caloric deficit. The reverse diet is important for us in two ways.
First, there are many coaches out there that will prescribe macros without first taking a look at your current food intake. Why is your current food intake so important if you just want to lose fat? I will tell you why. If you are looking to lose fat and someone tells you to eat x amount of calories with x percentages of carbs, fat, and protein, without first looking at your current macronutrient intake, you could experience lots of unwanted side effects.
For instance, if your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) is 2300 and you have been consistently under-eating at around 1600 calories for a long time, you have likely already slowed down your metabolism to a point where it is not working in your favor and have some hormonal side effects working against you. Therefore, putting you in a slight deficit at around 2000 calories is like taking gas from an already empty gas tank. Ideally, someone like this would need to be put on a reverse diet to get to their maintenance calories before even thinking about going into a deficit so that their metabolism can begin to work the way it is intended to.
This is often a challenging process for most clients because it is hard for most to believe that eating more is going to help you get to your goals but trust me, it does. I cannot tell you how many clients I have had that balk at the amount of calories I tell them to eat. Do they gain weight sometimes? Yep. Do they lose sometimes? Yep. But this is a necessary step for someone who has been stuck in dieting hell for a long period of time. Not only does it help to fix your wrecked metabolism from undereating but you will sleep better, perform better, and feel fucking amazing just to name a few of the benefits.
Second, not only are reverse diets overlooked at the beginning of someone’s weight loss journey but they are often the forgotten piece AFTER someone has successfully navigated weight loss and healthy habitual changes. This is why you see many people on that yo-yo diet train who lose a bunch of weight, often times in an unmaintainable way, gain it all right back and then some. Perhaps this is due to too much restriction and unrealistic expectations of whatever plan they are on, OR it is due to the fact that nobody told them they had to start eating more in order to reset your body and achieve a state of metabolic homeostasis. Could be a little of both but you get my point. The body is not meant to be at an energy deficit long term and after someone has worked hard to get to their optimal weight it is not fair to leave them floundering as to what to do next.
The reality is that losing weight requires that you force your body to do something it doesn’t want to do. It puts your body in a state of famine that it does not want to naturally be in long term. This is why it is important not to go in blindly and set yourself up for failure. It is important for a coach to have the knowledge of what to do after a client succeeds at their weight loss goal.
Ideally, you will work someone back up to maintenance after a fat loss phase and give them the tools to navigate eating what they need to maintain and feel their best. For me this also includes some training on intuitive eating approaches in an effort to not have to track macros forever, but either way your job as a coach is not finished after a client loses a few pounds. As long as a client is willing to do the work, the most important part of the process is AFTER the weight loss or body recomposition.
Who should be on a reverse diet:
- People who have been in a caloric deficit for a prolonged period of time and are at a plateau in their weight loss
- People who are experiencing hormonal problems due to severe calorie restriction
- People who need to get to maintenance before a planned fat loss program
- People who want to build to maintenance and then build muscle from there
- People who are fucking sick of the yo-yo dieting mentality
Benefits of a reverse diet:
- Helps to avoid the inevitable post diet binge/rebound
- Regulates metabolism and hormone levels
- Increases energy for workouts
- Improves sleep, mood, sex drive, and life in general
- Sets you up for realistic goals to maintain a healthy and balanced life surrounding food
One more thing. If you are and have been in an extreme caloric deficit it is super important not to jump to maintenance calories in one day or even one week. It should be done slowly and under the supervision of a qualified coach or dietician. Drastic changes cause negative side effects and don’t yield lasting results. If you think you would benefit from a reverse diet reach out! I got you!