Most diets fail and lead to fat rebound. The reason is that the post-diet period isn’t given enough consideration—people lose weight, then go straight back to how they ate before the diet, which is what got them fat in the first place.
Reverse dieting is a great way to fix this situation. By using it you can keep your results and avoid becoming another diet-failure statistic.
In my most successful reverse dieting experiment I increased my food intake from 1900 Calories all the way up to 3000 with no fat gain.
- The Promise of Leanness With a Normal Diet
- Post Fat Loss Goals
- Enter the Reverse Diet Concept
- General Principles
- The Actual Reverse Diet
- Summary in Terms of Calories
The Promise of Leanness With a Normal Diet
It’s widely said that to make permanent changes to body composition you have to make permanent changes to how you eat. The logic is that if you lose body fat on a diet, you have to keep eating the same amount if you want to keep your results.
Having suffered many diets in the past, I’d rather be overweight while eating normally and enjoying food than have to live in a calorie deficit.
So I was excited by the idea of reverse dieting when I first heard of it. It seemed to offer a way to transition back to a normal diet in a way that didn’t result in a fat rebound.
But it’s a mysterious practice, and I couldn’t find much about how to actually do it. As such, I thought of a few different protocols and did some testing on myself over the course of a few years. Below I’ll outline the method that gave me the most impressive results.
Post Fat Loss Goals
After fat loss some degree of metabolic slowdown is normal—the more extreme the diet, the more pronounced the slowdown will be.
In addition to that, the amount of food required to maintain your new body weight will have decreased. This isn’t only because of a slower metabolic rate, but because body weight has reduced. Less body mass means less calorie-burning tissue you have.
Therefore to avoid fat rebound in the post-diet transition we need to balance two things: first, our new level of maintenance, and second, metabolic adaptations.
It’s tricky because the changing metabolic rate means that maintenance calories will also change. Luckily reverse dieting tackles this situation.
Enter the Reverse Diet Concept
I’ve written about the general concept of reverse dieting here, but in a nutshell it’s a gradual increase of calories over time.
The time involved means we can observe trends and deal with any issues before unwanted fat gain occurs, thereby making our body composition changes permanent.
Our bodies can’t manufacture all the protein we need, so we have to get it through diet. It plays a critical role in almost every bodily process there is, including immune function, and all tissue maintenance and building (even bone). It also helps a lot with hunger.
Therefore I aim to consume a minimum level of protein regardless of whether I’m dieting, building, or maintaining—normally about 1 gram per lb.
This is arguably higher than necessary, but there’s no harm in eating more, and I just happen to like high protein foods. (See here for a great article on the subject by Menno Henselmans.)
With protein in place, bumps to my caloric intake during the reverse diet process aren’t specifically focussed on carbohydrate as some people recommend (the argument being that carbs are theoretically better than fat for recovering various metabolic factors).
I’ll simply have whatever I feel like eating, which means the calories sometimes come from fat. Perhaps it’s less than theoretically optimal, but I think it’s well worth it for the quality of life that a flexible diet provides.
Besides, at this point I’m not convinced there’s much difference in the long run. Research shows that neither carbohydrate nor fat have much of an effect on body composition beyond their caloric value (nicely covered here by examin.com).
So I just set my calories, get my protein in, and let my carbs and fat fall where they may.
Even further, I’ll sometimes just have more protein if I feel like an extra Quest Bar or some other high protein food.
Provided I’m getting a minimum amount of protein, I’m not overly concerned with macronutrient breakdown. Again, body composition is mainly determined by overall calories.
The Actual Reverse Diet
At the end of my fat loss phase I was eating 1900 Calories per day.
My reverse started with an increase of 200 Calories, taking my daily intake to 2100. Two days later after absolutely no movement on the scale, I increased by another 100 up to 2200.
No weight gain. Four days later, another increase to 2300. At this point I actually started losing weight again.
I stayed there for four days, then I stepped up to 2400. No weight gain. Ten days later, up to 2450.
From then on, at intervals of a week, or sometimes less depending on what the scale was doing, I increased intake by 50 Calories a time until I got to a daily total of 2750.
At that point, I was eating as much as I had been before the diet when I was actually quite flabby. Because of that, it seemed logical that I’d start getting fat again, so I was very wary about eating even more.
But things were going so well that I decided to keep pushing, just at a very conservative rate. Therefore, I decreased the size of my bumps to just 25 Calories, which were undertaken weekly.
Months went by until I eventually got to 3000 Calories with no change in my skin-fold measurements. My scale weight decreased for a time, then went back to where it was at the end of the fat loss phase.
Summary in Terms of Calories
- End of diet: 1900
- Start of reverse diet: +200 → 2100
- Two days later: +100 → 2200
- Four days later: +100 → 2300
- Four days later: +100 → 2400
- Ten days later: +50 → 2450
- Seven days later +50, then again roughly every week to 2750
- From here on +25 every week all the way to 3000
Having been obese before, I’d never been one of those people who can eat huge quantities with no fat gain.
Before this experience, I simply wouldn’t have believed I could get away with eating 3000 Calories per day and stay that lean (to give you some idea of my leanness, skin fold calculations had me at 2% body fat. Obviously inaccurate, but at least indicative).
It was an extremely effective process, particularly considering that I ended up eating more than before the fat loss, while remaining far leaner.
Size of Caloric Increases
This reverse diet followed the time I dieted down to the leanest I’d ever been (using the method I outline here), and I’d worked hard and suffered a lot to get there.
That meant I was very conservative at the start of my reverse diet because I was paranoid about wrecking all my hard work. Probably unnecessarily conservative, in fact—I could have made the first jump much bigger.
Minimizing the chance of fat gain to the highest degree does depend on gradual calorie increases over time. However, at the end of the actual fat loss part of a diet, by definition there is a sizable caloric deficit (otherwise weight loss wouldn’t occur).
In other words, we’re significantly below maintenance calories. As such, there’s a good buffer and little danger of a fairly large initial caloric increase resulting in fat gain by overshooting the new maintenance level.
Not that there’s anything wrong with ultra-conservative increases in the immediate post-diet period per se. It’s just that there’s nothing to be gained by starting a reverse diet with the same tiny caloric increases that will be useful later—it will just prolong the misery of any symptoms you incurred from the diet itself.
To give a specific number, I probably could have gone straight up to 2400 Calories instead of stepping it up like I did.
Clearly you can’t keep adding food forever, but finding the upper limit of metabolic rate can be a challenge.
My reverse diet went so well that I began to feel calorically invincible (so to speak), got cocky, and went too far. I kept pushing way above 3000, expecting an obvious warning in the form of gradual body weight increase when I crossed the threshold of unwanted fat gain.
It was actually surprisingly sudden—what I thought was just meaningless weight fluctuation was actually all too real fat gain, and I had to dial my food intake back below a level that hadn’t seemed to result in fat gain a few weeks prior.
For more information about that specific phenomenon, see here where I wrote about it in more detail.
Reverse dieting is notoriously hard, and many say it’s harder than dieting itself. That’s because the goal shifts from active fat loss to merely not gaining fat, which is harder to get a mental grip on.
As such, it’s not for everyone. That said though, I’m not aware of a better way to stay lean after a diet while at the same time pushing food intake up to a level that’s liveable long term.
Reverse dieting can be amazingly effective, but difficult to know how to implement. I hope this gave you some ideas about where to start if you’d like to try it yourself.
If you liked this, check out Is Reverse Dieting Necessary? for more on the subject.
Feedback is very welcome, I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts and about your experiences. Just use the comment form below, or send me an email.
Thank you kindly for reading.