Reverse Dieting & Metabolic Whiplash

Joseph Westrupp after reverse dieting

Reverse dieting is possibly the single most important thing for permanent leanness. With my history of yo-yo dieting it really did change my life, and it’s now one of the key concepts in my whole approach to physical development.

But it’s not well-studied, so using it is a matter of experimentation. My own testing has shown a possible unpleasant surprise—a sort of metabolic whiplash if you will. In the following I’ll explain what it is and how to deal with it to avoid setbacks.

Reverse Dieting Explanation

I’ve written about reverse dieting before, but it’s basically the slow addition of Calories over time for the purpose of increasing metabolic rate without adding body fat.

I use it for post-diet recovery.

A low calorie diet can result in metabolic slow-down (often referred to as metabolic damage, metabolic adaptation, or starvation mode). It’s the body’s way of lowering energy expenditure to defend body fat, and it can be quite a harsh experience.

Therefore reverse dieting provides a way to recover and increase metabolism without the massive fat rebound that unrestricted post-diet eating normally leads to.

If you’ve ever been caught in the diet-rebound-diet abyss, you’ll understand my enthusiasm for reverse dieting—it’s the perfect way to get out of that depressing cycle.

Metabolic Capacity

So the goal of reverse dieting is to add as much food to the diet as possible without adding body fat, but obviously you can’t keep doing it forever. There’s an upper limit before extra food just results in fat gain.

Finding that limit is a challenge, and it’s what reveals the metabolic whiplash phenomenon.

My reverse diet approach was very conservative because I wanted to avoid any fat gain if I could. Post-diet my first few increases were in 100-200 Calorie increments, and after that each week I added just 50 to my daily intake.

I’d worked my way up to about 1500 more Calories than I was eating at the end of my diet, and I’d gained no noticeable fat. My weight had barely increased either.

It seemed to be going extremely well. I began to think I was transforming myself into one of those people who can eat huge amounts of food and stay lean. But it was a false sense of security.

The Crack of the Whip

Very suddenly I started gaining weight. For a few days I thought the scale increase was a normal fluctuation, just water weight from too much salt the day before perhaps.

But days went by and my weight stayed up. My stomach skinfold was up slightly, too—I’d definitely gained some body fat.

No problem, I’d obviously found the limit of food my body could tolerate, now I just had to lower my intake a bit to get back under the amount that was causing the fat gain.

I knocked off 50 Calories. Two days went by, more scale weight. So another reduction of 50. Again more scale weight.

I kept repeating this, and I ended up having to go a few hundred Calories below the daily total that only weeks before hadn’t affected my weight at all. There seemed to be a tipping point where my body suddenly went into fat storage mode.

Practical Implications

The takeaway is that at the end of the reverse diet process, you have to watch for that fat storage switch, and be prepared to quickly knock a bit more than you’d expect off your daily intake to stop fat gain.

As with everything physiological there’s no one-size-fits-all, but I think a reduction of 200 Calories is a good first step. From there adjustments can be made based on what happens with body weight.

Magic but Curious

After many years of soul-destroying yo-yo diets, reverse dieting still seems like magic to me, and it’s finally enabled real control of my body composition.

The idea is only just becoming more widespread, so using it has been more of an unmapped exploration into physiology than following a clear prescription. Because of that, the journey has been intriguing, but sometimes bumpy.

However, forewarned is forearmed. If you decide to use reverse dieting, knowing about this metabolic quirk means you can plan for it, and thereby avoid unnecessary fat gain.

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.

Related: fat loss.

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