The Benefits of Reverse Dieting
Most people diet (eat in a caloric deficit) for months on end, with maybe a few higher calorie days here and there. After a long time, your metabolism slows down due to the body requiring less nutrients to function. Your energy levels and strength go down, your sleep may suffer, and your appetite could take a nose dive. Dieting for long periods of time also has a major effect on regulatory hormones. Mainly for women, especially if you maintain a lower level of body fat. At this point your body slows the projection of hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle. Your mood can also suffer. These symptoms, what many competitors call “Diet Brain” are very real and should only be experienced for a short period of time in order to reach temporary physique goals. There absolutely IS a way to maintain lean mass year round while being healthy and happy. Reverse dieting is a must if you can relate to any of the criteria above.
The concept of reversing your diet is very simple and straightforward. You start by calculating your current caloric intake, then break it down by the macronutrients. As a rule of thumb: Carbs and protein hold 4 calories per gram, while fat holds 9 calories per gram, and alcohol (if you must account for it) holds 7 calories per gram. Once you figure this out, I recommend using My Fitness Pal to start tracking, you have your base from which you want to do a slow increase. Protein should stay relatively the same, and the focus would be on slowly increasing the grams of carbs and fats. You can do this at your own pace, but an average increase would be anywhere from 10-15 grams of carbs per week and about 5 grams of fats. By adding in calories slowly and continually tracking them, you are setting yourself up for a proper recovery time so that you can gain very minimal fat while still building muscle and making improvements to your physique.
Your metabolism is very smart and will quickly adapt to the new amount of food each week! Most people end up LOSING weight as they increase their calories slowly. While you are reverse dieting, you may be able to play with IIFYM (If it fits your macros) more often, so that you can fit fun foods you crave into your daily diet. It is harder to fit fun foods into your diet while your calories are restricted. Depending on your goals and how much muscle you want to gain, and also how long your timeline is to reverse, you may want to lower your cardio or increase calories faster to get the most mass gained.
Many people fall off track as soon as their “diet” ends or their 8/12 week prep/challenge. Reversing your diet is the best possible way to not go overboard and eat everything in sight. You will absolutely thank yourself later for remaining somewhat disciplined and not gaining a lot of unnecessary body fat! Trust me, I’ve gone down both roads and I would choose a proper reverse diet over anything else. When you reverse diet properly, your metabolism will increase and your body will welcome the extra food and store it in the right places. Your energy will increase, and you will still be following a plan and having set goals in mind. This will benefit your mental state as well, because let’s face it, no one wants to be left without a backup plan after their long months of strict dieting ends. Be smart, friends. Do your research and reach out to a coach to guide you through the process. Leah has helped me numerous times with creating a structured reverse after my competitions and I would never go back!