In a previous post, I stated why I decided to reverse diet and increase my metabolic rate. The physical overexertion and dietary limitations I imposed on myself were simply not sustainable. Eventually, I reached a point where I grew weary of the strictness, so I realized that I needed to gain some flexibility into my lifestyle, but I was far too frightened of incorporating much more food so suddenly. Luckily, reverse dieting at a slow pace enabled me to accomplish a higher caloric maintenance intake, all while improving my performance in the gym and relieving my food stressors.
People who have been stuck in calorie restriction or any kind of rigid meal plan may want to look into reverse dieting to climb back to maintenance or even to increase their calorie consumption without gaining fat. Thing is, there are many easy ways to reverse diet incorrectly. Most either enter without a plan, start at too high of a calorie intake at the beginning of their reverse diet, eat too many refined foods as their extra caloric allotment, decrease their exercise too drastically, and/or neglect to track their progress through weight or body measurements. So the only way to succeed is to do the complete opposite of these factors, right? For the most part, yes.
Ultimately, a reverse diet is exactly the same as any weight loss diet. You have small goals that sum up to one total endpoint. To be fair, you can still indulge in treats, even track-free days, during the reverse dieting plan. With that being said, this doesn’t change the fact that there’s even more precision and discipline required to reverse diet successfully, and for some, more mental and/or emotional challenge than on a cut or prep regimen. It’s because it is so much easier to allow yourself to skip up because you CAN eat more and exercise less, but you still shouldn’t go overboard.
Below are tips and tricks I’ve used to reverse diet optimally for my own goals (increase in strength, food flexibility, and metabolic expenditure), but just as a precaution, alternative methods may work for you, maybe only one or even none of what I share may do you service. If you want to gradually decrease your cardio or the amount of time you spend at the gym, I suggest using this exact same method, except pace and track the amount of time you exercise rather than the number of calories burned.
- Establish a calorie goal. The higher your caloric goal, the longer you will have to reverse diet. Note that your desired caloric intake may entail you to gain some weight, generally in the form of lean muscle mass.
- Focus on your main objectives. Need to transition from prepping smoothly? Do you have a generally unhealthy relationship with food? Does your gym performance need a boost? Feeling restricted and lethargic from your current calorie intake? If you’ve answered yes to at least two of these questions, then reverse dieting may be an option for you. However, sometimes you might only need a few refeed days or rest days to get back on the bandwagon. Experiment with at least two or three refeed days and the same amount of rest days to see what happens. If those don’t work out, turn to reverse dieting.
- Determine a weekly rate at which you’ll increase your calories. The best recommendation for a SLOW and STEADY journey would be 3-5% more of your current calorie intake maximum, a MODERATE approach 6-10% (I personally followed 7%), or 11-20% per week for a RAPID pace. Slowest is best for the most minimum amount of fat gain. For example, if you’re dieting on 1500 calories, a 3% increased intake would be 1545 calories.
- Keep macros in mind. 75% of your increased calories should be carbohydrates and the remainder should be fats. Protein should generally remain the same as your initial necessary intake.
- Know your portion sizes. Utilize food scales, measuring cups, net weight, and serving sizes as much as you can. For the first three to four (even five) weeks, you have to practice EXTREME precision. Going overboard entails excessive weight gain, whereas undereating stalls progression in your metabolic adaptation.
- Still centralize your diet around high-quality food. In general, it’s a mistake to completely turn a180ofrom your original diet and consume nothing but heavily refined foods and all that junky stuff. You’ll have less volume to play with and it’s unrealistic. Obviously, the more calories you gain as time passes by, the more you can integrate. For myself, I increased the amount of fruits, grains, legumes, and vegetables I consumed, then gradually made my way into integrating more high sugar foods (i.e. dates, bread, grapes, rice, sweet potatoes) and fat sources (i.e. nuts, avocados, seeds, coconuts, dark chocolate) once I reached the fourth week.
- Measure physical progress. Weight, body measurements, waist circumference, body fat percentage, everything. You want to ensure that all your measurements stay around the exact same as possible, even shrink. It’s okay if some parts of your body parts grow a little bit (this most likely means you’re gaining muscle!), though if you find anything growing too drastically, lower your calorie intake just a little bit to minimize fat gain. Using measuring tape, calipers, and photos help immensely.
- Still, enjoy yourself. It’s almost impossible to track every single calorie precisely unless you only eat homemade food that you weigh out to the gram. For the most part, you’ll encounter a situation where you’ll consume food that isn’t found on a tracking app or database. In this case, just eat what you want without thinking about calories or anything. Like any diet, a reverse diet needs flexibility–heck, that’s the ultimate goal, right? It’s important to take some time off of numbers every now and then. After all, you won’t be tracking macros or calories forever, so why beat yourself to the ground if you slip up once, twice, or even three times? At the end of the day, you have your whole lifestyle to get back on track and start anew. Fitness is a journey, not a destination.
Also, I included the three-years-apart transformation pictures not because I think one body is more beautiful than the other, but because I know that there are two different outcomes from two drastically different lifestyles. In fact, I find this comparison to be quite misleading given my different poses and that I’m unevenly tanned on the right and as pale as a sheet on the left. In one picture, I neglected recovery and optimal nourishment for my exercise routine quite frequently. In the other, I make sure to take one weekly rest day minimum and always eat enough to fuel my workouts, which include much more resistance training and plyometrics than on the left, which centered around cardio and Pilates. This comparison is ultimately a mental note for myself to show how much I’ve learned about fitness and what its purpose truly is: to improve one’s quality of life, or at least bring a new perspective on how to approach self-love.
Overall, reverse dieting really helped me gain a lot more flexibility and enjoyment in my regimen, all along with improving my strength and gym performance. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t discover it! It’s an approach I truly recommend to anyone who’s struggling with their current diet in regards to feeling mentally restricted, physically sluggish, or emotionally disarrayed around food, which should never be feared of or resented at all.