Reverse Dieting vs. Intuitive Eating vs. All In: Diets for Breaking an Unsustainable Diet

Amidst the clusterf*ck of disasters amalgamated in the first half of this year, one of the good news about 2020 is how most people are sick of fad dieting. Nobody wants to constantly calorie count, juice cleanse, or cut out entire food groups for the sake of it (except for medical, ethical, or religious reasons). In the period of constant dieting and formulas to achieving the perfect body, there are three that stand out when it comes to pursuing one’s naturally “ideal” weight. Below, I attempt to expound the three diets–at least one or two you have probably heard of already–as well as present their benefits, downsides, and how each of them would operate in a real-life setting.

Having said that, I am not a registered dietitian or physician, so please consult any medical or dietetic professional regarding this subject matter if you would like to further analyze these types of diets and perhaps try them out for yourself.

REVERSE DIETING

If you want more information on reverse dieting, you can check out these embedded blog posts where I delineate my personal experience and establish a step-by-step process on reverse dieting yourself. In short, this is the process of slowly and steadily increasing your caloric intake over an extended period of time to reset your maintenance calories to a higher amount. You usually end up gaining some weight, but mostly in muscle. Many individuals reverse dieting will also gradually decrease their cardio exercise and either increase their weight training time or keep it the same.

The best parts about reverse dieting is its easiness to maintain and aesthetic rewards. You gain healthy muscle and can eat more, lift heavier, and run less. The process itself also imposes less stress on your metabolism because of the pace of the weight gain and caloric increase. Bodily wise, you have more wiggle room to adapt and react without stressing. Downsides to reverse dieting include not allowing as much food in your diet during the early phase of the process. You still need to exercise a fair amount at the same time. Lastly, the entire plan takes longer, which might not be ideal for some people.

INTUITIVE EATING

You most likely have heard about this way of eating already, but intuitive eating is demonstrated as a way of consuming food without any regards to “dieting” or following food rules and honoring hunger and peace with food. This form of eating is widely complex, but the ultimate foundation is to truly understand when you are hungry, what your body craves, and recognize physical satiety versus cognitive fullness. Unlike reverse dieting, you do not have to be fastidious with foods, meal timing, and macronutrients. Intuitive eating accepts all types of food, whether it be broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, though the principles state that health comes first.

This form of eating can be remarkably liberating for people struggling with intransigent food rules or distorted views on diet and exercise. Food and fitness will no longer be subjects of obsession but fractions of a healthy lifestyle. You start to shift the foundation of your perspective about your body and groove into a groundwork of acceptance and respect instead of mental constructions of what you believe you should look like and do. On the other hand, sometimes it can be challenging for people to eat intuitively (in my routine, I don’t follow intuitive eating anymore because there are some very basic food rules I abide by for personal reasons). Not everyone has the resources and ability to eat whatever they want–diabetics just cannot have as much sugar as they want and someone in eating disorder recovery would have more trouble understanding true hunger because of excessive starvation, purging, or binging.

ALL IN

Popularized by Stephanie Buttermore and originated from the eating disorder community, going “all in” is similar to intuitive eating with a larger emphasis on fixing extreme hunger. It is challenging to find more resources on all in except for some videos on Stephanie Buttermore’s channel that exhibit the progress and its principles. From what I’ve gathered, there is a fine line differentiating intuitive eating and all in: Stephanie Buttermore articulates that her minimum caloric intake was 2,500 calories–most likely a quantity that she needs to maintain her weight for her height and stature, while intuitive eating does not give any regard to calories whatsoever. Both permit all kinds of foods, but all in explicitly cites that 75-80% of the plan is comprised of complex carbohydrates and whole food like fruits, vegetables, starches, some healthy fats, and protein.

While I have never experienced going all in, it appears to be a good route if you need help re-conceiving hunger and satiety cues. It can be challenging to separate cognitive versus physiological signs of the two, so eating as much as you possibly need so as long as you reach a minimum goal would benefit for those in eating disorder recovery. The main issue I see with all in is the lack of research behind it, hence there are few reasons to recommend it with fullest integrity. There are plenty of resources out there asides from all in that acknowledge the existence of extreme hunger (thyroid issues, hormonal imbalances, etc.) on a medical level that you should check first.

BONUS: MINNIE MAUDE (TRIGGER WARNING)

(TRIGGER WARNING) Yes, I specified that there are three that stood out to me, but as I continued writing this post, I stumbled across another diet that is more specifically tailored to eating disorder recovery that those with seriously troubling habits around food and exercise can benefit from. Well-known as the MinnieMaud diet, these guidelines mandate that those adopting the diet throw out their scales, eradicate all forms of exercise, and eat a bare minimum of 2,500 calories (+25 year-old female with a height of 5’0″-5’8″), 3,000 calories (+25 year-old male with a height of 5’4″-6’0″), 3,000 calories (<25 year-old female with a height of 5’0″-5’8″), and 3,500 calories (<25 year-old male with a height of 5’4″-6’0″) based on height and age. Any height measurements that do not fit in these ranges should reduce or increase the daily caloric intake by 200 calories. See this post for a very well-written breakdown of the MinnieMaud diet (credit to Life Without Anorexia), as well as this article for an example on what it would look like if conducted (credit to Islam and Eating Disorders). While the three diets above permit and/or integrate physical activity, this one forbids it (perhaps with walking as an exception).

Firstly, I do not have experience with MinnieMaud, but there are parameters that would help someone physically recover from an eating disorder because they will consume a healthy amount of calories for their height and age, not focus on weight as much, and take a break from exercise. Those struggling with eating disorders or severe disordered eating mechanisms are more likely to restore any hormonal imbalances and signs of malnutrition such as hair growth, menstrual cycle reappearance, and rebuilding a healthy body fat percentage and muscle content. No food is prohibited. On the flip side, similarly to all in, there is a lack of peer reviews and studies directly using MinnieMaud. While many medical and eating disorder professionals take this plan seriously, it is challenging to see if MinnieMaud works on a larger scale in an empirical manner. Moreover, there are several resources citing MinnieMaud as an extremely flawed plan that uses pseudoscience (MinnieMaud Skeptic) and can result in people gaining an unhealthy amount of weight and disarraying their hunger signals (Anorexia is Not a Diet).

WHICH ONE IS THE BEST?

Like any response to most questions in Food Science: it depends. Do you have any medical conditions that mandate scrupulousness on the quantities and types of food you consume or immediate attention? Do you have personal physical goals regarding strength and/or weight gain? Are the motives ultimately focalized around healing a more deeply rooted issue that involves food and body image? These circumstances will demand a different route to select.

Nevertheless, you should always consult with a medical professional or registered dietitian to discuss what plan to adhere to. Even if you are absolutely certain that your personal desires will work, it is best to seek the advice of an expert because there is always an iota of a chance that not only your choice, but the way you abide by your chosen plan, may not be the best option, at least short or long term. We can research as much as we desire, but that process is overwhelming and prolongs the action. Listen to professional experts and speak with at least one, especially if there are underlying health issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

What other diets out there are helpful in “breaking” a fad diet or an unsustainable way of eating?


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