Reverse dieting is a way to increase your caloric intake over time so that you’re able to eat more food while minimizing fat gain, but it isn’t a feasible process for everyone.
Who is reverse dieting for? Reverse dieting is for those who have been eating in a calorie deficit intermittently or for an extended period because these individuals are more likely to be burning calories at a slower rate. However, reverse dieting will only work for those who can adhere to a gradual increase in calories over time.
To know if reverse dieting is a good option for you or not, you first need to understand why reverse dieting works for certain individuals but not for others.
After reading this article, you’ll learn:
- Who should reverse diet
- Who shouldn’t reverse diet
- The reasons why a reverse diet could be important for you
Who Should Consider Doing A Reverse Diet?
The people that should consider reverse dieting are those who:
- Yo-yo diet
- Have a low-calorie intake but aren’t losing weight
- Are satisfied with fat loss progress
- Want to transition from dieting to bulking
If you’re a yo-yo dieter, then you should consider doing a reverse diet because those who diet intensely one minute and then go “free-for-all” the next minute will wreak havoc on their metabolisms.
When you’re going back and forth between being in a calorie deficit (under-eating) and a calorie surplus (over-eating) your body will be confused about how much nutrition it is going to get. It may stop burning calories as readily to preserve energy for bodily functions.
It’s hard to judge what’s happening with your metabolism when you’re not being consistent with your behavior. Therefore, if you’re a yo-yo dieter, you need to interrupt the pattern by being consistent with your intake.
People typically aren’t consistent when they’re trying to adhere to a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than your body needs to achieve weight loss) if it isn’t realistic, which results in them overdoing it and eating more than they normally would.
To stop yo-yo dieting, I would recommend you reverse diet because the gradual increase in calories will help increase how consistent you’re able to be with your intake and make it easier to lose weight in the future by allowing your body to adjust to the consistent intake.
Low-Calorie Intakes Not Leading To Progress
When you’re eating a low-calorie diet but not losing weight, you may need to consider reverse dieting because it means that you’re not in a calorie deficit even though you should be losing weight when eating that particular amount of calories.
If you’re eating pretty low-calorie and still not seeing progress, it could mean that your metabolism has slowed down so much that what was once a calorie deficit is now a calorie intake that only results in a maintenance of bodyweight and not a loss.
This makes weight loss extremely challenging because it is harder to adhere to a very low-calorie diet for as long as you need to see progress, and if you’re not consistent then you won’t get the results you’re looking for.
To get to a point where you can lose weight with higher calories again, you may need to go through a reverse diet to increase your metabolism.
Maintenance of Fat Loss Results
If you’ve achieved your fat loss goals and you want to maintain your results while eating more food, then you should consider a reverse diet.
A reverse diet can help you maintain the results you’ve achieved while dieting by facilitating an increase in the amount of food you can eat without gaining a significant amount of fat.
This is because reverse dieting takes a step-by-step approach to increase your calorie consumption and is monitored and adjusted weekly to see how your body is responding.
The reason why this has the potential to work is that by taking the step-by-step approach you’re giving your metabolism a chance to increase at a similar rate to which you’re increasing your caloric intake.
This gives your body a chance to start burning calories at a faster rate as you’re eating more, which could result in less body fat gained even with increased calories.
Reverse dieting could be exactly what you need to make the results you’ve achieved more sustainable, because if you could maintain a lower body fat percentage while eating more food then it is likely more realistic to maintain these results.
- To learn how you can tell when it’s time to start reverse dieting after a fat loss phase, check out my article When To Start Reverse Dieting (5 Signs To Know).
Transitioning From Dieting To Bulking
If you’ve finished your diet and you want to start lean bulking (staying lean while you try to gain additional muscle) then you should consider reverse dieting.
If you were to go straight from the calories that you were eating while dieting to bulking calories, you would absolutely put on fat, and it may be more fat than you’re comfortable gaining.
This would happen because your metabolism wouldn’t be burning calories as readily while dieting.
If you increase your calories dramatically to a surplus (which is necessary for any kind of bulking), your body wouldn’t be able to burn calories as quickly. Therefore, these additional calories would be stored as body fat.
I could safely assume that those interested in a lean bulk would want to stay as lean as they could while working towards muscle gain. Therefore, going straight from a deficit to a surplus probably isn’t the right approach.
Instead, I would recommend going through a reverse diet after dieting and building up to a calorie surplus once your metabolism has adjusted to the increase in calories.
- Even though reverse dieting and bulking require gradual increases in calories, they aren’t the same. I discuss the differences between the two in Is Reverse Dieting The Same As Bulking? No, Here’s Why.
Who Should NOT Consider Doing A Reverse Diet?
The people who shouldn’t reverse diet are those who:
- Have extreme hunger
- Are at dangerously low levels of body fat
- Can’t adhere to a step-by-step structure
Those who are experiencing extreme levels of hunger regardless of what they eat as a result of being in a calorie deficit for an extended period probably shouldn’t reverse diet.
These individuals shouldn’t reverse diet only because they most likely won’t be able to adhere to it. If you’re dealing with extreme hunger it may be difficult to gradually increase your calories.
For those with extreme hunger, it’s probably best to try an “all in” approach that focuses on eating until full satiety right off the bat. To learn more about going all in, check out my other article “Reverse Dieting vs All In: Differences & Which Is Best For You”.
Dangerously Low Body Fat Percentage
If you’re someone with a dangerously low body fat percentage (<10% for men or <15% for women), then reverse dieting probably isn’t the right option for you.
When your body fat percentage is that low for an extended period, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk for experiencing severe health complications such as a decreased heart rate and loss of strength.
For this reason, you will need to restore your body fat percentage to a healthier range at a faster rate.
Even the most aggressive form of reverse dieting may not restore your body fat percentage fast enough, especially if you’re also dealing with extreme hunger. When dealing with a low body fat percentage, whether it be from an eating disorder, health issues, or something else, you will likely find that the all in approach is more realistic to adhere to.
Ultimately, if you’re unable to adhere to a rigid plan that requires you to monitor your intake relatively closely and use this information to make adjustments, then reverse dieting isn’t going to work for you.
No matter the reason, if you find that you can’t track your intake consistently or adhere to planned changes in intake, then reverse dieting won’t be worth your time. Reverse dieting without counting calories is possible, but it requires consistency for you to increase your metabolism.
- Using an app like MacroFactor can help if you want to track your calories but aren’t interested in a rigid meal plan. It follows an adherence-neutral approach to calorie and macro tracking, which is beneficial for tracking calories without becoming obsessed with food.
Reasons For Reverse Dieting (3 Benefits)
Three benefits of reverse dieting are:
- To increase your metabolism
- To stop yo-yo dieting
- To maintain your results while eating more food
1. To Increase Your Metabolism
The main benefit of reverse dieting is that it can help you to increase your metabolism, which is beneficial for those who have a slower metabolism from dieting on and off.
With dieting your metabolism naturally slows down because your body recognizes that there isn’t enough food coming in, and it wants to preserve the energy it is receiving for bodily functions.
This need to preserve energy results in less overall calorie burn per day, which is mainly related to a decrease in non-exercise activity (activity that burns calories at lower intensities) and exercise activity (higher intensity activities). This sometimes happens without you even noticing.
When your metabolism slows down, it becomes harder to lose weight, but it also becomes harder to maintain your current body weight. This is because the number of calories that you need to maintain your weight will have decreased, and it is harder to sustain a low-calorie diet.
For example, perhaps before you could maintain your weight by eating 2500 calories. But if your metabolism has slowed down to the point where you can only maintain your weight by eating 1700 calories, then it becomes harder to continue maintaining your weight.
But with reverse dieting, you can start making gradual increases in calories to show your body that more food is coming in, and it can start burning calories more readily. In time, you will likely be able to return your maintenance calories to 2500 (or maybe more!).
To learn about the step-by-step approach of reverse dieting, check out my other article Reverse Dieting vs Calorie Deficit: 3 Differences.
2. To Stop Yo-Yo Dieting
Reverse dieting is beneficial because it can help those struggling to be consistent towards their goals to finally stop yo-yo dieting and increase the potential of actually achieving weight loss goals in the future.
Yo-yo dieting is a term that refers to dieting on and off because of being unable to stick to a diet and rebounding back to higher calories. It is a cyclical pattern of dieting, falling off the diet, then dieting again.
Yo-yo dieting is really hard on your body because your body never knows how much food it’s going to get. Therefore, yo-yo dieting can result in a decrease in metabolism similar to dieting itself but without the progress you would see while dieting because there is no consistency.
Yo-yo dieting is a pattern that is hard to break. You start dieting to reach your goals, then you can’t adhere to your diet because it’s unsustainable for you, but you still aren’t where you want to be so you feel that the only choice is to start aggressively dieting again.
Reverse dieting can help you to stop yo-yo dieting because it will give you the increase in food that you need to restore your metabolism, and in doing so will actually make dieting easier in the future.
This is because you’ll likely be able to lose weight while eating more calories, making it more sustainable and realistic.
3. To Maintain Your Results While Eating More Food
Reverse dieting is beneficial for those who are comfortable with the body composition that they’ve achieved through dieting and want to maintain these results going forward without having to continue eating a lower amount of calories.
Reverse dieting can help you to maintain as close to your current physique as possible while eating more food as long you’re willing and able to be patient with the length of the process.
Reverse dieting is a slow and steady approach that helps to maintain your current physique while increasing calories. The increase in calories happens slowly over time and ideally at a similar rate to which your metabolism increases once your body realizes more food is coming in regularly.
The process of reverse dieting could be an important one because if you’ve dieted down and you’re comfortable with your current physique but want to eat more food to make it sustainable long-term, then you’re not going to want to just start eating more food and lose all the work that you’ve put in thus far.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Reverse Dieting Work For Everyone?
Reverse dieting will not work for everyone. If your metabolism is already burning calories at its maximum capacity, there is no room for improvement. It also wouldn’t work for those who aren’t capable of sticking to the plan even if there is room for metabolic improvements.
Should You Try Reverse Dieting?
You should try reverse dieting if you’re someone who has been trying to diet on and off and hasn’t been successful, or if you’re someone who has successfully dieted but are now ready to maintain those results while eating more food.
Reverse dieting could be a tool that you can use to set you up for future weight loss success and to help you maintain your ideal body composition as long as you’re able to be more structured throughout the process.
What To Read Next
- When Should I Stop Reverse Dieting? (5 Signs)
- Reverse Diet Weight Gain: What Can You Expect?
- Reverse Dieting Without Exercise: Is It Okay?
- Can You Build Muscle On A Reverse Diet? Yes, Here’s Why & How
- Reverse Dieting & Cardio: 4 Rules To Follow
About The Author
Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath. She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.