Reverse Dieting: What Is It & How Does It Work?

August 19, 2021

Reverse dieting has been popular with bodybuilders around gyms in Richmond, BC, for decades, but lately, it’s been getting big among all sorts of health-conscious types. More specifically, with people who are trying to lose weight and keep it off

It’s widely used as a way to increase calorie intake after a period of dieting – but will it work for you? Stick around, and we’ll learn a bit more about how reverse dieting works.

Why Do People Reverse Diet?

As personal trainers, we see it all the time. Crash diets can work wonders in a short time – if you have the willpower to stick to the regime. However, when the dieting period ends, many people find it challenging or impossible to maintain a healthier weight.

Part of the reason for that is to do with hormones. When we diet, Ghrelin, our ‘hunger hormone’ levels typically go through the roof even though that's when you need it the least. While leptin, a hormone that helps inhibit hunger decreases when we are dieting.

That’s just how our bodies work. It’s also why drastic changes to our calorie intakes tend not to work for many of us in the longer term – our bodies tell us to eat more when we’re determined to consume less. Yet, hormones are only part of the problem with crash diets. 

Metabolic adaptation is another problem. The term might sound a little complicated, but it’s just a term used to describe what happens inside you when you rapidly cut back on food. Your body doesn’t know you’ve made a conscious decision to diet, so it behaves as if you were starving and tries to protect you. In essence, you digest food more slowly, extracting more from everything you eat. Metabolically, everything slows down, so you need fewer calories to stay alive – you may find it harder to burn fat reserves, and that’s not good when it comes to losing weight.  

Metabolic adaptation also has a significant impact on your ability to be active. You get tired easily, feel colder, and that makes it difficult to exercise – which also isn’t an ideal place to be.

And it’s not just our hormones and metabolism that work against us when we diet. The very fact we’re getting lighter also thwarts our best efforts. When you weigh less, your body knows you require less energy to perform tasks and move around. That leads to your metabolic rate dropping even further, which is OK while you’re dieting and eating less but can cause real problems when your diet ends and you increase your calorie intake back to normal levels.

Does Reverse Dieting Counter Metabolic Adaptation?

Reverse dieting promises to allow more eating without significant weight gain. You gradually increase your calorie intake in an effort to get your metabolic rate up again and combat the adaptation that occurred while you were on a diet.

Many people swear by reverse dieting, but in reality, it’s hard to pin down precisely why it works for so many. For starters, when we eat more, it can certainly boost our metabolic rate – but the extra food also makes it easier to go for a run or lift weights. That makes it hard to define exactly where the overall fitness gains come from.

Part of the reason reverse dieting works could be that we tend to stay more active during the process – rather than starving ourselves for quick results and feeling tired. Look at it this way. When we go to the gym and build muscle, we’re using up more calories than when we’re sitting around putting on fat – which requires significantly fewer calories for our body to make.

The View From The Personal Training Studio: The Jury Is Out On Reverse Dieting

Here at BLK BOX’s private gym in Richmond, BC, we tend to think that – for most fitness-minded folks – a healthy diet is better than a crash diet every day of the week. Even if it takes a little more time to see results, you’re likely to end up with results that last long term, without the dreaded yo-yo effect many dieters end up facing. 

If you find it challenging to stay fit, happy, and active during constant bouts of dieting, and find it hard to keep that weight off between diets, it could be time to talk to a personal trainer. Even if you’re determined to try reverse dieting, it’s best to get some advice and put a solid plan – and some defined goals – in place.


Planning for Reverse Dieting: Why You Should Speak With A Personal Trainer in Richmond

Everyone is different, and each person out there needs a specific number of calories to tick over. You’ll need to know your maintenance calories to get going with a process like reverse dieting. Then, you’re going to need to monitor your progress and make adjustments as you go because making progress with reverse dieting – like most things – won’t be linear.

Reverse dieting is not the most optimal option for everyone. The wisest way to embark on any weight loss regime is to get some nutritional coaching. Drop into our gym in Richmond, BC and have our personal trainers talk you through your various options. We can give you a good start on the road to weight loss – and keep you on track in the longer term, too.

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Written by

Ken Lu

Ken has a Bachelor's Degree of Psychology from the University of British Columbia, specializing in Sport Psychology. As well as being a Certified Personal Trainer, Ken is also a Movement & Mobility Specialist, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has trained for and won the 2018 NPAA BC Men's Physique Championship.