Have you ever wondered why a workout routine that had been setting you up for success for weeks suddenly stopped producing such great results? Do you ever feel like you’ve hit a plateau, and that no matter how much efforts you put in your training, it seems like it’s all in vain? Or like many, have you gained weight after you had reached your weight goal? Then you might want to look into reverse dieting.
Cut yourself a break
Whether you’re working towards a fitness goal, preparing for a bikini contest, have a weight loss objective or are just training for (mental) health purposes, you will have probably noticed that, at some point, changes you had been observing in your body shape stop happening, or that you’re just not reaching your end goal as fast as you hoped. Experiencing metabolic adaptation can be challenging to say the least, and soon enough many will find themselves discouraged, frustrated and tired of working so hard – this is typically when people start falling off the bandwagon and stop being as disciplined with their diet and/or fitness routine.
In fact, you can’t diet forever. If you have reached your goal or want to continue to see changes happening over the long run, your body needs to be nurtured, and sometimes that means taking a break, but not just any kind of break!
If you are experiencing a plateau despite sticking to your workout plans, you might be suffering metabolic adaptation, also called adaptive thermogenesis. Metabolic adaptation happens when you’re running on an unsustainably low-calorie intake for an extended period of time, or when you’ve experienced extreme fat loss. In other terms, your body has gotten so used to living on a calorie deficit that it has begun storing energy to function properly and, as a result, it stops burning as much fat, creating inefficiencies in one’s metabolism. The only way to recover this temporarily slowed down metabolic rate is to gradually reverse back up to give the body enough time to recuperate.
Start off on the right foot
Before going through a reverse dieting phase, it is important to know how to diet properly to make sure you’re not doing any long-term damage to your body by depriving it from essential nutrients. This is why it is important to be followed by a professional when starting this process, as they have the necessary knowledge to help you through a successful (and safe!) diet.
One of the key points is to track what you eat and how much you’re eating of it: protein, for example, is extremely important as it makes you feel satiated while 30% of your protein intake gets flushed during the digestion process. However, you do need some fats and carbohydrates in order to grow muscle, but not just any kind! Water intake also plays an important part, as do your activity levels. As this requires a high level of discipline and knowledge in nutrition and fitness, it is not recommended to go through this alone.
Just as you shouldn’t go on a diet without any professional support, the purpose of a reverse diet is to keep the weight off of what you’ve just accomplished, and in that sense, it requires the same discipline and tracking methods if you want to achieve long-term success.
The diet that doesn’t make you lose weight
This is where reverse dieting comes in: it is the process by which you gradually add certain foods to your diet after a weight loss phase to get your body accustomed to a higher calorie intake so it can feel nourished again (after being deprived for a period of time). A diet during which you’re not losing weight (though you may still go down a few pounds when properly executed), but which requires the same intention and effort. For those aiming to keep the weight off, it is the right method to stay away from yo-yo dieting forever, while undertaking this eating plan is going to allow athletes to increase muscle mass and perform better in the future.
The goal is to increase the body’s energy expenditure so you can lose more fat in the future, or rather, to convert body fat into muscle in a more successful way. Increasing muscle mass is interesting for everyone – not just for contenders of bodybuilding or other fitness contests – as it will provide sports enthusiasts with a better resting metabolic rate. This means they will carry less fat, and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) levels, or the energy expended when you’re not exercising will be much higher.
When building up your metabolic capacity, you are actually teaching your body to take on a higher calorie intake without putting on an excess of body fat. As a result, you are setting yourself up for a more successful diet in the future and better athletic performance: you will then be able to consume more food, incorporate more carbohydrates to your eating program and yet still lose fat, because your body will now have the capacity to transform those fats into muscle.
Though a long and (sometimes) challenging process that can last anywhere from one to six months (depending on your metabolism), it is recommended to reverse diet every four months to fix your metabolic inefficiencies and optimize performance, or at least once a year. When properly executed, a person’s weight gain should remain very minimal throughout the process (max. 2 to 3 lb, while most people do not experience any weight gain at all).
How it works
So how can someone go about starting a reverse diet? There are two components that are taken into consideration in this approach: nutrition and training. From a nutrition perspective, roughly 100-150 calories at a time will be added to someone’s diet, and they should be split between carbs and fats, while keeping the protein intake high enough. Protein is a first choice for athletes as it naturally makes the body lean, 30% of it being eliminated in digestion.
If after two weeks you experience the right body response and your weight remains stable, then another 200 calories are added for another week to two weeks. Keep in mind that you need to be as close as possible to your new total daily energy expenditure before you cut carbs and fats out of your diet again!
Throughout the process, it is absolutely essential to stick to a strict fitness routine, except this time the workouts will slightly differ: training will consist of tempo workouts (exercises that are done at a slower pace) and lifting heavier weights.
Tips for those undergoing a reverse diet
- Listen to the signals your body is sending you to know when it is time for a refeed: are you “hangry”, exhausted, not making any more progress?
- Wear a weighted vest while working out: the extra weight can influence the way your muscles behave and help develop more strength.
About me As a certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Specialist for the past 10 years, I am the founder of the Best Of You online Training Program which has empowered and transformed over 5,000 people over the past few years. My results have earned me the title of Canada's health and fitness guru! Encompassing more than just fitness, my holistic program is designed to educate and keep members accountable with easy-to-follow, results-oriented workouts and nutrition guides that get results with most clients losing 25+ pounds in my three-month-program. To see some of my clients' transformations and to learn more about my program, visit suzangalluzzo.com or check out my Instagram @SuzanGalluzzo.