You have just created your best physique to date and have successfully shed all the extra weight off. Well done. Now the task is to keep it off. Our bodies have a particular ‘body-fat set point’ where they’re most comfortable in (this is the amount of body fat that you have had for a long period of time), and when you try to move out of this zone with your diet, your body will attempt to get you back to that point. So, you might find yourself picking up that weight you worked so hard to lose, but there is a way to stop this process; a reverse diet.
What is it?
A reverse diet might sound confusing, but it is a really simple concept. It is a process of gradually increasing your calorie count back up to what it was before your diet. This doesn’t mean you will be able to go back to eating anything and everything like you used to, but it will give you the freedom to indulge in the sweeter things over time. Also, it will give you the much needed mental and physical break from the struggles of dieting, as well as reverse the metabolic adaptation that your body has developed over the course of your diet.
Now that we understand the concept, we need to put it into practice. This is where it gets a little scientific, so maybe you should bust out that dusty calculator and notepad. Or your phone if you want to be real 21st century. The first week should see a 10-20% increase in your calorie count. The second week should see a 5-10% increase in your calorie count on top of the new amount. Weeks 3-8 will be 5-10% every 1-3 weeks. Lastly, weeks 9-12 should see a 2-5% increase every 1-3 weeks. This may sound very complicated, but this is also just a general outline so it is up to you to fiddle a little and see what works for you. Don’t go outside of this spectrum though, because that is when you will see all that weight returning.
When do I start?
A couple of weeks or even months of dieting can have quite an impact on your psychological health, so after you have taken that last step in your diet, whether it be a transformation picture or the stage, you should reward yourself with a ‘free’ meal. A meal with no calorie or macro count, just pure indulgence (you know, things ‘normal’ people do), to give yourself a much-needed break from the strict regimen of dieting.
The next day however, you are back to it. This will be an even more important part because the mistakes you make now, will see all that hard work fly out the window. This is the start of your reverse diet, and depending how severe or restricted your diet was, the higher the increase in your calories should be. The goal here is to pick up 0.25-0.75% of your body weight per week for the first four weeks, and as said before, the harsher your diet was, the more you will lean towards the 0.75%. If you feel like you are gaining too much too fast, then dial it back and be a little more restrictive with the calorie increase, but if your weight still drops or you remain the same, then pick the calories up.
Follow this for eight weeks and reassess your progress, and remember that honesty is essential in the success of this endeavour. After eight weeks, you should still be within 3-6% of your body weight at the end of your diet, but eating more, and if you are happy with what you have achieved and you are within this range then you can stop your reverse diet journey. However, if you are still not 100% happy, then continue for another 4 weeks while adjusting your calorie count accordingly, and after 12 weeks you should be should be back to your pre-diet macro and calorie count but at a lower weight.
What food do I increase?
Not all diets are made the same, and so no reverse diets are made the same. You already know how to add the calories back in, but now you need to add those calories from the right macronutrients.
Low-Fat Diet: if you lost fat by cutting out fat, then initially you should add in nothing but fats. The prolonged exposure to limited amount of fats will have probably created some problems with normal hormone function. The result of this would be low testosterone, low sex drive, irregular/loss of a menstrual cycle. Adding fats back in quickly will rectify these problems quicker, but be careful not to overload your system.
Low-Carb Diet: if you followed a low-carb and moderate-fat approach, then spilt the calorie increase between carbs and fats initially, because too fast an increase in carbs could lead to bloating and unnecessary storage of nutrients by the body, while the fats will provide a quick calorie surge.
It is important to keep in mind that the scale will fluctuate during the initial period, especially with carbs because they draw more water into cells, but the scale will even out in time.
Is it harder?
Yes. It might not seem like it when you are eating more than what you were (which was your heart’s desire while dieting), but this can quickly overthrow your self-control due to the increase in your metabolism, which gives you energy, but an appetite as well. Even though you are eating more, it’s not a huge amount more so you might become hungrier than what you were before, and with your mind out of diet mode, you need to remind yourself of what you are doing. Remember to drive yourself as well, because you are not actually working to a specific goal or objective it makes it harder to stick to a reverse diet.
There are ways to make sure that you are stringent with your food. Set yourself a numbered goal that doesn’t reflect on the scale, such as a new PR. You can also indulge in a ‘free’ meal every week, which will give you a something to look forward to, and keep you motivated to stick to your diet, giving you a sense of achievement, along with giving you a break from the macro-calculator for some psychological reprise.
These will keep you on track and make sure you don’t slack off on your nutrition, and keep your weight tight. Just remember that your reverse diet should last about 8 weeks, but the longer and harsher your diet was, the more time you should spend on a reverse diet. This all sounds complicated but if you think about, you are already skilled in the ways of calculating food, and this isn’t any different. Sometimes, to move forward, we need to diet in reverse.