REVERSE DIETING 101
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
Dieting in today's society has become somewhat of the norm.
Because of this we are also becoming a rapidly growing population of successful Weight Gainers post Diet.
^You read correct.
But isn't the point of dieting to lose the weight?
“Weight regain is generally the rule, with long-term follow up studies indicating that one-third to two-thirds of the weight lost is regained within 1 year and almost all is regained within 4-5 years.” 
According to Dieting statistics Australia - over 2.3 million Australians (13%) aged 15 years and over reported that they were on a diet to lose weight or for some other health reason. This included 15% of females and 11% of males.
So how do we stop this cycle?
In truth, it is always best to prevent weight (fat) deposition occurring in the first place as:
Extensive research shows once we gain the weight...it is very difficult to get it off for good!
But, now that we're here we can learn how to set ourselves up for successful dieting long term.
ON REVERSE DIETING
If you are reading this chances are you will have likely 'dieted' to lose 'x' kilos of body weight at some point in your lifetime.
Typically when an individual has dieted down to a Lower Caloric level following a Fat Loss phase i.e. 2500 -> 1500 Calories, metabolic adaptation ensues. This is largely due to the human body having certain mechanisms in place designed to defend against starvation i.e. reducing overall energy expenditure.
Without these mechanisms we would likely continue losing all body fat and starve to death. Metabolic adaptation is simply the body's response to dieting. Further metabolic adaptation can also occur as a result of period after period of Chronic Dieting by multiple weight loss and weight regain cycles.
What does this look like?
Weight Gain typically can occur in Overeating, Binge Eating or an excessive amount of Calorie intake in a short time frame. This causes a ‘rebound’ weight gain effect where we have gained significant bodyfat due to the metabolic slowing.
Most individuals try to diet back down to remove the unwanted bodyfat but fail miserably due to metabolic adaptation . In other words the process of when the body refuses to shed anymore body fat despite being in a Caloric deficit.
This is also known as the infamous 'dieter's plateau'.
Reverse Dieting is the process of safely increasing your Calorie intake back to maintenance levels whilst keeping Body Composition somewhat intact.
The rate at which Calories are increased is generally relative to the rate one has dieted down to in the first instance.
A past study looked at individuals whom progressively overfed themselves above maintenance calories at varying intakes i.e. 20%, 40% & 60%.
The study largely showed that overfeeding was strongly associated with increased changes in visceral fat levels and metabolic complications.
An interesting aspect of the study however found that whilst the 40% & 60% overfeeding group experienced significant fat gain the 20% group did not.
This may further suggest of an existing 10%-20% above 'maintenance' calorie level post diet where minimal to no fat gain can occur.
REVERSE VS RECOVERY DIET
The application of a Reverse Diet is generally dependent on the following variables:
How the individual feels about their Dieting experience post Comp?
How low overall energy (calorie) balance got?
How long the individual stayed in a deficit?
What the individual's hunger response is currently?
How soon an individual wants to build Muscle or remain at Maintenance?
Whilst a reverse diet has a myriad of application benefits post diet, it can also be applied to various individuals whom suffer from yo-yo dieting, metabolic adaptation or live a sedentary lifestyle.
Having worked closely with competitive athletes and the general public, most individuals at the end of their diet will actually achieve their goal and look amazing albeit for a short period of time only.
This is largely due to the most overwhelming instinctive impulse of naturally increasing food intake.
Whilst 'giving in' will most likely return the body back to homeostasis, it almost always comes at a cost to retaining body composition if no strategy is followed.
What if we want to retain body composition? 🤔
One example would be to increase calories in a slow and steady fashion over a selected period of time.
On the context of contest prep, typically the rate of increase is always relative to the diet length mitigating any further changes in overall Body Composition:
Note: above conservative reverse typically occurs over several programming blocks i.e. ~20 weeks. Time allotted varies and is dependent on Reverse / Recovery Diet requirements.
What Reverse Dieting doesn't immediately acknowledge is the quickest way to return the body to homeostasis is increasing calories and gaining weight.
A Recovery diet is a sudden increase of energy (calorie) intake post fat loss diet. The more aggressive the reduction in calories, the more urgent the need to come out of it is.^
One of the contrasting differences is a a recovery diet focuses more on appropriate rates of weight gain rather than adding as much food as possible with minimal to no weight gain.
How much weight gain? Somewhere between 5-10% above end of diet weight in your first 4 week block.
Generally a Reverse diet is aimed at minimizing bf% gain whilst a Recovery diet is targeted towards improving sanity, well-being and overall health.
On the opposite end of the Reverse/Recovery dieting spectrum, there are also tools available to keep metabolism fairly active through brief ^'refeeding' periods. These are aptly known as dietary breaks.
As your metabolic rate decreases with long term dieting  a popular tool to mitigate some of the metabolic slowing are 'refeeds'.
But what if we had time to diet?
One such study (MATADOR) showed resting metabolic rates abruptly increase back to a 'normal' rate in both male/female physique athletes test subjects...
This study had 2 controlled groups on a weight loss diet for a period of 16 weeks.
Both groups in theory followed the same weight loss program and dieted for the same amount of time. However, one group incorporated 'dietary' breaks throughout their diet whilst the either did not.
This resulted in a split 1:1 or 50/100% ratio, resulting in:
2 x Weeks on (Calorie Deficit) + 2 x Weeks off (Maintenance)
One would expect the same return of results considering both groups were on the same weight loss program and time length.
However, the group incorporating diet breaks experienced the following benefits:
👉 more weight loss (bf%) overall
👉 improved body composition
👉 lean muscle mass retention
👉 small degrees of metabolic adaptation aka 'healthy' metabolic rate.
The results of the study suggest that diet breaks may elicit ongoing fat loss provided there is adequate time available.
Furthermore, whilst diet breaks may seem like a practical tool, they still need to be properly implemented in a long term diet or throughout a contest preparation phase for optimal results.
Reverse Diet = Minimal Fat Gain, Maximized Energy (kcal) intake over time.
Recovery Diet = Some Fat Gain, Maximized Energy (kcal) intake immediately.
Diet Break = improved (long term) weight loss.
Simply put Reverse Dieting is a controlled tool to increase calories over time. A Recovery diet is a brief period of recovery to return to a healthy state quickly[11,12].
If you're stuck in a plateau, implementing 'dietary breaks' or a 'reverse' diet may help you avoid any sudden spikes and improvements in:
✔️ Improve activity performance
✔️ Lean Body Mass retention
✔️ hormonal balance
✔️ Metabolic adaptation
Contact me to start your Reverse / Recovery / Diet break today!
2. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Food and Nutrients, 2011-12
3, 4. Dr. Layne Norton PhD Nutritional SciencesBS BiochemistryPhysique Coach, Reverse Dieting: Breaking the Weight Regain Cycle - Dieting Cycles
5. Sohee Lee with Dr Layne Norton, Reverse Dieting - Metabolic Adaptation
6. Todd I. Stark, The Concept of a Body Fat SetPoint (1998) - The "Body Fat Set-Point": Can it be changed permanently? page 4&5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990627
7. Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Norton LE: Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24571926
8. Trexler ET, Hirsch KR, Campbell BI et al.: Physiological Changes Following Competition in Male and Female Physique Athletes: A Pilot Study. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2017;27(5):458-66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28422530
9. Byrne NM, Sainsbury A, King NA et al.: Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2017.
10. Rosenbaum, M., et al., Long-term persistence of adaptive thermogenesis in subjects who have maintained a reduced body weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008. 88(4): p. 906-12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18842775
11. Rossow, L.M., et al., Natural bodybuilding competition preparation and recovery: a 12-month case study. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2013. 8(5): p.582-92.
12. Hulmi, J.J., et al., The Effects of Intensive Weight Reduction on Body Composition and Serum Hormones in Female Fitness Competitors. Frontiers inPhysiology, 2016. 7: p. 689. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5222856
13. The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786199