After a period of intense dieting, knowing how to transition back to “normal eating” presents a whole new challenge.
Unfortunately, many people who achieve amazing fat loss results turn to unhealthy eating habits, which can quickly add up on the scale.
In fact, some studies suggest that most people regain the weight they lost, plus an additional 8% after a prolonged period of dieting.
The solution to avoid this pitfall is to have a transitionary plan in place which allows the dieter to gradually bring their calories back to a sustainable intake, without rapidly gaining fat.
This process is called reverse dieting and can yield extraordinary results, allowing you to maintain your newfound body composition. If you're in fear of re-gaining your weight back post-diet, follow this nine step guide to successfully reverse diet.
1. Build Slowly
Over the duration of a transformation, calories are gradually tapered down while energy expenditure is increased via more cardio, creating the necessary calorie deficit to lose body fat.
Related: How To Build A More Enjoyable & Sustainable Diet
A byproduct of this process is a slower metabolism as the body fights against weight loss as a survival mechanism. For this reason, you must take your time rebuilding calorie intake in the post-diet timeframe. In the same way the body took time to adapt during the diet, it will require time to adjust to a higher calorie intake.
Gradually increase calorie intake once your diet is complete, giving the body time to adapt. An increase of approximately 10% is a sensible starting point, which can be raised at this rate every 5 - 7 days after that, provided the body responds well.
2. Take Regular Measurements
Being stringent with body measurements is an essential part of reverse dieting because these metrics are the best indicators of change. After one week of reverse dieting, you may have gained 3lbs while your waistline remains the same, signs which are indicative of positive adaptations - gaining lean muscle with minimal body fat accumulation.
In this example, it would be appropriate to increase calories a further 10% per day for the following week, before repeating the measurement process.
Provided your waistline remains tight and the mirror or pictures confirm that you're not gaining unwanted fat on other body parts, you can continue to reverse diet with incremental additions in calories. If there is evidence to suggest body fat is on the rise, stop increasing calories momentarily to allow the metabolism to catch up.
Sometimes the body requires longer than a week to acclimatize to a small influx of calories during reverse dieting, so don't be afraid to wait longer before upping food intake.
3. Use Carbohydrates Strategically
The gentle climb in calorie intake should primarily come from carbohydrates as they boost thyroid output which governs metabolism, fill out depleted muscle cells, and fuel your performance in the gym. Good fats can also be utilized to heighten testosterone production, particularly in the post-diet phase where an abundant supply of cholesterol helps Leydig cells manufacture this anabolic hormone.
At the end of a calorie restricted diet, testosterone levels will often be suppressed, therefore addressing this factor should be a priority. Ensure that the carbohydrates and fats you consume are of the highest quality to help sustain insulin sensitivity and mitigate against inflammation, two factors which will serve your long-term progression well.
4. Cycle Calories
Adjusting caloric intake from one day to the next during a reverse dieting period can be a useful strategy yielding profound effects. This tactic helps you benefit from a generous calorie intake at the appropriate time, followed by lower caloric days where your body doesn’t need as much energy.
This tactic can maximize your progress in the gym without resulting in fat gain. Once you have established fundamental trends in your post-diet nutrition, you can add higher calorie days on leg and back days, both of which burn more energy in comparison to other body parts.
Some people will be best served to begin their reverse dieting with this approach depending on their body type, muscle mass, and general energy expenditure. Those who truly value their training performance often find the best results when they rely on clean calories to fuel those training days for larger muscle groups.
5. Keep Doing Cardio
Cardio shouldn't stop just because your fat loss phase has concluded! It plays an intrinsic part in cardiovascular conditioning, cardiac health, gut efficiency, recovery, mental well-being, and of course, body composition. Sustain baseline cardiovascular training so that you're able to avoid unwanted body fat accumulation during your reverse dieting phase.
Towards the peak of a transformation, cardio volume will be relatively high, so coming to an abrupt halt will leave you vulnerable to negative weight gain. While it isn't necessary to perform cardio in the same high volume or frequency as during your diet, it is still required.
Try mixing it up with four low impact cardio sessions for 30 minutes each per week, complimented by one high-intensity interval workout for 15 minutes. This approach should provide sufficient conditioning during the reverse dieting period for the average, well-trained individual.
6. Use the Extra Energy to Set PRs
With extra energy from higher calories, it’s imperative to put it to good use by focusing on higher levels of performance. This will trigger a tremendous anabolic response during the post-diet phase, after months of training on lower calories. This caloric increase coupled with the "super compensation" phenomenon, which occurs after a calorie-restricted diet in lean individuals, leads to a body which is primed to perform at its highest level.
As a bonus, body fat accumulation will naturally be kept to a minimum due to the increase in energy expenditure from the intense training output. During a dieting phase, performance inherently declines. Now, with more fuel, it’s time to become number orientated in your training and track your training weights – with a focus on setting new personal bests. This will enhance body composition and strength for the long-term.
7. Never Forget Hydration
While dieting, the muscles are depleted of glycogen. This is replenished quickly during the reverse dieting phase from the increased calories, mainly from carbohydrates. While this biological reaction is desirable because your muscles become fuller and performance levels rejuvenate quickly, you are at risk of becoming dehydrated.
Related: The 4 Pillars of Dietary Success for Any Fitness Goal
Glycogen acts like a sponge, soaking up any water it can find, especially when you're accustomed to being depleted. When reverse dieting, ensure that you’re tracking fluid intake meticulously, aiming for between 1 to 1.5 gallons per day – never less than you were drinking during your dieting phase.
If you're primarily focused on progress, take hydration one step further by adding a naturally flavored electrolyte supplement to your water to benefit from a broad spectrum of natural minerals that support hydration and muscle function.
8. Support the Gut
The gut quickly adapts to the food it’s exposed to on a regular basis. This is why it can react so strongly to a food group once it’s been removed for any length of time and is suddenly reintroduced.
This occurs due to the down-regulation in enzymes – if they aren’t being used, the body doesn’t make them. For this reason, you must bolster gut health at all times. While dieting, the gut will be acclimatized to lower calorie intake, and often a smaller variety of foods. When you start increasing food consumption again, make a conscious effort to account for this and do everything you can to keep your gut healthy.
To stay regular, try taking flaxseeds with your breakfast, along with foods which are abundant in natural dietary fiber, such as vegetables. Staying hydrated will also contribute to healthier gut efficiency during the reverse dieting phase you're about to embark upon.
When re-introducing food groups which were eliminated during the dieting period, remember that your gut will need time to regulate, introducing things slowly is the smartest solution.
9. Stick with Rules
While cutting body fat for months, there’s a set of dietary parameters you maintained to reach your end goal. It’s always prudent to maintain specific nutritional habits no matter what the goal - reverse dieting included.
While the opportunity for more "flexibility" might exist as opposed to during a hardcore fat loss phase, you shouldn't allow yourself to become lax on your nutrition. In the post-diet timeframe, the temptation to eat comfort foods – those higher in fat and sugar – will be high. Refraining from this will dramatically support your new body composition, keep body fat at bay, as well as enhancing muscle gain.
Reverse dieting is a simple process focused on incrementally building caloric intake following an intense calorie-restricted phase.
Those who are immensely lean are served best with the reverse dieting tactics shared in this column.
Done with precision and discipline, it is possible to build lean muscle tissue without the usual post-diet fat gain, making for outstanding improvements to your physique which you will be proud of for a long time.