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Using Reverse Dieting to Create a Potent, Fat-Burning Metabolism

flames coming from burn fatReverse dieting is the single greatest way to restore your metabolism to its fullest potential. Below you will find everything you need for incorporating reverse dieting into your nutrition program so that you can prime your metabolism for long-term fat loss.

Why Should You Be Reverse Dieting?

Tell me if this sounds like you: You’ve been trying to lose weight for a while now, and the weight loss starts off going really well. Eventually though, it slows down or stops altogether. So you decide to cut your calories further or do more cardio, and while that works for a little while, your progress plateaus yet again.

This cycle is repeated until you are likely eating an absurdly low amount of calories and doing quite a bit of cardio. You probably feel worn down, hungry, achy, and have little energy in the gym. Both your workout progress and weight loss have stalled. The thought of cutting calories even further sounds like a nightmare. But you still have quite a bit of weight to lose.

None of this makes sense to you because eating less and exercising more is supposed to result in weight loss. So then, why is all this hard work not getting you results?

The Case for Reverse Dieting

The reason for your stalled progress is quite simple, actually. When you cut calories, however small your deficit might be, your metabolism begins to down-regulate. In an effort to conserve its energy for survival, your body begins to manufacture less metabolism-friendly hormones like thyroid, testosterone, and leptin so that your body can reach homeostasis.

For a simple picture of how this happens, take a 500 calorie daily deficit. This is supposed to result in about a pound of weight loss per week. But that is not going to happen forever, or you would obviously wilt to nothing.

Along the way in the weight loss process your body begins to slow down its metabolism to conserve valuable energy (fat, glycogen). Eat at that original 500 calorie deficit long enough, and your weight loss will eventually level out and then stagnate.

Reverse dieting helps you restore your metabolism to a much higher level so that you have a better “base” to cut calories from. Starting your weight loss at 2500 calories is going to leave you a lot more room to cut calories as compared to if you started off at 1800 calories.

The former will result in slower, yet more sustained weight loss over time. The latter will likely result in fast weight loss, quickly followed by stagnation, frustration, and then a falling into the yo-yo dieting trap.

How to Reverse Diet

The idea is simple and the name explains it all. What you do is slowly start adding calories back into your diet. I would recommend adding in about 5% more calories on a weekly basis. This equates to about 50-100 calories more per day.

Many people immediately cringe at the thought of adding calories into their weight loss diet. They are flat out afraid of putting on weight. These people are usually the ones who are already eating very low calories (usually below their BMR), and the concept of reverse dieting (eating more to lose more) just doesn’t “click” with them.

But let me tell you what you can expect, and this comes from my own personal experience as well as seeing hundreds of other people implement reverse dieting into their own nutrition.

You immediately notice a boost in energy. Your motivation returns and you start looking forward to your workouts again. Your hunger decreases, and all the feelings of extreme restriction start to moderate. Your weight, surprisingly, starts to slowly decrease again – completely flying in the face of all logic.

You feel warmer as you stoke your metabolic flame, and your sleep quality greatly improves. You seem to handle stress better, your mental well-being is improved, and life in general just seems a little easier to handle.

Sounds pretty great, huh? The problem is that most people don’t have the patience or the courage to give reverse dieting a try. They fear weight gain and they want their results to keep moving forward. Adding calories into their diet seems to go against their goals.

However, time and time again I have seen people add calories back into their diet only to see their weight loss pick right back up again. It’s one of the most exciting moments in a dieter’s life when he eats more and sees the scale tick downward. You too could share in this excitement.

More Thoughts on Reverse Dieting

You likely have many questions about implementing reverse dieting, and I’ll be more than happy to answer your questions in the comment section, but before I end this article, I want to touch on a few of the intricacies of reverse dieting.

Reverse dieting is a slow and methodical process. You must be patient, and you must understand that weight and fat are not always one-in-the-same. Extra calories can result in modest weight gain, but you are not going to gain fat eating under your maintenance calories. Instead, this added weight gain, if any, will be intracellular water retention – otherwise known as muscle glycogen.

This is good weight. It is fuel for your muscles. It will boost your energy in the gym and help increase your strength, and it will make your muscles feel fuller. If there is an increase in weight, it usually happens the first couple of days after increasing your calories and then levels off and starts decreasing again towards the end of the week. Weigh yourself, but pay closer attention to the way you look and feel.

I recommend you continue with the reverse dieting process for as long as you can handle it. Continue adding in calories (5% per week) until you notice a true weight gain over two weeks. When you finally get to that point, you will have found your true maintenance calories. You will be shocked at just how high you can go.

From there, you can cut your calories by 15% and have a great starting point for weight loss – one that will enable you to eat as many calories as possible and still lose weight. One that will provide you with a great high base to cut calories from so that you can achieve sustainable long-term weight loss.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Why not give reverse dieting a try? You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Still not sure? Why not take it one step at a time and just try adding in 100 calories to your diet this week and see what happens. I think you’ll be surprised with the results!

  • Kim

    What about upping calories one day a week? Would this forestall the need to reverse diet and help you continue to lose?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      You are basically talking about refeeds, and yes, they are an effective tool for weight loss. However, depending on how low your calories have been and for how long, your metabolism might be better suited for a period of reverse dieting.

  • Rebekah

    Question: how do you know what is a good, healthy weight for you? I am about 5′ 7.5″, fairly muscular frame, work out regularly and my body fluctuates around 137-138. I’m probably about 20 percent body fat. At this point, should I just concentrate on lowering my body fat and not even be concerned with “losing weight?”

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      That is really a personal preference. You can be healthy at all different weights. Once you get to a body fat you’re happy with, you have to decide if you want more muscle or not. If you do, you can structure your diet in a way that enables you to slowly add lean body mass without much fat gain.
      If you are happy with the amount of muscle you have and just want to lose more fat, you can calculate your goal weight. For example, at 137lbs and 20% body fat, you have 110lbs of lean body mass and 27lbs of fat. To get down to 16% body fat while maintaining your current lean body mass, you would need to be at a weight of 128lbs (128lbs @ 16%bf = 110lbs LBM and 18 pounds of fat).

  • Lucia

    Hi Coach, do you actually suggest to do it after a while of having tried a “normal” diet with calorie deficit and hit a plateau? (I just started using the Link fit ArmBand by Body Media). Or just start with it since the beginning?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      You might find it more beneficial using it at a plateau, but I find reverse dieting a great way to start the whole weight loss process, as it provides a nice high calorie and metabolism level to start cutting calories from. It basically does what the BodyMedia is trying to accomplish – determines your maintenance calories so that you can create an effective calorie deficit that is neither to high or too low.

  • Liesl

    Great article, I’m actually been on my reverse diet for a month now, my weight hasn’t gone up much, which is great, however I do feel that my muscles are much fuller and I’m retaining a lot of water. I started at 1000cal a day and now up to, 1430cal. How many calories to you think I should aim for and how long should I stay on it, before I can start dropping cals again. Also should I concentrate more on weight training or HITT/cardio?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      Any weight that you gained was likely from extra muscle glycogen. As you said, your muscles seem fuller. It’s hard to say how high you should go as I don’t know your stats. Regardless, it’s going to be personal preference. I personally would try to push it as high as possible so that you can determine your personal maintenance calories. Do it once in your life and you’ll really never have to do it again. You’re already a month into it, why not continue?

    • Debbie B

      Hope you don’t mind me giving input(I am in the fitness industry) I think this article is awesome and you may want to reread it so you understand fully the points he was trying to make. One question you asked was should you focus more on weight training or HITTT/cardio. The both are entirely different(one builds muscle(you do burn a lot of calories weight training , it helps you tone and having muscle helps your overall metabolism , one conditions your heart and burns calories) You should focus on both. You didn’t say what weight is? (what is your bodyfat? any idea?) In the article he mentioned that you may gain a little weight but it won’t be fat and then you will notice that you will start burning fat again. Keep upping it little by little each week until you notice a true weight gain in 2 weeks and thats how you discover what your maintenance is and that most people don’t realize how much they can eat. Once you hit that point then you can go from there and deduct calories slowly.

      • Liesl

        Hi Debbie, I am currently doing both cardio(HITT) and weight training, so I’ll continue doing that. My weight is 156lbs, I’m 5’5 and my body fat is 22.5%. I’m still over-weight, and this is why I’m doing the reverse diet, because starving myself wasn’t helping at all. I train 1.5 hours a day, so when so I start training less. One more question: Should I increase my carbs/protein or fats? Thanks for your support, I’ll keep going. P.S my weight is down since I started so I’m happy!

  • debbie b

    Love your site and articles. It is nice to see healthy approach to getting fit. I am in the fitness field and really like that you are sharing this great information!

  • Toni

    I always thought this was something that only fitness competitors did once their competitions were over. Interesting concept as it makes perfect sense. You really do have to stoke the fire to get your metabolism revved up again. Yet I can see where telling people to raise their daily caloric intake could cause them anxiety as it seems to be the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Great article!

  • Rachel

    I’m 5’7”, was 149 pounds at 25.4% bf, and was cutting on 1370 + eating back however many calories I burnt at the gym from my heart rate monitor. Three weeks later, I lost three pounds but my bf % went up to 25.7%. Am I cutting too low and should instead reverse diet for a little while? I can’t remember the last time I was eating at maintenance….I just don’t want to be losing muscle!

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      I’ll have to say that it is very rare to lose weight but gain fat, although not impossible. Are you not strength training? That would be one of the only explanations. If you increased body fat while you lost weight, that means you lost a whole lot of lean body mass. In that case, I would try to reverse diet for a while. Slowly add 5% more calories each day for a week at a time. After two weeks take some body composition measurements so that you can make some changes to your nutrition.

  • Dokey

    This article is nonsense

  • Alicia Hemphill

    How often should you weigh yourself in order to assess when that true weight gain sets in, at your maintenance level? I can see how weighing too often might muddle what’s going on, but I’d also want to know at what point to stop reverse dieting.

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      I have no problem seeing people weigh themselves daily at the same time each day as long as they understand what weight actually is. If they understand it fluctuates based on water retention and other factors, they can take the average of the seven days to get an accurate number.

  • Dave5440

    This describes my weight loss frustration to a tee, I would like to know how quitting smoking caused me to gain 20 lbs ( after i lost 40 to stay thinner once i quit) while eating the exact same food and amount. I’ve stuck to 2000 cal a day and doubled my cardio and i’m still gaining about a pound a week and measuring my chest,waist and gut shows my waist and gut bigger. In an effort to get to the bottom of it I wore a hrm for 24hrs to get my bmr , it was at 3100 cal for 6am to 6am, and i skipped my workouts that day, i have started eating more just because i’m at the point I might as well as i gaining anyway. I also eat very good no processed food, very little carbs and lots of protein, what gives?

  • Chubby

    Won’t the body store all the extra kcal you consume as fat because its been in starvation mode?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      Not if you take the increase in calories in small incremental steps. Yes, if you jump from 1200 to 2000 calories overnight, there will likely be fat storage, but increasing your calories by 50-100 on a weekly basis will give you body a chance to adapt.

  • Jana

    I have been working on my health for the past 6 years. I have always been afraid to eat more calories. About 3years ago I had a trainer that put me on a pyramid cycle with eating 1000 cal one day, then 1200, 1400, 1600. It worked great! Lost the weight as long as I was eating clean. I’ve always wondered what me body would do if i ate more but too scared to try it. About 8 months ago I started with a new trainer and she had me eating 1350 cal. Didn’t see progress. So I started to do the cal cycle again but with 1300, 1400, 1500, and 1600. It worked but I’m also at the point where I’m comfortable with my weight. (5’4, 135 pounds, and about 16-18%body fat.). Still curious to see what my body would do with more calories. And my body is telling me I need more fuel. I started 1 1/2 weeks ago with 1600 clean cal. And my body feels great and I have more energy at the gym! Haven’t gotten on the scale but will do so in a week. Excited to see the outcome! Love your articles!

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Jana. One of the first things I noticed when I increased my calories was improved mood and energy. You don’t realize how much a calorie deficit suppresses your function until you actually raise them back up.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Whatever you’re eating now start increasing by 50-100 calories per week. Continue doing this until you hit maintenance calories. Then, cut your intake by 15%.

    • Gonzo

      Does that mean 50 -100 calories per day for a week.. then the next week increase each day by another 50 -100 cals?

      • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

        Yes. So if you’re eating 1500 calories per day this week, next week it would be 1550.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing your experience, Emma.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    I think you could do well with closer to 25g of carbs, especially since you’re already eating 2000 calories. It’s important to go slow, but it’s even more important to go as slow as you can while being happy in the process.

    • MrsReid

      Hey thanks!! I appreciate your response, and will take your advice! :-) also should I be refeeding once a week still or just stick with the slow increase? My coach predicts I’ll be maintaining at 450-500g carbs at the peak of off-season! So I don’t wanna do anything to sabotage that lol. I always just like getting second opinions so let me know what you think!

      • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

        That’s hard to say without knowing the details of your program past and present, but I would say if you’ve been refeeding, to go ahead and continue doing that as you reverse diet.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Most people do increase carbs, but they also try to keep their macro ratios in tact. Seen as you’re only eating 48g of fat, I’d say you have plenty of room there to increase it. A tbsp of peanut butter is easy to do.

    - Tony

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  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Nothing wrong with adding fat….protein too for that matter.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Hi Dana, I’d recommend you compare apples to apples (ie Saturdays to Saturdays, and Tuesdays to Tuesdays). Pick one day and go off that, or weigh yourself every day and average it out for the week.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    If you’re set on reverse dieting after your show, perhaps combine that with something like IIFYM (if it fits your macros). Loosen up on the types of food you eat a little but still pay attention to calories. Good luck!

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    That depends on your current circumstances, but I don’t think there’s any harm in reverse dieting first so that you can go at your weight loss the right way.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Hi Helen, increase your calories slowly. Definitely don’t go from 1200 to 2500. Go 1200 to 1300 to 1400, etc. Take it slow and give your body a chance to adapt to more calories.

  • alan2102

    This is very similar to Cliff Sheats’ “Lean Bodies” — harking back to the 1990s. Also John Parillo. Those guys stressed low-fat, however, increasing calories mostly as carbs. Which is probably the best way to do it.

  • Lilian

    Hey! I’m a 21 years old woman, currently eating 1200 calories per day. I wasn’t counting my calories each day before I started to exercice, but I started with 121 pounds, and now one month and a half mater I’m weighting 116-118 pounds. I’m also doing 30 min of cardio everyday. I only have a little bit of belly fat left which is why I still need to lose fat. But I started doing water rétention, even if I drink plenty of water each day, and thought I might need to increase my calorie intake if I still wanted to exercice, which I am trying to do but it’s hard for me as I have never been a big eater my entire life and eating 1500-1600 calories just seems too much for my body. What do you think should be the right amont of calories to add to my diet ? And should I cut back on cardio ? It makes me feel good so eating more would be a more suitable option for me if possible. My height is 5’2, also. Thanks!

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      The only way to know for sure is to add calories and monitor your results. Increase them 50-100 for a week at a time and measure your progress.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    I prefer carbs, but I don’t stress about it if extra calories come from fat or protein. Total calories is priority number one.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Yes, carbs and calories. 50-100 calories a day extra at a time.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    At 5’3 you aren’t eating many calories. Only you can decide what weight you’re comfortable at, but at 112lbs, I can’t really give you advice to lose weight. At the very least I’d work on changing your body composition at the same weight.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Is it possible to gain 1.3lbs in 4 days? Yes. Is it fat? Unlikely unless you ate 1000 calories over your maintenance cals every day. Most likely it is water, and at your body weight I wouldn’t doubt that your body is rehydrating with the extra calories.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

    Measuring body fat with calipers is going to be the best way.