What is Reverse Dieting?
Until 2020, the term “Reverse Dieting” was completely unheard of to me; I understood disordered eating, I knew that I was a binge eater and I always felt that to “Diet” you needed to eat less. With this in mind, how on earth did I finish the year over 8kg lighter, eating more, no longer bingeing and on a “Reverse Diet”…?
Let’s start with the basics, what is reverse dieting?
Reverse dieting is a way of eating which involves, very slowly increasing your daily calorie intake over the course of weeks or months. It focuses on eating great food, increasing your energy and boosting your metabolism.
So, how does this work and who would this suit?
It’s really important for me to mention that I have no qualifications in the field of nutrition or diet, therefore it’s almost impossible for me to say that this would work for everyone (or anyone) reading this article. From my personal journey, I started reverse dieting after gradually reducing my daily intake down to 1,800 calories a day, re-working my relationship with food and changing the way I trained.
So, by using my journey and statistics as an example, I’ll talk you through my experience:
May – 2020 – I weighed 70/71kg, I was working out, eating around 2,000 calories a day, experiencing regular binge/restrict cycles and paying no attention to my macronutrients.
June 2020 – I started with my nutritionist and we kept my calories at 2,000 but significantly increased my protein and fat intake. Within two weeks my energy levels had increased and I was losing weight at a steady/sustainable rate. As a result of this, I managed to complete 3 weeks without a binge, which felt like a huge personal achievement.
July/August 2020 – We started to slowly reduce my calorific intake down, with a steady reduction of -30/50 calories every one or two weeks. I focused on eating wholesome food, there were weeks when I the occasional binge. However, as an overall result, I was in a much better place with my relationship with food and my body.
September 2020 – I had hit my goal weight of 64kg and was thriving from the incredible high of reaching my goal weight. I had lost 13 inches, my body fat had reduced, and I was running faster than I had in around 4 years. All with a relatively minor reduction in calorific intake, because in many cases, reducing (or adding) calories too quickly can cause weight to regain and a cycle of yo-yo dieting.
September/December 2020 – We gradually started increasing my daily calories, by small increments of around 30/50 calories each week. By building up on a steady week by week basis and focusing on hitting around the same numbers daily, regardless of activity or rest. I continued to lose weight by eating more. My body has settled at around 62/63kg and I’m currently eating 2,400.
December onwards – I’m going to keep building my calories I’m not yet sure of my natural maintenance number. My number one objective is to continue feeling well and energised. Alongside building my strength, speed, and avoiding eating binges.
I feel strong, I have a great little fuel tank of energy. I’m happy with how my body looks and feels and I can fit all foods into my diet. I strive to eat a realistic, sustainable diet that includes all types of food. For example, bread, pasta, cheese, peanut butter, and chocolate. For me, this is a lifestyle choice and after years of setting “food rules” I feel freer around food than ever.
How do I know if this is the right plan of action for me?
It’s incredibly important for me to add that this might not be the solution for everyone, the overall result is impacted by so many different factors. For example, my lifestyle is very active. I also think a long-term focus on calorie control and “food rules” can be mentally damaging and not always sustainable.
A reverse diet might be suitable if you’re returning to maintenance after a diet. Or if you’re looking to build muscle or finding that regardless of how low your calories are, you can’t lose weight. Or even, if you enjoy structure and/or are interested in trying this process as part of your recovery from a disordered pattern of eating. But, without sounding like a stuck record. If you do feel stuck in a disordered eating spiral, support from a professional is worth considering.
What are the downsides?
Firstly, you will still need to track your daily intake and understand that this isn’t an excuse to finish a weight loss phase. Then pack in as much junk food as possible. It’s also important to understand that a reverse diet takes time, effort, and consistency. Alongside that, everyone has a different maintenance level and would require a unique balance of carbs, protein, and fat. It’s easy to head over to YouTube or Instagram and follow what works for someone else. The chances are, copying someone else’s diet won’t provide the results you dream of.
On a longer-term basis, eating intuitively would be my personal goal, but right now I’m not actually yet in that mind-set. From my extensive research over the past 6 months. It would appear that most Dietitians recommend eating intuitively as the most sustainable long-term approach towards food too.
How do I establish my Macros/Calories?
Truth be told, I’m always hesitant to suggest online calculators as they often suggest that my maintenance calories are around 1,800 a day. Which, actually turned out to be my weight loss calories. Alongside this, I would NEVER recommend using the entirely generic calories suggested by My Fitness Pal. Pushing my personal opinions to one side for a moment, I did spend some time and compared a few different online calculators and favoured this one the most.
Another starting point would be to HONESTLY track your intake for a week or so and work out an average. Just to note, when I say honestly, I mean weigh your food, count in the odd biscuit or couple of crisps here and there. So many people misunderstand their daily intake and requirements because they eyeball servings or only track what they remember. This could easily lead to over or undereating, therefore, it goes without saying, if you want a correct overview, then you need to track.
Finally, if you’ve been dieting for a long time…
Please, try to make peace with food and your body. I understand what a huge undertaking this is and I’m still fighting my own battles. When I started to increase my intake, there was a huge looming fear of losing control, gaining weight, or eating junk food daily. When actually, I found new meals to nourish myself, accepted that I might have to eat an omelette, veggies AND oats for breakfast. I also found that I wasn’t tempted to lose complete control and that I felt more sustained and happier than I had felt in a long time.
Disclaimer – This is a post detailing my own personal journey, food intake is an entirely personal thing and there’s no “One size fits all”. If you feel that you’re struggling with your relationship with food, then it’s definitely worth taking advice from a professional. As tempting as it might be to take advice or copy someone else online, that might not be the best route for you.