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Episode 94: Healing Your Metabolism with Reverse Dieting

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What is reverse dieting?

Reverse dieting is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of decreasing your calories like you would on a diet, you slowly and strategically increase calories over time with the goal of increasing your metabolism and fat-burning potential.

During a reverse diet you will often shift away from cardio and emphasize weight training as a way to tell your body to partition the excess calories towards building lean muscle instead of storing it as fat.

The end goal? To break through a weight loss plateau without having to resort to even lower calorie dieting so you can enjoy a more sustainable lifestyle that leaves you feeling energized and performing well.

Why would you need to reverse diet?

When you reduce calories and your body size shrinks, your metabolism slows in response. This is what leads to you feeling like you have to eat like a bird in order to see consistent fat loss. It also is what ends up leading to post-diet regain when you're faced with things like birthdays, holidays, and vacations tempting you to eat, well, like an actual adult human. 

Who is this for?

  • If you've been consistently eating a very low calorie diet and aren't losing weight, reverse dieting is likely the next step you need to be taking. But be honest with yourself, if you're eating low calories all week but then gorging on the weekends, the problem likely isn't your metabolism.
  • If you've reached your weight loss goal but want to be able to eat more calories without putting the pounds back on. 

How is it possible to eat more and not gain weight?

This probably seems like a bunch of BS if you subscribe blindly to the weight loss creed: when you eat more calories than you burn you gain weight and when you eat less calories than you burn you lose weight. 

But what this over-simplified rule fails to account for is metabolic adaptation. Basically, when you create too big of a calorie deficit or when your eat in a calorie deficit for a long period of time, your body starts making adjustments that slow or completely inhibit weight loss:

  • Your basal metabolic rate slows down.
  • Your workouts suffer because you don't have enough energy.
  • You burn fewer calories during exercise.
  • You tend to engage in fewer non-exercise activities which reduces overall calorie burn.
  • Digestion slows down so you can absorb more of the calories you're consuming. 
  • And cortisol can increase as your body stresses out thinking there's a famine, causing you to store more fat.

But luckily, your metabolism can go the other way. As you reverse your diet and start adding calories back in, your basal metabolic rate increases, you can engage in harder workouts, your non-exercise daily activity increases, and digestion returns to normal so you're absorbing fewer calories.

Now keep in mind, this doesn't give you permission to go hog wild on your diet. That will inevitably lead to unwanted fat gain. But if you go slow, and only increase your calories by 10-20% at a time, that's where the magic happens.

Also, just like weight loss and metabolic adaptation doesn't happen overnight, neither does metabolic healing. If you've been living in a deficit for the last 8 months, expect it to take around the same amount of time to fully recover your metabolism.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Starting in your 20's, without a consistent strength training routine, you lose around 5-10 pounds of fat-burning muscle every decade. That added onto the fact that as we age our metabolism naturally slows, and it becomes harder for our metabolism to adapt, reverse dieting may or may not be the right approach for you as you get older. Generally, before resorting to a reverse diet I'd prioritize increasing muscle via a strength training program.
  • Different people will respond very differently to reverse dieting. Some are hyper-adapters who will see amazing weight loss almost immediately upon eating more calories. Others will see more of a maintenance of body fat, which is still a win considering our increase in food. And then there are the unlucky ones who will have to contend with some weight gain before they can enjoy the benefits of easier weight loss. And the only way to know which one you are is to try it for yourself.

Scared to eat more?

It can be terrifying to eat more when eating just 1200 calories isn't getting the scale to budge. But think about your weight loss goals like climbing a mountain.

You're trying to get to the top, but you've gone as far as you can following the calorie-deficit trail. Now the only trail left is the reverse-dieting trail. It does lead to the top, but it first takes you a little ways back down the mountain before you can start climbing back up to the peak. 

Think your metabolism may be slow?

Click here to book a free consultation with me! We'll see if reverse dieting is the right next step for you, and if it feels like a good fit I'll be there to guide you through the whole process, step-by-step.


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Reference: Precision Nutrition

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