What Is Reverse Dieting? (And Why You Should Try It)

In general, dieting is all about cutting things out — certain foods, numbers of calories, sugar, carbs or other macronutrients. And while most people diet in order to improve their health, particularly through weight loss efforts, the best diets aren’t really diets at all, but rather, sustainable lifestyle changes that last a lifetime.

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Unfortunately, many dieters find that after a successful few months, their bodies eventually plateau. They continue to work out religiously and diet obessively, but nothing changes.

Sound familiar? Seems like you may need a diet for your diet — or a reverse diet.

But what is “reverse dieting,” exactly? As its name suggests, a reverse diet involves doing the opposite of traditional dieting. Rather than cutting out calories, a reverse diet requires you to slowly add more calories and so-called forbidden foods back into your usual diet.

There are several reasons to reverse diet, but here are just a few.

Get Your Metabolism Out Of A Rut

When she hit a plateau, Madalin Frodsham, 27, changed her diet from five per cent carbs and 800 calories a day to 50 per cent carbs and 1,800 calories a day. She remained same weight (115 pounds) and kept the same fitness regime — yet dramatically transformed her body, as a result of “reverse dieting.”

Often people who find themselves at a weight loss plateau have been following a strict workout regimen and eating plan. In order to lose weight effectively and burn fat while, they often operate on a calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit occurs when the body burns more calories than it consumes. In a deficit situation, the body’s metabolism must completely adjust how the body converts, distributes, and uses energy. This can cause the metabolism to operate in a very low capacity.

The metabolism can get stuck in a rut and plateau as a result. Reverse dieting slowly gives the metabolism more to work with, getting the body out of a rut.

Boost Your Energy Levels

Adding calories in through reverse dieting gives your body more energy to use throughout the day, which means feeling less tired and fatigued. The calories or foods should be added in slowly, however, so as not to overwhelm the metabolism, and not to quickly build up fat deposits that have been recently worked off. If you’ve been following an extreme diet, try adding in more fruits, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates into your diet slowly.

When [my personal trainer] first told me to eat 50 per cent carbs, I nearly died. I was eating about 10 percent carbs before and could not fathom how 50 per cent carbs would not make me fat. If you’re under feeding yourself in an effort to lose weight, don’t do what I did for so long. Don’t waste your time eating salad when you could be eating sweet potatoes and banana pancakes. Eat more and get fit. It actually works.” — Madelin Frodsham

Develop More Sustainable Eating Practices

Face it: You’ve been able to cut out favorite treats and reduce your portions to “barely there” sizes, but you struggle with your new regime every single day. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. At some point or another, you will give in to temptation and fall off your diet wagon.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes, tucking in to a “bad” food is a very, very good thing. Dieting 24/7 is simply not sustainable and will leave you stressed out and feeling deprived. That’s why extreme diets usually fail; when a diet is solely based on willpower and involves no wiggle room or joy, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

Re-Evaluate Your Health Goals

Dieting is about much more than simply eating less or eating better. To successfully “diet,” you may have to change your:

  • Routine
  • Meal plans
  • Portion sizes
  • Self control
  • Food cravings
  • Fitness routine
  • Social interactions

All of these changes involve altering how you think and live. That’s a big part of why dieting can be so taxing. Unfortunately, many people can become obsessed with the weight loss process rather than taking the time to look at the big picture, and to examine if their diet is actually making them healthier and happier overall.

Choosing to reverse diet takes the pressure off weight loss and allows us to look at why we are changing our eating habits to begin with. Sure, weight loss is an excellent goal for many people, but why are you trying to lose weight in the first place? If you’re diet has left you unhappy and unhealthily obsessed with food, then perhaps you need to re-evaluate your overall health goals when it comes to dieting.

800 calories seems absurdly low as now I need minimum 1500 calories to be full, but at the time 800 calories was keeping me full because that’s what my body was used to. After a while though, salad simply wasn’t cutting it, and for all the restrictions I was placing on my diet, I simply wasn’t seeing the results I had anticipated.” — Madelin Frodsham

Build Muscle

Physical activity is great for the mind and body, but to maximize your workouts, you have to ensure two things: a) that you’re building up your muscles with resistance and strength training (not just cardio), and b) that you’re fuelling your body with the right macronutrients.

There’s a reason why bodybuilders eat a lot throughout the day and consume specific things, like protein shakes or egg whites, before and after their workouts: Muscles need nourishment to get bigger and stronger.

To build better muscle, you’ll need to get out of your energy deficit. First (and especially for all you cardio junkies out there) make sure you’re incorporating strength training into your routine two to three times a week. (Here’s a great article about strength training for beginners to get started.)

Next, and most importantly, you want to fuel those well-trained muscles with the fuel they need. Think: lots of lean protein, tons of healthy fats (some research suggests that up to 40 per cent (!) of your daily calories can come from healthy fats), some complex carbohydrates and legumes, and loads of fruits and vegetables.

Reverse dieting is an effective strategy for switching from deprivation to feeling full and satisfied. When done in  a slow and thoughtful way, reverse dieting does not overwhelm the body. What this type of dieting does is equip the body with what it needs for building muscle more effectively.

Enhance The Weight Loss Process

To sum it up, reverse dieting is great for:

  • Re-evaluating your goals to be healthier and happier overall
  • Giving your metabolism a much-needed boost
  • Providing you with more energy to do more and gain muscle

All of these improvements contribute to your body’s ability to lose weight. When you start reverse dieting, your body is no longer in a rut or on a plateau. Instead, it’s working at its best, with all the nutrients it needs to perform. That means more effective and efficient weight loss overall (and with less stress, hunger and unhappiness).

As odd as it sounds, eating more may help you be happier, healthier and leaner in the long run.