Diet

| June 4, 2021

Reverse Dieting: The diet after the diet

You’ve spent months dieting, exercising and consistently hitting your goals until you’ve reached a weight or goal that you’re proud of. First of all, congratulations! Dieting isn’t easy. You showed up and worked really hard to reach this point. This is often the point where people go back to their old habits.

By Michelle Moen

Read time: 4 min.

You’ve spent months dieting, exercising and consistently hitting your goals until you’ve reached a weight or goal that you’re proud of. First of all, congratulations! Dieting isn’t easy. You showed up and worked really hard to reach this point. This is often the point where people go back to their old habits. Eating more treats, skipping workouts, drinking alcohol, and going out for dinners. You’ll notice the weight creeping back up, and quickly. A few months later you’re probably weighing more than you did before you started the diet in the first place. What the heck is going on here?!

There’s a few reasons why this happens. The first reason is that your calorie needs are now lower than they used to be. You weigh less, so you need less calories than you used to, but old habits crept back in and you went back to your old calorie intake. The second reason is metabolic adaptation, or in other words, your metabolism slowed down as a result of prolonged dieting. Don’t panic, this isn’t a permanent adaptation. Your metabolism isn’t broken, in fact, it’s working exactly the way it's meant to. This is how over decades humans have survived famines, war, and food shortages. Your body has a lot of adaptations to keep you alive. In some cases, these adaptations can take just as long to reverse as they took to kick in. So if you’ve been dieting hard for 6 months, give yourself 6 months to recover. It’s not all doom and gloom, you’ll slowly be adding in calories and decreasing exercise. You’ll notice energy improve, hormones stabilizing, and sleep ameliorating. The third reason is because of alterations to your leptin and ghrelin hormones, or your satiety and fullness hormones. These hormones send signals to start or stop eating, and they become disrupted when you diet long term. Again, they’re motivated to keep you alive. So when you’re under eating/getting lean, they’re motivating you to keep eating, despite now getting enough calories. It takes time for all of these effects to fall back into balance.

So how do you go about a reverse diet?

Where to start will depend on the person. You can tackle exercise or calories first, but for most of my clients I do a mix of both. So decrease cardio by 20%, and increase carbohydrates by 20%. Again, it will depend. If your fats were below 0.8g/kg of body fat, you’d want to bump up your fats first. Fats are the precursors to our hormones, and in the best interests of your hormones, you’d never want to dip below 0.8g/kg for extended periods of time. If your fats are adequate already, then it would be in your best interests to increase carbs. Why? Your metabolism is largely controlled by your thyroid gland, which happens to be really carbohydrate sensitive. I’ve seen more than a few cases of hypothyroidism largely driven by being on the ketogenic diet for too long. Carbs drive up thyroid function, kicking your metabolism back up. Plus, they’re delicious.

Once you’ve decided on a calorie bump, cardio drop, or a combination of the two, hold steady for at least 2 weeks. We want to go slowly. This will give your body enough time to get used to your new exercise and calorie intake, without packing the weight on. Keep taking measurements throughout your entire reverse diet, to control weight gain. There’s nothing more disheartening than putting all this work into dieting, just to have to start all over again a few months later. Every 2-3 weeks, you’ll continue to drop cardio and increase calories. This process can go on for months, depending on the person.

A final note on reverse dieting are the psychological impacts of dieting. It can create food obsession, mood disruptions, and psychological issues with the scale. Expect yourself to struggle with seeing the scale go up. You’ll also likely feel ‘fuller’ then you used to, making people psychologically feel ‘fat’ as calories go up. This is where having a coach is invaluable. It’s helpful to have an objective set of eyes when yours are emotionally driven. Reverse dieting can feel more challenging than an actual dieting phase. It’s hard to see the scale go up, clothes fitting more snug than they used to, and measurements increasing slightly. This is where it’s important to set goals before your dieting phase ends. Personally, I set strength based goals before my dieting phase ends. This way I have something to look forward to post diet, and takes your attention off of aesthetic based goals.

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