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When we first heard of reverse dieting, we were confused by the terminology. Our initial assumption was that it somehow implied weight loss by eating more rather than less. Instead, reverse dieting is all about how to add back calories after a diet ends. Here’s a summary of how this is carried out, and our thoughts on why it’s not necessary if you’re trying to lose weight safely and sustainably.


How reverse dieting works

Reverse dieting is essentially what to do after a restrictive diet. Let’s say you’ve cut your calorie intake to a low 1,200 per day in order to lose weight, and you’ve subsequently shed some pounds. Proponents of reverse dieting suggest gradually increasing your calorie intake by 50–100 calories per week for about four–10 weeks, rather than simply reverting back to your pre-diet eating pattern. People who advocate for this approach claim that it can help increase metabolism, normalise hunger hormones, and reduce the risk of binge eating or rapid weight regain.

Benefits of reverse dieting

There isn't much research looking at reverse diets and their potential benefits, but there are a few things we can assume based on what we know about calorie control and weight loss in general. Low-calorie diets are associated with a slowed-metabolism, and increasing your intake to more sustainable levels can help reduce some of the effects associated with adaptive thermogenesis. Some of these benefits include:

1. You get to eat more:

More calories typically mean more food! As long as you maintain calorie control long-term and stay at or below your maintenance needs, reverse dieting can mean eating more food for some. This can be a major positive for those who enjoy eating - which is almost everyone!

2. Reduced hunger and fatigue:

Restricting calories to low levels can mess with hunger-regulating hormones, causing you to crave sweets, feel hungry all the time, or feel just plain cranky. Feeding your body properly can help improve overall energy levels and keep your appetite in check. Proper nutrition is also associated with reduced unhealthy food cravings, improved mood, and better well-being overall.

Drawbacks of reverse dieting

Of course, it is entirely possible to go about reverse dieting the wrong way and end up doing more harm to your progress than you intended. There isn't really a standard procedure for increasing calories, and for many, the process might not even be necessary. In addition, focusing solely on calorie control has limitations for long-term success. Here are the possible disadvantages of reverse dieting:

1. Can still lead to fat gain:

If you are using reverse dieting to try and increase your calories without knowing your maintenance calorie needs, it is entirely possible to scale your calories too high and gain weight.

There are also changes in body water weight to consider that can be hard to distinguish for the average person. For example, if you cut a majority of carbohydrates during your diet, and then add them back in later, you are likely going to start storing some additional water weight. This is not the same as fat gain and can be unsettling for those that don't know the difference.

2. Only focuses on calories:

While calorie control is the end-all-be-all for maintaining weight, it's not the only thing to consider when living a long, healthy life. It is also important to learn how proper nutrition and “treat” foods fit into a long-term approach. A balanced approach that includes nutritious foods with the occasional splurge is a true maintenance diet.

Moreover, just counting calories doesn't allow you to be in tune with your body and what it needs. Learning to eat more mindfully, fuel your body for daily performance, and get to know what makes you feel good from the inside out is key to long-term adherence and happiness on any diet.

3. Limited research:

Bottom line, there really isn't any research on reverse dieting. So we don't know much about whether or not it is truly an effective approach, or if it is necessary at all.

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