Now that I’m at the end of my cut someone asked me if I’m going to do reverse dieting to move back into maintenance. I thought I’ll give my full answer in a video. Greg also did a video on reverse dieting recently which you can watch here.
So am I going to reverse diet? No, I’m not.
I’m not going to do the classic reverse diet where you increase you calorie intake by 100 every week. The reason for that is because it’s not necessary. I want to move into maintenance as fast as possible not take a month to get there.
I’ll move straight to maintenance when I’m happy with my level of leanness.
From what I’ve seen people do reverse dieting for 3 reasons:
1. To prevent rapid fat gain when they move into maintenance
2. To build metabolic capacity
3. To prevent binge eating after the diet is over
In this article/video we’ll address each of these points one by one and explain why Reverse Dieting may actually not help you do any of those things.
Alright let’s get started.
Does Reverse Dieting prevent rapid fat gain when you move into maintenance?
If you think about it, the answer is obvious. If you bring your calories back up to maintenance, how are you going to store fat?
Maintenance means eating just as many calories as your body burns for energy, not more, not less. So if there’s not calorie surplus or deficit, your weight and body composition stay the same. I personally don’t see how moving from a deficit into maintenance can lead to fat gain. It defies the very definition of maintenance.
Now here’s where I think people make the mistake.
They think their maintenance calories are the same as they were before the diet. For example if they started cutting at 200 lbs and their maintenance was 3000 kcal, now that they weigh 185 lbs they think their maintenance is still 3000 kcal.
Of course it doesn’t work like that.
Now that you weigh less you’ll be burning fewer calories both at rest and during any kind of activity. Also, your leptin levels will likely be lower and your metabolic rate slightly decreased and these adaptations will probably never go back to pre-diet levels unless you regain the lost weight.
Also because you’re eating less food overall, the energy required for digestion and absorption is also decreased. The thermic effect of food is about 15% of the total calories consumed so if you’re eating 3000 that is ~450 compared to 2500 calories that have a thermic effect of only ~370.
And another thing you need to take into account is non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Studies show that when we’re in a deficit, our body tries to conserve energy by reducing our spontaneous movements such as fidgeting. And considering that some people can burn up to 1000 calories through NEAT you can imagine how much that can affect your maintenance.
Oh and something else, everyone agrees that taking a full diet break (one or two weeks at maintenance) is a good idea. But no one talk about reverse dieting your way to a diet break. Why not? Isn’t it the same thing? You’re going to eat at maintenance which means fat gain right? …of course not.
So I think the reason people gain less fat when they reverse diet compared to moving straight into maintenance is because it’s much easier for them to discover their new maintenance intake. If you increase your calorie intake by 100 every week, you can’t miss it.
On the other hand the people that jump straight into maintenance usually eat too much. They think their maintenance is the same as before and they actually go into a surplus. That’s the reason I think people see rapid fat gain.
But as I said in the beginning I believe increasing your calorie intake by 100 every week takes waaay too long. In my opinion there’s a better way.
Here’s how I recommend you move into maintenance
Take your new weight and multiply it by 14. This will give you a rough estimate of your maintenance intake. The reason we no longer use 15 calories per pound for maintenance is because you’ve been dieting for a while and your metabolic rate is probably decreased a little.
Also if you know that you naturally burn more or fewer calories than the formulas would predict, make those adjustments as well. For example I know I burn about 150 calories more than the formulas would predict so I add that to the total intake as well.
You may know your body burns less than the formulas would predict so make sure to adjust your calorie intake if that’s the case.
After you did all that, you now have some rough numbers for maintenance. It’s time to put them to the test. Eat that number of calories everyday for a week and see how your body responds.
You should gain a little weight (about 1-2 lbs) but look just as lean. The reason for that is because you’ll have more food in your GI tract, your muscles will be filling with glycogen from the increased carb intake, and you’ll be holding more water than during the diet. In some cases your weight may still go down even if you’re eating more. That’s normal too although I can’t explain why that happens exactly.
If you look as as lean or leaner after the first week at maintenance, awesome keep things unchanged one more week. Now your weight should stabilize. If your weight is still going down after the second week, now it’s the time to slowly increase your calorie intake every week and discover your new maintenance.
I usually increase my intake by 5% every week. This way it shouldn’t take more than one or two more weeks to discover your maintenance.
After your weight has stabilized you can start lean bulking. These 2-3 weeks at maintenance helped reset some of the adaptation to dieting and will prevent rapid fat gain once you move into a surplus.
So this is how I think one should move into maintenance. Not take 5 weeks to get there, 4 of them while still being in a deficit.
If I missed anything or you have other questions about this, leave a comment below and I’ll give you an answer.
Does Reverse Dieting build metabolic capacity?
Here’s a story I hear very often.
One guy was in a deficit and his weight was not going down at all. Then he started reverse dieting and lost an X number of pounds and got leaner while eating more! Conclusion: Reverse Dieting build metabolic capacity and helps you burn fat.
Well… not exactly. Let’s see why.
First of all, there is no way someone can be in a deficit and not lose body weight (fat included). It defies the laws of physics.
Someone will say: “That’s not true! I’ve stayed in a deficit for weeks and didn’t lose any weight.”
I don’t buy it. If that was true government agents would come and take you away to do lab experiments on you. Your genes would solve world hunger. You would be the secret to space exploration. Imagine the headlines: Scientists discover a man that doesn’t need food to stay alive.
There are two main reasons people don’t lose weight when they are dieting:
1. They don’t actually stick the deficit, they just say they are. They think the weekend binge doesn’t count.
2. Water retention masks the reduction in weight. When you’re dieting cortisol levels go up which can make you hold more water and it makes it seem like your weight in not changing.
So if their weight was stalling while “being in a deficit” why did they start to lose weight when they began reverse dieting?
They were still in a deficit
Think about it, if you start reverse dieting from a 700 calorie deficit and you add 100 calories this week, what happens? You are now in a 600 calorie deficit.
In the second week you will have a 500 calorie deficit so of course you’ll drop fat. In the fourth week you’ll have a 300 calorie deficit and you will drop fat.
I don’t get how people don’t see this.
Guy says: “Oh I reverse dieted for 5 weeks and I lost a lot of fat during that time”. Well of course he did, he was still in a deficit. People seem to think that when you start reverse dieting you are no longer dieting when in fact you still are – for at least a few weeks.
Also eating more carbs may bring down cortisol levels and help flush out the water you’ve been holding. It would seem that you’re losing a lot of weight all of a sudden but that’s just water finally being flushed out.
So I think this explains the mystery of fat loss while reverse dieting. It’s no mystery at all.
What about slowly increasing calorie intake to build metabolic capacity?
Lyle McDonald addressed this perfectly in a post he pinned at the top of his facebook group. I hope he doesn’t mind that I shared it in the video. Pause the video and read the whole thing, you’ll be glad you did. Also keep an eye out for Lyle’s new book. That is excerpt from that book.
In short there is no research that supports the fact that you can speed up your metabolism by gradually increasing your caloric intake. Studies show that the Resting Metabolic Rate only slightly increases in response to overfeeding. It takes a very large surplus of calories to speed up your metabolic rate by merely 10%. Also, that increase only stay there if you continue to eat a high surplus.
But why do people claim they can maintain their weight on more calories than before when they reverse diet?
It can all be explained by:
1. An increase in caloric expenditure through training more
2. An increase in NEAT
3. Gaining muscle so your metabolic rate goes up
4. Not actually realizing you’re gaining fat
When you eat more you feel more energetic which means you can train harder and burn more calories. Also, NEAT goes up when the body senses an energy surplus. One study showed high NEAT responders can offset even an 1000 kcal surplus through fidgeting alone.
And the last point, not actually realizing you’re gaining fat is a huge factor. Eating 200 calories more everyday only leads to about 3 pounds gained in one month. You can think you’re gaining muscle because two pounds of fat are very hard to notice in the mirror.
This actually happened to me on my last bulk. I kept increasing my calorie intake thinking I had built my metabolic capacity but in reality I was gaining fat and of course muscle without realizing it. Interestingly enough there was a 2 week delay between the time I increased my calories and when I noticed my weight going up.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t try to eat as much as you can without gaining fat. Of course I encourage that. But we do that to support training performance and not to speed up our metabolism.
Reverse Dieting to prevent Binge eating
And now finally let’s talk about avoiding binge eating after the diet is over.
Reverse dieting is often recommended for bodybuilders and physique athletes to prevent binge eating after a show. I completely agree with this approach.
I’ve heard stories of bodybuilders regaining all the weight they’ve lost in 6 months of dieting in only 3 weeks of binge eating. That’s got to be devastating… seeing all that hard work thrown away like that.
Reverse dieting helps prevent binge eating in this case because it keeps people on a structured plan even after the diet is over. So instead of feeling free to do whatever you want you know that you gradually have to increase calorie intake and ease off the cardio over the following weeks. That way you get to maintain your physique very close to your stage condition.
But I see no reason why the average Joe that cut down to 8% body fat needs to reverse diet like a bodybuilder. His desire to binge is probably not physiological like in the case of bodybuilders, it’s all psychological.
Most people just want to reward themselves with a binge for finishing the diet. As we talked about in the article and video on Moral Licensing that’s mainly a self-image problem.
We feel the need to reward ourselves for being lean only when we believe we’re not like that everyday. If we believe counting macros and being mindful of how much we eat is our normal behavior then we don’t feel the need to binge or reward ourselves with food.
So for most people I don’t see how Reverse Dieting – basically extending the diet by 5 more weeks – somehow solves the binge eating problem. If someone at 8% body fat feels the need to binge, I think the problem is in their mind, not related to their diet.
So that’s my take in reverse dieting. I think it’s unnecessary to take 5-6 weeks to return to maintenance. You’d be much better off in my opinion if you returned to maintenance in one or two weeks.
What’s your opinion on Reverse Dieting? Do you have any feedback on these ideas? Any questions? Leave a comment below and let me know. I read and answer every comment.
This is the diet I’ve been using for the last 3 weeks or so. I’d have no trouble cutting for another month this way because this is so enjoyable!
The way I spread out my food throughout the day makes sticking to a deficit basically effortless.
What I do is this:
- morning – black coffee and water
- 2 pm – 50g of protein and a large bowl of veggies
- 5 pm – a chocolate bar
- 9 pm – 100g of protein with some veggie sauce
- 10 pm – a huge bowl of my special fat-free fries
You need to set up your diet in a way that you actually enjoy. Otherwise you won’t be able to maintain your results. This program gives you the tools to craft your perfect fat loss diet. I highly recommend you check it out: learn more about the program here.