Often clients come to me stuck in a weight loss plateau and feeling like their progress has come to a screeching halt. Can you relate? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! It’s a common struggle many people face when trying to lose weight and improve their metabolic health, especially if they’ve been aiming to lose weight multiple times over the years. What many programs fail to recognize is a technique called reverse dieting that can help you break through this weight plateau and continue on your path to success.
Reverse dieting is a strategic approach to increasing your calorie intake gradually after a period of calorie restriction. It involves slowly adding calories back into your diet, allowing your metabolism to adjust and preventing rapid weight gain. This method can be incredibly effective in helping you overcome a plateau.
By gradually increasing your calorie intake, reverse dieting helps to rev up your metabolism, improves your energy levels, and promotes sustainable weight loss. It’s a game-changer for those who have been stuck in a rut and can’t seem to get results any longer.
Why does weight plateau?
Weight loss plateaus can be incredibly frustrating. You’ve been diligently following your diet and exercise routine, and started to see some progress. But after awhile, the scale refuses to budge, no matter what you do. These weight plateaus are a common roadblock on the journey to reaching your goals. Note that a true weight plateau occurs when there have been no significant changes for 4-6 weeks. It is common for the body to ‘pause’ for 2-3 weeks before continuing to reduce scale weight, although often at a slower rate. This is normal and healthy!
There are several reasons why weight loss plateaus occur. One common cause is metabolic adaptation. When you restrict your calorie intake for an extended period, your body adapts by slowing down your metabolism to conserve energy. This means that even though you’re still following your diet and exercise routine, your body is burning fewer calories than before, making it harder to lose weight.
Another reason for a weight plateau is the loss of muscle mass. When you’re in a calorie deficit, your body not only burns fat but also breaks down muscle tissue for energy, especially if you are not paying attention to adequate protein intake. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, losing muscle mass can lead to a decrease in your metabolic rate, making it harder to continue losing weight. It’s a lose-lose situation!
What is reverse dieting?
Reverse dieting is a method that involves gradually increasing your calorie intake after a period of calorie restriction. The goal is to slowly bring your metabolism back up to its normal level and prevent rapid weight gain. While it may seem counterintuitive to add calories back into your diet when you’re trying to lose weight, reverse dieting can actually be an effective strategy for overcoming a weight plateau.
The concept of reverse dieting is based on the principle of metabolic adaptation. By gradually increasing your calorie intake, you give your metabolism time to adjust to the higher calorie intake without gaining excessive weight. This allows your body to reset its metabolic rate and prevent your progress from stalling.
Reverse dieting is not just about increasing caloric intake. The quality of those calories matters! It’s still important to focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods that support a healthy metabolism and encourage muscle mass retention. The goal is to increase your calorie intake while maintaining a nutrient-dense diet that includes a variety of protein, quality carbohydrate sources, and healthy fats.
How does reverse dieting work?
Reverse dieting works by gradually increasing your calorie intake over a period of time. The key is to make small, incremental increases in your daily calorie intake to allow your body to adapt without gaining excessive weight. I help my clients find the optimal increase that their metabolism can ‘get away with’ without increasing fat mass.
To start reverse dieting, you’ll need to calculate your current calorie intake and assess your progress. This will help you determine the appropriate calorie increase for your reverse diet. It’s important to be patient and not rush the process. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to reverse dieting. It is crucial to think of the long-term goals you want 2-3 years from now, as this will help you stay the course over the next 2-6 months.
Once you’ve determined the calorie increase, you can start adding calories back into your diet. It’s best to focus on increasing your protein intake to maintain or increase muscle mass and then utilize carbs and fats for energy, favoring one over the other based upon lifestyle and genetics. This will help fuel your workouts and provide your body with the energy it needs to function optimally.
Benefits of reverse dieting
Reverse dieting offers several benefits that can help you break through weight loss plateaus and achieve long-term success. Some of the key benefits include:
1. Revving up your metabolism: By gradually increasing your calorie intake, reverse dieting helps to reset your metabolic rate and prevent it from slowing down. This can help you burn more calories throughout the day and make it easier to continue losing weight. If you’ve been under-eating protein, you will likely increase muscle mass, contributing to a higher metabolic rate and potentially staving off diabetes, osteoporosis, and age-related decline.
2. Improving energy levels: When you’re in a calorie deficit, it’s common to feel tired and sluggish. Reverse dieting can help improve your energy levels by providing your body with the fuel it needs to function optimally. This can make it easier to stay motivated and continue with your weight loss journey.
3. Promoting sustainable weight loss: “Cleanses” and other crash diets or extreme calorie restriction are not sustainable in the long run. Reverse dieting allows you to gradually increase your calorie and nutrient intake while still losing weight. This promotes a healthy and sustainable approach to weight loss that can be maintained over time.
Essential Steps to Implement Reverse Dieting
Implementing reverse dieting requires careful planning and monitoring. Here are the steps you can follow to successfully implement reverse dieting:
1. Calculate your current calorie intake: Start by calculating your current calorie intake to establish a baseline. This will help you determine the appropriate calorie increase for your reverse diet. My favorite tracker is Cronometer, because it also allows one to track metabolism-supportive micronutrients as well.
2. Assess your progress: Evaluate your weight loss progress and determine if you’ve tuly hit a weight plateau. Look for signs such as stagnant weight for 4-6 weeks, lack of energy, and decreased motivation.
3. Determine the calorie increase: Based on your assessment, decide if a caloric increase is necessary and then, based upon your actual needs, the appropriate calorie increase for your reverse diet. Aim for a small, incremental increase to prevent rapid weight gain.
4. Adjust macronutrient ratios: Focus on increasing your protein intake while keeping your carbohydrate and fat intake relatively stable. This will help fuel your workouts and support muscle growth.
5. Monitor and adjust: Keep track of your progress and make adjustments as needed. If you’re not seeing the desired results, you may need to make further adjustments to your calorie intake, macronutrient ratios, or focus on more foods which support a healthy metabolic rate, such as low-starch veggies and foods rich in calcium, B vitamins, iron and magnesium.
Common mistakes to avoid during reverse dieting
While reverse dieting can be an effective strategy for overcoming weight loss plateaus, there are some common mistakes you should avoid. These include:
1. Rushing the process: Reverse dieting is a gradual process that requires patience. Avoid the temptation to increase your calorie intake too quickly, as this can lead to weight gain.
2. Neglecting nutrient-dense foods: It’s important to focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods that support your overall health and well-being. Don’t use reverse dieting as an excuse to indulge in treats, but rather strategically use your treats to support sustainability.
3. Ignoring Your Body’s Signals: In sessions with clients, we often check in on the body’s cues to assess if adjustments need to be made. Your body knows best, so it’s important to listen to its signals during the reverse dieting process. If you’re consistently feeling overly full or hungry, it may be a sign that you need to adjust your caloric intake. Pay attention to how your body responds and make adjustments accordingly.
Tracking progress and adjusting macros
Tracking your progress is essential during the reverse dieting process. This will help you determine if you’re moving in the right direction and whether adjustments need to be made.
One way to track your progress is by monitoring changes in your weight and body measurements. Keep a record of your weight and measurements on a regular basis and look for trends over time. This will give you a clear picture of how your body is responding to the reverse dieting process. If this is triggering AF, try switching to another measurement such as a tight pair of pants or even switching from pounds to kilograms or kilograms to pounds (thanks to client J.S. for that tip!) on the scale to disassociate from that number a bit more. You just have to commit to not calculating in your head!
Also, track progress once every 2 weeks rather than daily or weekly if it gets to be too stressful. If you are still of child-bearing age, be aware of how your cycle and hormone fluctuations can impact measurements and take this into consideration.
In addition to tracking your weight and measurements, it’s also important to monitor how you feel. Pay attention to your energy levels, hunger, and overall well-being. If you’re feeling tired and sluggish, it may be a sign that you need to adjust your calorie intake or macronutrient ratios. If you have a spike in cravings, you will want to explore the root of those cravings to nip them in the bud.
Reverse dieting is not just about breaking through weight plateaus; it’s also about creating sustainable habits for long-term success. Here are some tips for maintaining your weight loss after reverse dieting:
1. Focus on Sustainable Lifestyle Changes: Instead of viewing reverse dieting as a temporary fix, approach it as a stepping stone to long-term lifestyle changes. Focus on developing sustainable habits that you can maintain even after the reverse dieting process is complete. If your path to improved weight and health is not sustainable, neither will be your results!
2. Regular Exercise: Incorporate regular movement into your routine to help maintain your weight loss. Aim for a combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training to maximize metabolic flexibility and maintain muscle mass.
3. Prioritize Sleep and Stress Management: Adequate sleep and stress management are crucial for maintaining weight loss. Poor sleep and chronic stress can disrupt hormone levels and hinder weight loss progress. Make sleep a priority and incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine.
Professional guidance and support for reverse dieting
While reverse dieting can be a highly effective strategy, it’s always beneficial to seek professional guidance and support as this is an advanced strategy that often has a lot of emotional hurdles to overcome for success. As a double-degreed nutritionist with over 20 years experience, I can help create a personalized reverse dieting plan tailored to your specific needs and goals. Of even greater benefit is the ongoing support and guidance throughout the process, ensuring you stay on track and achieve optimal results with an adaptive, tailored strategy that progresses as you do.
If you’re stuck in a weight plateau and want to know if reverse-dieting may be the best next step for you, sign up for a complimentary discovery call and let’s talk it over!