Recently, the term “reverse dieting” is starting to catch wind with most people who oversee their nutrition.
Reverse dieting is an approach to upgrade the body’s metabolism which will enable it to make use of more calories.
This method is a sound approach to restore your own metabolism, and help keep the rebound weight off that most people see after completing a diet.
To fully comprehend this topic, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of someone trying to lose weight quickly.
When we restricts ourselves of calories, go on a fad diet, or try the “lets starve myself method”, our metabolism becomes suppressed. It is common knowledge that in order to lose weight, you have to cut calories. Initially, we are feeling good, and at each weigh-in our scale number is dropping. After about 3 weeks, the scale just doesn’t seem to budge anymore.
So what happens next? Well, usually when people become stagnant, they realize it, so the stagnancy becomes countered with further calorie reduction or more exercise. The belief is to dramatically reduce caloric intake while simultaneously increasing the energy output which will encourage weight loss.
This will work for a short period, but will ultimately fail and here’s why. When looking at the scale, we need to remember we are made of more than just body fat. So, when thinking in terms of scale weight, the thought process is that the larger the calorie reduction, the quicker the scale drops.
Related: Which Diet is the Best for Fat Loss?
The problem here is the fact that the percentage of weight loss coming from MUSCLE MASS tends to increase as you increase the reduction of calories (3). In a nut shell, you are losing overall body mass not just body fat.
Listen, caloric reduction is a great way to rev-up the fat loss process, but many of us want the “quick fix.” The drastic reduction in calories sets off a starvation response. The body sees it as being “in-danger” and on the verge of starving, so it will suppress the calories being burned at rest (metabolism), and hold on to fat to be used as your plan B.
See, your metabolism adapts to the amount of energy you feed your body as its main goal is to balance energy intake with output. So by restricting your calories and feeding your body less energy than it burns, your metabolism naturally begins slowing down (burning less energy).
The more you restrict your calories, the faster and greater the down-regulation. What actually happens next (after the suppression) is that you stop losing fat earlier than you expect. So we get discouraged, or the time to reach our goal has run out, and we go back to our old habits of eating.
Over the next week or two you see the scale take major leaps in the wrong direction, and you can feel all of your clothes getting tighter again. What just happened? You now weigh more than you did before you start the diet!
This isn’t a nice health bulk either as the body mass gained is primarily in the form of fat which is known as post-starvation obesity (5). Are we all doomed or is there an answer to this post diet rebound?
The answer here is to have a strategy coming out of the diet, and one of the best ones to use is known as reverse dieting. This approach deals with a controlled gradual increase in your daily caloric intake.
Adding to your daily caloric intake from week to week will allow your metabolism to become acclimated to each increase by increasing its own metabolic rate thus keeping you lean.
“In theory, providing a small caloric surplus might help to restore circulating hormone levels and energy expenditure toward pre-diet values, while closely matching energy intake to the recovering metabolic rate in an effort to reduce fat accretion.
Ideally, such a process would eventually restore circulating hormones and metabolic rate to baseline levels while avoiding rapid fat gain”(1).
If done correctly with patience and persistence, your daily caloric intake will be more than you could even imagine. The great thing about working your metabolism up to handle more calories is that your urges for particular foods (those considered to be “bad”) will be hindered as you will be able to fit more of those foods into your diet as a well-deserved reward.
How is this possible? Your body will require more and more food on a week to bi-weekly basis which gives your nutrition plan more of a “cushion.” To put it in a numerical perspective, think about the foods you will be able to fit into a diet that consists of 3500 calories per day instead of 2000 calories.
Break down the 3500 calories into, let’s just say, 390 grams of carbs, 310 grams of protein, and 78 grams of fat. You can fit a lot more variety of food into the 3500 calorie plan compared to the 2000 calorie plan.
If you wanted a meal from Burger King that was a total of 1500 calories, this would leave you with 2000 calories left to eat in the 3500 calorie plan compared to only 500 calories left for the 2000 calorie plan. Life is a lot better when eating more; physical energy levels rise along with mood and mental function.
I know, right now you’re probably saying to yourself that you can fit in a couple pop tarts and some chocolate chip cookies to hit those macros given in the previous example. This is true, and from time to time, it’s not a bad idea, but this is where your conscious decision making comes into play and the fact that you need to realize that a calorie is not a calorie.
Look, calories matter, and if you are serious about changing your physique you should pay attention to them. You need to understand that certain calories effect your body differently than others calories do since ALL CALORIES ARE NOT THE SAME!
So what is a calorie? A calorie is a measure of energy in which nutrients produce. Our body’s main source of energy is blood glucose. When blood glucose is high, it will store excess glucose as fat. If blood glucose is low, it can revert to using fat or protein to make glucose for the body.
The fact is this, the foods we choose to eat are just as important as the calories they supply. For example we can take fructose vs. glucose.
Here we have two forms of sugar, and when taking in the same amount of calories in each, fructose has been linked to stimulate hunger, increase obesity and insulin resistance compared to that of glucose (which is used by every single living organism and cell)4. The way in which they are metabolized, is what separates them from being the same!
Here we see the difference in the body’s use of the calories. The next step is to look at how your macronutrient intake can affect the body differently. One quick example is how protein raises your metabolic rate and reduces hunger compared to that of fats and carbohydrates.
So, for simplicity, if you were to take in the same amount of calories of each macronutrient, (1000 calories from protein + 1000 calories from Carbohydrates + 1000 calories from Fat = 3000 calories total) protein will be more beneficial! This does not mean the fats and carbs are not significant because they are vital in supporting a healthy diet.
Now, If you were to take an extreme approach and just eat all of your calories required for the day in carbohydrates (3000 calories from Carbohydrates), then you will have a constant insulin serge and your glycogen stores will fill up which will leave the rest of your caloric intake (being that it is carbohydrates) to be stored away as fat for future energy reserve.
Compare that scenario to breaking up your caloric intake by adding in protein and fats. Consuming protein releases glucagon which will drag insulin levels down (2). With certain fats, such as medium chain fatty acids (ex: coconut oil), they are actually linked to raising metabolism and reducing hunger compared to longer chain fatty acids.
So there are many differences among the calories being taken-in when you look at how your body will use macronutrient and the effects they have on particular hormones!
So the goal here is to relieve yourself of the “Mental Straitjacket” known as restricted dieting and implement a more flexible, reverse diet approach for the reverse dieting that will enable you to enjoy foods you want, as well as keeping a lean body fat percentage.
One of the main luxuries in life is to eat, and you don’t want to look back on your life when you’re 75 (no longer ripped) and say “I wish I ate that.” So increase and support your metabolism with patience and persistence to be able to allow yourself to fit in foods you want to enjoy without any guilt about doing so.
When adding to your calories, focus on the carb sources as the main variable to manipulate. Keep protein high and around the same amount week to week, and adjust fats accordingly. Fats are crucial for properly functioning hormones which will help you’re your lean gains.
Increasing carbs will usually put a smile on that face, so start there. Slowly work up adding about 100-150 calories (25-38 grams of carbs) per week allowing your metabolism to get acclimated. Pay attention to your body, use photos, measurements, and scale weight to assess your gains.
If it’s too quick of an increase, then drag out the week increases to 2 weeks and so on until your body gets used to it. This approach is to maximize lean muscle gains and minimize fat storage.
This article by Vinny Russo was originally posted on muscleandstrength.com
I have a Bachelors in Science, I am PN.1 certified, NFPT certified, and in the process of obtaining my CN.L (Clinical Nutritional License) and my MSCN (Masters in Applied Clinical Nutrition). My mission is help you reach your health-related goals while educating throughout our journey together. The goal is to have you become a master of your own health by teaching you how nutrition works and what works best for your individual body.
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