Reverse Dieting: Reversing Metabolic Damage
Reverse dieting is a well known topic within the bodybuilding and fitness community. Since both anecdotal and scientifically proved evidence show that metabolic damage from dieting isn’t a myth, bodybuilders and dieters are turning to reverse dieting as a way of reversing metabolic damage. Although mainstream fitness experts rarely address the topic of reverse dieting, anecdotes and research indicate that dieting slows your metabolism and primes you for rapid weight regain at the end of the diet. Thus, reverse dieting, or slowly increasing calories and decreasing exercise after reaching your weight loss goal, reverses metabolic damage and allows you to maintain your new, leaner physique with a higher calorie intake. It sounds counterintuitive, but many people have successfully increased their metabolic capacity by reverse dieting after an extended cutting diet. Even though there is some debate over some aspects of reverse dieting, examining the experiences of those within the bodybuilding and physique community leaves no doubt that reverse dieting is a must if you want to maintain your weight loss more easily and for a longer period of time.
Reverse Dieting: Metabolic Damage
If you lose a lot of weight, the last thing you want to do is to keep following a strict diet and exercise plan. You may feel tempted to indulge after reaching a fat loss goal, but doing so is a recipe for disaster since metabolic damage from dieting primes your body for rapid fat regain at the end of a diet:
01. Dieting causes changes in your body which lower your metabolic rate, putting your body into the perfect position to regain weight at the end of a diet:
Although I discuss the details more thoroughly in my article on metabolic damage, physiologic changes which take place when you restrict calories reduce your metabolic rate: for example, you conserve energy by fidgeting less and your thyroid hormone levels decrease1. Combined with a decrease in metabolically-active muscle mass and an overall reduction in body weight, your body requires fewer calories to maintain its weight at the end of a diet. In addition, dieting also makes your fat cells more insulin sensitive. According to Pro Natural Bodybuilder Dr. Layne Norton, this is especially problematic if you use a ketogenic or other low-carb diet to lose weight because if you suddenly start eating carbs at the end of your diet, “it feels like you swallowed a balloon. You just blow up” at (15:57) in a Youtube.com video2. IFBB Men’s Physique Competitor and owner of BeSickFitness Adam Bisek gives a similar warning at (3:26) in a video when he says that if you eat a caloric excess at the end of your diet, “you are going to store fat much more readily than you would have if you hadn’t dieted”3. In addition to the experiences and advice of bodybuilders, a study published in the October 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the metabolisms of people who had lost weight were depressed, “regardless of whether that reduced weight has been maintained for weeks or years”4. Thus, the researchers concluded that “bioenergetic responses to maintenance of a reduced body weight do not wane with time.”4 Considering bodybuilders’ experiences and scientific evidence, it is clear that because dieting slows your metabolic rate, indulging and overeating at the end of a weight loss diet is guaranteed to result in rapid weight gain; in fact, due to the circumstances, you are likely to gain more fat if you overeat at the end of a diet than if you were to overeat under normal conditions.
02. This unrepaired metabolic damage makes regaining the weight you lost very easy; in fact, over time you can come to hold more fat and have a slower
metabolism than when you first started trying to get lean:
bodybuilders fall into this trap: after dieting for a contest, they are unable to withstand the temptation any longer so they binge5. You eat significantly more calories than your body needs, so you gain a lot of fat quickly. At (6:30) he says that your metabolic rate does not increase along with the increased calorie intake, so after regaining the weight you now have “just as much fat when you had a higher one”5. At (1:08) in his Youtube.com video BioLayne Video Log 24 – Reverse Dieting, Dr. Layne Norton echoes these statements when he says that by dieting hard and then overfeeding immediately after the diet, “you get this, disconnect between your metabolic rate and your body fat level over time”6. In fact, if you yo-yo diet like many people, he says that over time you can lower your metabolic rate while increasing your body fat levels, making it harder to lose weight after each unsuccessful attempt6. In another video, Layne says that he has seen this with competitive bodybuilders: over time, those who compete without reverse dieting come to hold more fat in the offseason than when they first started competing7.
Even though it is tempting to indulge at the end of a diet, it is a bad idea if you want to maintain your new weight. Both anecdotal and scientific evidence shows that dieting slows your metabolic rate, and that this metabolic damage persists long after you have stopped actively trying to lose fat. Thus, if you decide to stop your exercise and nutrition plan after reaching your goal weight, you are guaranteed to quickly regain all of the weight you lost, if not more; moreover, repeating this yo-yo dieting process can make your body hold more fat and have a slower metabolism than when you first started trying to lose fat. As you can see, reverse dieting is a crucial part of maintaining weight loss.
Reverse Dieting: Reversing Metabolic Damage
Since metabolic damage can cause rapid fat gain if you indulge or even eat “normally” after a diet, reverse dieting by slowly increasing calories and decreasing exercise, as well as monitoring how the process affects your body, is the only way of reversing metabolic damage. This is critical if you want to maintain your new, leaner physique:
01. Although dieting causes metabolic damage, reverse dieting by eating a calorie surplus reverses many of the physiological changes which lead to metabolic damage; however, the key to reverse dieting is doing it slowly:
In the article Calorie Partitioning: Part 2, Lyle McDonald details many of the diet-induced changes responsible for metabolic damage such as decreased testosterone, increased cortisol, and decreased conversion of T4 (inactive thyroid) to T3 (active thyroid)1. Although dieting brings about these and many other physiological changes which lead to metabolic damage, reverse dieting reverses many of these changes. Lyle goes on to describe what happens when you start overfeeding again: cortisol levels decreases, testosterone levels rise, and conversion of T4 to T3 increases1. Although Lyle explains how increasing calories after a diet can reverse some of the causes of metabolic damage, he does not say how quickly someone should increase calories. As previously discussed in this article, rapidly increasing calories at the end of a diet is a recipe for disaster, so it should be no surprise that within the bodybuilding community reverse dieting is usually a slow process. For example, John Gorman, bodybuilder and owner of Team Gorman contest prep services, details the beginning of an example reverse dieting protocol for a post-contest bodybuilder in a Youtube.com video8. In the first week, he suggests using the dieting macronutrient ratios you used at the end of your diet as a base and then adding 20 grams of carbohydrates per day to your diet; in the second week, he suggests adding another 20 grams; in the third week post-contest, he recommends adding 15 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of fat to your diet8. Although John Gorman’s suggestion to raise your daily calorie intake by about 80-100 each week seems tedious, Lanye Norton says that adding just 5 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fat per week over the course of a year has the potential to add 260 grams of carbohydrates and 56 grams of fat to your diet6. However, at (10:39), he says that by slowly increasing your calories, you can not only significantly increase your caloric intake but also “give your metabolism time to catch up, give it time to recover,” and minimize body fat gain6. As you can see, eating a calorie surplus after dieting helps reverse some of the physiological changes which cause metabolic damage; however, since rapidly increasing calories post-diet results in rapid weight gain, it makes sense that reverse dieting in the bodybuilding world is a long process of slowly adding calories to your diet over time so that your metabolism can adapt.
02. Although most discussion on reverse dieting focuses on increasing calories, the process of decreasing energy expenditure, especially by decreasing cardio, is another important part of reverse dieting:
Along with giving week-by-week calorie recommendations for reverse dieting, John Gorman also recommends gradually decreasing energy expenditure8. Since his coaching clients do at most 60 minutes of cardio per day, he usually reduces their cardio time by 10 minutes during the first week of reverse dieting8. The second week, he reduces his clients’ cardio to 30 minutes per day; by the third week, he suggests only 20 minutes of cardio per day8. Even though reverse dieting focuses on increasing calories, it is clear that reducing energy expenditure is another goal of reverse dieting as well, especially since doing hours of cardio per week in order to maintain your weight loss is not realistic. Instead, the goal of reverse dieting should be to not only increase the amount of food that you can eat but also decrease the amount of exercise that you have to do in order to maintain your new, lower body weight.
03. Increasing your calories to stay lean sounds counterintuitive, but the results of reverse dieting speak for themselves:
For example, on his website John Gorman writes about a client whose reverse diet lasted 8 weeks, his weight increasing from 174 pounds to just 178.8 pounds10. By reverse dieting slowly, his client was able to increase his carbohydrate intake from 200 grams per day to 335 grams per day, and he raised his fat intake from 45 grams up to 55 grams per day, his total daily calories increasing from 2,085 to 2,71510. In a video John Gorman mentions explains that if his client has abruptly increased his calories at the end of the day, “he would have been fat”8. However, reverse dieting has allowed his client to increase his metabolism so drastically while raising his body fat level so minimally that John Gorman describes his client as still having “beach-ready” abs8. Because John Gorman’s client was able to increase his caloric intake by almost 700 per day with only a minimal increase in body fat, there is no doubt that reverse dieting is indeed the key to maintaining weight loss.
04. Even if reverse dieting sounds like magic, everyone responds differently. Since the results of reverse dieting are variable, the key is to monitor your progress as you go:
In a video on the MuscleProject.com Youtube.com channel, personal trainer and bodybuilder Andrew Cee says that over the course of 4 months, he will be reverse dieting in order to build up his metabolism before he diets for his upcoming show9. Although he knows that reverse dieting will give him an advantage, he “hopes” to be able to maintain his weight at 3,000 calories per day at the end of the reverse diet9. Although he has modest yet good expectations, others are able to build impressive amounts of metabolic capacity: for instance, Layne Norton says that one of his clients was able to work his way up to 700 grams of carbohydrates per day6. As you can see, reverse dieting’s ability to increase metabolic rate varies from person to person.
Although research indicates that increasing your calorie intake helps reverse some of the causes of metabolic damage, bodybuilders believe that reverse dieting should be a slow process. By gradually increasing your calories over a period of time, you can give your body time to recover hormonally and adapt to the higher calorie intake. In addition to increasing calories, reverse dieting also entails decreasing time spent exercising so that you can more easily maintain your weight. Eating more to stay lean seems counterintuitive, but reverse dieting results speak for themselves. Yet, everyone responds differently, so it is important to monitor your progress while reverse dieting.
Reverse Dieting: Timeframe Debate
Although reverse dieting has helped both competitive bodybuilders and normal dieters repair metabolic damage and maintain their new weight, there is disagreement within the fitness and bodybuilding community about a good timeframe for reverse dieting:
01. Although experts agree that the amount of time spent reverse dieting depends on the length of the diet, there is disagreement over a normal reverse dieting timeframe:
For instance, at (16:13) in a video, professional natural bodybuilder and contest prep coach Paul Revelia says that “as long as you’ve been restricted for, it’s gonna’ take about that long to get you back where you were”11. Since it is not uncommon for competitive bodybuilders to diet for as little as 12 weeks to as long as 30 weeks, it can be assumed that he believes that reverse dieting is a long, slow process which can take months. In fact, Layne Norton reports that one of his female clients reverse dieted for 6 months6. However, national level NPC bodybuilder and contest prep coach Tad Inoue’s remarks suggest that he believes that reverse dieting does not take quite that long. At (0:50) in the video Maintaining fat loss after a diet on his Youtube.com channel, he agrees with others in the bodybuilding community when he says that after diet you need to take time to “acclimate yourself back to higher caloric loads”12. Although he acknowledges that the length of the reverse diet depends on the length of the fat loss diet, he says that in general spending 4-6 weeks reversing diet is average for men and 5-6 to possibly 8 weeks spent reverse dieting is normal for women12. As you can see, there is disagreement within the bodybuilding community over what is an appropriate timeframe for reverse dieting.
02. However, this difference in opinion in regards to reverse dieting may have to do with the differences between how men and women respond to reverse dieting:
Tad Inoue mentions that reverse dieting usually lasts 4-6 weeks for men and 5-6 to possibly 8 weeks for women12. Interestingly, John Gorman’s example of reverse dieting differentiates between protocols for men and women. When John Gorman recommends that bodybuilders increase their carbohydrates by 20 grams per day the first week after competing, he specifies that this recommendation is for men. He cautions that women should increase their carbohydrate intake by only 5-10 grams per day the first week after completing a diet phase8. Since some bodybuilding coaches say that reverse dieting for women is longer and more gradual, perhaps the discrepancy in the recommended reverse dieting timeframes is a result of some coaches dealing primarily with one gender over the other. Like the process of reverse dieting itself, there is still a lot of controversy.
Even though reverse dieting helps bodybuilders and dieters reverse metabolic damage and maintain their new weight, the concept of reverse dieting is not without controversy. Although all experts agree that the severity of your fat loss diet will determine the length of your reverse diet, some bodybuilders believe the timeframe for reverse dieting to be much shorter than others. This discrepancy may be the result of observed differences in men and women being generalized as applying to everyone, but there is no clear-cut reason why experts disagree in regards to the timeframe for reverse dieting.
Reverse Dieting: Conclusion
Reverse dieting is a new yet hotly-debated topic within the bodybuilding and fitness community. Many experts claim that the process of reverse dieting, or slowly increasing calories and decreasing exercise at the end of a diet, repairs metabolic damage by accelerating your metabolism, allowing you to more easily maintain your weight loss. In fact, reverse dieting can help not only competitive bodybuilders but also normal dieters maintain their weight loss because:
01. Dieting causes physiologic changes which lower your metabolic rate, setting you up for rapid fat regain at the end of the diet if you are not careful.
02.Since dieting-induced metabolic damage makes weight regain so easily, a few cycles of yo-yo dieting will lower your metabolic rate and raise your body fat levels, making it harder to lose fat over time.
Thus, reverse dieting is needed in order to repair metabolic damage:
01.Increasing calories can reverse many of the physiologic changes which cause metabolic damage; however, the key is to slowly increase calories over time so that you metabolism can adapt to the new, higher caloric intake.
02.In addition to slowly increasing calories, slowly decreasing energy expenditure, usually be decreasing cardio, is another way that reverse dieting makes it easier to maintain your weight: nobody will be able to eat a low-calories diet and do hours of cardio long term.,
03.Although reverse dieting sounds illogical, many people have been able to successfully increase their metabolic capacity while minimizing fat gain.
04.However, everyone responds to reverse dieting differently, so it is important to monitor your progress as your reverse diet progresses.
Even though reverse dieting is the answer many dieters have been looking for, it is still a debated topic:
01.There is disagreement over the average reverse dieting timeframe.
02.However, this disagreement may be due to viewing the differences between how men and women respond to reverse dieting as applicable to everyone.
Reverse Dieting: Recommendations
Although it may sound weird or counterintuitive, there is no question that reverse dieting has allowed people to repair metabolic damage and increase their metabolic capacity. Even though reverse dieting is a technique primarily used by competitive bodybuilders, normal gymgoers can use reverse dieting to more easily maintain their weight after finishing a diet. There is debate over the best timeframe and approach for reverse dieting, so it is best to take it slow and monitor yourself as you progress. Although some people report being able to maintain their new, leaner physique at a higher caloric intake than when they started dieting, these people are likely hyper responders. Since weighing less and requiring less energy is one of the causes of metabolic damage, it is unlikely that you will be able to maintain a lower body weight with more calories, so having realistic expectations is key. Nonetheless, reverse dieting is sure to make it easier to not regain the weight after reaching your weight loss goal.