Everything You Need to Know About Reverse Dieting


by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Reverse dieting is often called “the diet after the diet.” It has been popular in bodybuilding for years to gradually increase calorie intake after a competition and avoid rapid weight gain after 12-16 weeks of drastic dieting to get on stage in their best condition possible.

Recently, reverse dieting has gained popularity among the general population as a transition between a low-calorie diet and normal eating. The idea behind reverse dieting is to allow you to eat more food while preventing fat gain after a cut and period of weight loss.

In this article, we will dive deeper into reverse dieting and explain what it is, how it works, and the various benefits from its use.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor or dietician before making any changes to your current nutrition plan.

What is Reverse Dieting?

Reverse dieting is an eating strategy used after a period of dieting. It involves gradually increasing your calorie intake over several weeks or months to prevent weight gain when returning to your previous calorie levels.

During periods of calorie restriction, the body’s metabolism slows down as a protective mechanism called adaptive thermogenesis. This reduces energy expenditure and slows weight loss. Reverse dieting aims to restore metabolic rates and minimize fat gain while increasing your calorie intake after the restriction period.

While reverse dieting may appear straightforward, it involves more than simply increasing your food intake and reducing physical activity. A strategic and patient approach is necessary to achieve the best results in terms of boosting metabolic rate without excessive fat storage.

It’s important to allow your metabolism time to adapt by gradually and purposefully adjusting your diet and exercise routine instead of abruptly indulging in high-calorie meals or eliminating cardio overnight.

How Does It Work?

Reverse dieting is not a one-size-fits-all approach because everybody is unique.

Advocates of reverse dieting recommend gradually increasing calorie intake by 2% to 3% per week, primarily from carbohydrates and fats. The idea is to incrementally raise calorie intake on a weekly basis until reaching the desired calorie count, whether it’s your pre-diet level or another goal.

The specific structure of your reverse diet will consider factors such as your current calorie intake, the preferred approach, and the target calorie count.

The Benefits of Reverse Dieting

It is not a magic pill, but reverse dieting can do wonders to ease you out of an aggressive cut and help you continue feeling and looking your best.

1.      Eat more food

One of the benefits of reverse dieting is that it allows you to increase your food intake, allowing you to enjoy more food. By gradually adding back calories, you can minimize fat gain while simultaneously enhancing your overall quality of life and mood.

The slow and controlled approach of reverse dieting aims to strike a balance between calorie increase and maintaining healthy body composition. Research has indicated that maintaining careful control over calorie intake can help normalize levels of the hormone leptin.

2.      Mental health

Extended periods of reduced calorie intake can have a significant impact on mental well-being, leading to feelings of fatigue, sluggishness, and irritability. Reverse dieting provides a way to safely transition out of a calorie deficit, offering psychological relief, particularly for those who have been in a prolonged dieting phase.

By gradually increasing calorie intake, reverse dieting can alleviate some of the mental strain associated with prolonged caloric restriction and help restore a sense of normalcy and improved mood.

3.      Steady weight gain

One common mistake people make after completing a successful diet is returning immediately to their previous eating habits, leading to a significant increase in calorie consumption and rapid weight gain (sometimes even putting on more weight than where you started before the cut).

However, with a well-planned reverse diet, this can be avoided, allowing for a gradual and controlled increase in weight without drastic fluctuations on the scale. By making slow and calculated adjustments, reverse dieting prepares you for any future dietary protocols you may follow, so it is important not to shy away from it.

4.      Increased muscle mass

Very low-calorie diets can lead to a quick loss of lean body mass, which is undesirable. By supplying your body with more energy through increased calorie intake, particularly when combined with strength training, you provide your body with the necessary resources to build muscle mass and enhance strength.

Combining adequate energy intake and targeted exercise can promote muscle development and improve overall strength and physique.

5.      Increased energy

Increasing the consumption of nutritious foods leads to a higher intake of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). This translates to an enhanced supply of mental and physical energy.