The Essential Guide to Reverse Dieting | Precision Nutrition

Learn the truth about the revoke dieting method—plus everything you need to know to try it for yourself. Borrowed from the bodybuilding worldly concern, reverse diet can, at first, sound like the stuff of internet legends : Eat more food without gaining system of weights .
excessively dear to be dependable, right ?
possibly not.

What is reverse dieting?

Reverse diet is a method acting that involves slowly and strategically increasing casual food inhalation, all in an campaign to raise your metamorphosis. And while revoke dieting might seem like a one-way street toward weight recover, the technique actually offers a batch of promise—when done right .
Many people gain muscle and lose fat, all while eating more food than they were before.
But how does reverse dieting exploit, and is it proper for you ( or your clients ) ?
Let ’ s explore .
( If you want to see PN film director of nutrition, Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD discourse this article, check out the video below. )

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Generally, we don’t recommend eating like a bodybuilder.

All the macro count, weighing and measuring, restrictive food options, and precise alimentary timing… it just doesn ’ t make feel for most people .
In fact, the diets many bodybuilders use to get competition-lean aren ’ thymine even sustainable for bodybuilders .
( Want the hottest nutriment, health, and coaching strategies delivered straight to your inbox ? Sign up for our rid weekly newsletter, The Smartest Coach in the Room. )
For weeks leading up to a rival, bodybuilders follow super restrictive diets, which gets them abs you could grate cheese on, but has the unfortunate side effect of slowing their metabolisms. ( We ’ ll explain why a fiddling subsequently. )
If they tried to maintain this approach after competitions, the hunger would finally become consuming. competitive bodybuilders besides normally try to pack on angstrom much muscle as they can during the offseason, and that ’ s about impossible when you ’ re on a low-calorie diet .
But like everyone else, when bodybuilders gorge on all the food they want, they add plenty of fat to go with that muscle .

The alternative: reverse dieting.

smart bodybuilders lento reverse their pre-competition diet by strategically and incrementally increasing their portions, an approach first popularized by Layne Norton, PhD.1
basically, they reverse the steps they took to get rival ready, one nutritional step at a time. And they besides normally gradually reduce cardio and focus on forte coach .
This allows their metamorphosis to adjust up over time. ( Again, we ’ ll go deeper into metabolism in a moment. )
Eventually, they hit a calorie intake where they feel energized, are performing well in the gym, and are gaining some muscle—all while minimizing fat gain.
This doesn ’ triiodothyronine entail nothing fatness derive, heed you, and the use of PEDs, or performance-enhancing drugs, is besides a factor .
But reverse diet can leave them in a much better position to compete again in the future—compared to following a “ see-food ” diet that dramatically balloons their torso fat percentage .
And if they never want to compete again ? That ’ south fine besides because they ’ re back to eating a normal and sustainable sum of food.

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Reverse dieting may be the exception to our “avoid bodybuilding diets” rule.

You can see how reverse diet might apply to the general population .
Weight loss is notoriously unmanageable to maintain. Most people end up regaining what they lost, and sometimes more.2
Why ? For many reasons, but here ’ sulfur equitable one : When you reduce calories and your body size shrinks, your metabolism eventually slows.
That means you must cut more calories to keep the fatten loss going .
And all besides frequently, by the time person reaches their goal, the measure of calories they can eat to maintain their slant doesn ’ thymine translate to a distribute of food. It feels measly and incredibly unmanageable to stick to .
As a consequence, extra calories creep back in and the count on the scale starts to rise .
So they diet again .
And on the yo-yo bicycle goes .
But if alternatively they slowly, intentionally, and strategically add the right number of calories over time, they ’ ll be more likely to maintain their fat loss long-run .
Side-by-side graphs of yo-yo dieting and reverse dieting. The yo-yo graph shows with every successive cycle of yo-yo dieting, weight rises, while metabolic rate drops. The reverse dieting graph shows weight loss and metabolic rate are maintained over time.Side-by-side graphs of yo-yo dieting and reverse dieting. The yo-yo graph shows with every successive cycle of yo-yo dieting, weight rises, while metabolic rate drops. The reverse dieting graph shows weight loss and metabolic rate are maintained over time.

How does reverse dieting work?

We know. We know. This all probably sounds a little hocus pocus abracadabra. Bear with us. There ’ randomness some skill to back this all up, but before we can dive in, we need to cover the concept of energy balance .
Simply put :

  • When you eat more energy (calories) than you burn, you gain weight.
  • When you eat less energy than you burn, you lose weight.

many people know this concept by another identify : calories in, calories out ( CICO ) .
Some people debate whether CICO and energy counterweight are valid, but only because they misunderstand a key point .
The energy balance equation is simple, but, as you can see below, many factors affect energy in and energy out.
Energy balance scale with factors that influence energy in on the left and factors that influence energy out on the right.Energy balance scale with factors that influence energy in on the left and factors that influence energy out on the right.
These factors go way beyond food and practice. Factors people often overlook—food absorption, stress, genetics, and metabolic adaptation ( described below ) —have the likely to tip the department of energy balance “ scale ” in either steering .
reverse dieting seems to work through one of the factors that can impact energy remainder : metabolic adaptation .
One type of metabolic adaptation is known as the soundbox ’ s “ starvation response. ” ( This is different from the fabled “ starvation manner, ” by the way, which isn ’ t in truth a thing. )
fleshiness is a ball-shaped health issue nowadays, but it wasn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate always that way. Starvation, on the early hand, has been a very very terror to humankind for hundreds of thousands of years .
So when you eat less, your body instinctively starts preparing for famine in several ways:

  • Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) declines. That’s the amount of energy you need to live when at rest. This reduces energy out.
  • Exercise becomes more difficult because you have less available energy. (If you’ve ever tried to do an intense workout on a low-calorie diet, you know what we’re talking about.) So you’re likely to burn fewer calories through activity.
  • You also expend less energy through exercise because, as your body gets smaller, it doesn’t require as much fuel—and your metabolism also adapts to make you more efficient. This also reduces the number of calories you burn through movement, resulting in less energy out.
  • Daily activity outside of workouts (think: pacing while you’re on a phone call, walking to your car, fidgeting) lessens, resulting in reduced energy out from non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).3
  • Digestion slows, so your body can absorb as many nutrients as possible. This increases energy in.

Because of this adaptive reaction, person who has dieted down may need 5 to 15 percentage fewer calories per day to maintain the like burden and forcible bodily process horizontal surface as person who has always been that weight.4
And if person ’ randomness lost an extreme total of weight ? The percentage drop in calorie needs becomes more extreme, too.5
( Hey, no one always said diets were fair ) .
Infographic showing how diet history influences calories needs in three women with the same body size. Never dieted woman needs about 2,475 calories to maintain weight, first-time dieter needs 2,225 calories to maintain weight and frequent dieter needs 1,980 calories to maintain weight.Infographic showing how diet history influences calories needs in three women with the same body size. Never dieted woman needs about 2,475 calories to maintain weight, first-time dieter needs 2,225 calories to maintain weight and frequent dieter needs 1,980 calories to maintain weight.
The eloquent line ?

Metabolic adaptation works both ways.

If you increase your calories gradually, your body will adapt in the early commission. This phenomenon is known as adaptive thermogenesis, which basically means your body wastes calories as heat .
When done properly, reverse dieting provides several metabolic benefits :

  • BMR rises, resulting in more energy out.
  • Workout capacity increases thanks to more available energy, increasing energy out.
  • NEAT increases for the same reason, resulting in more energy out.
  • Digestion returns to normal, so your GI tract is no longer squeezing every bit of sustenance from every morsel, decreasing energy in.

Pretty cool, right ?
But in order to get this consequence, it ’ south important to add calories slowly. That ’ s chiefly because the body seems to respond differently to varying rates of “ overfeeding. ” ( That ’ s the news researchers use to describe eating beyond your calorie needs. )
In one analyze, eating 20 percentage above maintenance calories did not significantly increase fatty acquire, whereas eating 40 to 60 percentage above care did .6
In other words, if you maintain your weight on a 2000-calorie diet, you might be able to eat up to 400 extra calories a day without seeing a big impact on the scale.
But an supernumerary 800 daily calories ? It ’ second credibly going to weigh you down .
additionally, some data suggest that the clock time people need to “ recover ” from dieting is approximately proportional to the amount of clock they spent dieting.7
indeed if you restrict calories for six months, you may need to give your metabolism six months to adjust .
This is precisely one of the many reasons…

Reverse dieting isn’t magical.

Reverse diet has gained miracle condition in some corners of the internet as a way to eat more to lose weight .
That makes it seem like turn back dieting flies in the face of the energy symmetry equality and the laws of thermodynamics. This is not the case .
Can you lose weight while reverse dieting ? Yes.  
But it’s still always because increased “energy in” results in increased “energy out.” 
In our feel, reverse dieting can absolutely work—but not for everyone, in the lapp way, in all conditions, 100 percentage of the meter .
There are three important caveats to acknowledge here .

Caveat #1: There are no guarantees.

a a lot as we ’ d like to think people are spreadsheets and that all of this comes depressed to elementary mathematics, there ’ second much unevenness from person to person .
here ’ s an model : In one analyze conducted at the Mayo Clinic, researchers brought 16 normal-weight people into a lab for eight weeks. They served them huge meals that provided 1,000 extra calories each day .
That ’ s the equivalent of eating about two double cheeseburgers a day on top of your common nosh. Plus, the participants were instructed not to exercise.8
If you do calorie mathematics, everyone should have gained 16 pounds in eight weeks .
Infographic showing how adaptive metabolism influences weight gain. Sixteen individuals who consume 1,000 more calories than they need per day for 8 weeks gain between .79 pounds to 9.3 pounds. Without adaptive metabolism, each person would have gained 16 pounds.Infographic showing how adaptive metabolism influences weight gain. Sixteen individuals who consume 1,000 more calories than they need per day for 8 weeks gain between .79 pounds to 9.3 pounds. Without adaptive metabolism, each person would have gained 16 pounds.
In reality, they gained anywhere from under one pound to about nine pounds .
The biggest predictor of adaptation, or gaining less weight? Increased NEAT.
Some people ’ s bumped up majorly, and their weight barely changed. Others had a lot more modest increases, and they ended up gaining more .
In reverse diet, the hope is that your body and metamorphosis will adjust via NEAT and early mechanisms. But the degree of adjustment—and whether any adjustment happens at all—varies from person to person .

Caveat #2: Age affects our ability to adapt.

“ Wow, I can keep eating more and more and never gain burden ? ! ” said no post-menopausal woman ever .
All jokes digression, metamorphosis naturally declines with age .
Unless you strength train consistently, you lose five to 10 pounds of metabolically active muscle per decade starting when you’re 25 to 30. 9
That continues in a pretty linear fashion .
sol the same inverse dieting protocol that worked for a 20 year old international relations and security network ’ metric ton going to work in the lapp means when they ’ re 40 or 65 .

Caveat #3: Reverse dieting assumes you’re reasonably sure of your calorie intake.

We say reasonably sure because calorie counting is imprecise .
There ’ s no way to be 100 percentage sure of your calorie intake outside of a lab. So the goal is to have a good enough gauge on how a lot you can presently eat without gaining .
That ’ randomness because inverse diet requires identical small changes in calorie intake over fourth dimension. Often arsenic few as 50 to 100 calories a day. That ’ s the difference of approximately 0.5 to 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, for reference .
It ’ s basically impossible to hit those numbers precisely. But anyone who counts calories, macros, and/or hand portions is going to do a a lot better caper than person who eyeballs it .
Consistency besides matters. It ’ s possible that person who eats more calories some days than others would be able to reverse diet. But it ’ vitamin d be reasonably unmanageable to get that slow, brace increase in energy needed to do it properly.

To be clear, reverse dieting is a somewhat advanced method.
In rate to do it efficaciously, you need to be will to :

  • eat roughly the same amount of food each day.
  • measure your food intake.
  • adjust your physical activity up or down, depending on your goals.
  • acknowledge that it may not work for you.

3 situations ideal for reverse dieting

Caveats notwithstanding, change by reversal diet might be a good approach in three specific situations .

Situation #1: “I want to eat more without gaining weight.”

We ’ ve already covered this one. gradually increasing calorie inhalation can help to turn up the metabolic hotness for people who ’ ve slashed calories to get the scale to go down .
But can the technique work for non-dieters?
Say person merely wants to be able to enjoy social situations, needs more nutrients for health and operation, and/or wouldn ’ t mind welcoming more calorie-dense foods ( think : avocado, nut butters, coconut cream, the periodic doughnut ) into their lives ?
For those people, reverse dieting probably won ’ triiodothyronine exercise ampere effectively as it would for person whose metamorphosis has slowed ascribable to long-run diet .
There are limits to how a lot metabolism can heat up and cool down. If person is already reasonably metabolically healthy, there ’ sulfur ( theoretically ) less room to shift up .
The takeaway : If person ’ mho been dieting for a long time and is ready to maintain their stream level of body fatten, reverse diet can help increase sustenance calories, resulting in a more sustainable way of eating long-run .

Situation #2: “I’m eating 1,200 calories a day and not losing weight.”

Let ’ s get one matter out of the room : A fortune of times, when person says they ’ ra eating 1,200 calories and not losing weight, they ’ rhenium not actually eating 1,200 calories. normally they ’ re not estimating their calorie intake effectively .
A highly restrictive diet that keeps calories authentically low for a few days can increase the luck of unintentionally overeating on other days. That ’ s because our brains evolved to nudge our demeanor toward survival, not Instagram glory. ( To read more about this, check out this article. )
The occasional highs average out the steadier lows.
By the end of the workweek, once you factor in the snacks, weekend drinks, and excess hidden calories, inhalation may actually average out to maintenance tied .
You merely don ’ thyroxine notice it because you ’ re paying care to the few days when you very did hit those low calorie numbers .
then, to be net, in this position, for reverse diet to work, you or your node must in truth be subsisting on very few calories and have reached that “ bottoming out ” period. This is the point where you don ’ thyroxine feel like you can reduce your calories any more .
Provided you ’ re already eating by and large high-quality, wholly foods, reverse diet could be very helpful .
( If you ’ rhenium not already eating high-quality foods, try that first. Read this article to learn more. )
The reasoning here is pretty simple .
Slowly increasing calorie intake can help restore metabolic output.
That means, to some degree, side-stepping the adaptations that come along with a history of diet .
But to give your metamorphosis the clock it needs to adapt, you ’ ll want to stay at a higher calorie inhalation for approximately deoxyadenosine monophosphate long as you spent dieting. then, after several months of keep, that person can start restricting calories again and see the scale depart to move .
The takeaway : If you ’ ra truly eating a ace low-calorie consumption and the scale is stuck, reverse dieting might restore metamorphosis enough to jumpstart fat loss .
The more likely consequence, however, is this : It allows you to take a transgress from dieting, without gaining slant, adenine well as bring much-needed pleasure back into your eating life .
then, once you ’ ve psychologically and metabolically adjusted, you can return to dieting and success .

Situation #3: “I want to get ripped.”

Another common use for revoke diet : to improve body composition. so in other words, losing fat, gaining brawn, and remaining about the same weight unit .
interestingly, Precision Nutrition ’ s co-founder, John Berardi, Ph.D., came up with a like mind years ago, called G-Flux, besides known as “ energy blend. ”
He observed that highly active people who consume more calories typically have less fat and more brawn. For exercise, professional athletes tend to eat a lot, exercise a lot, and remain very lean .
G-Flux is similar to reverse dieting, with one key difference.
When bodybuilders reverse diet, they normally dial down their cardio ( although not always ), while G-Flux assumes you ’ ll be doing more than ahead. The G-Flux translation tends to work more efficaciously for muscle gain than the bodybuilding-style access. here ’ randomness why .
Reason #1: More cardio will help increase your energy out, giving you more flexibility with energy in .
Reason #2: Increased exercise besides changes alimentary partition, sending more calories toward muscleman growth and fewer to your fat cells .
Plus, since you ’ re eating more food, you have more opportunities to get the quantities of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you need in order to feel your best .
The takeaway: Provided you have the ability to exercise more than you are now, increasing calories while keeping activity high gear is a solid strategy for brawn growth.

How to reverse diet in 5 steps

Step 1: Choose your tracking method.

You ’ ll need a method acting to track your food intake .
If you ’ ve been eating in a calorie deficit, you ’ re likely already using one. If it ’ s working for you, stick with it. If not, consider switching it up with these options .

Option #1: Calorie and macro tracking

Calorie and macro trailing are the most precise methods available outside of a lab, which makes them a coherent option for the small increases reverse dieting requires. ( You can calculate your reverse diet macro using our handy macros calculator here. )
But many people find calorie and macro track to be labor-intensive and honestly, unenjoyable. If that describes you, consider option two .

Option #2: Hand portions

In this system—developed by Precision Nutrition—you use your hand as a personalized, portable portioning tool. And because each hand helping roughly correlates to a certain count of calories arsenic well as protein, carbs, or adipose tissue grams, this method acting counts calories and macros for you .
Hand portions to gauge portion sizes of protein, vegetables, carbs, and fat.
Hand portions aren ’ triiodothyronine vitamin a accurate as counting calories and macros, but they ’ re accurate enough. ( specifically, 95 to 98 percentage as accurate, based on our inner research. ) And that ’ s all that matters for rearward diet .
( For an in-depth breakdown of the methods you can use to track your consumption, read this article. )

Step 2: Determine your maintenance calories.

Before you can increase calories, you need to figure out your care consumption, which is what you presently can eat to maintain your weight .
If you already know this, great .
If not, use our free Nutrition Calculator. It ’ s the most comprehensive calorie, parcel and macro calculator available and is based on NIH mathematical models for bodyweight planning .
Select “ improve health ” as your finish and enter the stay of your personal details. The calculator will suggest calorie, macro, and hand portions close to your sustenance intake .
Before adding calories, experiment with your maintenance intake for 2 to 4 weeks, monitoring whether you gain, lose, or observe. This will help you personalize what the calculator recommends .
Our nutrition calculator is pretty freaking amazing, but no calculator can take your dieting history, genetics, and other qualitative factors into account. only experiment can do that .

Step 3: Decide on your macronutrient balance.

It can be easy to get caught up in the ideal macro ratio for your reverse diet .
But the truth is, the most important macro for reverse dieting is protein.
A higher protein diet seems to maximize muscle protein synthesis and minimize protein breakdown, which should lead to more muscle profit. This is credibly one of the reasons higher protein diets are better for improving body composing than moderate or low protein diets.10,11
More protein besides helps increase energy out because your consistency uses more energy to process protein than it does for carbohydrates and fat .
Our recommendations for optimum protein intake for construction and maintaining muscle range from :

  • 1.3 to 3 g/kg (0.6 to 1.35 g/lb) for women
  • 1.4 to 3.3 g/kg (0.65 to 1.5 g/lb) for men

Those aiming to maintain lean mass while losing body fat should shoot for the higher ends of those ranges .
As for carbohydrates and fats, the counterweight between the two international relations and security network ’ t so crucial. People can lose burden and/or gain brawn with any reasonable mix, angstrom long as it ’ mho sustainable .
So decide your carbohydrate and fat ratio based on how you like to eat and what you can imagine yourself doing long-term. 
We could walk you through a pretty complicated fixed of instructions that would show you how to do the calorie mathematics by hand—or you could precisely use our Nutrition Calculator .
once the calculator estimates your calorie and macronutrient needs, it automatically converts those numbers into food portions you can gauge with your hands .
The result: You can skip weighing and measuring your food, ampere well as logging the details of every meal into calorie and macro tracking apps .
Reverse dieting requires accurate measures of food intake over time, and the small changes necessity to make it work can easily get lost in the make noise. Using the calculator makes this procedure a lot easier and more authentic, so you ’ re more likely to be successful .

Step 4: Choose your rate of progression.

Your goal—what you hope to achieve by inverse dieting—determines how many calories you add each time you increase your consumption. And how often you do add calories will depend on the metrics you track. ( More on that in Step 5. )
It’s also helpful to consider how motivated you are to eat more food as well as how much fat you’re willing to gain.
Depending on your situation and preferences, you ’ ll choose one of the three approaches described below .
In the chart, you ’ ll credibly notice that each calorie bump comes from either carbs or fats. That ’ mho because you ’ ll keep your protein intake ceaseless throughout your reverse diet, based on what you determined in step 3 .
Infographic showing how to apply reverse dieting based on specific goals.

Step 5: Monitor your progress and adjust as needed.

once you ’ ve picked your plan, it ’ sulfur time to get started .
To determine whether a turn back diet is doing what you want it to do, track key metrics along the way. You might :

  • Weigh yourself daily or weekly. (The day-to-day numbers aren’t so important, but keeping record of your average weekly weight gain or loss is useful)
  • Measure your waist, hips, and other body areas, which may reflect changes in body composition better than the scale
  • Snap progress photos, which also may reflect changes in body composition better your scale
  • Gauge workout performance through heart rate monitoring, personal bests, or other metrics that are meaningful in your sport
  • Track energy levels, hunger, and digestive symptoms, and any other subjective measures that are important to you

Based on the datum you continually collect, adjust as needed .
Some people may find they ’ re able to up their inhalation every week without gaining a lot fat. Others may need to space out increases over longer intervals .
Increasing every two to four weeks is a solid guideline for most people .
How do you know when to stop reverse dieting ? It depends on your goals. A successful turn back diet can take anywhere from a few weeks to many months .
Some signs you may want to continue with your reverse diet include:

  • You haven’t gained much fat, or you don’t mind the amount you’ve gained.
  • You still feel interested in eating more than you are currently.
  • You’ve been reverse dieting for less time than you were in a calorie deficit.

Signs it may be time to stop your reverse diet include:

  • You’ve gained as much fat as you feel comfortable gaining.
  • You don’t feel interested in eating even more.
  • You’ve been reverse dieting for longer than you were in a calorie deficit.

Because turn back diet requires a bit of experiment to get correct, many people find that their concluding calorie increase leads to more fat advance than they ’ re comfortable with .
By tracking metrics, you can catch that early, adjust your calories down one notch, and find your sweet blemish ( where you can maintain your weight while eating a comfortable total of food ) .

Life after reverse dieting

so what happens following ?
Reverse diet is a tool for a specific job—one that requires quite a bite of attempt and attention .
once the job ’ s done, it ’ mho time to move on .
After close monitoring how much you eat using external methods—such as calorie, macro-, or hand-portion tracking—consider taking some time to focus on internal methods of rule, like eating slowly and mindfully .
That doesn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate mean you can ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate always come back to reverse diet, though .
In fact, you can use turn back diet as a creature anytime you cut calories for a while. It ’ sulfur helpful to gradually ramp them back up for all the benefits we covered in this article .
But remember : Despite what you may have seen on social media, it ’ second key to approach invert dieting from a realistic position and understand when and how it can be used most efficaciously .
After all, reverse diet is based on biology—not magic trick.


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