How to Use Reverse Dieting to Break the Yo-Yo Diet Cycle

I think you’ll agree that calorie restricted diets aren’t sustainable. Eventually you hit a plateau in your fat loss. Or you’re just hungry all the time.

Worse yet, you gain back all the weight you lost when you go back to eating more calories! I’ve been there, so I know you’re fed up with short term results.

That’s why I’m going to show you how to break the yo-yo diet cycle and set yourself up for long term results.

What you’ll learn:

  • Answers to 7 Reverse Dieting Questions

  • Step by Step Guide on How to Reverse Diet

  • My Reverse Dieting Results & What You Can Expect

  • Create Your Own Reverse Dieting Plan in 30 Seconds

reverse dieting

Reverse Dieting Q&A

What is Reverse Dieting?

Reverse dieting is a planned transition out of a calorie deficit. So it’s kind of like the diet after the diet.

The idea is slowly increasing your daily calories over a period of weeks. And the goal is reaching a maintenance number of calories while avoiding the post-diet fat gain.

Can You Lose Weight Reverse Dieting?

The short answer is yes. In theory, you can lose weight during a reverse diet since you’re still in a calorie deficit.

But that shouldn’t be your expectation! The goal of reverse dieting is to set yourself up for favorable body composition in the long run.

Realistically, you can expect to gain between 0.5 and 2 lbs per week. But don’t let that scare you.

Most weight gain is caused by your body storing the extra energy and pulling water into your muscles. Often, you’ll look leaner during a reverse diet even though your weight goes up.

And remember, it’s not about losing weight now. Instead, reverse dieting is about staying lean later.

When Should You Use Reverse Dieting?

Most often, bodybuilders use reverse dieting after cutting or contest prep diets. However, you can use reverse dieting after any weight loss program.

In addition you can use reverse dieting any time you want to give your metabolism a boost.

Does Reverse Dieting Boost Metabolism?

Unfortunately, there’s not many scientific studies on the direct metabolic effect of reverse dieting. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence within the bodybuilding community. As well as extensive research related to metabolic adaptation1.

What is metabolic adaptation?

Metabolic adaptation is your body’s response to changes in energy supply and body weight. In cases of calorie restriction, your body releases hormones to reduce energy expenditure and increase energy intake.

Your metabolism is kind of like having a roommate who doesn’t like being cold. Within minutes of you changing the thermostat to 68, they turn it back up to 72!

In the same way, your body doesn’t like weight or energy fluctuations. So it changes your hormone balance to get your weight back to normal.

reverse dieting hormone balance

Dieting causes a hormonal shift.

Basically your body conserves energy and burns fewer calories when you diet. One way it does this is by breaking down lean muscle to reduce your metabolic rate. In addition, it becomes more efficient and burns fewer calories during normal activity and exercise2.

Effect of Diet & Body Weight on Calories Burned

reverse dieting calories burned

Actual energy expenditure changes in response to diet and body weight. Adapted from Leibel et al.

Reverse dieting is a means to get your hormones back in balance after a calorie restricted diet. By gradually increasing calories and body weight you raise your metabolic rate and burn more calories when you exercise.

Once you restore your metabolism, you can take measures to avoid metabolic adaptation and keep your hormones balanced in the future.

How Long Should You Reverse Diet?

How long you reverse diet depends on your situation. Specifically, your current body composition and calorie intake. As well as your ideal energy balance.

Therefore, it’s important to consider these factors when creating your reverse diet plan. But generally you can expect to reverse diet for 4 to 12 weeks.

Find Out How Long You Should Reverse Diet

How to Reverse Diet: Step by Step

1. Record your current calorie intake

First, it’s important to know your current daily calories. This is the starting point for your reverse diet. So if you haven’t been tracking calories, do so for a few days to establish your baseline.

How to Count Macros & Calories

2. Determine your target calorie intake

Next, you need to find your target. Your goal is to build up to your maintenance number of calories, where you eat the same number of calories you burn.

Another name for this number is TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). It’s the sum of the calories you burn at rest (BMR) and the calories you burn through exercise.

Find Your Calorie Target

3. Plan your calorie ramp up rate

Lastly, figure out how many calories to add each week to reach your target. This also determines the duration of your reverse diet. The most common advice is to increase by 50 to 100 calories per week.

Find Your Ramp Up Rate

One exception would be if your calorie intake is currently below your BMR. In that case, you should immediately add enough calories to equal your BMR (orange dashes).

Because the longer you stay below your BMR, the more metabolic damage you do. After that you can continue with the a slow ramp up (blue dashes).

Reverse Dieting Calories by Week

reverse dieting graph

When to Stop Reverse Dieting

Once you reach your target calories, what do you do next? Well, that depends on your overall goal.

To Start Cutting Again

Before you start another fat loss cycle, it’s advisable to hold your calories at a maintenance level for at least a few weeks. This allows your metabolism enough time to adapt to the higher calories before you enter a deficit again.

In addition, target the smallest calorie deficit that results in fat loss. Then make small incremental adjustments. This helps you keep the negative effects of metabolic adaptation at bay.

To Start Bulking

When your goal is to add more muscle, you need to create a calorie surplus. But it’s not a good idea to jump into a large calorie increase immediately following a reverse diet.

Instead, it’s better to continue increasing by 50 to 100 calories per week until you reach your bulking target. Or you could even choose to stay at a very small calorie surplus for a few weeks to let your metabolism and hormones stabilize.

Either way, you can make some nice lean gains afer a reverse diet.

How to Eat to Gain Lean Muscle Without Getting Fat

To Maintain Current Body

When you reach your target calories you might really like the way you look and feel. In that case, you could choose to stay at your maintenance number for several weeks.

Then if you get the desire to burn fat or build muscle, you can go either way.

My Reverse Dieting Results

In 2016, I used reverse dieting to slowly increase calories following an aggressive 16 week contest prep diet. The table below shows my body composition and energy balance results.

Change+4.0-0.98%+5.5-1.5-304+438+742
WeekWeight (lbs)BF %Lean Mass (lbs)Fat (lbs)TDEECalorie IntakeCalorie Balance
0170.14.94%161.78.42,9862,122-864
4174.13.96%167.26.92,6822,560-122

Note: Swipe left/right to view entire table on mobile

The main takeaway is that I gained 4 pounds on the scale, but I lost 1.5 lbs of body fat. Based on those numbers it appears that I gained 5.5 lbs of muscle.

How to Measure Body Composition

In reality, the weight gain was my muscles soaking up the extra carbohydrates along with some water. Each week I added about 20-25 grams of carbs to my daily intake. Or an 80-100 calorie per week increase.

At the same time, I intentionally expended less energy in order to help reduce the deficit. My weekly cardio went from a whopping 300 minutes to just 48 minutes of HIIT.

Example of My HIIT Workout Routine

As a result, I reached my calorie target (calorie intake = TDEE) after just 5 weeks. From there, I continued adding 80-100 calories per week to begin a lean bulk phase.

What to Expect When Reverse Dieting

Everyone will get different results from reverse dieting. There are just so many variables involved that we don’t fully understand.

So I’m going to keep it real for you. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to try a reverse diet:

1. Cravings

Your cravings might get worse before they get better! My cravings were worse during the reverse diet than they were during the 16 week contest prep!

One way around this is to let yourself indulge on your refeed day. For instance, I planned my refeed so that I could have pizza and brownies without completely messing up my progress.

Plan Your Refeed Day

2. Weight gain

Eventually you will gain weight during your reverse diet. Don’t panic! Because that’s what’s supposed to happen.

As I mentioned, your body stores the extra carbs and soaks up some water. In addition, you’ll have more food in your belly. Remember, weight gain does not equal fat gain.

3. Head games

Perhaps the hardest part of reverse dieting is the psychology. At times I felt “fat” even though I had single digit body fat percentage.

But the key is to stay the course. Follow your plan and don’t let your thoughts drag you off track.

As hard as it may be, stay positive about your body image. And think about being happy with how you look and feel in the long run.

At the end of the day, reverse dieting isn’t a one size fits all solution. However, I’ve found it to be the best option for recovering from long calorie restricted diets.

If you’re ready to try reverse dieting but need help creating your plan, try my Free Reverse Dieting Calculator! It takes all the guesswork out of creating your personal reverse diet plan.

Try the Reverse Dieting Calculator

reverse dieting calculator screenshot

Note: you need Microsoft Excel to edit the calculator.

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About the Author

Jeremy Fox  –  Founder of Nutritioneering, Engineer, CPT, Bodybuilder, Coach

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