Reverse dieting works by increasing calories to rev up your metabolism. It’s often used by bodybuilders after a low calorie regimen. It’s thought to create more energy, help reduce hunger, and break through weight loss barriers. However, its effectiveness is debated.
Reverse dieting is often described as “the diet after the diet.”
It’s particularly popular among bodybuilders and competitive athletes looking to increase their energy levels while maintaining weight loss and body composition.
While some claim that reverse dieting can be an effective method to ramp up weight loss and energy levels, others dismiss it as unnecessary and ineffective.
This article takes a close look at reverse dieting to determine whether it’s helpful for weight loss.
DIET REVIEW SCORECARD
- Overall score: 3.17
- Weight loss: 3.25
- Healthy eating: 3.5
- Sustainability: 4.5
- Whole body health: 2.25
- Nutrition quality: 3.5
- Evidence based: 2
BOTTOM LINE: Reverse dieting involves gradually increasing your calorie intake to boost metabolism and prevent weight regain after dieting. Still, its purported weight loss effects are unsupported by science, and it can be difficult to follow.
Reverse dieting is an eating plan that involves gradually increasing your calorie intake over a period of several weeks or months to boost metabolism and help your body burn more calories throughout the day (
Popular among bodybuilders, it’s often followed after a calorie-restricted diet by those looking to return to a normal eating pattern without gaining extra weight or fat.
Some advocates of the plan also claim that it can boost energy levels, reduce hunger, and help break through weight loss plateaus.
Reverse dieting involves gradually increasing calorie intake after dieting in an effort to boost metabolism. It’s especially popular for bodybuilders looking to ease their transition back to a normal diet.
Most diets involve decreasing calorie intake to create a calorie deficit, meaning that you’re consuming fewer than you’re burning.
Over time, your body starts to adapt, slowing down your metabolism in an effort to conserve energy (
This can become problematic when you’re ready to return to a normal diet but want to maintain your weight — or when you hit a weight loss plateau and are unable to further cut calories.
How to reverse diet
Reverse dieting typically involves increasing calorie intake by 50–100 calories per week above your baseline, which is the number of calories you’re currently consuming to maintain your weight.
This period lasts 4–10 weeks, or until you reach your target, pre-diet intake.
Because protein needs are typically calculated for body weight rather than calorie consumption, your protein intake can remain the same throughout the diet.
Increasing your calorie intake may boost metabolism and help your body burn more through non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which includes everyday actions like walking, talking, and fidgeting (
In addition, reverse dieting may normalize levels of circulating hormones, such as leptin, which regulates appetite and body weight (
Research shows that leptin, which is produced and excreted by the fat cells in your body, decreases in response to reduced calorie intake. When leptin levels fall, appetite is increased and calorie burning is reduced (
In fact, in a 6-month study in 48 people, calorie restriction decreased leptin concentrations by 44% (
Reverse dieting involves slowly increasing calorie consumption to boost metabolism and normalize hormone levels after weight loss.
Currently, research is limited on the effects of reverse dieting. Most of its benefits are only backed up by anecdotal evidence.
That said, increasing your calorie intake could boost calorie burning and normalize hormone levels, which could promote weight loss and maintenance.
Because calorie restriction can reduce NEAT as well as leptin levels, it stands to reason that gradually increasing your intake may slow or reverse these effects (
Reverse dieting is also claimed to reduce the risk of binge eating, a common issue among bodybuilders and those on highly restrictive diets. Theoretically, it works by easing your transition back to a normal diet (
Still, more research is needed to determine whether reverse dieting is an effective way to prevent weight regain or promote weight loss.
Reverse dieting could help normalize hormone levels and aid your metabolism. However, more research is needed on its impact on weight loss.
Research is lacking on the potential health benefits of reverse dieting.
Still, proponents claim that its effects extend beyond weight loss.
Allows you to eat more
One of the main reasons that people start reverse dieting is because it allows them to eat more food throughout the day.
This is especially enjoyable for those who have been dieting for weeks or months at a time because it allows for a wider range of healthy meals.
Increased energy levels
Overly restrictive diets are often accompanied by symptoms like mood disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and decreased energy levels (
This may be caused by either inadequate calorie intake or nutritional deficiencies (
Because reverse dieting focuses on slowly increasing your calorie intake, it could resolve several downsides related to restricted dieting.
Cutting calories can alter the levels of several hormones that influence hunger and appetite.
For instance, one study in 14 male bodybuilders showed that 10 weeks of extreme weight loss led to a 27.7% decrease in leptin and a 26.4% increase in ghrelin 3 days prior to a competition (
While leptin promotes fullness, ghrelin stimulates feelings of hunger (
Slowly increasing calorie intake may balance levels of these hormones and reduce hunger levels. However, no studies have yet proven this theory.
Restrictive dieting may have additional benefits, including allowing you to eat more, increasing your energy levels, and decreasing your hunger.
Reverse dieting may have several drawbacks.
Hard to execute
Although many tools can estimate your prime calorie range, it can be very difficult to calculate precise needs.
It can be even more challenging to increase your intake by small increments of 50–100 calories each week, as reverse dieting recommends.
In fact, one large study in 3,385 people showed that people typically underestimate the calorie content of a meal by up to 259 calories (
Additionally, measuring your portions incorrectly or even adding an extra snack to your diet may end up hindering your progress while reverse dieting.
What’s more, this plan can be time-consuming, as it requires you to meticulously track your daily calorie intake.
Focuses on calories
One issue with reverse dieting is that it focuses solely on calorie intake without taking other factors into consideration.
Weight loss is incredibly complex, with many components playing a role.
Not only do various nutrients impact metabolism, hunger, and appetite differently, but factors like sleep, stress, and hormone fluctuations also affect body weight and need to be taken into consideration (
Lack of research
All in all, very little research supports reverse dieting.
As case reports and anecdotal evidence are all that exists, it’s unclear if reverse dieting works — or whether it’s effective for the general population or just specific groups, such as bodybuilders or competitive athletes.
Therefore, until further research is conducted, reverse dieting cannot be considered an effective tool for weight management.
Reverse dieting is difficult to execute and focuses solely on calories without taking other factors into consideration. What’s more, a lack of research makes it challenging to evaluate its effectiveness.
Reverse dieting involves gradually increasing your calorie intake to boost metabolism and prevent weight regain after dieting. It may also increase energy levels and reduce hunger.
Still, its purported weight loss effects are unsupported by science.
Plus, it can be difficult to follow and focuses solely on counting calories.
Before considering reverse dieting for weight loss, you may want to try out other tips and make sure you’re eating a balanced diet.