My revelation – reverse dieting does work and it could potentially be the only diet anyone ever needs to do, if done properly. And that’s what I truly believe.
The stats say 90% of diets fail, however I believe if more people understood about reverse dieting that statistic would drastically drop. A step-by-step honest guide on how to reverse diet as a beginner with recorded photos, discussion videos, plans and fails… This changed my life, I felt in better shape than I’ve ever been gaining more lean mass than I’ve ever gained. Big claim right? Well if like me, before I did this reverse diet, you’re thinking – “I don’t need to know about this crap, I’ll just keep focusing on eating big and getting big and diet down later” then god speed to you. I’d been telling myself that same thing for ten years without ever achieving the lean look I wanted. So close this browser window and crack on. Or, read on and perhaps reverse dieting will change your fitness understanding like it has mine.
The below is all put very simply, I don’t beat about the bush and I don’t use complex science. I talk about an experience that worked for me and I believe can for many others who aren’t professional athletes or body builders. I’ve learnt that a diet is only 50% of the way to success, the reverse diet is the other 50%.
A fundamental take-home conclusion
If I was to do this again I wouldn’t reduce my calorie in take quite so much. I think 300 – 400 cals reduction from my maintenance whilst increasing my cardio would work better in the future. Reducing down by almost 1000 cals left me grumpy, with no energy, sluggish and life just sucked. It was not needed, had I planned my cardio better and scientifically I could have avoided that. Instead I chose to only focus on calories restriction and do very little cardio, that wasn’t smart. I now realise reducing your weekly calorie in-take gradually works very well with increasing your weekly cardio amount gradually. A two pronged attack. If you need to work out your maintenance calorie level this post will help you and explain what it is.
In this post...
What is a reverse diet? Put simply…
Lots of people will state different things. In my opinion a reverse diet is a way to reach the goal of “Being able to eat a lot of food whilst staying lean.”
Changing your metabolic rate by reverse dieting, which in turn changes how much you can eat without gaining fat, does work. Trust me it’s blew my mind. You can diet down and loose fat to then reverse diet up and go back to eating as much as you were (in my case it was even more!) without the worry of putting it all back on.
In a nut shell
When someone reaches the end of a diet or the point where they are happy with their body composition, which normally involves cutting a lot of calories or doing a tun of cardio to get there. Most people will then do one of two things, which I myself have done for the past 10 years:
- Try to maintain the low calorie life style or high cardio lifestyle often to the detriment of their actual life
- End up jumping straight back to eating the entire amount they were eating before the diet. Either because the above gets to much and they binge out heavy for a weekend and ultimately come off the rails never to get back on them. Or because they think it’ll be fine to jump straight back without any problems.
This is bad because in that state of dieting the body is desperate to flood fat cells as soon as it gets additional food over the amount that it requires to function. The more it gets the more it will flood those fat cells. Guess what… You can never get rid of fat cells. They can be created by over eating and replenished to increase their size by but you cannot get rid of them. Sucks right! So all that additional food someone suddenly eats after being so good and strict on a diet for so long is heading straight back into those fat cells.
However, it is possible to prevent that fat being put back on by slowly changing your metabolic rate
At the bottom end of a diet our body has adapted and slowed our metabolic rate down. Loads of things happen internally but ultimately our heart rate is slower, we feel tired and sluggish. It’s our body’s way of coping. Giving it more food than it can burn in this state of shock will allow it to replenish fat cells. Don’t allow it to do that. Take another 4 – 6 weeks reverse dieting. This means doing the opposite of the diet, slowly week by week increasing calorie intake and decreasing cardio sessions. The body will slowly increase it’s metabolic rate to adapt to the little extra it receives, not storing it as fat because it delivers the small additional energy to essential bodily functions that it has previously slowed. Week-by-week it will allow itself to burn the in-take by raising things such as your heart rate, brain activity and a multitude of other amazing bodily functions. Right now I can actually eat more than I have ever been able to and still stay lean. If you don’t believe me look below at my before, during and after photos photos…
Why I’ve found it a huge success
I’ve always placed the thought of eat big to get big and then try to diet down to reveal the muscle gained, first. I can tell you now from experience it’s wrong. I’ve basically spent most of my life in ‘bulk’ so to speak. I finally learnt that to achieve a lean ‘ripped’ look it’s essential to focus on loosing fat and getting lean first and then focus on slowly adding muscle bit-by-bit with gradual calorie increase to prevent weight gain, or more so fat cell gain. From reverse dieting I’ve added muscle and I found I can stay lean and eat a tun of food. It’s awesome! Sure I’ve gained a little bit of fat in the process of reverse dieting but I’m still a dam sight leaner than I’ve ever been coupled with being able to eat more than I ever have with a faster metabolism.
Why I chose to reverse diet?
As the bro’s would put it – “I’ve always wanted to get ripped up.” But the big difference is I’ve always wanted to get ripped up AND be able to stay ripped up. Sure I’ve done diets, got to a point (not a satisfied point) and crashed out of them. This crash out would mainly be due to a lack of knowledge and experience in fitness but also due to my need to party and drink. Being in London and working in the advertising world it’s been hard to avoid through my 20’s. However, when I decided to do the reverse diet (4 months ago) I was 32 and digital nomad-ing in Costa Rica so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to commit. I’ll be honest you can’t drink and diet/ reverse diet. Cheat days don’t exist, it’s just an excuse to waste time. Set the goal and get there in my opinion.
My before, during and after photos
Before the diet: having binged for 5 weeks in Cuba on about 4000 cals a day with constant high GI index foods.
During the diet: The end of dieting down and the mid-way stage of the whole process. I’d finished 12 weeks of dieting and was about to begin 6 weeks of reverse dieting. I was eating 1800cals a day at this point.
After the final reverse diet: I’d finished the 6 weeks of reverse dieting and was up to eating 2800cals a day.
Notice the difference? In my opinion I still look as lean eating 2800cals a day as I did eating 1800 cals a day. That’s 7000 cals more a week I’m now eating whilst not gaining fat.
Why a TRX? I wrote a post on the phycological benefits of using a TRX for fitness and on the physiological benefits of using a TRX for fitness. I also get down and dirty with the 16 best TRX exercises which I use these day in, day out wherever my backpack and feet take me. I get a lot out of TRX fitness because I focus on technique and key exercise principles, all of which I cover in videos on my YouTube channel.
My reverse diet plan
Before week 1 I was on a dreamer bulk, consuming way over my maintenance and putting on a lot of fat, convincing myself it was muscle. Silly boy. So from week 1 through to week 12 I slowly reduced my calorie intake down to 1800, my maintenance back then being around 2500 cals a day and then from week 13 through to week 18 I reversed the diet.
I believe I was at about 15% body fat when I began at week 1, maybe higher. It’s hard to tell without the correct tools to measure as the male body composition doesn’t visually show much difference between the 12-16% body fat range. It’s only when you start crunching down towards the single figures that you’ll notice the difference.
The initial diet
I began as most diets do, gradually reducing my calorie in-take over time and with it my metabolic rate also decreased. A sloth, is how I would sum myself up towards the final weeks.
Weight at the start: 75kg
Week 1: 3000 cals a day
Week 2: 2700 cals a day
Week 3: 2500 cals a day
Week 4: 2400 cals a day
Week 5: 2300 cals a day
Week 6: 2200 cals a day
Week 7: 2100 cals a day
Week 8: 2000 cals a day
Week 9: 1950 cals a day
Week 10: 1900 cals a day
Week 11: 1850 cals a day
Week 12: 1800 cals a day
Weight at the end: 68kg
The reverse diet
Now the key was to maintain that leanness but be able to eat 2800cals not 1800 cals! Here’s how I reversed my calorie intake back up and thus my metabolic rate.
Weight at the start of the reverse diet: 68kg
Week 13: 1950 cals a day
Week 14: 2100 cals a day
Week 15: 2300 cals a day
Week 16: 2500 cals a day
Week 17: 2600 cals a day
Week 18: 2800 cals a day
Weight at the end: 66.2kg
I then carried on weighing myself whilst staying on 2800 cals a week.
Week 19: 66.6kg
Week 20: 66.4kg
Week 21: 67.8kg
Week 22: 67.5kg
Week 23: 68.3kg
Week 24: 68.5kg
My key take-aways
My balance / level was reached a few weeks after but with little fat gain. EPIC! Now considering I should be looking to gain around 2 pounds a month (0.9kg) of weight gain to attribute it to muscle growth in a bulk phase, I was pretty dam happy with the end results. Granted I’d put myself in a slight bulk stage but you stand to gain the most muscle mass coming out of a diet so it makes sense to raise a little and then level off to figure out a new maintenance range. My key take-aways:
- My maintenance level was much higher by the end meaning I could eat more.
- The fluctuations I can put down to water retention
- Even though I was increasing my calories I was still loosing weight till I reached a point at around Week 16 / 17.
- I used the above as a base to decide how much calories I would increase each week combined with how I felt.
How many calories should you cut each week in the diet stage?
How you diet down is a personal choice. I know many who crash it down within a month, but personally I think patience is a fundamental principle in fat loss.
- Taking it slow reduces the risk of your body eating into muscle for energy, so the science tells us.
- Shocking your body by any means isn’t good for homeostasis in my opinion, letting it slowly adapt meant I wasn’t a moody so and so 24/7, just some of the time.
- Taking it slow means I could analyse each week and set a bench mark, recording the results from how I felt to what I could manage workout wise was a great reflection from future learnings
- I kept it simple: Protein and fat levels should stay the same, reduce your carbs. Keeping fat the same was something I only learned towards the end of the diet
How many calories should you increase each week in the reverse diet stage?
I did a lot of research around this and my conclusion was that everyone is different, vastly.
- I would begin by increasing each week with 100cals
- If you’re still loosing a tun of weight, like more than 2 pounds a week (0.9kg) then up it to 150 – 200cals. I fluctuated with 150, 200, 50 cal additions each week based on my weight and how I felt.
- 200 cals should be your max, anymore and you’re over supplying your body to flood into fat cells.
- Protein and fat levels should stay the same, increase your carbs.
Week 1 how to reverse diet: Where have my muscles gone from dieting?!
I was at the bottom end of the diet here. I’d calorie restricted a lot I was tired, feeling flat, weak and f’ing grumpy. But nothing good comes without its hard work. Deal with it, I would say.
- Don’t give in and binge eat
- Add 50-100cals a day for the week.
- Spread those additional daily cals equally over your meals.
- Fuel your workouts by eating most of your carbs before and after exercising.
- If you’re like me you’ll feel like all of your muscles have wasted away, they haven’t. 50% of your muscles have gone because you have no glucose in them to retain water. As you slowly increase your carbs your muscle size will also increase. Don’t panic and give it time, focus on the thought “I’m eating into some serious fat stores here my muscles and shape will return.”
- I preferred to keep my workouts to a mix of low rep, heavy bodyweight TRX movements and easier high rep, slow functional fitness accessory exercises to compliment. I just didn’t have the energy to be working in hypertrophy ranges.
Week 2 how to reverse diet: How to slowly increase calories after cutting
Week two and I’d added a little more cals and by god it felt incredible.
- I used those extra cals to add in salad leaves and veg like cabbage, black beans, spinach, bok choi etc. Mainly because I could add in massive amounts for very few calories so my meals became packed out.
- The great part here was that even though I was adding calories back into my diet I was still loosing weight. However, I was calculating I was loosing to much weight, more than 1 pound a week at this stage which meant I was most likely eating into muscle. Basically I’d dropped to low on the calories restriction of my diet. thank god for muscle memory.
- My metabolic rate was still low here and I noticed a slight improvement in muscle size and shape from water retention.
Muscles feeling flat and small from cutting calories on a diet
Week 3 how to reverse diet: Prevent putting fat back on after dieting / cutting
Jesus christ I’d added another 300 cals back, moving up to 500 and I was still loosing weight
- I could certainly see a difference in muscle size now, the little fellas were starting to come back.
- At this stage the light at the end of the tunnel was shining. I was planning nights out for a couple of weeks ahead and one hell of a burger meal once my cals, and more importantly metabolic rate, were back up to the 2600 – 2800 cal mark.
- This is where I really realised that this process works. The fact I was heading back up to maintenance, still lean, still losing weight was crazy.
Week 4 how to reverse diet: Why 90% of diets fail and this one doesn’t
I was back up to 2300 cals here from 1800 and was still slightly loosing weight but beginning to balance out more. I’d lost 0.3kg in a week, which was a much better mark compared to the previous weeks which were closer to 1kg with body eating into hard earned muscle for fuel.
- Life was doable here.
- My energy levels in general were back, workouts felt energised and my overall mood was much better.
- But most of all I was super happy with my physique and super happy to be eating a sustainable amount of cals.
Half way reverse diet flexing results
Week 5 how to reverse diet: Muscles filling back up with glucose (SIZE!) after dieting?
Unbelievably I was still loosing weight so I decided to jump my biggest yet and went up 200cals for the week
- Size was back, granted I’m not that big but I was happy to have something compared to the flat wet blanket I’d been for many weeks
- Interestingly enough I’d noticed quite a rapid increase in strength gains also. I’m not sure what to put this down to Perhaps the process my body was under released more adrenalin and testosterone which would account for the gains.
Week 6 how to reverse diet: SUCCESS! Eating 1000cals more a day and still lean
By now life was wicked. I was on 1800 cals, I was lean, I was eating and drinking (within reason). I had a couple of big benders and went over my calorie intake but I was always accountable for it. By that I mean I’d make up for it either by adding extra cardio to the following week or by cutting a couple of hundred cals off the following days.
Being accountable for my in-take in that way has carried on being the fundamental success for me after this reverse diet. After all, I work remotely in different countries and in constant situations of socialising to meet people. I don’t want to be a hermit. This diet has allowed me to get to a point where I want to be able to maintain it with a social, active lifestyle.
What I’ve been eating on 700 cal diet deficit to fill me
What I would do differently next time
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Having experienced this here’s what I most certainly would do differently if I was to approach reverse dieting again.
- I wouldn’t cut my calories so heavily it was unnecessary to drop to 1000 less than my maintenance. Truth is I got frustrated and wanted results faster. By creating such as huge deficit I lost muscle mass. I think 400-500 cal deficit is enough if done correctly with cardio, this is what I didn’t do.
- So on that note – I would add cardio in. I would plan to increase my cardio as my calories decrease and then reverse both back. Cardio days within the fat burning zone would have been much more effective and faster.
- I would keep my fat levels consistent. I didn’t watch them at all and without realising I was down to eating only 10-20g fat a day sometimes. Well below the healthy recommendation of 50g fat for a person of my size size (recommended value of fat is 15-20% of your total in-take). This affected my sex drive, mood and energy levels. Keeping a consistent level between 15-20% fat throughout the entire process would have aided things a lot.
- I would reverse up with greater cals at the start – 2 weeks of 200cals followed by 100 and then 50. Reason being is that coming out of diet deficit and still training is when your body is crying to flood your muscles with nutrient and water for growth. It’s a perfect time to flood them with what they need to develop more. It’s been proven that many people see their biggest gains coming out of a diet, granted a lot of that size is re-gaining water retention but people have also seen large strength gains and measured muscle mass gains.
Have you ever tried a reverse diet before? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks for taking the time to read this! hopefully there were some learnings or nuggets that you may find beneficial. You catch me on Instagram and I have a range of TRX workout plans that I’ve developed over the years which will get you in shape anywhere, without the need of a gym.
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