What is reverse dieting and can it really help you lose weight?
No one likes the idea of going on a diet because it usually means having to cut down on food intake. But some people actually do the opposite to lose weight — that is, they eat more — and they swear it works.
It’s called reverse dieting or periodic feeding and it’s favoured by bodybuilders who believe it works to kick start a stalled or plateaued metabolism.
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Most recently, celebrity personal trainer Melissa Alcantara, who counts Kim Kardashian among her clients, has posted her reverse dieting journey to social media, tracking the success she’s experiencing with the eating plan.
(Warning: graphic language)
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✨Gaining Weight to Lose Weight✨ REVERSE DIET PHYSIQUE UPDATE Abs are great but I’m over it, I’m done being lean for instagram. I’m done being lean for abs. Yes I want to look good but I don’t want to live my life thinking about my next meal as I’m eating my current meal 🤦🏽♀️. I want to feel good and strong and fed lol. I’m a hungry ass woman, I could legit eat my face off but that’s because I’ve taught my body to feel that way. To always be hungry, to always be in a deficit without any breaks. Well enough is enough, so who’s inviting me over for dinner 😆 1️⃣4 weeks ago before starting my reverse diet I weighed in at 142lbs. 2️⃣started reverse diet calories at 1750, I gained 3.5 lbs and was steady at 146 lbs for 3 weeks. 3️⃣Going on week 4 tomorrow and here we are at 144.5lbs, that’s 1.5 lbs less than I was 3 weeks ago. : Meaning my body is adjusting to the calories well. So last night my coach @coachmarkcarroll (if you thought I was real…check him out) added another 100 calories to my day taking me to 1850. I will most likely put on more weight but it’s gotta be done if I want to bring my metabolism back up to speed. Goal here is to take me up 100 cals every couple of weeks till about 2300 calories at a consistent weight, so that when I lean down a bit I can be lean at much higher calories, somewhere around 1900. Terms to look up 🤯Insulin Sensitivity or Insulin Resistant 🤯Reverse diet ✨THE FEELS ✨ 1️⃣Motivation and mood are up and down 2️⃣some days I’m feelin myself some days I’m not 3️⃣most of my clothes don’t fit anymore lol, which doesn’t help with motivation : At the same time I’m excited af to see my body change and react and be strong. I’m taking advantage of all this food and extra weight to work on areas (strength) that I couldn’t before. So here’s to doing things for yourself and fucking the world 🥂 Super smooth skin by @lina_sev_ @sevlaseraesthetics 🙌🏽 : : : #healthylifestyle #healthyfood #fitfam #fitmom #fitness #fitnessaddict #fitnessmotivation #fitnessjourney #bodybuilding #throwbackthursday #fitspo #motivation #inspiration #beautiful #love #gains #booty🍑 #goals #weightloss #weightlossjourney #reversediet #diet
While there’s no question that whatever Alcantara is eating is working for her and her physique, nutrition experts are reluctant to lend much credence to the concept of reverse dieting, mainly because there’s scant scientific evidence behind it.
“The crux of the idea is that when you cut calories and lose weight, your hormones (like leptin, which is responsible for appetite control) change, and as your body shrinks it adapts to expending less energy both at rest and exercise,” says Andy De Santis, a Toronto-based registered dietitian. “The result is that your metabolism slows down, making it a challenge to maintain weight loss.”
In theory, he says, reversing the diet and consuming more calories will restimulate your metabolism and positively affect hormones so that the next time you go back to cutting calories, you’ll lose weight more effectively.
However, any reports of having success on this diet have been anecdotal. There isn’t enough scientific evidence to back it, De Santis says.
In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that looked a metabolic adaptation of weight loss in athletes, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concluded that despite some evidence that reverse dieting can be successful, more research is needed.
“In theory, providing a small caloric surplus might help to restore circulating hormone levels and energy expenditure toward pre-diet values,” the study states. “Ideally, such a process would eventually restore circulating hormones and metabolic rate to baseline levels while avoiding rapid fat gain. While anecdotal reports of successful reverse dieting have led to an increase in its popularity, research is needed to evaluate its efficacy.”
Even if someone decides to test the theory, how to go about doing it is another guessing game, De Santis says.
“Because it’s not a well-studied phenomenon and it’s not based on guaranteed science, it’s arbitrary how many calories a person will add to their diet. If you ask 20 people, you’ll probably get 20 different answers.”
In Alcantara’s case, with the help of a nutrition professional, she’s adding 100 calories to her diet in periodic increments, but that’s a plan that is uniquely tailored to her nutritional and physical needs.
The other thing De Santis stresses about the reverse diet is that it doesn’t give you carte blanche to get those calories from any food you want — it involves eating more of the foods you’re currently eating to achieve or maintain weight loss. So, no, this does not mean you can add a daily cheeseburger to your diet.
“On paper, it sounds reasonable, but everyone’s body works differently,” he says. “It might work for some people and it might not work for others. How we respond to [diet and exercise] is very personalized.”
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