If you’ve been in a never-ending cycle of dieting down and eating minimal total calories without seeing much difference or keep plateauing, chances are your body needs a reverse diet to strengthen your metabolism. What’s a reverse diet, you ask?
Reverse dieting is a process in tracking macronutrients in where you gradually increase your calorie intake after a sustained period of dieting. This concept allows you to slowly reintroduce extra calories (usually in the form of carbs and some fats, while keeping protein fairly consistent) so that you can help your metabolism recover from low-calorie dieting. Adding calories back in slowly is ideal in order to not rapidly gain back what you worked hard to keep off. Not to mention, it helps tremendously for your mental health after the stress of so much calorie restricting. I digress, this post is not intended to explain exactly what a reverse diet is, so if you’re curious to know more, here are a few great sources:
You may have seen folks in the fitness industry that track their macros, post about their reverse diets on Instagram with glowing pride. Just check the #reversediet hashtag…
When people post about their reverse diets, it is usually all sunshine and happiness. Hell, even I have been guilty of that the first time I ever was put on a reverse diet, which was back when I first started tracking my macros two and a half years ago:
The first time around, it sure was fireworks and fuckyeahs all around. I mean, what’s not to be ecstatic about? Coming off of super low calorie bro diet and prior to that being paleo, I was eating bread again, eating much more, getting stronger AND getting leaner?! You bet your ass I was eager to share my results. Who wouldn’t be?
Well, that was back then. I’ve done a couple short term (bad idea, but I’ll touch on that a bit later) reverse diet stints since then. Since I began flexible dieting in August 2014, I have been in a constant cycle of dieting down to fairly poverty macros, but get exasperated with the low numbers and see little change, so I was always quick to think they’re not working, which would leave me hopping right back into a reverse diet. Then as soon as any fluff and fat gain began happening, I’d freak out and get right back into a cut.
This time, I’m here to stand on my little soap box and proclaim that reverse diets are not all rainbows and sunshine every time. Are they necessary? For folks that have been in an extended caloric deficit, yes. But there is a dark side to it that not many talk about.
Fat gain is inevitable. How much will vary. As you saw, on my first reverse diet, I leaned out quite a bit. Those are the lucky few – and, from what I’ve seen, it seems like people tend to lean out on their first reverse diet and not as much on their following ones. But don’t quote me on that, I don’t have scientific data on me to back that up, it’s just what I’ve seen as a trend. On some, the gain will not be noticed, but on others, it most definitely will be noticed. You will notice it before anyone else does on yourself – specially on the scale – and this is where most people will want to jump ship and start to cut (diet down / lower macros) again prematurely, before they’ve truly given their metabolism a chance to recuperate and get their intake up.
Mental fuck. This correlates to the last point but it deserves to be expanded on. The mind is a very powerful part of your being as a whole and holy crap it makes it hard af to be okay with gaining some weight. It takes mental grit to accept yourself in a controlled chubbier state. Not to mention, during the reverse diet process, you’ll be seeing a whole lot of #transformationtuesday and Before/After posts on social media of people with the body you had or want. And if you happen to be reversing in the summer months, it stings just a little more. The gain will mess with your mind and make you question why you’re doing this.
So much food. Eat all the foods they said. It’ll be fun they said. Well, I may be in the minority here, but I do not have goals to eat 300g+ carbs and 150g+ fats. To eat those numbers daily is exhausting and to be honest, gets annoying. You may see people on social media that eat that much (and more) and look shredded with comments on their posts from followers green with envy about eating that much and how they wish they could eat that much and look like that. Well, eating a lot not only can leave you full all of the time (which can make training uncomfortable) but also gets expensive! I’m currently on a reverse diet and I’m currently at about 180g carbs and 70g fats and it is already starting to feel like a lot. Sometimes it gets to a point where the thought of eating another meal to hit your numbers for the day is nauseating. When you start to feel this way, first of all, be patient, but second of all, you have start to include more calorically dense foods into your day while still getting in your micronutrients, of course.
Feels like forever. The more I consult with experts (hey Mark from Avatar, you the real MVP), the more I realize how much I shorted myself in the past on the previous reverse diets I’ve been on. My first two lasted no longer than 2 months each. Any sign of puffy or gain and I ran back to a cut. From what I’ve read, the recommended timeframe is about four to six months, but obviously it is case by case.
Enough about the overall dark sides. My experience on this particular reverse diet has been fairly unique because of numerous health factors, but doesn’t make it any less of a mental fuck.
Having had hip arthroscopy surgery in November 2016, followed by being put on a too aggressive reverse diet while still in recovery by my coach at the time, combined with dealing with a developed mysterious constant abdominal discomfort, caused some initial weight gain post op. Fast forward to about March, during my journey to find out why I’ve been experiencing abdominal pains and while still going through the last of my physical therapy, I made the decision to re-join Avatar under the moderate fat loss setting (of course I wanted to start cutting again, haha) and sadly, my body did not respond to poverty macros for the month I was on them. No fat loss and eating very minimal calories which is not ideal considering by this time I was cleared to return to regular training. After a long email chat with Mark, I was advised to begin a conservative reverse diet because it really wasn’t safe for me to go any lower with macros for someone my size and with the amount of training I was doing. And I’ve been on a reverse diet since then. There was an initial gain when I first started but after about two to three weeks of keeping at it, weight finally stabilized and has been within a 2-3lb range since then. But boy is it a mental battle.
My personal woes.
- I try to avoid being in pictures at all costs these days because I feel fluffy.
- I’ve avoided going to the beach to not have to put on a bikini.
- I’ve only posted training videos when I’m very happy about my post op recovery but refrain otherwise because I don’t like the way I look in them.
- Weighing myself tends to be disheartening and discouraging, but I know it’s necessary to see trends.
- Knowing that I know what to do to lose fat but holding off for my own good, is so hard.
- Feeling sexy while in this chubbier state is hard to come by.
- Training while not only dealing with that pesky mysterious abdominal pain but also while generally being in a state of full, sucks, and makes me feel like a sloth.
Okay, okay. There ARE bright sides…don’t worry, I’ll keep this section brief since these benefits are what people tend to talk about when referring to reverse dieting.
Fun foods. Eating more definitely has its perks. You’re able to easily fit in more “fun” foods into your macros such as bagels, rice, pasta, peanut butter (not just a tiny teaspoon), donuts, french fries, pizza and much more. Of course, you can fit these foods in while cutting also, but it is definitely not as easy, and you usually have to eat a lot less throughout rest of the day. I’m trying to keep this in mind and fit in foods I normally don’t get to. And also remind myself that this reverse is temporary so I might as well take advantage and try to enjoy it while I can.
Socializing. Having the freedom of being social and actually eating at these social events without feeling extremely restricted or guilty is a pretty great feeling. When on a cut and on really low macros, it takes a lot of planning to attend and enjoy a social event. And eyeballing meals when cutting isn’t super ideal. With higher macros, you have more flexibility to enjoy the people around you and the food that is there.
Get strong(er). This is the part I’m trying to focus the hardest on. I’ve had the all clear from my surgeon since April and I have been back on a full 5-day weightlifting cycle since then, working on technique and re-gaining the strength I lost post op. Couple this with eating more and it is the perfect recipe for getting stronger. It seems to have been working because I am extremely close to matching my pre op lifting numbers (more on this in a post coming very soon). Eating at maintenance or in a surplus is the prime time to make gains in the gym. Although it may not feel like it, you ARE building muscle underneath the fluff and one day it will show.
Temporary. This is another aspect I’m trying to keep in mind. A reverse diet is temporary. There will be an end to the fluff. Remind yourself you’re doing this for the long term, for the big picture, for your optimal health.
This post is not meant to make you fear reverse dieting. Reverse dieting is necessary. Humans were not meant to diet their whole lives. Not meant to be in an endless deficit. So, here I go, going to keep on trucking on this reverse with a plan to begin cutting in late September or early October. I promise, my next post will be a lot happier, haha! Until next time, party people.