Reverse dieting: Horses or Unicorns?

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Legend says that while dieting when you hit a stall in fat loss at very low calories (metabolic adaptation), you start adding calories every week as it boosts metabolism and you develop a good metabolic capacity over time. Once satisfied, reduce calories again.

Reverse dieting - myth or truth?

Let us co-relate this with a real life example here." data-share-imageurl="">

Legend says that while dieting when you hit a stall in fat loss at very low calories (metabolic adaptation), you start adding calories every week as it boosts metabolism and you develop a good metabolic capacity over time. Once satisfied, reduce calories again.

Reverse dieting - myth or truth?

Let us co-relate this with a real life example here. You are stuck on level 4 of a building on fire. You have two ways to escape. One is where there is a firefighter at the window with a lift to take you to the ground directly. Another is an open staircase which will take you out of the building eventually, but it will be a longer process. Which one would you choose?

Similarly, if being in a caloric deficit is causing your body to have negative adaptations, why would you be in a deficit?

The other legend (which got the concept wrong in the first place) says, start dieting at ultra low calories and then increase calories every week, this way you will never hit a plateau easily. But if you do hit one, ‘cheat on your diet’ and start at ultra low calories all over again!

Guess what?! The reality might be way too different from the legends. Quite contrasting indeed! But before I get into debunking or giving a conclusive answer to ‘Does reverse dieting exist?’, let me first explain why it may seem to work in the first place (as many do claim that it does!)

If being in a caloric deficit is causing your body to have negative adaptations, why would you be in a deficit?

Things that you are doing while reversing that is causing you to drop weight:

  1. You are starting on an ultra low caloric intake. Much much lesser than your maintenance calories, thus being in a deficit coming from your diet.
  2. You are exercising, in most cases, thus increasing energy expenditure.
  3. As you are on ultra low caloric intake and adding a few calories every week, you are still in a caloric deficit.
  4. There is a negative energy balance (Calories out > calories in), it is making you drop weight.

Fun fact: Dieting down (caloric deficit) increases cortisol, causing water retention. This causes a stall on your weighing scale and once you add calories, water drops. Voila! Cheat meals debunked.

Now that we have this clear, there might be a whole set of people who will say, “After I hit a plateau, I was still adding calories. I did not gain any weight, so it boosts metabolism for sure!”

Umm… okay! Let’s look at it from a scientific point of view.

While you are adding calories to your diet, there is little to no gain in weight due to following reasons:

1. Adding more food allows you to train better. You notice your workouts are getting easier or you are easily pushing 5-10 lbs more on your sets. Thus, increasing the thermic effect of activity (TEA).

2. Thermic effect of food or feeding (TEF) increases with increased food consumption. Your body is producing more heat due to the increased intake.

3. Additional calories increase your Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT is basically the number of calories you burn while engaging in activities that are non-exercise i.e. fidgeting, walking around, little movements you do, etc. The reason that makes one say that they have an ‘adaptive metabolism’ is because NEAT varies significantly from person to person [1]. In a study where 16 people were overfed with 1000 calories per day for 8 weeks, the NEAT varied from -98 kcal/day to +692 kcal/day.

So if reverse dieting is a myth or not a go-to strategy, how should one diet? These are some of my practical recommendations:

  1. Do not start on a huge deficit. Take it slow and do not cut calories aggressively, to begin with. Diet down slowly.
  2. Exercise.
  3. Have smart refeed’s. It will not only help you drop the water weight due to elevated cortisol but also prevent you from going berserk while on a diet.
  4. Stop setting unrealistic targets. It is possible to drop a huge amount of weight by extreme deficits but it is probably gonna make you feel like shit the whole time. Enjoy the process, take it easy!
  5. Choose fitness as a lifestyle, not a fad!

Contributor: Pratik Thakkar (CoFounder, GetSetGo Fitness)

About the Author: (sic) "I am a certified nutrition expert from the British Nutrition Council. Like many others, I too joined the corporate band wagon armed with a degree in finance and marketing. I have always been a fitness enthusiast, have always loved devouring publications, research articles and journals on nutrition science. I soon realised that my real passion and interest lies in fitness and allied services. I have been working in this field since 2014, have engaged with a large number of clients and have helped them meet their goals. I believe, nothing is greek and latin, apart from greek and latin - ofcourse! ;) Fitness as a lifestyle is fairly simple, if you understand the fundamentals right! Your fitness goal, is a journey and in this journey it is important to take one step at a time. I strongly believe in flexibility and sustainability in ones fitness regime, for it to be long term in nature. Fitness, after all, should be a lifelong pursuit!"

References:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9880251

Share it now!
Legend says that while dieting when you hit a stall in fat loss at very low calories (metabolic adaptation), you start adding calories every week as it boosts metabolism and you develop a good metabolic capacity over time. Once satisfied, reduce calories again.

Reverse dieting - myth or truth?

Let us co-relate this with a real life example here." data-share-imageurl="">