If you’ve ever lost weight through dieting and then tried to maintain the weight loss, then you know how challenging that can be.
One reason for this is that it’s easy to want to indulge after weeks and months of counting calories, exercising more frequently and tracking what you eat. You start to eat like you did before dieting, and you regain the weight. You then go on another diet to lose the weight, only this time you may have to eat even fewer calories to see any dips on the scale. This starts a frustrating cycle of weight loss and weight gain that’s called yo-yo dieting. In fact, the majority of people who lose weight regain those lost pounds.
One approach that some people are using to try and avoid this common pattern is reverse dieting, or what’s also called “the diet after the diet.” Reverse dieting is frequently used in the bodybuilding world. That’s because it’s common among competitive bodybuilders to follow low-calorie diet plans to optimize lean mass and minimize body fat, says Leslie Bonci, sports dietitian for the Kansas City Chiefs and owner of the nutrition business Active Eating Advice. Then, they’ll use reverse dieting to maintain their muscle mass and avoid rapid weight gain. The idea of reverse dieting also has crept over to the general weight loss community.
How Does Reverse Dieting Work?
Let’s say that you’ve reduced your daily calorie intake to a certain number to lose weight. With reverse dieting, you gradually add in more calories — 30 to 100 calories or more — each day for a week or slightly longer. So, if you were eating 1,200 calories a day, you may increase that to 1,250 calories a day. After a couple of weeks, you add in another similar number of calories. This continues until you reach a level of calories that allows you to eat normally and maintain a weight loss goal, says registered dietitian Kimberly Barton of Bair Aesthetics in Columbus, Ohio.
By gradually increasing your calories, you avoid food binges or shocking your system with a sudden and large uptick in eating that could make you more prone to weight gain.
The full reverse dieting cycle may last several weeks or even months. Some proponents believe that reverse dieting should take as long as the time period it took for you to lose weight, says registered dietitian Laura Acosta, a lecturer in dietetics at the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida in Gainesville. For instance, if you were on a diet for six months, you would do reverse dieting for six months.
Reverse dieting also is used by people who have followed a calorie-restrictive diet for a long time but haven’t been able to lose weight, says registered dietitian Natalie Allen, a clinical assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. The thought is that by gradually adding in more calories, they can reset or increase their metabolism. Metabolism is the process of your body turning food into energy. After reverse dieting for a few weeks or months, people stuck in that weight plateau can try to lose weight again.
Reverse dieting typically focuses on calories instead of certain foods or a certain ratio of carbohydrates versus protein and fat. However, eating protein-rich foods is always valuable to maintain muscle mass, Allen says.
However, there’s little scientific evidence to show that reverse dieting works to maintain weight or lose weight. Researchers at the University of Colorado are expected to announce soon the results of a clinical trial on reverse dieting. The trial compares the use of traditional weight maintenance advice versus reverse dieting in 24 participants who had lost weight.
[READ: Low-Calorie Snacks.]
Does Reverse Dieting Work?
Anecdotally, registered dietitians have seen some clients have success with reverse dieting or similar approaches to maintain their weight loss. Sometimes, people who have tried yo-yo dieting and can’t lose weight at a lower number of calories find reverse dieting helpful to reset their metabolism.
Should You Try Reverse Dieting?
Overall, the registered dietitians interviewed believe reverse dieting is OK to try. However, the lack of scientific evidence for reverse dieting is a drawback. Plus, Acosta cautions against trying any diet or weight loss plan because it’s trendy. Just because an eating plan sounds appealing doesn’t mean it will work for your specific needs.
Plus, you have to be cautious about taking your calorie count too low before you try reverse dieting. Allen advises clients to not dip below 1,200 calories a day as it’s hard to meet your vitamin and mineral requirements when eating so few calories.
Reverse dieting also requires a commitment to adding only a certain number of calories back into your daily eating plan. That means carefully tracking what you eat and monitoring your daily calories, something that you may have done during the weight loss period. Depending on how many calories you add back, this could be a very small difference, Bonci says. For example, 30 calories a day could mean adding only:
— Five almonds.
— Two peanuts.
— One carrot.
— Half a grapefruit.
— One cracker.
The constant tracking of food can make reverse dieting hard for some people, especially if you were ready to take a break from those efforts after weight loss.
You also should avoid reverse dieting if you are prone to disordered eating, Bonci says. That’s because of the focus on calories involved with this approach. A constant focus on calories and eating is not healthy for those vulnerable to eating disorders.
4 Tips for Weight Management After Weight Loss
There are a few tips that make weight maintenance more successful after weight loss — whether or not you want to try reverse dieting.
1. Work with a registered dietitian. These are the trained experts in food and nutrition, and they can help tailor a weight maintenance strategy that takes into account your individualized needs. They can advise whether reverse dieting is reasonable for you to try or not, based on your specific goals.
2. Add back in foods that are rich in texture, flavor or color, Bonci advises. If you’re gradually adding calories, choose a food or foods that you find satisfying and flavorful. For instance, add a few nuts to a stir-fry or salad or eat a colorful ruby red grapefruit. Foods that are high in fiber also are good choices because they help fill you up.
3. Consider everything you’re doing as a whole. “Weight management isn’t just about your hand-to-mouth activity,” Bonci says. Other factors involved with weight management include:
— When you eat.
— The amount of physical activity you get.
— How much sleep you get.
— Your food preferences.
— Your stress level.
Work with trusted health professionals to guide you toward the right weight management approach for you.
4. Don’t be afraid to eat more, Barton recommends. She hears this fear daily among her clients who have lost weight and are afraid that by eating more, they’ll automatically gain more weight. “In reality, your body needs food, so make sure you’re adequately fueling yourself,” she says.
However, make healthy choices as you eat more, Allen cautions. “It’s not a free-for-all to gorge on unhealthy options,” she says.
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What Is Reverse Dieting? Can It Help to Maintain Weight Loss? originally appeared on usnews.com