In my last article, I explained how low-calorie diets can damage the metabolism and lead to weight gain after the diet.
Today, I will share some tips to increase your metabolic rate and how to recover from low-calorie diets. Remember that this is a general guide that needs to be tailored to your specific needs. I will give some tips how you can adjust your own Reverse Diet.
What does Reverse Dieting mean?
The term “reverse diet” is commonly used by people involved into fitness, athletes and bodybuilding competitors. The latter often diet down to very low calories to achieve a desired body fat percentage and step on the stage lean. However, once the competition is over, many start eating whatever they want and gain back a lot of weight.
To keep increase in body fat after a calorically restricted eating protocol minimal, you slowly increase calories back to a maintenance level. Using this strategy, and by assessing progress weekly and tracking increases in body fat in comparison to lean muscle mass, athletes can recover their metabolisms and increase calorie intake with minimal increase in body fat.
If you remember, I explained that the body always seeks homeostasis. Now, if you would increase your calories drastically up to maintenance, this could lead to fat gain. Especially if you have been following a low-calorie diet. Some people make the mistake to eat even less than their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) while dieting, which slows down the metabolism even more. Thus, if you have been eating 1200 calories, it only makes sence that you will gain back a lot of weight once you bump up your calories to 2000 again.
In fact, “maintenance calories” is not set amount of food you can eat without gaining weight. The body adapts to each circumstance in life and if you have been starving for weeks or even months, your maintenance calories will be much lower than before.
Thus, by reversing your diet, you can slowly let the body adapt to the higher food intake. How slowly you need to progress is very individual. The following tips are meant as a guidance for you to progress with your own nutrition.
Who needs a Reverse Diet?
Anyone who has been dieting
If you have been on a low-calorie diet for a while, it is time to reverse your diet. Long-term calorically restricted diets will eventually lead to adrenal dysfunction, loss of menses and many other diseases and depression.
Weight loss plateau
If you have successfully lost some weight but have reach a plateau, a reverse diet might be beneficial. It will accelerate the fat loss. It will help to increase fat burning hormones, such as Thyroid hormones, Leptin (hunger-depressing hormone) and Testosterone (important for women too!)
By making small and calculated increases to calories, the metabolism is often able to adapt to the increase with a corresponding uptick in metabolic output and thermogenesis.
Gain muscle without increasing body fat
Muscle mass is one of the most energetically expensive tissues in our body. Thus, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn even when resting. If you would like to build more size and/or strength and not “bulk” up, a reverse diet might benefit you. It will help you to increase strength levels without gaining body fat and ending up looking “puffy” (this is dreaded especially by women).
Guide to Reverse Dieting
How to start
For the sake of easy understanding, I will provide an example. This is not a real person, I am choosing random numbers. Make sure to adjust this to your own needs.
Let’s assume Person A went on a low-calorie diet of 1200 calories for 3 months. He/she lost 5kg in the process and is happy with the results. Now, if this person would stop counting calories and just eat whatever he/she wants, in various portion sizes, he/she would gain back most of the weight. The metabolism has adjusted to 1200 calories per day and is running too slow to be able to burn off 2000 calories. Thus, the additional food gets stored as fat.
This person needs a reverse diet.
The following steps are key when starting a reverse diet.
Measure your food intake
It might sound contradictory, as you are not on a diet anymore. But in fact, now is the most important time to track your food. The body is not a calculator and you should not stress about every gram of carbohydrates you consumed but for a successful reverse diet, consistensy is key.
In my opinion, it is not necessary to weigh green vegetables, tomatoes and onions, unless you consume huge amounts of those per day.
You should weigh your carbohydrate, fat and maybe your protein sources. If you have tracked your food while dieting, you may be familiar with protein portion sizes, thus it may not be necessary to track those.
However, at the end of the day, you need to know how many calories and the specific macronutrients your food contained that day.
I am not an advocator of the scale and there has been a time when I have not weighed myself in 6 months.
However, when you are reverse dieting, you want to prevent weight gain and still increase your calories to let your metabolism return to normal. Thus, you need to weigh yourself in order to see your progress.
In the first days, you weight will go up because of the increase in carbohydrates, retaining water.
However, after 1-2 weeks your weight should return to normal and then it is your goal to keep that weight. A slight weight gain of 1-2kg can still linger for a few weeks but once your metabolic rate has increased, you will burn off that weight in no time.
Do not stress about the numbers on the scale but let them be your guidance for your reverse diet.
The first week
In the first week, Person A will increase his/her calories to 1300-1400 calories. This is a big jump but Person A has been eating lower than the BMR, which puts the body under a lot of stress. Better to end that as quickly as possible.
If you have not been in a huge deficit (which means you dieted the right way), you can increase your calories very slowly. Your metabolism is not as damaged, thus you can work your way up in calories in smaller steps.
In addition to that, Person A makes sure to have a balanced intake of Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats.
If you have been eating very low-carb while dieting, you need to be even more careful. If you have been consuming only 60g of carbs per day, increase to 65-70g per day for the first week and keep your Protein and Fats higher. It is most difficult for the body to adjust to higher carbohydrate intake, due to changing of Insulin levels.
The next weeks
Once Person A has reached the BMR, which is around 1400 calories for him/her, the reverse dieting really starts.
Now, you need to increase your carbohydrates and fats each week in small amounts. Start small at first to give your body the time it needs to adjust. For example, if person A was eating 110g Carbs, 130g Protein, 45g Fat, he/she would increase to 115g Carbs, 130g Protein, 45-48g Fat.
If you are very hungry, you can increase calories more quickly. Hunger is actually a positive sign, as that means your body is burning the foods you are eating. Thus, Person A could also increase to 120g Carbs in the next week.
Signs your metabolism is responding
♦ Despite increase in calories, carbohydrates and fats, your weight as stayed the same for a few weeks, or you may have even lost weight.
♦ You are feeling hungry all the time (not to confound with cravings!)
♦ You have a lot more energy during your workouts, your strength has increased
♦ You sleep well and deep
♦ Your skin and hair look smooth and shiny
♦ You don’t experience joint pain or extreme muscle soreness
♦ You are much more motivated and happy
♦ You don’t have trouble concentrating anymore
♦ Better sight
♦ Your menses return/ are regular again
♦ You are not freezing all the time
♦ Better digestion
The symptoms can be different for each individual. If you read closely, these signs are the exact opposite of the symptoms of a damaged metabolism… .
When to stop
The Sky is the limit!
You can stop your reverse diet whenever you want.
In fact, there is a set point of body fat in your hypothalamus that your body tries to achieve. Sometimes, once you have reached that point, you will start gaining weight when increasing calories. This is very specific and different for each individual.
In general, most people’s maintenance calories end up being around 2000. Unless you are very small and lie around in bed all day, your reverse diet is not done once you have reached 1600 calories. Thus, adjust your diet to your needs and enjoy the process.
Reverse dieting is not as complicated as it sounds. Once your metabolism has recovered (see symptoms above) it may not be necessary to track every gram you eat. You can easily continue with measuring portion sizes with your hand and save a lot of time.
Tips to further increase your Metabolism
Increase Calcium levels
Cortisol, the stress-hormone, tells the body to hold onto fat in case of a stressful situation. Thus, you need to find ways to decrease your cortisol. Try exercise, yoga, reading a book, relaxing on the couch or taking a hot bath.
Decrease Diet Soda
Get enough sleep
Try to get in 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Excess sleeping may also negatively effect the metabolism, so no need to go overboard here.
Get in the sun
Light increases levels of cortisol (healthy levels) and your heart rate. In fact, a dar, dull environment might trigger the release of the same hormones as when you are gaining weight.
Strength Training & HIIT
I already mentioned this in the previous article. One of the most effective ways to increase metabolism, is to build muscle by lifting weights. Your body will burn more calories up to 48 hours after your workout is finished. You can’t achieve that with one hour of running.
Kombucha is made of a kind of mushroom and has many health benefits. It can help reduce arthritis and detoxifies the liver.
Vitamin C and calcium work together to increase the metabolism. Vitamin C helps to absorb calcium. Make sure to include apples, oranges, red peppers and lemon into your diet. Just watch your portion sizes, as they contain sugar too.
Vitamin B is involved in nearly every single metabolic pathway in our body. Thus, low Vitamin B levels decrease metabolic rate. In fact, there is not one single Vitamin B. The term implies a series of vitamins all working together in metabolic processes. Nuts include a lot of vitamin B, so make sure to include those in your diet.
Green Tea contains polyphenols, which is a very effective antioxidant. It helps reduce inflammation in your body and detoxifies your liver.
Avoid high fructose corn syrup
According to newest studies, the consumption of high fructose corn syrup can lead to insulin resistance. If you need to use a sweetener, opt for natural honey, agave syrup, or , the best option, stevia. Make sure not to buy powdered stevia. I have the plant and use the leaves and it tastes just like honey, while containing no sugar at all …
Capsaicin in spicy peppers is not only a very effective antioxidant, it also causes an increased calorie burn, up to 30 minutes after your meal.
Ginger aids digestion, reduces inflammation and helps detoxify the liver. Try including it into your morning tea, in baked goods and even when cooking. In fact, researchers have found that non-organic meat that has been cooked with ginger contained no traces of antibiotics or growth hormones!
High fat fish
Fatty fish contains Omega 3, which is a heart healthy fat. It reduces inflammation and increases Leptin levels. Thus, it helps decreasing cravings and balances hormone levels in your body.
The last aspect of Reverse Dieting
With that I don’t mean HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), which is proven to enhance muscle building.
Low intensity cardio, or also called steady state cardio, such as jogging or running on the elliptical at the same pace for an hour, should be reduced when trying to repair the metabolism.
You will reduce the amount of Cardio in the same manner as you increase your food. If you have been doing 60 min per day to lose weight, decrease that to 50 min first. Then, the second week, decrease to 5 days per week and so on.
Reducing energy expenditure is another goal of reverse dieting, especially since doing hours of cardio per week in order to maintain your weight loss is not realistic.
Instead, the goal of reverse dieting should be to not only increase the amount of food that you can eat but also decrease the amount of exercise that you have to do in order to maintain your new, lower body weight.
I hope you enjoyed this series on metabolic damage. I will also write an article on how to diet without slowing down your metabolism. I guess a guide like that could be useful to many people!
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Wish you all a wonderful day,