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This is my reverse dieting experience.
To transform your body, you need to build muscle.
To build muscle, you need to eat. In a surplus. More than you burn.
I have been writing about this and the principle of reverse dieting on all my social media platforms and my blog. But when it comes to myself, I have been slacking. I have a history of an eating disorder and it seems that those wrong thoughts like to make an appearance, no matter how hard you fight them.
Since October, I have decided to fight those thoughts once and for all. Today, I will explain how I increased my metabolism by eating more food while making sure to gain more muscle than fat. I will provide you with tips to start your own reverse diet or muscle-building phase and make the best out of it!
This my journey from skinny to strong!
My reverse dieting experience
1. Why I started
Before we get right into things: I have never been unhappy with my body and I love my body just as much now as I did before.
The reason I decided to start a proper reverse diet is because I was not seeing progress anymore, eating very little calories (metabolism slowed down) and had hormonal issues. For some of you, the picture on the left might be “goals”. While I think I looked amazing then, I was not feeling well. I had just had a mental break-down and had digestive issues, felt weak during my training, had zero appetite and felt miserable.
I decided to take a break from med school and allow myself a little vacation before starting prepping for my finals in April. This was the best decision I made and with that came the decision to take it one step further and give my body a break as well. On vacation, I ate well and healthy and had “cheat” meals about 4-5x/ week.
When I came back, my weight had not changed at all but I felt refreshed and full of energy. This is when I decided that 1500 calories per day were not normal for an individual as active as me (I already knew this, but couldn’t accept it). This is when I started my reverse diet and decided that I am not afraid of food and weight gain anymore. Because my health is more important than the number on the scale.
2. What is Reverse Dieting?
I have written a long article on this one. You can read it here.
In order to start a reverse diet, you need to know your daily calorie burn and how much you are consuming at the moment. No calculator on the internet is accurate but it is not about the exact numbers anyways. You can at least use the results as a guideline.
The basic principle behind reverse dieting is to be able to increase your metabolism over an extended period of time by eating more food. You are going to be able to eat more calories without putting on too much body fat and won’t have to diet in such low calories ever again.
3. This is my journey
Disclaimer: I urge you not to take my calories and start eating the same. You are not me. These numbers are specific to me and work for my body. You might gain weight or lose weight eating like this. This is purely a form of demonstrating my progress and serves as an inspiration and motivation, not as a guideline.
- Week 1: 1668 calories per week (according to MyFP); 127g Protein | 192g Carbs | 41g Fat I have been eating around 1500-1700 calories per day for the past 6 years. Sometimes calories increased, sometimes I ate less. I started my preparation for my last exam of med school and after studying, I was often mentally drained and had to force myself to work out. I also experienced a lot of bloating, digestive issues and joint pain due to my scoliosis (spasms). Weight: 58kg.
- Week 3: 1766 calories per week; 123P | 203 C | 55F: I decided to increase Fats drastically at first. Fats are important for normal hormone regulation and satiety. Feeling immediate improvement in my mental and physical health. I felt more energetic, happy and could also sleep better. The first 3 weeks I experienced a lot of water retention and felt bloated.
- Week 1: 1786 calories per week; 126P | 206C | 54F: No big changes yet. I decided to let my body adjust to the increase in calories. I kept increasing very slowly (3g C, 3g for P) for several weeks. Feeling a lot of energy in my workouts and mental clarity has improved as well.
- Week 3: 1827 calories per week; 131P | 218C | 52F: Tried to keep fats higher but this is what I got. I decided to increase calories yet again because in a matter of a few days, I lost all the water weight. Weigh in: 60kg.
- Week 1: 1896 calories; 130P | 222C | 57F: Very happy with this week. I purchased myself a fitness tracker which showed me my daily calorie burn as 2100-2200 calories. This is the point where I started struggling to eat so much food (my digestive problems) but I decided to keep going. I was determined to reach my daily calorie goal by January.
- Week 4: 2004 calories; 148P | 234C | 57F: I was so happy to finally reach 2000 calories by the end of December. This is where my training started to really improve, I could train longer and with more intensity. Also, I noticed my muscle activation improved significantly. My muscles were full all the time. After my training, I was not drained and depleted and did not experience any effects of low blood sugar levels. Weight: 63-64kg. I decided to stop weighing myself from this point and only take measurements. Because what I was seeing in the mirror did not fit to the numbers on the scale! (I have been at 64kg before … and I did NOT look this lean back then).
- Week 1: 1980 calories; 148P | 226C | 55F: I was not very hungry this week so I did not stuff my face with food. Not ideal but progress is never linear.
- Week 3: 2100 calories; 146P | 234C | 63F: My goal was not to eat this many fats but as everyone, I have my days of cravings too! I ate an entire chocolate bar (500 calories) one day so that messed up my fat macros for the week. I decided not to eat low fat the days after. It’s not that serious 😉
I am still at 2100-2150 calories per day. My goal is to come to 2200 calories per day by the end of February and then start a Mini-Cut. I will explain the scientific background of that in another post!
93 cm hips | 54cm legs | 71cm waist ; 64-65kg.
89cm hips | 54cm legs | 67cm waist; 58kg
(To everyone saying you can’t build your butt without growing your legs … it is possible with the right technique! I will write about this as well).
Did I gain 6-7kg of fat?
Actually, I am quite sure my real weight is approximately 62kg. I was feeling very flat at 58kg so I am not aiming to go back that low again.
Why did you gain weight although you didn’t eat in a surplus?
According to my fitness tracker, I burn 2100-2200 calories a day. I still gained at least 4kg of weight because my hormones were down-regulated and my metabolism was slowed down. It was used to burning 1600 calories a day because that is what I was feeding it.
4. Changes in my Nutrition
The first few weeks, I was walking around bloated the entire time. I was used to eating small portion sizes of everything. My digestive tract has been my problem area since childhood. I have changed some things that have greatly improven my digestion though:
- More Complex Carbohydrates: I have increased my consumption of oatmeal, rice and potatoes to meet my Carb goal.
- Less fruits: When you are eating less calories, the fiber in fruits is going to help you to feel more full. I was eating 3-4 apples a day and 1 serving of berries. I decreased this to 1 serving of berries and 1 Apple a day. This way, I was able to eat more food without a bloated belly.
- Sugar max. 60g/day: With exceptions on days I want to cheat 🙂
- More Olive oil for fats: Easy to digest and helps your intestines break down and absorb many vitamins. I don’t use olive oil for cooking. I cook my meats/ vegetables in hot water and pour the oil on it after I turned down the heat.
- Fiber: I am still working on this. I eat very healthy, so my fiber intake is through the roof. This is not ideal for a healthy digestive system, so I need to eat more brown rice. I try to eat most vegetables steamed and I haven’t had a salad since July. Because the volume makes it impossible for me to eat my calories!
- Cycling macronutrients: I don’t eat the same macros every day. On leg days, sometimes I eat 300g of carbs; on resting days, I eat more fats and cut the amount of carbs in half. This has helped me keep my Insulin sensitivity high and get rid of water retention.
- 90% healthy: This is not a huge change but just because I am in a muscle-building phase does not mean I get to eat burgers and pizza. I kept the calorie sources clean and healthy most of the time.
5. Training to build more muscle
When you are reverse dieting, you need to increase the intensity of your training. The goal here is to force your body to use the calories to build muscle.
This is what my training plan looked like:
- No HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training): HIIT is actually beneficial to preserve and build muscle. But I noticed I would get so sore after a session that I would have less energy for my actual strength training. Thus, I decided to cut it off completely. It will be my secret weapon whenever I want to lose fat though!
- More strength training: 2x Upper Body and 2x Heavy Leg days with 1 light Glute & Abs Day. I have been doing this program since October and I have changed my workout routines every 3-4 weeks (or whenever I started feeling bored). I actually tried not to focus too much on the weight I was lifting but focus more on how I was lifting. Feeling the muscles do the work is key to not only build muscle but also fat.
- LISS (Low intensity steady state cardio): Cardio is important for heart health and I need it for stress reduction as well. I am either running at a relaxed pace or walking 4 times per week for 45 min- 1 hour.
6. My supplements to support muscle growth and prevent fat gain
My supplements have not changed much, to be honest. There are some new products that have helped me with my sciatica and joint pain though, as well as my digestive issues.
- Taking a Greens supplement every day with probiotics: This one from amazinggrass has saved my gut.
- Chlorella powder or tablets: This increased red blood cell count, detoxifies your entire body and helps with digestion and fat burning.
- CLA and L- Carnitine: As natural fat burners. CLA is a healthy fatty acid that has been proven to improve body composition. Even in a muscle-building phase, it will help you to use the calories to build muscle, not fat. L-Carnitine helps your body use fatty acids as fuel. These two are natural fat burners.
- A good quality multivitamin: This one is filled with B-vitamins, choline and inositol (detoxifying your body and preventing Alzheimer’s), Vitamin A, D, C, E, zinc and more.
- Joint supplement: This one has definitely helped increase joint stability and helped me heal my tendinitis.
- BCAA: I always take these before, during and after my workout. Especially if you are not supplementing with a protein powder, BCAA’s are key to preserve muscle mass, build more muscle, boost immune system and more.
- Zinc: The multivitamin contains 5mg of Zinc but I take 5-10 more mg to boost my immune system in these stressful times.
7. Full day of Eating
This day of eating serves as an example. Some of you might struggle to eat so many calories from healthy sources. I hope this helps.
- Breakfast: Always the same: 30g Oats, Cocoa powder, cinnamon, 25g Whey Protein Iso Pro from MyProtein, Greens from amazinggrass, Chlorella powder 5g from MyProtein, 150g Joghurt (lactose-free), 200g Berries
- Supplements: Multivitamin, Joint supplement, CLA, Zinc
- Lunch: 200g Vegetables; 150g lean Protein source (Fish, Chicken, Meat); 150-200g (cooked) rice
- Snacks: 1 Quest Bar or 1 Lenny’s and Larry’s Cookie
- Pre and Intra-Workout Drink: L-Carnitine by MyProtein , BCAA by MyProtein
- Dinner = Post-Workout : 250g (cooked) rice, 200g Vegetables, 3-4 Protein Pancakes topped with 20g PB2 and 150g of Berries
Drink at least 2,5 liters of tea + 1 more liter of water
8. Mental Health is just as important
During a reverse diet, the mental changes are just as important as the physical ones. Your are consciously putting more calories into your body, knowing that it could cause some weight gain. I knew that I would gain quite a bit because I have been eating a low amount of calories for years!
If you have been dieting for a few months, you might not gain weight at all. In fact, some of my clients experienced weight loss as soon as they started increasing calories. This is the sign of a healthy metabolism!
The key here is to realize that in order to be lose fat in the future, your metabolism has to be healthy. There is no way around it. I was eating 1500 calories a day and normally, I should have been losing 0.5kg per week with that! But I wasn’t and that shows how much my metabolism slowed down in the process.
Even if I would gain 10 or even 15kg, it was all worth it to me.
I know how to lose weight and I know how to cut the fat. But for the first time, I had to let go of those thoughts and don’t let them control me anymore.
Lastly, it is crucial to trust the process. The first months I was bloated all the time but I never gave up. I knew I would never make any progress eating so little calories. Gaining weight is not always a step back. In this case, it was my progress. And I have never felt better, mentally and physically.
9. Closing thoughts
Reverse Dieting was the perfect method for me to finally improve my relationship to food and erase those disturbed thoughts once and for all. I am now healthy, my hormones are at a normal level again, my skin looks healthy, my hair has grown thicker, my sleep is better, my studying is going well .. I have never been this happy since childhood! Looking back, I have lost quite a few years struggling with my relationship to food but you know what? I am grateful for everything that has happened. I am grateful I didn’t fall into the black hole of an eating disorder, though I was about to. I was still able to pull myself out of there on my own, using fitness as my therapy.
Reverse dieting is very beneficial if you are used to eating small portions and can’t imagine eating twice or three times the amounts you had eaten before. You get used to eating like a normal human being – slowly and step by step. This is much more a mental journey than a physical one.
Wether or not you should do a reverse diet depends on your starting point, your metabolism, your hormones, your body fat percentage and how low your calories are. For more information about this topic, please read this article I have written. I will update it in the next 2 weeks and add some more helpful information and new studies.
If you have any question, please feel free to ask!
Remember, this is simply a documentation of my journey. I don’t have anything to hide from you. But I hope you will not take my calories as yours and expect to see the same results. Because your body is unique!