The “reverse diet” is not a cheat code for weight loss

The “reverse diet” is not a cheat code for weight loss

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Photo: Lolostock (Shutterstock)

To hear the TikTok girls say it, there’s a hack that will let you EAT MORE! WITHOUT GAINING WEIGHT! And it’s great if Are you tired of dieting? It doesn’t matter that all of these goals can be achieved by a simple trick called “stop dieting”. No, you need a name and a strict protocol: reverse follow a diet.

The basic idea of ​​the Reverse Diet is that you slowly add a few extra calories to your diet each week. So you normally maintain your weight at 2,000 calories a day, but you ate 1,500 calories to lose weight. You could then “reverse the diet” by eating 1,600 calories per day the next week, 1,700 calories per day the following week, and so on. Eventually, you’ll go back up to 2,000 calories, or even more.

This is not a trend that originated on TikTok. The term seems to have come from bodybuilders, whose sport requires them to engage in extreme cycles of bulking up (gaining weight to gain muscle mass) and cutting (losing as much fat as possible before hitting a stage). While the process can create stunning physiques, it also doesn’t care about your metabolism and overall health.

The reverse diet is an approach to going from extreme cutting to maintenance or bulking: instead of just scraping the day after your bodybuilding show, you could instead slowly increase the amount of food you eat as you regain your maintenance calories.

This idea gave rise to the current trend of influencers touting reverse dieting as the cure for all your diet-related complaints. But it doesn’t work like that.

The Science Behind Reverse Diets

Some claims you’ll hear from thin women flexing their abs on TikTok, and bodybuilders saying trust them bro, are TRUE. Among them:

  • Your metabolism adapts to the diet, so over time you need to eat less and less food to continue losing weight (this is a known thing).
  • After dieting for a long time, you may be eating a miserably low number of calories.
  • Eating more food will stop your body from being so stingy with calories and can increase the number of calories your body burns..
  • After increasing your calorie intake, you may one day be able to lose weight again by eating Following food than when you were deep in your diet.

There are also a number of untruths and half-truths that crop up. You might hear that increasing your calories too quickly after dieting will make your body fat, or that you can add 1,000 calories and still lose weight, or something hormones something cortisol. (Scroll long enough on fitness TikTok and someone will explain that all your problems are due to cortisol. Have a drink.)

In any case, this is where the “reverse diet” comes in. Supposedly, the cure for all of these ailments is simply that you need to add 50-100 calories to your diet each week. The process is slow and requires patience, but stick with it and you too might look like that girl (imagine me shaking my head to point to the before and after pics I have green behind me) on 2,400 calories instead of 1,200.

So what Actually true about reverse diets, and why is everyone so interested? Let’s take a closer look.

When all is well, the “reverse diet” is just “not a diet”, but with more rules

After reading all these points above, you might think, OK, so why not stop dieting? You’ll eat more food, your body will burn more calories, and from there you’ll be able to go dieting again or – crazy idea here – just not dieting anymore. Heck, you could give earn weight a try.

And that is, in fact, the real answer. Just stop dieting. The world will not end. You can eat again and everything will be fine. So why reverse the regime?

Like Eric Trexler, nutrition and metabolism researcher, put it herethe original reverse dieters goal was to smoothly transition from a calorie deficit, to maintenance, to their first volume after a bodybuilding contest without gaining more fat than them needed to. A problem with this approach is that after dieting this hard, bodybuilders need to regain fat. You can’t stay dangerously skinny forever, and it’s true whether you’re a beefhead or a TikTok girl.

On social media, reverse dieting is often described as a way to continue dieting while eating more calories. It’s true that if you’re in a 500 calorie deficit and you only add 50 calories a week, you’ll be in a deficit for a very long time – 10 weeks, at this rate. Trexler notes that “this would only serve to delay even the most basic and immediate aspects of recovery, and make [the dieter’s] unnecessarily difficult life.

Reverse dieting is not a cure for chronic dieting

There are two things going on here, I think. One is relatively harmless. LLet’s say you went on a diet and you’re ready to start gaining weight. Instead of eating 1000 extra calories each day (to go from a 500 calorie deficit to a 500 calorie surplus), you can eat a few hundred more this week, and add a few hundred more the following week, and and so on. You’ll be less surprised by changes in your weight (eating more food means there’s more food in your belly, so the scale may increase slightly) and it may be easier to work out roughly how many calories you should be eating . go forward.

But that’s not how he’s portrayed on social media. Thin women tell chronic dieters that they can eat more food and still be very thin, if only they follow a strict reverse dieting protocol. But rigor and expectations can be detrimental in themselves.

For an extreme example, see this video a registered dietitian and an eating disorder specialist. She describes a woman who was receiving help to recover from an eating disorder. The woman had such a low body weight, with associated health problems, which the dietitian says she “needs[ed] to gain weight at once.” But instead of following her healthcare team’s advice that she would gain a pound a week, she secretly went on a reverse dieting protocol. By adding just 50 calories each week to the too little she was already eating, she had to three months gaining a whole pound of body mass, essentially delaying his recovery by three months.

And here is where I think we need to take a closer look at why reverse dieting posts are so popular in social media corners focused on weight loss. Although eating more seems healthier – that’s a good start! – Following a strict reverse diet is just another way to restrict.

Reverse dieting is sometimes just a way to further limit

Let’s say, as in many examples on TikTok, that you’re someone currently eating 1,200 calories (officially a starvation diet) and no longer lose weight. Even if you are a petite woman who never exercises, maybe because you don’t have enough energy? the calories will probably be 1,600 or more. So you’re supposed to eat 1250 next week? And then 1,300 the week after? At this rate, we should eight weeks to get you to the number that should be simple maintenance for you. Even if you don’t have an eating disorder, you are creating the same problem for yourself as the emergency room patient in the dietitian case study.

What is even more disturbing volume is that 50 or even 100 calories is an extremely accurate amount. If I aim to eat 2,000 calories a day, maybe some days I’ll get 1,950 and some days 2,100. Over time that balances out. But if you try to hit exactly 1850 not 1900 (because 1900 is next goal for the week), you will have to follow your diet meticulously. It’s the kind of lifestyle where you’re going to weigh your toast before and after spreading the peanut butter, and you won’t want to eat out because how many calories does each menu item contain? And if they have a heavy hand with the sauce?

In my scroll through #reversedieting TikTok, I found women saying they had to miss family meals and deal with their friends’ worries while on their reverse diet. Obviously, they haven’t taken a very far step from the diet. For these people, it’s actually seems like the “reverse” is basically a way to extend their diet. You could eat maintenance for those eight weeks, but you restrict yourself instead. And now what? The reverse diet is often described as a way to increase your calorie consumption so you can go on a diet again.

Even when influencers show themselves gaining muscle and eating a really healthy number of calories (assuming the numbers they quote are true), it’s all still phrased in language around lean and lean. , and features photos of their abs. Priority to thinness even when gaining muscle is a backward shit. There’s nothing wrong with not seeing your abs while you’re trying to bulk up. Like the strong man JF Caron famously said it“Abs aren’t a power thing. It’s just a sign that you aren’t eating enough.

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