Reverse dieting. It’s the fitness buzzword of the moment, the new flavour of the month and everyone seems to be doing it, or planning on doing it in the very near future. It seems that a lot of people are somewhat confused about what a reverse diet actually does, what it means and many fitness enthusiasts seem to be under the impression that by some scientific miracle reverse dieting allows us to stay bullshit lean while eating lots and lots of carbs. Unfortunately this is not the case.
First things first, there is no way of “tricking” your body into maintaining a low body weight on calories above maintenance. This myth seems to have arisen from circumstances where those who are embarking on a reverse diet have lost weight in the initial stages of increasing calories. People think, “wow! I’m losing weight and eating more, reverse dieting is magic!” Unfortunately this isn’t Hogwarts, you aren’t Harry Potter and what you’re experiencing isn’t magic. If an individual encounters weight loss during the early stages of a reverse diet, while slowly increasing from a deficit towards maintenance, that individual is losing weight because they are still in a deficit. Once the individual reaches “maintenance” the weight loss will cease and as the name suggests, weight will be maintained. This is when the real benefits of reverse dieting begin.
The real goal of reverse dieting happens above maintenance level and depending on whom you speak to, the slow introduction of calories before maintenance level is a complete waste of time. By not jumping straight to maintenance you are simply prolonging a deficit and the negative effects of a deficit state, the counter argument being that the prolonged deficit state is easier to cope with mentally.
Above maintenance level really a reverse diet is just a slow bulk. Calories are introduced gradually and in a controlled way to allow the body to adapt to increased energy intake with the aim of minimising fat gain. By sending your body into a calorie surplus slowly you can reap the benefits of everything a calorie surplus offers (think muscle gain, glycogen filled muscles, increased energy levels, quicker recovery) while having the relative control to not gain an excessive amount of weight.
Reverse dieting has many benefits and it is definitely the way to go if you wish to improve while still maintaining relatively good conditioning. However, a reverse diet only qualifies as so if the food you are eating is measured and the macro amounts introduced are controlled. Therefore if you don’t track but simply “eat clean” and claim to be “reverse dieting” what you are actually doing is bulking with a blindfold on- don’t confuse the two.