menu iconknow your dna logosearch icon
Does Reverse Dieting Work?
Updated on August 7, 2023
Back to top
back to top icon
Diet / Weight Loss
Does Reverse Dieting Work?

Reverse dieting is a post-diet strategy that people use to return to a certain caloric level quickly.

Reverse dieting has proven somewhat beneficial. However, there’s still not enough research to support its efficacy.

There are also some risks associated with reverse dieting. It is important to seek professional advice before pursuing this post-diet strategy.

What Is Reverse Dieting?

Reverse dieting is a dietary approach. It involves gradually increasing your food intake after a period of low-calorie dieting.1

The timeline for a reverse diet depends on several factors. These can include your weight goals, bodily response to calorie intake, and more.

Typically, reverse dieting can be done over weeks or months. It can involve increasing your calorie intake by as little as 2-3% every week until you reach your calorie intake goal.2

It’s a strategy designed to prevent the common weight gain that can happen if you abruptly return to your old eating habits and calorie intake.

Bodybuilders popularly practice reverse dieting. This is to prevent quick weight gain after competitions.2

Working with a dietitian can help you follow a tailor-made reverse diet plan that suits your needs and conditions. However, more evidence is needed to scientifically validate the effectiveness of reverse dieting.2

The Concept Behind Reverse Dieting

Reverse dieting is based on decreased metabolism caused by prolonged calorie restriction.1

During calorie restriction, your metabolic rate slows down in order to conserve energy. Your body accomplishes this by reducing the number of calories you burn daily.3

Metabolic Adaptation

This process is called metabolic adaptation. It is a biological phenomenon that optimizes energy levels and promotes sustainable weight maintenance.

During decreased metabolic rate, you can regain weight. This happens when you consume more calories than your body is burning. This is because your metabolic rate has not yet caught up to the adjusted calorie intake.

Reverse dieting attempts to reverse metabolic adaptations by slowly reintroducing calories. This is to prevent rapid weight gain. It introduces a more controlled manner of increasing caloric intake. This can help your body readjust to higher energy levels.

Your body will adjust to the gradual increase in calorie intake. Additionally, your metabolic rate potentially increases.

Are There Reverse Dieting Success Stories?

Some people have experienced real-life success from reverse dieting. 

Meredith is one example of someone who experienced reverse dieting benefits over a span of 15 months. She achieved an athletic build from reverse dieting strategies and exercise regimes.4

“Overly restricted caloric intake as a weight loss strategy is not sustainable. For this reason, the slow introduction of low-calorie food may provide some sustainable success,” says Dr. Mira.

Some research supports metabolic adaptation. However, the efficacy of reverse dieting remains inconclusive.2

Most studies on metabolism change focus on lowering calories rather than reverse dieting. 

Moreover, most success stories about reverse dieting are personal anecdotes rather than scientific studies.

How Does Reverse Dieting Differ from Traditional Dieting?

Traditional diets demand limited calorie intake. Reverse dieting focuses on slowly increasing calorie intake to affect your metabolism.5

Most traditional diets focus on lower calorie intake to lose weight. However, this can lead to metabolic adaptations. This will make weight maintenance challenging in the long run.6

Reverse dieting counters this by slowly increasing your calorie intake, helping your metabolism adjust. This makes it easier for you to maintain your desired weight.

“After caloric restriction, reverse dieting may help you sustain your weight loss. Slow increments of calories are added to your low-calorie target depending on your body mass index (BMI),” explains Dr. Mira.

Why Reverse Diet?

There are various reasons why someone would employ the reverse diet. These can include:

  • Weight maintenance – Many people may find it hard to maintain their weight after weight loss. Reverse dieting helps introduce calories while still maintaining body weight.
  • Metabolic recovery – After weight loss, decreased metabolic rate may occur. People looking to restore their metabolism turn to reverse dieting to do so.
  • Increased muscle mass – Low-calorie diets can lead to muscle loss. Increased calorie intake paired with strength training can boost muscle mass and energy.
  • Combat weight loss plateau – A weight loss plateau happens when your body weight hits a stagnant state and remains unchanged. This is due to the changes in metabolism that occur from weight loss.7 
  • Prevent severe fluctuations in hormones – One of the dangers of severe sudden weight loss is fluctuations in hormones. This can lead to maladaptive responses in the body and even can do harm when left untreated.

How Does Reverse Dieting Work?

A reverse diet aims to restore metabolic functions that were affected in a low-calorie diet.

The Role of Metabolic Rate and Calorie Intake

A reverse diet is characterized by metabolic rate and calorie intake.1

Prolonged calorie restriction involves consuming fewer calories than your body requires. This will help you lose weight. In response, your metabolic rate slows down to conserve energy. This process is called metabolic adaptation. 

Over time, the body adjusts to this slowed metabolism, so it slows down the body’s processes, too.

Slowly consuming more calories fuels your body with more energy. When your body recognizes this, your metabolic rate can potentially increase to keep up.

An increased or faster metabolism leads to a higher number of calories burned. This may lead to potential sustained weight loss or weight maintenance.

“This also prevents rebound adiposity. Adiposity is a phenomenon that results when one regains weight because of sudden increases in caloric intake,” says Dr. Mira.

Gradually Increasing Caloric Intake

Gradually increasing calorie intake should occur in small increments. 

There is no one-size-fits-all reverse diet plan. This is partly due to inconclusive research recommendations.2 

It's best to consult with your doctor or dietitian about the ideal plan for you.

Generally, most reverse diet plans increase calorie intake by 2% to 3% weekly. This increase occurs until you reach your intended calorie intake goal.

Other reverse diet plans increase calorie intake by a higher percentage within the first week. After this, calorie intake is increased by 2-3% every succeeding week.

It’s not always necessary to count your calories when you are on a reverse diet. You can increase your calorie intake by simply eating an extra snack or slightly increasing your meal portions.1

It’s also important to note that the amount of calories you consume does not equate to a healthy diet. A healthy diet must consist of balanced whole and nutrient-dense foods.1

The Current State of Research on Reverse Dieting

There is very little scientific evidence supporting reverse dieting.1,2 

Most literature around reverse dieting is anecdotal evidence with no conclusive scientific backing. There are gaps in the explanation of how reverse dieting works. Moreover, there is lacking evidence on whether it maintains weight loss in the long-term.8

One study by George Mason University examined reverse dieting. It suggests that reverse dieting prevents weight regain in trained athletes.1

Various athletes perform reverse dieting. For example, many athletes need to qualify for certain weight classes. Reverse dieting can come in handy for getting back to their normal weight after competitions.

However, the George Mason University study failed to prove that quickly increasing calories is less effective than reverse dieting.

Anecdotal evidence and individual experiences can provide important insight and guidance into reverse dieting. However, the effectiveness of reverse dieting in weight is yet to be examined further.

Reverse dieting can potentially help establish healthy habits. However, most plans require precisely counting calories. Excessive calorie counting can become a risk factor for:

  • Eating disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Other behavioral problems

It’s better to open yourself to a variety of nutrient-dense food rather than a strict diet. They provide vitamins and minerals that prevent damage to your metabolism. They can also prevent excessive calorie counting.

If you are looking to try reverse dieting, consult with a doctor or registered dietitian first. They can provide recommendations and personalized plans for your weight goals.

The Dangers Of Excessive Calorie Counting

Excessive calorie counting can have a number of negative effects on your physical and mental health. These dangers of excessive calorie counting include:

  • Obsession and binge eating - Excessive calorie counting can cause an unhealthy obsession with food. It can cause or worsen eating disorders like orthorexia, anorexia nervosa, or bulimia nervosa. (source) (source)
  • Nutritional deficiencies - If you only count calories, you may overlook nutrient quality and balance. It may result in insufficient consumption of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. (source)
  • Mental anguish - Constantly monitoring and restricting calories has several consequences. These can include stress, anxiety, and negative emotions related to food. It may also limit social interactions and meal enjoyment. This can affect a person's overall quality of life and mental well-being.

Potential Directions For Future Research On Reverse Dieting

There are several potential directions for future reverse dieting research. Here are a few topics worth investigating further:

  • Controlled studies - Comparing reverse dieting to other dietary strategies can prove its effectiveness. Factors to examine include metabolic rate, changes in body composition, and hormonal responses.
  • Individual variability - Investigating individual variability in response to reverse dieting is critical. Understanding factors such as genetics can identify who benefits from reverse dieting.
  • Long-term outcomes - More long-term studies on reversed dieting are required. This may shed light on the long-term viability of metabolic improvements and its impact on overall health.

The Benefits of Reverse Dieting

Reverse dieting can offer several potential benefits for anyone on long-term traditional diets.

The main benefits of reverse dieting include: 

  • Long-term weight maintenance
  • Improved energy levels
  • Minimal hormonal fluctuations
  • Reduced hunger

Can Reverse Dieting Help with Weight Loss?

Reverse dieting can support weight maintenance. This is through preventing rapid weight gain after a calorie-restriction diet.

However, reverse dieting is not solely intended for weight loss and should not be used as a primary strategy.

It is a strategy used after a diet to prevent weight gain after you lose some pounds. No scientific evidence shows that a reverse diet can conclusively promote weight loss.5

Improved Energy Levels and Reduced Hunger

Increasing calorie intake provides more energy for your body. This can lead to reduced fatigue and increased energy levels.

Prolonged calorie-restrictive diets can increase hunger and stimulate cravings. A reverse diet can address this by introducing a higher calorie intake to fuel hunger and prevent cravings.

Can Reverse Dieting Affect My Muscle Growth?

Reverse dieting is not primarily intended for muscle growth. 

A calorie-restrictive diet can lead to loss of lean body muscle mass. Reverse dieting may support muscle growth by providing more energy and protein for your body in contrast to a low-calorie diet. 

You can achieve sustainable muscle growth with strength training.2 

Meanwhile, research is inconclusive on whether reverse dieting improves muscle growth.

Is Reverse Dieting Difficult?

Reverse dieting may not be for everyone. There are a couple of challenges that you might encounter during a reverse diet. These include:

  • Counting calories - Reverse dieting entails counting your calories by planning and tracking them. Maintaining this level of attention can be difficult if you prefer having a more liberated eating plan.2
  • Psychological challenges - Reverse dieting may lead to excessive calorie counting. This creates risks for unhealthy mindsets. This can lead to unhealthy relationships with food or, worse, eating disorders.
  • Adjusting to more calories - Increasing your calorie intake can be challenging for your body. You might experience occasional digestive discomfort and confusion with hunger cues.
  • Fat gain - If you don’t know your maintenance calories, you can overshoot the amount of calories you need to be consuming. This can lead to fat gain.9

Psychological Impact of Reverse Dieting

The psychological impact of reverse dieting varies depending on the individual. Some people may experience positive effects from reverse dieting. These can include increased self-esteem and better body image. However, others may feel the opposite.

  • Emotional difficulties - Reverse dieting can elicit a range of emotions. This is true if the person has a history of body dysmorphia. Letting go of strict calorie counting can cause anxiety, uncertainty, and fear of weight gain.
  • Body image issues - During reverse dieting, people who obsess over weight may face body image issues. 
  • Identity and control shifts - Reverse dieting can cause a shift in a person's identity. It may be necessary to let go of diet culture identity, which can be difficult and impact self-worth.

Common Questions About Reverse Dieting

How Long Does It Take for Reverse Dieting to Work?

The time it takes for reverse dieting to work depends on several factors. These factors include:10

  • The duration of your low-calorie diet
  • Metabolic adaptations
  • Your desired weight goals
  • Baseline weight
  • How your body responds to a reverse diet.

However, results should be visible within a few months. This is provided that you remain consistent and incorporate nutritious food into your diet.

Can I Have a Cheat Day While Reverse Dieting?

Cheat days are not recommended while reverse dieting. 

Reverse dieting is designed to be gradual and controlled. Cheat days do not train your metabolism to reach your intended goals. It will store extra calories as fat, the same way as traditional dieting.

What Exercise Should I Do While Reverse Dieting?

While reverse dieting, choosing exercises that can help boost your metabolism is important. 

“Low-impact, repetitive exercises may help with this venture,” explains Dr. Mira.

To boost metabolism, you need to build lean muscle. Lifting weights is an effective way to build muscle and improve your metabolism.

Cardio exercises are important. However, the majority of your exercise routine should include weight lifting.

What Is the Time Period for Reverse Dieting?

There are different recommendations for how long you should do a reverse diet. A general rule of thumb is between four and eight months. 

The following are indications for you to stop your reverse diet:

  • If you are satisfied with the amount of food you are consuming
  • If you gained weight significantly three to four weeks in a row
  • If you have an allowance to drop more calories for fat loss  
Updated on August 7, 2023
Will Hunter
Will Hunter
Content Contributor
Will is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. He received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Will has 7 years of experience writing health-related content, with an emphasis on nutrition, alternative medicine, and longevity.
Back to top icon