The ‘reverse diet’ is not a weight loss cheat code

The 'reverse diet' is not a weight loss cheat code

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To hear the TikTok girls say it, there is a trick that will allow you EAT MORE FOOD! As long as I DON’T GAIN WEIGHT! And it’s cool yeah You’re SICK OF DIETING! It doesn’t matter that one can achieve all of those goals with a simple trick called “no more dieting”. No, you need a name and a strict protocol: counter dieting

The basic idea of ​​the reverse diet is that you slowly add a few more calories to your diet each week. So you normally maintain your weight on 2,000 calories a day, but you’ve been eating 1,500 calories to lose weight. Then you could “reverse the diet” by eating 1,600 calories a day the next week, 1,700 calories a day the next week, and so on. In time, it will go back to 2000 calories, or maybe 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 (gaining weight to gain muscle mass) and cutting (losing as much fat as possible before stepping on stage). While the process can create stunning physiques, it also affects your metabolism and overall health.

The reverse diet is one approach to transitioning from extreme cutting to maintenance or bulking: rather than just gorging the day after your bodybuilding program, you may prefer slowly increase the amount of food you eat as you find your maintenance calories again.

This idea spawned the current trend of influencers presenting the reverse diet as the cure for all their diet-related complaints. But it doesn’t work that way.

The science behind the reverse diet

Some from the claims you’ll hear from skinny women flexing their abs on TikTok, and from bodybuilders saying just trust them bro, is it so TRUE. Among them:

  • Your metabolism adapts to dieting, so over time you have to eat less and less food to keep losing weight (this is a known thing).
  • After dieting for a long time, you may find yourself eating a miserably low number of calories.
  • Eating more food will stop your body from being so stingy with calories and may increase the number of calories your body burns.
  • After you increase your calories, you may one day lose weight again while eating more food than when you were in the depths of your diet.

There are also a number of falsehoods and half-truths that crop up. You might hear that increasing your calories too fast after a diet will cause your body to store fat, or that you can add 1,000 calories and still lose weight, or some, some, some, some hormones, some cortisol. (Scroll far 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 into play. Supposedly, the cure for all these ills is simply that you need to add 50 to 100 calories to your diet each week. The process is slow and requires patience, but stick with it and you might as well seem this girl (imagine me shaking my head to point to the before and after photos I’ve posted behind me) 2400 calories instead of 1200.

So what is it Really truth about the reverse diet, and why is everyone so interested in it? Let’s take a closer look.

When it goes well, the “reverse diet” is simply “not dieting” but with more rules

After reading all the points above, you might think, OKSo why not stop dieting? You’ll eat more food, your body will burn more calories, and from there you can go back to dieting or, crazy idea here, just stop dieting. Hell you could give winning I weigh a try.

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

As Eric Trexler, nutrition and metabolism researcher, put it herethe original the goal of reverse dieterss to smoothly transition from a calorie deficit, to maintenance, to your first volume after a bodybuilding contest without gaining more fat than I necessary a. One problem with this approach is that after bodybuilders diet so hard, need to recover fat. You can’t stay dangerously skinny forever, and that’s true whether you’re a jerk or a TikTok girl.

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

The Reverse Diet Is Not A Cure For Chronic Dieting

There are two things going on here, I think. One is relatively harmless. Llet’s say you’ve been on a diet and you are ready to start gaining weight. Instead of eating an extra 1,000 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 next week, and so on. You’ll be less surprised by changes in your weight (eating more means there’s more food in your belly, so the scale might go up a bit just because of that) and it may be easier to figure out roughly how many calories you should be eating going forward.

But that’s not how it’s described on social media. Thin women are telling chronic dieters that they can eat more food while still being very thin, if they just follow a strict reverse diet protocol. But rigor and expectations can be detrimental on their own.

For an extreme example, see this video from a registered dietitian and 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 dietician says she “needs[ed] gain weight immediately.” But instead of following her care team’s guidance that would make her gain a pound a week, she secretly put herself on a reverse diet protocol. By adding just 50 calories each week to what was too little of what she was already eating, she took three months to gain a whole pound of body mass, basically delaying your recovery by three months.

And this is where I think we need to take a closer look at why reverse dieting posts are so popular on corners of social media that focus on weight loss. While eating more sounds healthier—it’s a good start! Going on a strict reverse diet is just another way to restrict.

The reverse diet is sometimes just a way to restrict more

Let’s say, as in many of the examples on TikTok, that you are someone who currently consumes 1200 calories (officially a starvation diet) and no longer lose weight. Even if you’re a petite woman who never exercises (perhaps because she doesn’t have the energy?), a healthy amount of daily exercise the calories will probably be 1,600 or more. So are you supposed to eat 1250 next week? And then 1300 the following week? At that rate, it would take eight weeks to go up to the number that should be mere maintenance for you. Even if you don’t have an eating disorder, you’re creating the same problem as the erectile dysfunction patient in the dietitian case study.

What is even more worrying me is that 50 or even 100 calories is an extremely precise number. If my goal is to eat 2,000 calories a day, maybe some days I’ll have 1,950 and some days I’ll have 2,100. Over time it evens out. But if you’re trying to hit exactly 1850 and not 1900 (because 1900 is next goal of the week) you will need to keep careful track of your food. This is the kind of lifestyle where you’ll weigh your toast before and after you spread the peanut butter on it, and you don’t want to eat at a restaurant, because how many calories are in each menu item? What if they are hard on the sauce?

As I scrolled through #reversedieting TikTok, I found women saying they had to miss out on family meals and deal with worry from their friends during their reverse diet. Clearly, they haven’t stepped far from diet land. For these people, actually it seems that “reverse” is essentially a way to extend your diet. You could be eating on maintenance for those eight weeks, but instead you’re restricting. Then what? The reverse diet is often described as a way to increase calorie burn. so you can go back to dieting.

Even when the influencers show themselves gaining muscle and eating genuinely healthy amounts of calories (assuming the numbers they cite are true), it’s still all couched in language about skinny and skinny, featuring photos of their abs. Prioritizing thinness even while gaining muscle it’s backwards bullshit. It’s okay not to be able to see your abs while trying to get bigger. Like the strong man JF Caron famous put it, “Abs is not a power thing. It’s just a sign that you’re not eating enough.”

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