Does Reverse Dieting Actually Work? We Asked a Nutrition Expert.
So you tried a diet, and you’ve lost the weight. Whether you’ve followed some kind of fad diet or you were able to lose weight gradually over a long period of time, you’re likely wondering what’s next. Some experts would recommend gradually increasing your calorie intake after you diet, also known as reverse dieting. This particular practice has been credited by many online influencers as a way to increase your metabolism and prevent fat regain by eating more food. But does it actually work? Or do you just gain the weight back?
We talked to Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, an award-winning nutrition expert and author of Up Your Veggies: Flexitarian Recipes for the Whole Family, about the process of reverse dieting, if it actually works, and if it’s even safe to try.
How does reverse dieting work?
“Oftentimes, after someone goes off a diet they tend to regain the lost weight soon after,” says Amidor. “Reverse dieting, also known as ‘the diet after the diet,’ is meant to limit weight regain by slowly adding calories to the diet after meeting one’s desired weight and is meant to prevent the common occurrence of regain.”
As an example, Amidor explains that a person on a 1,400-calorie diet for weight loss would increase their calories by 50 every few weeks until they reach a plateau of weight maintenance. “The length of time to reach maintenance calories is meant to be done over weeks or several months, depending on the individual.”
Is reverse dieting safe for someone to do?
But what about this claim that reverse dieting can boost your metabolism and actually help you burn fat? Some have credited the reverse dieting idea with these benefits, calling it “the opposite of a diet” and saying you can eat more food instead of less. Yet unsurprisingly, according to Ambidor, there isn’t much to back it up.
“There has been anecdotal success of reverse dieting with bodybuilders and some athletes, but the research isn’t strong enough right now to recommend it,” says Amidor. “Plus, adding a small amount of calories — like 50 — is a very small amount and would mean that you would need to tediously count every calorie that you put in your mouth, for weeks or months.”
Some would even say that the practice of reverse dieting is also known as “yo-yo dieting,” where you go back and forth between periods of restriction/dieting. Previous research has actually shown that periods of yo-yo dieting (also known as weight cycling) can increase the risk of heart disease for some.
With such a meticulous dieting structure, Amidor would say that reverse dieting isn’t worth the work, and it would be a lot more beneficial to set some long-term healthy habits that will help you lose or maintain weight over a prolonged period of time.
“As an RD, this isn’t something I would recommend especially if they tell me it is not practical for their lifestyle or style of losing weight or maintaining weight,” says Amidor. “In addition, proper weight loss techniques will encourage building healthy dietary habits that last a lifetime. As such, when someone loses weight they should not be going back to their previous eating style but rather be living with the healthy habits they have just created.”
The bottom line
In conclusion, while reverse dieting may seem like a promising solution to prevent weight regain after losing weight, there is not enough research to recommend it. Moreover, adding a small amount of calories over a prolonged period can be tedious and impractical for people who want to maintain their weight loss. Instead, it’s best to focus on building healthy dietary habits that can be sustained for a lifetime.
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