The pros and cons of reverse dieting and how to add calories without regaining weight
- Reverse dieting can ease you out of a calorie-restricted
dietwithout regaining weight.
- The goal of reverse dieting is to help you burn those extra calories you're adding back.
- Though it sounds like a good idea, there's no research to prove reverse dieting works.
Whenever you restrict calories and lose weight, you disrupt your body's basal metabolic rate (BMR) — the number of calories your body burns while at rest. That's where the concept of reverse dieting, or a recovery diet, comes into play.
Reverse dieting is supposed to give your BMR a boost, returning it to baseline where it was before you lost weight, and help you burn more calories during the day. That way, you're more likely to keep off the weight you lost and not gain it back.
At least, that's the idea. Reverse dieting is not proven, and most of the evidence for it is anecdotal. In practice, the actual eating plan of reverse dieting can be beneficial, but relying on your metabolism to keep the weight off is a bad idea.
Insider spoke to Manhattan-based registered dietitian Brittany Modell, founder of Brittany Modell Nutrition and Wellness, about reverse dieting and how to best recover from a restrictive diet.
What is reverse dieting?
On a reverse dieting plan, you are supposed to gradually increase the number of calories you eat over several weeks to months so that you're no longer in a caloric deficit and your weight can stabilize, Modell says.
"Overall, the theory is to eat more calories gradually, rather than restrict and increase dramatically," she says.
And, according to the reverse dieting philosophy, this is also supposed to help increase your BMR and prevent you from regaining weight as you add more calories back to your diet.
"However, it is not so simple. It is impossible to make claims that a reverse diet will 'recalibrate' your metabolism and maintain the weight you lost. The body is much more complex."
Metabolism is only one factor for weight maintenance
Our bodies are influenced by many hormones, like ghrelin and leptin, that dictate our appetite and hunger levels. Ghrelin triggers hunger and leptin signals when you're full. So your body releases a certain amount of ghrelin when you need to eat and then replaces it with leptin when it's time to stop eating.
However, when you lose weight, researchers have found that your body releases more ghrelin and less leptin — meaning you feel hungrier when it's time to eat and less full after you're done.
These hormones and the way they contribute to weight control is totally separate from the role that metabolism plays. Plus, these hormones likely play a larger role in whether or not you keep the weight off that you lost.
In other words, relying on your BMR to keep the weight off for you is a bad, and likely unsuccessful, game plan.
How to safely ease out of a diet
If you've found yourself in a restrictive mindset and you've dieted for a long time, you can adopt healthier habits to ease yourself out of a diet without putting on pounds.
"Chances are you likely restricted carbohydrates and fat. If this is the case, start by adding in carbohydrate and fat sources with breakfast or lunch, for example, adding oatmeal and peanut butter to breakfast or beans and avocado at lunch," says Modell. "This will increase your overall calorie intake as well as incorporating back some healthy fats and carbs, which your body needs."
Eating these types of whole, fiber- and protein-rich foods — instead of introducing or reverting back to processed foods — will help you feel fuller longer and may help prevent overeating.
Some other methods of safely easing out of a diet include:
- Eat slowly until you feel about 80% full to prevent overeating.
- Practice mindful eating to feel more satiated.
- Enjoy your meal with loved ones or friends to help you make better food choices.
Keeping the weight off can be just as difficult as losing it in the first place. A reverse diet is designed to help you return to a sustainable way of eating while keeping the pounds off.
While the premise of a reverse diet is commendable, the emphasis it places on boosting BMR is questionable. You can boost your metabolism slightly with diet and exercise, but probably not enough to account for an additional 300-500 calories per day.
Instead of trying to boost your metabolism to keep the weight off, make sure to eat healthily and exercise regularly. It's also important to lose the weight in a sustainable way in the first place.
Finally, understand that weight can fluctuate. So focus on feeling great instead of what the scales read.
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