Reverse Dieting Q&A

A couple of weeks ago Ashton asked on her Instagram what questions you had about reverse dieting, and we decided to make it a team effort!  This form of question & answer is exactly what you can expect during our Mindful Macros coaching calls!  Each week you can come to office hours and get ANY questions you have answered!

Now...let's get to the good stuff!  All YOUR questions answered about reverse dieting!

What is Reverse Dieting?

If you’re new to macros, then this really is going to feel like a foreign concept, but if you’ve done macros and have been through a “cutting” phase (where you’re in a calorie deficit to lose body fat), then this is what comes after you’re done cutting. Reverse dieting is a form of positive metabolic adaptation in which the body responds favorably to increased food intake.  Meaning you gradually increase your food intake weekly or bi-weekly to work your way back up to maintenance calories (where you theoretically don’t gain or lose weight - your body reaches homeostasis). This is achieved through controlled tracking of your diet while you steadily increase your macros. The process is meant to allow your body to slowly adapt to increased food intake without gaining excess body fat.

How long do you reverse before you should start cutting for weight loss?

The reversal process takes a different amount of time for each individual.  It depends on your dieting history, how steep of a calorie deficit you were in to begin with, and your mindset (how well you’re handling increasing your food intake mentally/emotionally).

Is there a carb amount you should “never” go below?

According to The Essentials of Sport & Exercise Nutrition, there is no “correct” amount of carbohydrates that is the same for everyone, all the time.  Carbohydrate intake depends on:

How big or small someone is

How much lean mass or body fat they have

How active they are

How intense, long-lasting, and/or frequent the activity is

How old they are & what stage of life they’re in

Intake levels of other macros

Genetics

What foods like like, tolerate, and prefer to eat

What they want to do

A small percentage of people function best with more carbs than average, another small percentage functions best with less than average, and most people fall somewhere in the middle and function best with a moderate portion of carbohydrates.  As far as looking for a number to never go below, research shows that our brains need about 130g of glucose a day (glucose is what carbs are broken into).

Is there a certain amount of time you should reverse as well as maintain for before cutting?

You’re going to hear this a lot but it’s different for everyone.  The length of time should be similar to how long you’ve been dieting!  You heard us right...the longer you’ve been a chronic dieter, the longer you should be reverse dieting.  We recommend doing a full reverse when you do a reverse. Meaning that you max out and push the limits of your metabolic capacity.  Pushing the limits of your reverse is important so that when it’s time for you to cut again, it can be the most effective possible! But do whatever is comfortable for you.  That’s the bottom line. Increasing food intake for some women is scary, as they fear gaining weight, but you have to remember that you’re not meant to be cutting forever. Your body WANTS to be at maintenance.  The place your body comfortably sits without losing or gaining weight. We recommend staying in maintenance at LEAST for 2 months before thinking about going into another cut (if you choose to do so).

Why does reverse dieting matter?

Reverse dieting is for anyone and everyone who wants to learn about the game plan AFTER dieting.  The path that leads to keeping the weight off forever. For anyone who wants to maximize their metabolism or improve their metabolism.  In other words, if you want to learn to eat more food on a daily basis and not be on a diet for your whole life, have a better relationship with carbs without ballooning up, this is probably something you want to know about!

How do you know when to stop increasing food?

Stop increasing food once you reach your total TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), or once you reach the point where your weight is starting to steadily creep upwards.  OR our favorite answer is it ends when you want it to end! Push your limits and really try to max out your metabolism!

How do you find your starting amount of macros when beginning a reverse?

Obviously if you’ve had cutting numbers (numbers where you’re in a deficit) then start with those and work your way up!  If you’re not cutting or aren’t interested in losing weight but would rather start with a reverse diet, then I usually recommend starting at the lower end of your estimated TDEE.  So for example let’s say you use a few different equations and find that your range for your TDEE is anywhere from 1900-2100 calories. If you were interested in reversing, we would start you at around 1800 calories and then reverse you!  As far as the macros, those vary from person to person. If you’re a part of our challenge, we explain our EXACT process in our “How to Calculate Your Macros” guide.

If my cutting calories are 1565 and maintenance are 1850 can I just go straight to 1850, and then +/-5g?

First off….of course you can if you want to!  But the reasoning behind slowly adding in calories each week is because when you spike your caloric intake too quickly at the end of calorie deficit, your metabolic rate doesn’t have time to catch up to the change.  The reason for this is our metabolism adapts to the amount of energy we give it. For example, if you have been in a calorie deficit at 1565 calories, at a certain point your metabolism will slow to match that 1565. In order to slowly adapt your metabolism to the new intake of food, you want to slowly add in calories each week.

So reverse dieting is still in your deficit range (just not the most extreme deficit)?

I hope I understand the questions clearly, but to reitterate….reverse dieting is the process of coaxing your metabolic rate to return to normal (what it was BEFORE you dieted), so you’re slowly decreasing the calorie deficit until you reach your estimated TDEE (total daily energy expenditure).

How do you do it and when do you know it’s time to?

First off you know it’s time to reverse when:

You’ve hit your goal.

You’ve hit a plateau.

Or you need a break.

You reverse from a cutting level to a maintenance level by incrementally adding calories back in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. If you add calories back in gradually you can increase your calorie consumption without gaining back weight or losing your results!!

You will want to start by adding around 80-100 calories per week in the form of fat and carbs (usually 2-5 grams of fat and 10-15 grams of carbs). Your protein number—however—will not change (we can hear the collective sigh of relief).

If after the first week there is no change on the scale or your measurements, add in another 100 calories in grams of carbs & fat for another week. Keep adding in calories until you get to your maintenance calorie level (a.k.a. T.D.E.E. your "total daily energy expenditure").

If at any time during your reversal you see a change in your measurements, simply don’t add in additional macros for that week. If you are still below your maintenance level, wait until your measurements are stable and then add in another round of upping your macros.

Can you up your maintenance (how many calories you can eat without gaining fat) through a reverse?

Possibly!  Some women push the limits of their metabolic capacity and continue to increase PAST their estimated TDEE without seeing any or slight change(s) in their measurements.  You might surprise yourself! Some women though remain below their TDEE because they start to notice changes before then. Go in with no expectations, and trust the process.  The key is to remember that each body is different, and the process is going to look different for everyone! Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that your process is going to look the exact same as someone else that’s reverse dieted.  Be open-minded!

I reversed beginning of summer but slacked off, should I go into a cut now?

Up to you!  What are you goals?  Do you want to lose weight?  Are you happy with how you feel and where you’re at?  What’s your current relationship with food? Do you still have weight you want to lose?  All depends on YOU! Reassess your goals and where you’re at mentally, and if you decide that means cutting then go for it, if you decide you want to just continue with your reverse and improve consistency, that’s great too!  All up to you. The beauty of flexible nutrition. You’re the boss applesauce.

Does protein really need to be 1g/lb of bw?  Right now I’m at about 0.8/lb, do I increase?

Nope!  Differs for everyone!  And by differs, we mean what works best for you!?  A good range for protein is anywhere from 0.8-1.2g protein per lb of bodyweight!  If you’re feeling confident with 0.8 and seeing the progress you want, then stick with it girl!

Do you add calories to each meal or add to another meal?

The calories get added to your day, you can elect to spend them whenever you choose

How many calories do you add back in per day?

Select the same day each week to add as your marker- weigh and measure on that day before you eat, first thing in the morning, and after the restroom If they are stable, you can add 100-150 calories

Is it normal to gain a little weight during a reverse?

Reversing can manifest different for everyone, some people see weight loss and inches in their reverse, some hold steady, and some do add a pound or two. It depends on the rate of the reverse as well as ratios can play a part (carb sensitivities etc) and honestly sometimes a reverse is more challenging to stay accurate vs a cut! We can get a little more lose with accuracy and sometimes that can show up as pounds

I’m sure this answer varies, but about how long should one be in a cut for before reversing?

We recommend reversing when you’ve hit your goal, need a mental break, or hit a plateau. Depending on your goals this time frame could be as short as a 4 week cut to a 3 month cut.   But if you reach the 3 month goal and still have weight to lose and are feeling strong, then keep going!  Just be in tune with your state of mind and if you need a mental break.  But if you're feeling the momentum keep going!

How do you do it without gaining weight back???

Slowly adding back in calories gives your body the opportunity to adapt to the new caloric balance! Until you hit your maintenance you’re technically still in a deficit so you should not gain weight back! 

Is it okay to save a lot of macros for the end of the day to have a bigger dinner?

Absolutely! You have a 24 hour feeding window to spend as you wish

How long do you reverse? (weeks)

This depends on your cutting balance to your current TDEE. In general most people can reverse in 6-8 weeks depending on the calories needed to hit maintenance.

Do you find that after reversing you can “cut” on higher macros or not?

Yes! Depending on how much time you spend in maintenance and if you’ve continued to build muscle or increase your activity you can push your TDEE higher, then when cutting your 20% will be from a higher caloric balance.

Do I continue adding each week if I see the scale go up?

No, hold for a week and see if it stabilizes! If it does, then you can continue adding. If it doesn’t then you’ve probably hit your maintenance calories!

If I’m not weighing myself, how do I know when to stop a reverse?

Use your waist measurement as the guide! As long as it doesn’t increase you’re good to continue reversing.

I’m in a reverse and find myself binging more than ever??

Sometimes with the increase of caloric freedom, the reins don’t feel as tight! It’s also possible that your metabolism is firing up and is ready for more food so you’ll find yourself hungrier!

Thank you for your questions, we hope you found the answers helpful!

XO,  Ashton - Heidi - Natalie