Reverse Dieting – How to Eat More Food & Not Gain Weight

When I was competing in CrossFit, I was terrified to eat more food. I knew I wasn’t eating enough.. as evidenced by “bonking” in the middle of workouts, constantly having uncontrollable food cravings, feeling ravenous all damn day, and waking up hungry in the middle of the night… But I didn’t know HOW to eat more food. I was scared to gain weight, scared to gain body fat, and even though I felt pretty awful, I still cared more about my abs than I did about feeling better.

The other tough factor is that if we’ve spent time consistently under eating for our needs and activity levels, our body is going to down-regulate our hormones, slow our metabolism, and our body effectively learns how to survive and function off lower calories. This is called metabolic adaptation. In real time, it might look like someone who’s eating ~1,200-1,600 calories and instantly gain weights if they try to eat more food.

What I didn’t know I needed back then was a Reverse DietWhen we diet, we’re intentionally decreasing calories below maintenance needs to elicit fat loss. During a Reverse Diet, we’re essentially doing the opposite and increasing our daily calories back towards maintenance needs. Reverse Dieting = the slow and gradual reintroduction of calories back towards your bodies caloric maintenance needs after an intentional or unintentional period of caloric restriction.

For example: you track your food for a few days and realize you’re averaging ~1,000 calories per day. We recognize that most active individuals need a minimum of something more like ~1,700-2,100+ calories per day (if not more). So we know we’re eating well below what we need to and that we need to slowly bring up calories back towards our bodies baseline needs.

Tips on Reverse Dieting

  • Maybe don’t try to go from eating 0 food to all the food. The slower we can go typically is better, or we might gain excess body fat and body weight that we didn’t necessarily have to
  • In the infographic, I proposed increasing food every ~2 weeks just for visual ease of understanding. Moving slower and increasing food every ~3-4 weeks would be even better
  • If we’re drastically below our maintenance needs, consider starting with a big ~15-20% calorie increase (for example: currently averaging 1,000 cal/day -> bump to 1,200 cal/day)
  • Then increase by about ~100 calories every ~3-4 weeks. The closer we get to projected maintenance, the slower and smaller increases we should likely take
  • Prioritize staying within calorie goals and hitting protein goals (~0.8-1.0g/lb BW would be great. Leaner individuals should likely go closer to bodyweight, while those with more body fat might lean towards that ~0.8 multiplier)
  • Consider prioritizing a minimum of ~60-70g healthy fats and a minimum of ~150-180g carbs to support health, hormones, and overall wellbeing

When it comes to food stuff, we always want to take things slow. A reverse might take upwards of 6-12+ months, if not longer. You can certainly go faster.. you just might also gain excess body fat that you wouldn’t have had you been more patient and taken your time. It’s important to mention that when reverse dieting, we actually CAN see weight gain. We can also see weight loss. Or no weight changes at all. If you take it slow during a Reverse Diet and still gain weight, your body probably needed to gain that weight (even if you were already overweight before the Reverse). 
You can hate it all you want. But our bodies are incredibly smart, knows better than us what it needs, and isn’t afraid to do what it knows it needs to keep us safe.

Anyway, reverse dieting is an extremely complex topic, but hopefully this gets you started!