Reverse dieting: the one thing I do differently to others

Reverse dieting: the one thing I do differently to others

A large majority of my clients seek out my guidance as they need help to rebuild their metabolisms after extended periods of dieting and/or overexercising. There are plenty of others who, even if they do not choose to work with me personally, revisit my still popular blog posts about overcoming metabolic damage and increasing calories.

There are a few other coaches out there who specialise in reverse dieting as I do, but there is one major thing that I do differently from the others. Considering this is something I am asked about regularly by both clients and readers, I thought I would dedicate a post to this topic.

Some of my peers recommend that you should either:

  1. increase your caloric intake while increasing your activity levels; or
  2. decrease your activity levels while decreasing your caloric intake, but NOT
  3. increase your caloric intake while simultaneously decreasing your activity levels.

But number 3 is exactly what I recommend. I understand the logic behind other coaches’ recommendations of 1 and 2. If you suddenly up your caloric intake or reduce your exercise output, without making any changes to the opposite factor, your body may go into shock and you may gain a little weight.

However, it is important to recognise that you will almost certainly gain weight during the reverse dieting process, regardless of what you do. Obviously, this can be minimised – and this is why I recommend a gradual and supervised increase in caloric intake, rather than upping your calories to a maintenance level overnight – but burning an extra 100 to 200 calories is small in the grand scheme of things.

Usually caused by too much chicken and asparagus...

Metabolic damage: usually caused by too much chicken and asparagus…

(As an aside, I’m not trying to discourage you from reverse dieting by telling you that you may gain weight. The truth is that if you remain in a stressed, underfed state, you will start/continue to gain weight anyway, so the best thing to do is endure a small period of discomfort to build up a healthy metabolism. This will then enable you to lose fat more effortlessly, while consuming a higher amount of calories.)

While many people fixate on avoiding weight gain and experiencing fat loss as soon as possible, this is not the main reason why I almost always recommend simultaneously increasing calories while reducing exercise at the same time. The simple reason is that doing so reduces the stress levels in your body, which is essential to achieving healthy hormonal levels and, in turn, dropping body fat.

(There are some exceptions. I will sometimes prescribe more calories and more exercise, but that is only when people are exercising only a little or not at all – but in today’s fitness-crazed society, that is a rarity!)



When you have restricted your calories or punished your body with hours of cardio a day for a long time, it will take some time to undo this damage. By only addressing either the nutrition or training component of the damage, you are merely prolonging your recovery process.

By dropping your calories further or increasing your energy output to correspond with a simultaneous decrease in exercise or calories, respectively, you will trap your body in a stressed, non-optimised state, which will make recovery longer and more difficult than it needs to be.

While it will vary on a case-by-case basis, the general guidelines I recommend for reverse dieting are:

  • At least 1500 calories per day (this should be implemented immediately if you are below this figure, regardless of whether you’re currently consuming 800 or 1400 calories a day), with 100 calories then added every two to four weeks until you reach a healthy maintenance level (at least 2000 calories for women and 2500 calories for men).
  • No more than four strength training workouts and two cardio sessions (30 minutes or less) per week.

If you implement the above, you may gain some weight (usually around 5lbs). This is typically only water retention as your body adjusts to more food and less exercise, and it will usually come off within a few weeks. However, if it doesn’t, it’s because your body is still healing and needs the extra body fat to do so. Try not to fixate on fat loss when you are reverse dieting, as your number one focus should be rebuilding a healthy metabolism and body.

Try not to fixate on fat loss when you are reverse dieting, as your number one focus should be rebuilding a healthy metabolism and body. The fat loss will come with time and patience.

Have you ever reverse dieted?

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