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What is reverse dieting?

Reverse dieting is a nutritional strategy that involves gradually increasing your calorie intake after a period of dieting or restricted eating. The goal is to rebuild your metabolism after weight loss and avoid binge eating or weight regain. Here’s what you need to know about reverse dieting.

What is the purpose of reverse dieting?

The main goals of reverse dieting are to:

  • Increase calorie intake slowly to prevent weight gain
  • Raise your metabolism and improve hormone function after dieting
  • Prevent post-diet binges and rebounds
  • Make weight maintenance easier by establishing a new calorie baseline

When you restrict calories for an extended period, your body adapts by slowing your metabolic rate to conserve energy. Hunger hormones also get disrupted, which can increase cravings. Reverse dieting aims to reverse these adaptive responses so your body can function optimally at a higher calorie intake.

Who should try reverse dieting?

Reverse dieting may benefit people who:

  • Recently lost weight through calorie restriction
  • Chronically diet or restrict food intake
  • Experience weight fluctuations or rebounds
  • Struggle with extreme hunger after dieting
  • Engage in binge eating following diet periods

Essentially, anyone whose metabolism may have slowed or who struggles with post-diet weight regain may benefit. Athletes looking to increase caloric intake without gaining fat may also use this method.

How does reverse dieting work?

Reverse dieting involves gradually increasing your calorie intake over time, usually by adding 50-100 calories per week. A typical reverse diet looks like:

  1. Determine your current maintenance calories. This is the number of calories you eat daily to maintain your current weight.
  2. Reduce your calories by 500-750 per day for 2 weeks. This kickstarts weight loss.
  3. Slowly add calories back week-by-week, by 50-100 per week. Continue until you reach your estimated maintenance needs.
  4. Maintain your new higher calorie intake. Monitor your weight weekly. Adjust intake up/down if needed to maintain your goal weight.

The gradual increase allows your body to adjust to the higher calories without gaining fat. The result is an increased metabolic rate at a higher calorie intake.

What does a reverse diet meal plan look like?

A reverse diet focuses on the number of calories vs nutrients. But a balanced diet with plenty of protein, fiber and healthy fats can optimize the results. Here’s a sample meal plan:

Meal Foods
Breakfast Oatmeal with blueberries and almonds. Greek yogurt with granola.
Snack Protein shake or apple with peanut butter.
Lunch Salmon, quinoa, asparagus.
Snack Cottage cheese and fruit.
Dinner Chicken thighs, sweet potato, broccoli.

Focus on getting protein, fiber and nutrients at each meal and snack. Drink plenty of water and limit added sugars and saturated fats.

Pros and cons of reverse dieting

Here are some potential benefits and downsides of reverse dieting:


  • May increase your metabolism and preserve calorie-burning muscle
  • Can help sustain fat loss by establishing a new maintenance intake
  • May improve hormone function and reduce hunger
  • Allows you to eat more food while maintaining your current weight
  • May help prevent post-diet binge eating episodes


  • Requires tracking calories and monitoring weight
  • May cause weight regain if calories are added too quickly
  • Can be triggering for those with a history of disordered eating
  • Doesn’t address underlying issues like food restrictions or emotional eating

Overall, reverse dieting can be a useful strategy for some. But it may not be the best fit for everyone. Work with a registered dietitian or doctor to decide if a reverse diet is right for your health goals.

10 tips for succeeding with reverse dieting

Here are some tips to help make reverse dieting effective:

  1. Calculate your maintenance calories
  2. Reduce calories moderately at first (by 500 or less)
  3. Add calories back slowly (50-100 per week is a guideline)
  4. Focus on calorie-dense foods like nuts, avocado and olive oil to add calories
  5. Eat plenty of protein foods like lean meats, eggs and seafood
  6. Fill up on fiber from vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  7. Lift weights 2-3 times per week to preserve and build muscle
  8. Monitor your weight weekly but don’t obsess
  9. Be patient and consistent with the process; it can take months
  10. Talk to a professional if you struggle with the process

Potential risks and precautions

Reverse dieting is generally safe for most healthy adults. But there are some precautions to keep in mind:

  • It can be triggering for those with disordered eating tendencies or diet obsession.
  • Adding calories too quickly can lead to weight regain.
  • It should not be used as a crash diet method to lose large amounts of weight quickly.
  • Work with a doctor if you have any underlying medical conditions.
  • Work with a mental health expert if you struggle with body image issues or disordered eating.

As with any diet or nutrition plan, it’s wise to discuss reverse dieting with your healthcare provider first, especially if you have any health conditions or food restrictions.

Should I reverse diet on my own or with a coach?

You can reverse diet on your own by following evidence-based guidelines. Tracking your intake, weighing yourself, adjusting calories slowly and eating a balanced diet are keys to success.

However, working with a coach or registered dietitian can optimize the process. A qualified professional can help you:

  • Accurately calculate your calorie and macronutrient needs
  • Create a tailored reverse diet plan and meal plan
  • Slowly adjust your calories and macros each week
  • Monitor your progress and provide accountability
  • Troubleshoot challenges and prevent metabolic slowing
  • Shift your plan over time based on your unique response

Coaching is often well worth the investment for such a precise process. Check credentials and look for an experienced coach.

Healthy foods to eat during reverse dieting

Focus on eating satiating, nutrient-dense whole foods as you reverse diet. Here are some of the best options:

  • Lean proteins: Chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt
  • Fibrous vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus
  • Starchy carbs: Oats, quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice
  • Healthy fats: Nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, peanut butter
  • Fruits: Berries, apples, oranges, bananas, pears

These foods provide a balance of protein, carbs and fat to support muscle growth, satiation and health during the reverse diet process.

Foods to limit during reverse dieting

While no foods are completely off limits, you may want to limit:

  • Added sugars: Soda, juice, candy, baked goods
  • Refined carbs: White bread, crackers, cookies, chips
  • Saturated fats: Fatty red meat, butter, cheese, ice cream
  • Alcohol: Beer, wine, spirits
  • Processed food: Fast food, frozen meals, lunchmeat

These foods can provide empty calories and are less satiating. Focus your calories on more nutritious options.

Example reverse diet plan

Here is a sample 6 week reverse diet plan:

Week Daily Calories
1 1,500
2 1,500
3 1,600
4 1,700
5 1,800
6 1,900

This adds 100 calories each week. You’d then continue adding calories until reaching your new maintenance intake.

How long should you reverse diet?

There is no set reverse dieting duration. It depends on your starting intake, goals and rate of progress. Most people reverse diet for at least 6-12 weeks to see results. Athletes or very active people may diet up for 6-12 months to maximize performance.

The process ends when you establish an appropriate new calorie intake that:

  • Allows you to maintain your goal weight
  • Supports your activity level and goals
  • Feels sustainable long-term

Don’t rush the process. Be patient and let your body adapt slowly to prevent fat regain.

Results to expect from reverse dieting

Results vary but most see benefits like:

  • Higher calorie intake without weight gain
  • Increased energy and less hunger
  • Easier weight maintenance after dieting
  • Reduced cravings and binge tendencies
  • Improved body composition with increased muscle

However, results require consistency with the process for an extended period, usually many weeks or months.

Can you build muscle while reverse dieting?

Yes, reverse dieting creates conditions that support muscle growth by:

  • Raising your calorie intake, providing energy to train
  • Consuming sufficient protein to support protein synthesis
  • Lifting weights consistently to stimulate strength and size gains
  • Improving hormone balance
  • Avoiding metabolic adaptations that slow muscle growth

To maximize muscle growth, include a progressive strength training program and consume enough protein (0.5-0.7g per pound bodyweight daily).

Takeaway on reverse dieting

Reverse dieting can be an effective method to raise your calorie intake after dieting while avoiding weight gain. By adding calories back slowly, it aims to increase your metabolism and make weight maintenance easier.

Pay close attention to your hunger cues, strength and rate of weight loss when reverse dieting. And be very patient – it can take weeks or months to see significant changes.

While challenging, reverse dieting can help you achieve lasting results by creating a new calorie baseline that supports your goals.