Minimize Fat Gain Post Diet with Reverse Dieting by Alexandra Jang, LMSN

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Minimize Fat Gain Post Diet with Reverse Dieting by Alex Jang, LMSN

                Abstract: Weight gain is common after a dieting phase.  Often times the amount of weight gained after the dieting phase is more than the initial starting weight.  This weight is often gained in fat due to the sudden rate of calorie increase and the slow metabolic adaptation from being in a deficit.  What if there was a way to minimize fat gain while maximizing and increasing metabolism post calorie restricted diet?  Reverse dieting provides the answer.

                The metabolism is able to adapt to changing circumstances.  Studies show that metabolic adaptation (to a slower rate) does happen after an extended period of calorie-deficit or massive weight loss (Fitschen, Metabolic Adaptation and Reverse Dieting (Part 1), 2016).  Reasons why metabolic adaptation occur during dieting include: decreased lean mass, decreased food intake (which in turn decreases the thermogenic effect of food (TEF)), decreased non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), decreased hormones including leptin, insulin, thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone, increased mitochondrial efficiency, and more (Norton, Smith-Ryan & Trexler, 2014). After all of these adaptations, going from an extreme calorie deficit, back to maintenance calories is typically too fast. This results in fat gain as the metabolic rate has not recovered to the pre-diet level.

                What is reverse dieting?  Reverse dieting is incrementally increasing macronutrients when coming out of a diet phase in which there was a caloric deficit.  The reverse dieting phase should also include a reduction in cardio conditioning.  This process together, helps to normalize metabolism while concurrently minimizing weight gain.  The slow increases in macronutrients over time, allow the body to adapt and increase metabolism (Fitschen, Metabolic Adaptation and Reverse Dieting (Part 2), 2016).

                Reverse dieting can be useful for your clients and even yourself.  The best practice for reverse dieting is still being established. General dietary guidelines include first increasing the individual’s protein intake to 1-1.5 grams per pound of lean body mass. For example, a client with a lean body mass of 126 pounds, would aim to intake 126-189 grams of protein per day.  The initial increase in calories may be 10-20 percent, and it is recommended to cut cardio in half (Fitschen, Metabolic Adaptation and Reverse Dieting (Part 2), 2016).  Subsequent increases would include adding 50-100 calories in the form of carbohydrates or fats depending on preference and fueling needs.  The individual should weigh themselves weekly on the same day, in the same clothing, as a gauge for further increases.  In my own experience, both personally and with clients, when body weight remains the same, decreases or only slightly increases (0-1 pound), 50 calories is added to the daily intake.  With a significant weekly bodyweight gain (1 or more pounds) the calorie intake is held steady until the weight stabilizes.  The amount of time that it takes to increase to a maintenance level of calorie intake varies by individual and includes factors such as the amount of calorie deficit during the diet and length of dieting time.  The longer the client has been in a calorie deficit, the longer it will take for the client to reach maintenance calories.  This process is also highly dependent on how the individual responds to the reverse.  Reverse dieting should be continued until the client reaches maintenance calories, consistently gains weight weekly on calories near total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), or is uncomfortable physically with the amount of food that they must eat.  After reverse dieting is complete, the client may enter a maintenance period of 1-3 months and then remain there, or begin to decrease calories, as well as increase activity to decrease body fat.

                My personal experience with reverse dieting has been very successful.  I went from a diet phase of 1600 calories a day and training 1-2 hours 6 days a week with a body weight of 151.5 pounds to training 3-4 days a week while eating 2700 calories per day with a bodyweight of 151.5 pounds.  This process took me about 6 months from the start of the reverse, to reaching maintenance calories.  While the process was very slow and requires patience, the outcome is the ability to maintain the desired weight with minimal fat increase.  After the reverse diet, I maintained my weight for 2 months, I am now in a deficit and making great progress with the highest calories I have ever dieted on.  I am leading several of my clients through the process and their response has been comparative with minimal fat and weight gain and maximal increase in daily caloric intake.

                Reverse dieting is effective at increasing metabolic rate to dispose of extra calories consumed in a controlled manner.  Drastic increases in calories before the metabolism speeds up, result in rapid fat gain.  In summary, reverse dieting can effectively end the cycle of significant weight loss followed by weight gain.

  Alex Jang is the owner of Alex Jang Nutrition, her sports nutrition practrice, specializing in 1 to 1 nutrition coaching. Find her on Facebook. Click Here




Fitschen, P. (2016, October 3). Metabolic Adaptation and Reverse Dieting (Part 1). Retrieved April 23, 2016, from Biolayne:

Fitschen, P. (2016, October 6). Metabolic Adaptation and Reverse Dieting (Part 2). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from Biolayne:

Trexler, E. A.-R. (2014, February 27). Metabolic Adaptation to Weight Loss: Implications for the Athlete. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from Journal International Society of SPorts NUtrition:

Jeff Kotterman
Author: Jeff Kotterman

As the Director of the National Association of Sports Nutrition, I want your experience with our NASN Professionals to be a great one!

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