What is the Reverse Diet?
Is it possible to eat as much as your body demands and not only maintain your weight but ultimately lose weight and keep it off?
It sounds like it might be too good to be true (and it really is) but there is a place for this type of diet in many people who suffer from obesity and weight loss resistance.
But before you run out and try it we need to explain exactly what this diet is, who it should be used in, and how to know if you are someone who needs it.
First off, let's talk about the reverse diet and explain what it is:
The reverse diet is exactly what you would expect based on its name.
While most diets tend to be RESTRICTIVE in how many calories you can eat or the types of foods that you can consume, this reverse diet gives you the leeway to listen to your body and increase your calorie consumption.
The reverse diet doesn't give you leeway to stuff your face full of pizza and chocolate instead it allows you to fill your body with NUTRITIOUS and HEALTHY foods that you would otherwise be eating but in higher amounts than normal.
The idea is for people who have severely damaged metabolisms due to caloric restriction throughout their lives to slowly increase the amount of calories they eat each day up to a normal amount.
This process generally occurs over a period of weeks to months and should be slow and controlled.
Your calorie intake is slowly increased over this time as you listen to your body and allow your own appetite to control how many calories you need.
Practically, this looks like eating until you have reached the sensation of "fullness" or being "satiated".
Surprisingly, many of you reading this might NOT be doing this and perhaps haven't practiced this in many years.
Again, this doesn't mean that you can stuff your face full of unhealthy non-nutritious foods but it does mean that you will have the chance to eat MORE of the same healthy food you were already eating before the diet.
But does this sort of diet work?
The answer is yes... but only for CERTAIN people (we will discuss this in depth very soon) and we have medical research to prove it (1).
It might sound crazy at first but as you understand how it's working and what it's doing to your body it will make sense.
Calorie Restriction and your Metabolism Explained
Here's why this matters:
Most people, especially women and those with thyroid conditions, tend to suffer from weight gain and weight loss resistance.
We know from data from the CDC that the rates of obesity are rising the fastest among women (2).
And what do you think those women who are struggling with weight gain are doing?
They are following the advice of so-called "experts" who recommend that they eat less and exercise more.
Unfortunately, this type of dieting has a 99% failure rate according to the science (3) which puts these people right back in the same situation as they started.
And if you are in your 40's or 50's you've probably used 5 or more of these diets throughout your life with variable success (you wouldn't be reading this if they actually worked, right?).
But each time you do one of these diets you cause a little bit of damage to your metabolism.
This damage to your metabolism is known as metabolic adaptation (4) and it is a well researched phenomenon.
How do you know if you have metabolic adaptation AKA damage to your metabolism?
Only a handful of conditions cause it and they are all listed below:
- Persistent calorie restricted diets (any diet which reduces your total calories for more than 21 days at a time)
- Overexercising with cardio to try and slim down (for example, imagine you eat a cookie for 150 calories and then you immediately hop on a treadmill to try and burn those calories off)
- Low thyroid function, hypothyroidism, and Hashimoto's thyroiditis
The problem with damaging your metabolism is that there aren't very many ways to "fix" it or "heal" it which leads to persistent problems down the line.
People with metabolic damage tend to only get worse over time as they try to "fix" their weight problem with more dieting which only makes the metabolic damage even worse.
This process continues until they are eventually eating 1,000 calories per day just to maintain their weight.
The reverse diet, sometimes referred to as reverse dieting is a potential solution for this problem.
But it comes at a cost, which we will discuss in detail below.
And, as I said, make sure you are someone who would benefit from using it BEFORE you try it.
Should you consider using the Reverse Diet?
Only certain people should consider dieting to help improve their metabolism.
If you don't fit into any of these categories and you try this sort of diet then you may end up gaining weight without any added benefit!
Obviously, this isn't ideal so you want to make sure you fit the criteria below.
If you fit into any of the following categories then reverse dieting may be beneficial to you:
- People who have been unable to lose weight despite restricting their calories daily (this would be you if you are eating 1,000 to 1,200 calories just to maintain your weight)
- People who don't respond to calorie restricted diets like they used to (this would be you if you have tried diets which have previously worked for you but are now not working)
- You suffer from constant low body temperature, low resting heart rate, low energy, hair loss, especially if these symptoms occurred after dieting.
- You have high reverse T3 levels and low free T3 levels after dieting.
- You are already eating healthy and you've tried various other healthy types of diets without success (healthy diets may include the keto diet, whole30, Mediterranean diet, and so on).
If you don't fit into these categories then you would NOT want to use the reverse diet.
Benefits of the Reverse Diet
Now that you understand a little bit about what this diet is let's talk about the type of benefits that you would expect to see if you underwent this diet.
This assumes that your metabolism is DAMAGED from either excessive calorie restriction in your life, OR from excessive cardio workouts, OR from low thyroid function.
If you do not fit any of these categories then you probably won't see the benefits listed below.
#1. It may help improve your metabolism
The primary reason to use the reverse diet is to improve your overall metabolism.
If you can fix your metabolism then you will naturally enhance your ability to lose weight long-term.
You will also put yourself in a situation where you can build more muscle and maintain a constant weight over time.
I see many patients who can manage their weight but it's in such a way that it severely impacts their quality of life.
They aren't able to vary from their strict diet, they can't eat out at restaurants, they can't eat out at large gatherings, they have to bring their own food to every major event they go to, and the list goes on.
This situation can be caused by metabolic damage which puts you on the "edge" of gaining weight with minor changes to your diet.
In reality, your body and your metabolism should be able to weather changes to the intake of your food.
You should be able to indulge on occasion without suffering severe consequences as a result.
#2. It may help improve your chances of long-term weight loss
When you think about weight loss you need to shift your thinking away from short term weight loss to something known as long-term weight loss.
Long-term weight loss is simply the act of losing weight and keeping it off... forever.
Long-term weight can, of course, come back but only in rare circumstances.
When I help people lose weight I am looking to help them lose weight in a controlled and sustained weight with the goal to
This may sound obvious but this is not how most people (including doctors) look at weight loss.
Weight loss medications and supplements are considered 'effective' if they help people lose weight in the short term (usually around 6 weeks).
But you probably know, most likely from experience, that weight loss is relatively easy but it's pointless to lose weight if it comes back within a few weeks.
Using the reverse diet it can help your body manage weight in the long term.
#3. You will probably see more energy
One of the main symptoms of caloric restriction is fatigue!
This is mediated through energy production in the mitochondria of your cells.
If your body thinks that you are starving then it will operate your body on low power mode (starvation mode).
This low power mode will result in decreased energy production, decreased heat production, and decreased thyroid function.
As energy production falls this manifests as low energy or fatigue.
This is exactly why so many people who undergo calorie restricted diets, especially diets like the hCG diet, end up with very low energy.
And this problem tends to persist even AFTER you stop your diet.
The fatigue may be a symptom of damage to your metabolism that will be long lasting.
But this damage has the potential to be reversed provided you eat enough food.
#4. It may improve your thyroid
Another huge benefit is that consuming more food may help to improve your thyroid function even if you didn't realize that your thyroid wasn't working properly.
Your thyroid and metabolism are linked together such that your brain controls and regulates your metabolism through various hormones such as leptin.
These hormones help signal to the brain what is going on with your fat stores which then helps your brain decide how much food you should eat and how much thyroid hormone you should produce.
And because your thyroid is the primary controller of your metabolism, you can see how problems in the brain can impact your weight.
Consuming more food can help regulate your thyroid by balancing the cross talk that occurs between your brain and fat cells through leptin.
Taking your body out of "starvation" mode or the "metabolic adaptation" mode will help naturally improve your thyroid function.
And I see plenty of patients with thyroid disease who fall into this trap because those with thyroid problems already have a predisposition to developing weight problems out of the gate.
#5. It may help you better understand food and how to eat healthy
Another thing that many people notice is that their relationship with food changes.
Many people, especially women and hypothyroid patients, have a... difficult relationship with food.
I've treated many patients who become so obsessed with food that it consumes their every thought.
They need to be told what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and I've even had people ask me how do they know if they are full.
If you've had these types of thoughts before then you know that your relationship with food is bordering on pathologic!
And I would venture to guess that many of you are either teetering on this stage or have crossed the line entirely.
Consuming food to a level that allows your body to feel full and topped off helps to reset this relationship.
Instead of hating food or being afraid of food, you will understand that it plays an important role in regulating your body, hormones, and metabolism.
Will I gain weight?
One thing you should be aware of if using this diet is the chance of weight gain.
This might be an immediate turn off to many of you reading this but you should know that it may be necessary.
I've written about the idea before of gaining weight to lose weight in the past and this concept applies here as well.
Consider this scenario to help you understand what I am talking about:
Imagine you are someone who is suffering from metabolic damage.
Your damage is so severe that you must eat around 1,200 calories per day just to maintain your own weight.
We can peg the metabolism in this hypothetical person around 1,200 calories burned per day.
Now imagine this person decides to go on the reverse diet and they attempt to increase their calories slowly over a 3-4 month period.
They start by increasing their calorie consumption to 1,400 calories each day.
If they are only burning 1,200 calories per day and they start consuming 1,400 calories per day you can imagine that they may start to lose weight.
But what happens at the same time is that their low metabolism, which was originally at 1,200 calories per day, will start to increase up to the 1,400 calories.
This results in a slight uptick in metabolism at the cost of some minor weight gain.
But they also have improved their thyroid function in the process and improved other hormones such as leptin.
So even if they are gaining some minor amounts of weight they are dramatically improving their overall position.
This concept is VERY hard for some people to understand but it's something you need to wrap your head around if you end up using a diet such as this.
I think one of the reasons that so many people struggle with losing weight and keeping it off is because they are looking at the problem all wrong.
If you think that the solution to weight gain is to eat less and exercise more then you have fallen into the current paradigm and it can really be a struggle to get out.
This is why I think it's so important for you to understand the hormones that drive both weight gain and weight loss.
Once you understand how these hormones play together you will better understand the types of therapies that will help you lose weight and keep it off.
Reverse dieting fits right into this picture and it makes sense for a lot of people.
But now I want to hear from you:
Are you someone who thinks you will benefit from reverse dieting?
Do you know or suspect that you have damaged your metabolism?
Have you used a lot of calorie restricted diets in your life?
Have you tried this sort of diet in the past or anything like it?
Leave your questions or comments below!
References (Click to Expand)