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REVERSE DIETING - when, why, and how to do it?!

We cannot, and should not be aiming to stay in a calorie deficit for extended periods of time. It isn't sustainable, enjoyable, or realistic, and it will create a cascade of biological adaptations within the body (that we definitely don’t want to stick around for). Some of the adaptations that occur when we diet include:

  • Decreased BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)
  • Decreased NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis)
  • Changes to key fat loss hormones such as insulin, leptin, ghrelin, sex hormones, and thyroid hormone
  • Increased hunger
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased quality of sleep + recovery
  • Decreased training performance and ability to build lean muscle 
  • Decreased rate of fat loss/ plateaus

Because of the above, when we complete a diet we’re in an incredibly sensitive state both physically and mentally. Our hormones will be pushing us to eat more food, our motivation to adhere may be lower, and whilst we may have achieved our physique goal, the next challenge is maintaining those results. When we’ve got physiological processes fighting that weight maintenance, it’s important to understand how to exit the diet effectively. Our goal with reverse dieting is to maintain the weight loss we’ve achieved or close to, whilst increasing how much food we can eat day to day.


  • Once you've achieved the results you set out to achieve
  • If you’re struggling to adhere to your diet
  • If you’re extremely food focussed
  • If your diet is no longer working despite being adherent and addressing other factors (sleep, stress, recovery)


There are two ways to go about it - the slow and steady approach which will extend the length of the diet, or jumping straight back to your new maintenance calories and reversing from there

The slow + steady approach: keep in mind that if start here, slowly bringing your calories up means you’re still in a deficit you’re just closing the gap between deficit + new maintenance calories as you incrementally increase.

For example:
Starting calories: 2000 calories
End of diet calories: 1400 calories
Predicted new maintenance calories: 1800 calories
Reverse diet week 1: 1450 calories, week 2: 1500 calories, week 3 1600 calories etc..

We’re still in a deficit until we reach 1800 our predicted new maintenance calories, at which point the reverse diet really starts given we’re no longer in a deficit

Pros of this approach:

  • For anyone struggling mentally with the idea of weight regain a more conservative approach can be less daunting
  • Good for those that have been living on low and aggressive calories for a very long time (12 months+)

Cons of this approach:

  • Extending the deficit - still experiencing the negative aspects of dieting
  • It’s a very slow process, calories will still be low and adherence can be difficult
  • You can achieve the same results by eating more food which we will learn about below

Jumping straight back to new maintenance: whilst we can’t know for sure what our new maintenance calories are factoring in metabolic down regulation, we can estimate. In the example above, I deducted 10% from our starting maintenance calories, this would be the number of calories we would start at for our reverse diet.

For example:
Starting calories: 2000 calories
End of diet calories: 1400 calories
Predicted new maintenance calories: 1800 calories
Reverse diet week 1-2: 1800 calories, week 3-4: 1900 calories, week 5: 1950 calories, week 6: 2000 calories, week 7+ continue to test, observe, and adjust.

Pros of this approach:

  • More food straight away - likely to improve adherence
  • Immediate returns (energy increases, better sleep and mood)
  • More flexibility to eat out and enjoy non-dieting life

Cons of this approach:

  • Mindset of eating more food after spending a long time dieting

I know which one I’d be choosing… hint: it’s the second option.

I’ve picked my option, how do I know how many calories to add and how often?

There isn’t one exact number or system we should be following for a reverse, it’s very much up to your body and how efficient, or inefficient your metabolism is, how long you’ve dieted for, how frequent, and how aggressive. My advice would be to add 100-200 calories every 2 weeks to begin with, then make changes weekly, and slow it down as your calories get higher. It may seem like a lot, but you’ll honestly burn that amount just with daily movement and a higher TEF (Thermic Effect of Food) you’ll get from eating and digesting more food. From here, ensure you’re tracking how you progress, how quickly you’re regaining weight, and make modifications as you go.


  • It’s not always easy to start eating more food - especially when your goal has been on the scale going down. It’s important to re-set your goals so you’re focussing on what you’re gaining - more energy to train, better sleep, better mood, more lifestyle flexibility (eating out etc)
  • The key to reverse dieting is being patient and adherent
  • Continue with your activity, if you’ve added extra steps and cardio into your regime for the purpose of your diet, slowly taper them down to something you can manage ongoing
  • Like dieting itself, you must spend a decent amount of time following a plan and being adherent to actually know if what you're doing is working
  • But remember, going through a controlled and steady reverse diet is the best thing you can do for your long-term health, and will often help you get even better results in the future! 

Reverse dieting can be a tricky process, especially when you’re doing it on your own without a coach. That’s why I’m here to help you! Come and join the TWS community, for as little as $1.38 a day!

Soph xx