Updated: Jan 7
First off: Dieting itself is not sustainable - in fact, its best used for a specific, time-oriented goal that you have in mind (i.e. an athletic competition, wedding photos, a beach trip). Think of it as the "heavy-guns" you pull out to achieve that specific goal. Blindly cutting calories and/or over-doing your workouts can have lots of negative consequences.
But, when the goal at hand is achieving a healthy body composition (healthy ratios of fat and muscle), strategic dieting in order to lose that excess fat can be still be a sound strategy. However, if done improperly or frequently, a common occurrence after a period of aggressive weight loss from dieting, is the weight gain rebound. Time and goal-orientation are important factors.
This rebound is often known as “Yo-Yo Dieting” and it basically leads to gaining all the weight back in twice as less time as it took to lose it. In this article, we’re going to give you valuable insight on how to keep the weight off after a diet, with one simple method - Reverse Dieting!
Now let’s get to it...
Why Does The Rebound Happen?
Though you may associate weight loss with better looks and feeling better in your own skin, a "diet" really means starvation for the body. The more weight you lose, the more you’re priming your fat-storing mechanisms, because the body perceives the deficit of energy as a period of starvation, as just said.
Since the body gets less calories from food than it is used to, metabolic adaptations start happening. In simple terms, this means that the body slows down the metabolism and what was once a caloric deficit becomes your maintenance calories.
The more time you spend on a diet, the more you have to decrease your food intake.
So, How Can You Counter This?
If you want to preserve your metabolic rate, there are a couple of things you can do, one during a diet, and one in the period after the diet.
Those two things are:
1. Diet Breaks
Though it may sound quite misleading, "diet breaks" are periods during your diet, when you bump up your calories back to baseline, maintenance level. This helps your body keep the metabolic rate up and thus, prevents the risk of excessive caloric decrease. Now of course, a diet break doesn’t really mean you can ditch the general rules of the diet and totally go crazy on your food consumption.
Again, a diet break is simply a period where you consume slightly more food, in amounts that won’t lead to drastic changes in weight. Diet breaks are best implemented every couple of weeks, for a couple of weeks. For instance, if you’ve been consistently losing weight for 2-3 weeks, you can afford to have a 2-3 week diet break, during which you’ll consume at maintenance and train with a slightly higher intensity.
Though this will make the total time dieting longer, it will minimize the risk of a weight gain rebound - which, ultimately, will save you much more time from a lack of "yo-yo'ing"
2. Reverse Dieting
After your diet is over and you reach your desired physique, you can’t just ditch everything altogether! You have to understand that keeping the weight off is a matter of sticking to the same habits that helped you lose it in the first place. While dieting implies a gradual decrease in your caloric intake overtime, reverse dieting is, well, the exact opposite! After your diet is over, it is time to gradually bump up your calories and training intensity. This will help you increase your food intake, WITHOUT risking a weight gain rebound. The goal of a "reverse diet" is to help you increase your food consumption, without drastic changes in weight.
To do so, follow these simple steps:
Each week, increase your calories by 50-80 (Stacking up to ~400 extra calories over 5-8 weeks)
Workout to workout, increase your working weight/intensity, sets and repetitions/duration
Just like your dieting phase, during the reverse dieting phase you have to still monitor your weight and if there are sudden changes, adjustments should follow. (i.e if you’re losing more and more weight, you should bump up food intake faster, and vice versa; if you’re gaining too much weight, food intake should be decreased)
In many cases, reckless dieting leads to unwanted weight gain rebounds, that makes all your hard work worthless and frustrating. To avoid this, you have to make sure that your deficit is not overly aggressive (with a max deficit of 500 calories per day), while also including dieting breaks every 2-3 weeks of being in a caloric deficit.
After your diet is over, you should gradually increase your caloric intake and training output, while monitoring your weight and adjusting the diet as needed. Ultimately, sustainable weight loss is a slow, gradual process which is supported with proper habitual changes, sustained even after the diet is over. Remember: "Dieting" isn't sustainable! It is the "heavy-guns" you pull out to achieve a specific goal.