Reverse Dieting: What It Is, Benefits & Risks

Reverse dieting might just be the key to long-term weight maintenance, but what exactly is it? Learn all about reverse dieting benefits, risks, and more here!

Reverse dieting might just be the key to long-term weight maintenance. A reverse dieting plan approaches eating by promoting a gradual increase in food intake following a period of calorie restriction. 

Read on to learn all the important details, including information on reverse dieting macros, benefits, risks, and resources. 

What Is Reverse Dieting?

Used mostly among athletes, reverse dieting is a dietary approach that maintains results after a hard cut. A hard cut is essentially a calorie-restricted diet. 

The approach is particularly popular among bodybuilders and competitive athletes. Bodybuilders experience intense cuts, and reverse dieting is a way to restore these athletes to their pre-cut weight. It promotes a slow and steady methodology that minimizes the risk of gaining too much weight back. 

What Does Reverse Dieting Do?

Reverse dieting is a gradual resuming of normal eating habits following a period of calorie restriction. It takes into account a previous period of weight loss and promotes normal eating habits.

The act of introducing a slow increase in calorie and food intake is crucial to avoiding a drastic weight/fat gain. 

Is Reverse Dieting Good for You?

Just like any other dieting plan, reverse dieting requires a level of commitment. When done with involvement from the proper healthcare professionals, it can be a potentially positive approach to diet. 

A core component of the diet is to evaluate calorie needs and encourage healthy weight maintenance. The key to promoting good results lies in the slow, incremental increases in intake.

Overall, tracking food as accurately as possible while also maintaining healthy eating habits is the challenge. 

Is Reverse Dieting Done to Lose Weight or Gain Weight?

The goal with reverse dieting is to increase food intake at a slow rate. This promotes long-term weight maintenance and a return to normal eating habits. 

A key component of the diet is to prevent gaining weight back by evaluating two key factors of the “hard cut” (intense weight loss or calorie restriction): 

  1. How drastic was the calorie deficit during the period of dieting?
  2. How much muscle mass was gained or maintained during the diet?

Current research is limited on reverse dieting for weight loss. In the bodybuilding community, a common issue is highly restrictive diets.

In theory, reverse dieting can be a way of easing the transition back into normal eating patterns. 

What to Expect When Reverse Dieting

Before starting the diet, it is important to know that it is largely unsupported by science. Access to a dietitian is recommended for the most optimal, positive outcome. 

Benefits of Reverse Dieting

Reverse dieting is unique in that its focus on increased intake means more food. Most diets rely on calorie restriction for results, so reverse dieting is set apart. 

Another benefit of reverse dieting is that proper nutrition is associated with the following: 

  • Improved craving management
  • Improved mood
  • Overall better well-being
  • Better hunger cues 
  • Balanced hormones, such as leptin

Overall, reverse dieting can restore a healthy physical sense of appetite.

Risks of Reverse Dieting

Practicing reverse dieting without a good idea of individual calorie or maintenance needs can potentially lead to weight gain. For example, changes in body water weight or macronutrient portions of carbohydrates can be difficult to distinguish without the help of a dietitian.

Another major risk of the reverse dieting technique is that it is not supported by solid research. In other words, there is no proof that it is effective even if the results seem beneficial. 

Reverse dieting also retains focus more on calories than mindful eating. This makes it an inappropriate choice for those with disordered eating patterns.

Reverse Dieting Results

Calorie deficit diets can cut calories lower than is actually needed for results. Over long periods of time, this has the power to slow metabolic rate, mismanage hunger cues, imbalance hormones.

With reverse dieting, sustainable and slow increases in intake are thought to promote healthier eating habits while also encouraging healthy weight and hormone balance. 

Reverse Dieting Plan

A reverse dieting plan lasts about four to ten weeks on average. The target intake is the pre-diet (pre-cut) intake from before the calorie restriction. 

Where to Start Reverse Dieting

The first step in reverse dieting is figuring out how many calories are needed to maintain the new level of weight and activity that has been established. The most accurate way to find this information out is through a body composition test. 

A body composition test can usually be performed by a dietitian. This test helps determine the amount of muscle mass, in which dietitians use this and other measures to calculate daily calorie needs.  

Incremental Increases

Determining body composition and calorie needs is followed by a gradual increase in food intake. Everyone is different, but a general guideline to follow is increasing intake at about 50-100 calories (or 5-10%) at a time. 

Stick to this for about two to three weeks before making another small increase. This process is repeated until the maintenance amount is reached. 

Reverse Dieting Macros

Tracking macronutrient (macros) intake throughout the process of reverse dieting can be tricky if done improperly. 

The best approach is to ask a dietitian for help, since everyone’s needs are different. However, some simple, generalized tips are included here: 

  • Protein needs are calculated (typically) for body weight. Instead of using calorie intake for calculation, protein can be calculated based on body weight and remains the same throughout the duration of the reverse dieting process. Many dietitians recommend around 20% of calories from protein. 
  • Carbohydrate needs are typically 40-60% of calories in the diet. Fibrous options (i.e. fruits, vegetables, whole grains) offer more nutrients than refined carbs.
  •  Fat needs are typically 30% of daily calories. This often demonized macronutrient is vital to hormones, hunger, and so much more. 

What to Eat When Reverse Dieting

Replace processed foods, such as those void of vitamins and high in added sugars, with whole foods. For example, cereals full of sugar aren’t as beneficial for weight loss as high-fiber alternatives like oatmeal. 

Whole foods also promote a healthy gut environment. A good balance of gut bacteria generally means a healthier gut. It’s less about quantity and more about quality when it comes to diet. 

The Bottom Line on Reverse Dieting

Reverse dieting can be difficult to initiate and maintain, even for athletes. It has a general lack of scientific evidence, but its potential proves promising. 

When done with the help of a dietitian, reverse dieting can be a healthy and balanced approach to weight maintenance. 


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Sass C. What Is Reverse Dieting? A Nutritionist Explains. Health. Published September 16, 2020.

Satrazemis E. Reverse Dieting: Is This the Secret to Keeping the Weight Off? Trifecta Nutrition. Published August 17, 2020.,gaining%20all%20the%20weight%20back.