“If calories in vs calories out always dictates if you lose or gain fat, why do some people reverse diet and lose weight?” I got this question in a check in this week and I seriously see so many issues with females who try to continue to diet when their body is screaming at them to increase their food intake.
Some back story first: calories in vs calories out is very true, it just depends how you decide to look at it. It’s not as simple as saying the food you eat vs the calories you burn during the day because there is so much gray area in between there.
Factors that influence calories in (taken from the Precision Nutrition course I’m enrolled in): appetite, food consumption, calories absorbed, and psychological factors.
Factors that influence calories out: energy burned at rest, through exercise, and non-exercise activity, energy burned by metabolizing food (processing food in your body)
Metabolisms role in reverse dieting: So why would increasing your food affect that? Wouldn’t it just mean, if you were intaking more calories during the day, it would be disproportionate again and you’d be gaining weight?
Well, sometimes. Again, it’s not quite that simple. Your body is way smarter than we give it credit for. Your bodies goal is to be as efficient as possible, which means that it wants to become balanced throughout the day. If you continue to restrict the calories you eat, your body’s metabolism is going to naturally decline.
So let’s say you were consistently eating 2,000 calories a day and then wanted to lose weight so you dropped it do 1500 calories a day (would never suggest this big of a drop but it paints a good picture). If your body was maintaining weight at 2,000cals and you drop 500, you are going to lose weight, no question about it. But like I said, your body is smarter and wants to be efficient. So where your metabolism was 2,000cals a day, it is now going to slowly decline until your new normal is 1500cals.
So now what? You’re still not at your goal weight so you decrease your calories again. Now you’re at 1200cals and just like before, your metabolism will slow down and your new ‘normal’ is way lower. You get to a point where it is doing more harm than good to be at so few of calories and there’s no more room to add in exercise or decrease food so you’re stuck in this plateau for years.
On the other hand, when you increase your food intake (slowly and systematically), you’re able to then ‘reverse’ your metabolism to speed back up. When you jump from 1200 to 2000 calories again, you may see a little scale movement, but your body will adjust and you’ll be able to now eat your 2000cals and maintain there because your body is more efficient at storing and using those calories.
Does that make sense or am I confusing you? I’m going to keep going but please leave comments or message me on Instagram for more clarification if you get to the bottom and are like whaaaaat did she just say lol.
Okay so let’s say you’re now eating 2200 calories after a few more weeks of increasing your food, you continue to crush your workouts, etc. maintain here for a few months and then you want to diet back down.
Now that your body is maintaining with those 2200 calories, you’re able to diet down on more calories. Yes I just said that. You don’t need to get down to 1200 calories (nor would I ever recommend that), because after spending time out of a deficit, you will be able to see progress by simply going down to just 2000cals.
Other factors when reversing that may help you lose weight When we diet down on low calories, our metabolism simultaneously drops but so do a lot of other things (processes in our bodies, ability to workout, sleep, digestion, etc.). As we come out of that deficit, we start to get some life into us again.
As we increase our food we may see
- Increase in NEAT activity (non-exercise related activities) : walking around more, fidgeting, cooking, cleaning, etc.
- Increase in natural energy
- Better sleep
- Improved digestion
- Strength increases in the gym: aka burning more energy within your workouts aka not being in as much of a surplus as you think aka having more muscle aka burning more energy at rest. Okay I’m done, this is a big factor in reverse diets though.
- Body re-composition : you may be ‘gaining weight’ but your physique will change, making you look leaner at the same or a higher weight.
I wish fitness was a one size fits all approach because it would make coaching and seeing results way easier. However, every person is going to be so different and they are all going to need different protocols to see results. If you are interested in talking about your goals and if a reverse diet would work for you, please apply for coaching and let’s talk!