Peaches dessert

Nutrition Coaching 101: The Reverse Diet

I did something a little crazy (for me) and I have been absolutely loving it. I wish I would have done it earlier. I am working with a Nutrition Coach!

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that my friend Vanessa just got certified as a Working Against Gravity Nutrition Coach and so we’ve been working together for the past 6 weeks. Not only have I lost weight, but Vanessa has taught me so much about nutrition, acceptance and patience. Plus, I’ve been able to eat chocolate, go to Chick-Fil-A and eat Mexican food.

When we first started out together, I was coming off of another diet. And another diet before that. All of these diets had me restricting quite a bit, either in the food I was “allowed” to eat or in the amount of calories I was “allowed” to eat. I’m not good at having rigid rules enforced on me and I’m also not good at being restricted, so dieting is always hard for me. However, I knew I needed to try something new.

Our first step together was a reverse diet, in order to reset my body after all of the yo-yo dieting. Since I had never “reverse dieted” before, I was really interested in what it was all about and how my body was going to react. Nothing is scarier than starting a diet where the first step is to not diet, but that’s what happened and I have to admit, it was exactly what I needed. Since I was so intrigued and excited with this first stage, I wanted to get Vanessa to share all of the knowledge, so we did a little Q&A!

What is reverse dieting?

Reverse dieting is a controlled increase of calories to build a better metabolism, address eating habits and behaviors, and improve all biofeedback like mood, hunger, energy, cravings, sleep, athletic performance, etc.

Who would benefit from reverse dieting?

  • If you have dieted in the past 6-12 months.
    This can be on purpose or accidental! Most active females should be crushing 2000+ calories on average each day. If you aren’t, then you’re dieting!
  • If you are experiencing signs of metabolic adaptation. A common sign is when you used to be able to go on a diet and quickly see results, but now when you try to do the same diet you see no or slow results. This means your metabolism has slowed down in response to the diet and now requires a more extreme diet for results. It’s a slippery slope as each diet becomes more difficult than the last!
  • If you are experiencing signs of HPA axis dysfunction – you can’t sleep, you’re excessively tired, you’re experiencing mood swings, and you have low sex-drive.
  • If you are seeking performance gains in the gym, are currently struggling to hit PRs and feeling really sore and tired from workouts. Most women aren’t eating enough protein and carbs – it shows up in the gym!
  • If you don’t know how to eat at maintenance – meaning you don’t know how to just eat. You’re either “on” or “off” a diet at all times and don’t know how to enjoy food and drinks without feeling like you are gaining weight.

Why did you start me on a reverse diet?

Rachel came to me feeling discouraged – she has goals to lose body fat, improve athletic performance, and achieve overall physical and mental health in relation to food.

To achieve all of these goals, we need to take a long-term, periodized approach. There will be periods spent dieting, focused on fat loss, and periods at “maintenance” (eating the amount of calories it takes to maintain your current body weight), focused on improving performance and health.

It is not practical, and probably dangerous, to try and achieve all three in one “30 day transformation diet.” Although I could easily put her on a severe caloric deficit, tell her exactly what she can and can’t eat, and then watch her rapidly lose fat, it would be at the expense of her hormone health, mental acuity, and athletic performance. She would come out the other end of 30 days weighing less but carrying the heavy baggage of post-diet binges, self-loathing, and confusion on how to move forward.

Not to mention, she has only recently been on another diet which was stressful on her body. Her metabolism may have down-regulated (meaning she is burning less calories at rest than she was before the diet). The only way to reach all of her goals is to first focus on her biofeedback (energy, mood, sleep, stress, hunger, performance) by getting her eating more food, eating better quality food, and teaching her how to self-regulate and find nutrition practices that fit her lifestyle.

What should you expect when you start reverse dieting?

Weight Change – Let’s be clear, the goal of reverse dieting is not weight loss. You might lose weight during this process, but you also might gain weight. Most likely you will just maintain your current weight within a few pounds, so that is why we do not look at weight change as a marker of progress. 

Those who do gain weight during a reverse tend to look better. Muscle weighs more than fat, so when the extra fuel turns to muscle my clients are usually really happy with their body composition! Putting on the pounds is part of getting that “toned” look!

Additionally, you may see jumps in the scale as the increase in food volume physically weighs more in your body. I find this is especially common initially as your digestion has to “get up to the speed.” On a cellular level, carbs actually weigh more in the body so just by increasing your intake you are storing more water. The extra energy carries physical weight, but that stored glycogen can make you feel like Superwoman in the gym!

At the end of the day, if you gain weight while reverse dieting to maintenance, then your body probably needed to gain that weight and your health is better for it.

I personally felt bloated for the first week or two, but I was consistently dropping about 1 pound per week because I was also adding in healthy food items and swapping high sugar/high sodium foods for fruits and veggies and lean meats.

Biofeedback – While there may be some lag time as your body realizes it is starting to receive enough food, you should eventually start to experience more energy, more stable hunger signals, less unhealthy cravings, and a better/more stable mood.

Imagine that your body is a factory that takes the calories in (food you eat) and turns it into calories out (energy you expend). But as you have been consistently eating less food, parts of the factory have been shutting down. It takes energy to run every part of the factory, but if all the energy is being used externally on things like running a business or running at the gym, then there will have to be internal budget cuts and things like hormone production will have to be cut.

Initially you start bringing in more energy by eating more, but your body still won’t turn back on every part of the factory until it is sure that you will continue to consistently get enough fuel. For some this takes weeks, or even months to get that response. But eventually all the systems will turn back on and your metabolism starts working overtime. Before you know it you have extra energy to expend at the gym and on your business! You’re eating more and feeling better.

100% I started to feel so good. As soon as I started to eat more, and eat consistently, I was absolutely killing it at the gym. My mood was much more stable and my mind was much clearer. I loved how I felt on the reverse diet!

How did I respond to the Reverse Diet?

In Rachel’s last diet, she was eating around 1800 calories and not seeing drastic results. According to my calculations, her maintenance calories should be closer to 2500 calories, so I decided to start her about half way at 2200 calories. With a focus on athletic performance, I set her macros at higher protein and carbs than she was previously eating.

CrossFit is a glycolytic sport which means that the preferred energy source is glucose from the breakdown of carbohydrates. Although it’s possible to perform okay off of a high-fat diet, it is optimal for CrossFit, Orange Theory, Barry’s Bootcamp, etc. to be supplying your body with ample carbs. You will recover better which allows you to push harder for your next workout.

We also raised her protein higher than she was eating previously to support her lean muscle mass. Protein is the hero in creating the “toned” look women are always chasing. You can lose weight by just cutting calories, but that weight will be more muscle mass than fat mass if you aren’t eating enough protein. This is what leads to the “skinny fat” look. So by getting Rachel eating enough protein now, it will not be a struggle when we enter the diet phase.

At first, she had trouble consistently hitting her numbers, but once her metabolism ramped up so did her hunger signals. She was starting to eat enough carbs without going over on her fat. She had more energy and started tracking her steps to watch how that energy was transferring into her non-exercise activity. Now she is walking close to 10k steps a day, hitting PRs in the gym, crushing 250+ grams of carbs, and eating more micronutrients without sacrificing eating her favorite foods.

Rachel: This part was so important to me. I’m still eating Chick-fil-a, Starbucks, chocolate and Mexican food. Just not all in the same day! Everything is in moderation and everything is balanced throughout the day and week. Walking extra steps every day day was a game-changer for getting me feeling more active, plus I get to spend more time with my pups! I’ve never felt so strong in the gym — so many amazing workouts the past few weeks!

She is now primed for the diet phase and has just started a moderate calorie deficit and we will see how her body responds. Because she has put the hard work in to building great eating habits now, the diet will feel so much easier!

Should I get a coach for Reverse Dieting or can I do it on my own?

Reverse dieting sounds amazing (who doesn’t want to eat more food?), but it can be scary to do on your own. You will start doubting everything the moment that you gain a pound on the scale: maybe your clothes feel a little tighter because you’ve gained muscle but haven’t yet lost fat, or maybe you just can’t shake the feeling that you aren’t “supposed” to eat this much. Many emotions arise during this time, so it really helps to have someone coaching you through it, making the decisions for you while having your best interests at heart.

You should be able to sit back and focus on the input (hitting your macronutrients, making healthy meals, getting enough sleep) and letting a coach worry about analyzing the output (your weight, measurements, biofeedback). 

Lasting, long-term results happen over a LONG TERM. It takes more patience than most people have, so you need to have someone able to be your guide rails and keep you heading in the right direction whenever you do (and you will!) veer off track. No matter the outcome, it’s all about investing in your future. Don’t sacrifice your health to get quick weight loss results. Go slowly and treat your body well so that you can reach your goals and maintain them!

How do I hire Vanessa as my coach?

I’m so excited that Vanessa is now accepting new clients! You can follow her on Instagram at @vmgillette and contact her at 727-667-9666 to learn more about nutrition coaching. If you have any questions about the process I’ve had with her, let me know! If you have further questions about Reverse Dieting, feel free to leave them in a comment below.

Since we’re now in the “Diet Phase” or the “Cutting Phase,” we’ll be taking more notes for a second installment. I’m a week and a half in to this phase and feeling great, so I can’t wait to share!

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