Why I Stopped Reverse Dieting… & Then Started Again

if it fits your macros

Forewarning: This post could also be titled ” Why it sucks to be lean”.

 

Long before I started dieting for my first figure show last fall I knew I was going to reverse diet when it was over. The information was out there and I couldn’t see a reason why you wouldn’t do it. The idea of a reverse diet, specifically after a show, is to help you re-adapt in to real life and avoid the post show bingeing and inevitable fat gain. Reverse dieting is a process where you slowly increase your caloric intake in a methodical manner to heal your metabolism all while staving off excess fat gain. In other words, I could stay show lean and eat more food (win!). Plus, I would still be following a flexible dieting program where you eat what you want.

The first day of my reverse diet was two days after my show. Immediately, my protein intake dropped and my carb intake increased (wooohooo!). In my mind it was going to be easy, I had dieted this long and now I was getting more carbs, how hard could it be? Well, let me tell you, the first few months after the show were HARD. I would say 100x harder than getting to the stage. I still wasn’t eating very much and with the drop in protein, I was hungry, all of the time. There was no “I have to stand on a stage in a bikini” to keep me focused. My friends and family thought I was done dieting and the invites out to eat or to have a drink were much more frequent.

The numerous advocates of flexible dieting and myself will tell you that this will increase the variety of nutrients you intake as well as stave off negative connotations with food. This is true; if you have the macronutrient numbers to do so. Now with that said, many people who start flexible dieting will have a substantial amount of macronutrients to take in, or never diet down until they do. They can fit in meals out with friends, a beer here or there etc. But, it’s a whole other story when you have to get lean enough for the stage. For the most part, and in my case, to get that lean you don’t get very many macros at the end. Therefore when I started my reverse diet I was still eating “poverty macros”.  So while I was still choosing what I wanted to eat, the restrictions were still there. That piece of cheese on my lean turkey burger, too much fat at one meal and would screw the rest of my day. The bun…maybe half of it if I was lucky. The point was..my flexible diet wasn’t all that flexible because I didn’t have the metabolic capacity to handle it.

hamburger

I was lean though, boy was I lean. Six months AFTER my show and I was 3% LOWER in body fat and eating about 38473829 more calories a day. I was doing it; I was slowly but surely eating a normal amount of food and maintaining a lean physique. On paper, this looks like the perfect reverse dieting example. I could fit almost anything I wanted in, and I was leaner than I had ever been in my life. It was paying off and I was thankful I stuck with it. And then… one day, about 2 months ago (8 months after my show) I gave up everything I believed in and stopped reverse dieting.

Reverse Diet
3 Months Post-Show!

And here’s why:

  1. My motivation hit the floor. I had been training hard and counting every piece of food that went into my mouth for an entire year at this point, and one day I just wasn’t in it anymore.
  2. My calories were so high that I could eat pretty much what I wanted, so why keep counting?
  3. I was sick of numbers, for once I wanted to eat and not worry about how many grams or ounces it was, let alone planning out my days ahead of time (that shit gets old).
  4. Although my macros were high and I could fit in a lot, I still couldn’t fit in everything. Going out to eat I could do, but I couldn’t order what I wanted and it sucked. I would think “why can’t I eat the chicken sandwich, I’m not trying to get on stage anytime soon!”
  5. This is the biggest one: I still felt restricted. Even though I could fit in a hell of a lot of food, the whole process still made me feel restricted. I could eat a lot but coming out of such a long dieting phase left me always feeling restricted, and wanting more.
  6. I was too lean. Being lean is great, but it isn’t healthy all year round. My hormones were way off, I went to the doctor and some of them were undetectable, let alone other issues with being too lean.
  7. I still had food issues. Dieting does funny things to you and it makes you obsess about food, what you’re going to eat, when you’re going to eat it, what you wish you could eat, etc. I couldn’t go to a restaurant and leave food on my plate anymore. It was like every chance I had to eat was my last chance, even though I was eating more than I ever had in my life! It was a mental game of being restricted for so long and carrying it with you.

So I finally got fed up. I decided one day that I was only going to count macros during the week, and then only days that I didn’t work out, and then I gave it up all together. What did I do? I ate a lot, and I ate what I wanted. It was the feeling of freedom, even from a non-restricted diet, to let go. What happened? I gained weight and body fat, which is fine, as  I needed to. My hormones evened themselves out and my body was happy again. I could go to a restaurant and only eat part of my meal until I was content. But, I also slowly resorted back to the traditional American diet. I was eating more fat than my body needed and less protein than I should.  My gym sessions were suffering, and I was tired more often. So last week, I started to reverse diet again.

And here’s why:

  1. My body and mind finally recovered from a year of dieting.
  2. I realized if I kept on the path I was going I was going to put on more weight than I could take off easily.
  3. With a healthy mindset I wanted to build my metabolism through the roof (hello macronator!)
  4. I knew my workouts in the gym were hurting because of the imbalance in my macronutrients and I wanted that hard work to pay off.
  5. Flexible dieting when you are in the right mindset and have enough calories to support your body, truly does make reaching your physique goals easier.
  6. Most importantly, mentally I was ready to get back on track.
  7. I have specific physique goals and hope to step on stage again next year. Therefore I need to be working towards those goals.

So I am now two week into my new reverse diet. My mind is healthy and so is my body. I am truly eating a wider variety of foods and more nutrient dense choices. I am eating more than I ever ate in my life and continue to build my metabolism week by week. I allow myself more freedom since I am not in contest prep. A meal un-tracked once or twice a week is not going to hurt me and it gives me a break from the rigidity. I am still less than ten pounds from stage weight, and know that if I do this right the next time I diet for a contest I will not have to cut so much food from my diet (which equals a better mind and body!).

Fitness Pic
Today- 11 months post show

What does this mean to you?

I don’t want this to be a bash on reverse dieting, but I do want to let you know the reality of trying to maintain a lean physique year round. I am still a huge enthusiast of flexible dieting and specifically reverse dieting. I believe that it is the most sound and healthy way to reach your goals. What this means is that when you eat so far below your metabolic level and maintain a very low body percentage your body and mind do things to adapt and I was not ready for those things at the time. Next time (yes there will be a next time!)I will start dieting at a higher metabolic capacity level so I don’t have to drop as many calories,  I will not try to stay so lean for so long, and I will increase my calories at a faster rate to reach my body’s healthy level.

What about you? Any dieting stories from the past? What do you do to stay on track?

20 comments

    1. It was too lean! And I didn’t even feel that lean at the time..head tricks I tell ya. It feels good to be in a better place mentally and physically though!

  1. This was really interesting to read Kim! I always hear people praising reverse dieting, but I think it’s important to understand the possible negative side effects too – I would have trouble tracking everything I ate like that too. I’m happy to hear that you’re in a good place now!

    1. It is great for some time, but like anything else eventually it goes too far. People need to remember that you should have a positive relationship with a) yourself and b)food! I’m happy to be in a better place now!

  2. This was a (another) great post! I’m currently 10 days out from a competition, with all the good intentions of reverse dieting afterwards to get me ready to try carb backloading in my offseason. It’s overwhelming because there are SO MANY “methods” for eating, and once you get into the competition mindset it’s next to impossible to turn it off.
    It sounds like you’ve done your body a great service in finding the right balance. Food is our friend, and as soon as it becomes a chore / stress / mathematical calculation, it’s dangerous territory. Balance is all we can ask for!! XO

    1. It is SO hard to get out of your mind “stage lean”! I think reverse dieting is awesome for coming out of a show the right way. I also think its important to free yourself every now and then from the “diet” mindset. I did my own reverse diet and was very slow and meticulous with it, and I lost the objectivity to know when to push calories harder. It helps to have an outside eye keep you on track too!

  3. This is an AMAZING post, girl. Being a competitor myself, the mindgames are so daunting at times and reverse dieting/post-show methods all vary so much and you never know which one is “best” but in reality, you really have to find what suits YOUR soul and YOUR body…everyone is so different! For me now, it’s important to eat eat eat and gain some weight back, because being show lean is not sustainable, nor is it healthy! Life>abs, ya know?

    xo
    Meg

  4. p.s. THIS is why I refuse to do the typical “reverse diet” macro counting thingamabob…

    “I was sick of numbers, for once I wanted to eat and not worry about how many grams or ounces it was, let alone planning out my days ahead of time (that shit gets old).”

    I just want to LIVE my life and not focus on numbers…I wanna focus on living, the people in my life and my surroundings. I want other things to fill my head! You know?

    Actually, I relate to your whole damn list. I just wanna give you a hug haha.

    1. Thank you so much lady! You really do need to understand YOUR goals and thoughts about what you are going to do after the show and then do what works best with you. You definitely can’t go in to off season without a plan though!I think reverse dieting is an awesome tool to slowly build your metabolism back up, but I really lost sight of “off season” and that it would be OK if I ate a few meals (or even days) a week that didn’t fit my plan. Its about finding the balance of making improvements but letting yourself relax a bit too, we can’t be machines 365 days a year!

  5. I can so relate to this. My hormones are crazy right now & I have to see an endocrinologist. I often wonder if my injury was my body’s way of trying to get me to gain a few healthy pounds because like you I was really lean. It’s been mentally tough for me though to accept those extra pounds on my body.

    1. I went to see an endo too and they were no real help to me. It wasn’t until I got above 15% body fat that everything started to even itself out again. Just remember, a healthy body and long life is much more important than being lean! I hope you heal fast lady!

  6. Great post and love your honesty! I have struggled in the past and sometimes even now with being too lean for too long. It messes up our bodies and mind. It is exhausting and life is too short to not enjoy it. You look happy and healthy now and looking forward to see how your progress goes. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! It’s such a mental strength to be able to recognize when you need to change something in your life, and it never gets easier when its something you pour your heart and soul into!

    1. It’s true, eventually once your caloric intake exceeds your metabolic capacity you will begin to gain weight. It really depends on the person and how their body responds to the diet. Some people will actually lose weight while reverse dieting, but at some point when calories get really high will begin to steady out and gain weight. Others will maintain and very slowly put on weight, but with proper adjustments it will be minimal. I am currently working on getting my site ready so that I can coach online, but please email me kim@fitsique.net if you have any other questions!

  7. A little late to the party but I just read this article and loved it! Currently trying to figure out reverse dieting from my competition prep but my coach had me on such an aggressive 3-day carb cycle that I have no clue where to set my numbers, do you have advice reversing out of a carb cycle?

  8. This was a great read for me. I have had great success with reverse dietingas a result of a low calorie diet – that went on for way too long. I, too, agree that although “the numbers” don’t seem like they are at all restricting, the mental battle still exists. Thanks again – great read!

  9. Hi there,
    I am 3 weeks into a reverse diet after dieting for 8 weeks(on less than 1500 cals). This is my first time doing it but it happened that i started binging on weekends(from week 2) since i dont gain much weight during the week. But it affects a lot of my mental state and i keep having a blame about eating so much and going overboard. Anyone has/had the same issue with reverse dieting?
    Thanks

    1. I think a lot of people can fall into this with reverse dieting. A struggle that I had was that I really had no goal or source of motivation in mind for the reverse diet except to increase my metabolism. While this is a fantastic goal, there was nothing tangible to reach. First, don’t be so hard on yourself. There will be days that are harder than others and its all apart of your journey. Be proud of the work that you are putting in and if you do binge accept it and move on. Try not to attach too many emotional feelings to it. Second, if you are not gaining weight throughout the week I would say you could increase your macros a bit at this point. Eating more throughout the week and being able to include more food options should help take away from the urge to binge through the weekend! I hope this helps!
      Kim

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