This is my client Katie & the outcome of her reverse diet with me. Despite being a personal trainer herself, she came to me classically “stuck”.
Previously, Katie had worked with EIGHT different nutritionists and none fixed her situation or relationship with food. They told her she had hormone problems, thyroid issues and adrenal dysfunction. So, what did I do differently?
I discovered she was drastically under eating according to her needs. As a result, I implemented a reverse diet, plus focused on strength progression in the gym and stress management outside of it. Over a 10-week period, this resulted in a massive increase of her maintenance calories, from 1400 calories per day, all the way up to 2400 calories per day. This was a 1000 calorie increase to her maintenance, in just 10 weeks. With ZERO body weight gain!
Naturally, this increase in calories happened incrementally and strategically. Each new week, I added more macronutrients to her target and thus more calories to her daily intake. By doing it this way, I was able to minimise body fat accumulation despite the higher calories.
But how could I add 1000 calories to her daily intake without any weight gain? Well firstly, energy input & energy output are related. When you increase calories consumed, your calorie expenditure will increase too, somewhat offsetting the overfeeding. To what degree though will vary and is very much impacted by genetics, as shown by overfeeding studies.
Realistically though, you SHOULD gain some weight after a diet, even if using a reverse diet. To what degree will vary according to the person & context. The key is to will MINIMISE body fat acquisition. Some minor weight gain is simply the trade-off for living a better life and being healthier due to superior calories.
However, weight gain doesn’t necessarily mean fat gain. When you increase your carb intake, you should see more water retention. This is simply because when you store 1 gram of carbs in the body as glycogen, it’ll result in an additional 3 grams of water stored too. The reason why this didn’t happen here despite going from keto to 280 grams of carbs per day is likely due to fluid shifts.
Chronically consuming inadequate calories will be fundamentally stressful to the body. Cortisol is our primary stress hormone and when it is elevated it can lead to water retention. Decrease the stress and some water can shift which is likely what happened here. Thus, the lack of weight increase despite the overfeeding.
To support her ability to consume progressively more calories, we also implemented more of a flexible dieting approach viewing food as fuel. This ensured no foods were off limit and it removed the classic “good” or “bad” categorisation that many have with food. As a result,
It allowed for the strategic consumption of additional calories which had greater palatability. Palatability is how tasty a food is and is impacted by the properties of a food (salt, sugar, fat etc.) and the combination of these properties. The more palatable a food is, the easier it is to consume more of it.
Thus, in some instances such a reverse diet, eating a classically “unhealthy” food choice, can actually be a “healthy” thing to do, if it helps you meet your energy needs. Below are Katie’s words about her experience:
“Glen doesn’t realise it, but he’s basically changed my life. I came to Glen because I had been stuck in a massive diet hole for about 5 years, I’d almost make it out, but then I’d put myself right back in it. Being in the fitness industry, you can get really wrapped up in what you should look like, what you should eat, how you should train, and what you should weigh.
Glen not only has fixed my relationship with food, but he showed me I can eat significantly more than I ever imagined. My strength has increased 10-fold, my weight is the SAME, if not a little less and I’m eating almost as much food now as my husband!
Glen is the first coach who has truly listened to me, reassured me and made it easy. I’m a million times happier in my day to day life, I’m not tired all the time, not hungry and my physique is starting to change. Thank you Glen!”