“Reverse dieting?” When I first heard those two words next to each other, I genuinely thought someone was having me on. We are so accustomed to hearing about all these ‘diets’ and most of the time, we associate ‘diet’ with shedding unwanted fat or by emarking on a lifestyle which emphasises eating of certain foods, or food groups, and restricting others. The concept of reversing a diet seemed absurd to me. But, reverse dieting over the past 6 months has shown me what amazing things our bodies can do!
Having dieted for more than 20 weeks on a very calorie restricted diet with long periods of cardio and weight training, my metabolism and hormones were not where they should be. There is plenty to read online about ‘getting competition ready’, with numerous hints, tips and viewpoints. There is very little information however, about afterwards. Afterwards, in my opinion, is 100 times harder than the preparation. You have met your goal, you have had all the hype, you’ve eaten whatever food you were craving….now what?
The morning after my photoshoot, I woke up and felt utterly miserable. I was severely bloated from eating 2 pieces of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake (no mean feat!), chocolate, chips and pizza. I was also lost. What was I meant to eat? What was I meant to train? I felt empty. I had worked so hard for 6 months, focused on my goal. Now what? I fully knew that being as lean as I was, was neither sustainable nor healthy, but I didn’t know what the next step was. Should I eat my peak week diet? Still do all the cardio? After about a week of this uncertainty, with my body ballooning at whatever I fed it, I sought advice, and was introduced to reverse dieting. Reverse dieting is when calories, specifically fats and carbohydrates, are periodically increased, while cardio decreased over a number of weeks. Obviously, in the first few weeks post photoshoot, my calories were still relatively low, with cardio still being relatively high, but there was still a substantial difference between my prep and afterwards. Sticking to a reverse diet at this point is difficult. It does require discipline as it is tempting to eat whatever. This is when I think IIFYM comes into play. Being able to have daily bits and pieces of whatever you fancy already makes you view the reverse diet as different from prep. And the thing is, if you stick to it, it is not only sustainable, but it works. Having a peak week diet of approximately 800 calories per day; I now eat between 1800 and 2050 calories per day. I have visible abs at times; my waist is 4cm smaller than 2 weeks post photoshoot and I weigh about 3lbs more. My whole body composition has changed. I loved the whole process of prep and would definitely do it again, especially having learned so much from my first experience. I just wish I had known about the aftermath before I embarked on my prep. My best advice; ensure someone reverse diets you properly. Be patient and stick to it. Be prepared for the reverse diet to take months, but it is totally worth it. You will be able to eat more and cardio less than you ever have done before.