Question for you. How many times have you lost some weight, felt great about yourself and the progress you saw with your body, only to hit a wall (physically or psychologically) and put some, if not all the weight back on that you lost? I will assume, and I try not to normally assume things, that you have had cycles like I just described in the past. Or even currently! What is this called? And why does this happen?
Yo-Yo Diet or Weight Cycling: repeated loss and regain of body-weight.
**Note: this weight loss and regain is not planned like a “cut” and “bulk” phase that bros talk about. AKA me. Those bros are in complete control of their nutrition and lifestyle while losing and gaining weight. I actually don’t really think I am bro, but maybe I am.
Thank you Kelly D. Brownell of Yale University for that definition. She apparently came up with the definition of a “yo-yo diet.”
Why do so many people struggle with this so called yo-yo diet? Well, for one, most people who have lost weight haven’t established any sustainable habits that will allow them to maintain weight loss. The lack of patience in our society and the “need” for an instagram body pushes too many people to extreme measures of fat loss, such as cutting calories to 1200 or lower for months on end. In the short term this works great for results! If you are six weeks out from a vacation to Cabo and want to fit in that swim suit, than aggressive fat loss will work, but that is a topic for another blog.
The other reason you and many others just like you struggle with this constant weight loss and regain is that desire for a mental break post diet. You do need a mental break, you really do deserve it. I completely know how that feels (hope you read my last blog post). But, I am going to ask you to be patient just a little while longer.
Enter reverse dieting, or the process of slowly adding calories (mainly carbs) back into your diet one week at a time when coming off a “dieting” period. Again, this takes patience. The same patience you had for the past 6 months as you slowly lowered calories and the scale weight dropped 40lbs and you dropped 7 pant sizes.
It is a simple concept that calls for you to add around 100-200 calories (so 25-50g of carbs) back into your daily diet, each week, until you hit your maintenance calories. Those are the calories you can eat everyday and maintain the weight and lifestyle you are happy with. You need to be tracking macros for this to work most efficiently. I know, moreeeeee macro tracking, but it is worth it. I mean you just lost 40lbs, wouldn’t it be awesome to keep it off this time!
This is a screen shot from my phone, yes. This diagram gives a general idea of what reverse dieting looks like with calories surpluses to recharge your metabolism and then deficits for fat loss. Notice “diet” periods are shorter than “maintenance” periods.
I will use me as an example:
-I was eating between 2000-2400 calories a day last week before I hit my goal. This week I am eating 2600 calories per day (50 more grams of carbs).
-Next week I will eat 2700 calories per day. The following week 2800 calories per day. The following 2900 calories per day. My maintenance calories are somewhere around 3000 calories for a being a male, age 24, at 181lbs, and 6-7% bodyfat. That is an estimation, but within in a 100 calories I am guessing.
-This means I need to religiously macro track for another 4-5 weeks in order to avoid losing all the progress I made in a matter of 1-2 weeks. Yes that can happen; if you don’t care about that happening then the rest of this post might be a waste of your time. I could go from 6% bodyfat to 10-12% (put on 10lbs) in two weeks if I lost all self control. I wasn’t going to lose all self control, but play along here. I want to stay as lean as I am as long as I can while eating more. I am hungry and want more carbs. Just have to do it slowly.
Now, this might seem meticulous, but this is what happens if I dont:
- If I go from 2000-2400 calories a day right away to eating whatever I wanted (for me that is probably 3500ish calories during the week when not tracking), my body is going to essentially suck up the extra carbs and fat and store it. This is because I have been dieting down enough where my body is in a mini starvation mode. I will feel bloated, put on a bunch of water weight (from a huge increase in carbs) real quick and with that some fat weight. THIS IS THE MISTAKE I SEE SO OFTEN. Especially after a client hits a goal weight or after a weight loss challenge.
Here is what happens if I DO reverse diet to my maintenance calories:
- I am patient and allow my body to re-adjust to eating 3000 calories on a daily basis for 2-3 weeks while tracking. Remember, if eat around 3000 calories day right now I will maintain a weight of 181-184ish lbs, but I want to be as careful as possible. If, I kept calories in the low 2000s I would continue to lose weight very slowly. Then when I take a mental break from tracking for 1-2 months and eat maybe 3500 calories Monday, 2600 calories Tuesday, 3100 calories Wednesday etc, my body and metabolism aren’t “shocked” into a 1000+ calorie surplus. My body isn’t in that mini starvation mode at 3000 calories, so 3500 or 4000 calories isn’t as big of a deal as it was when I was eating 2000-2400 calories.
OK Ryan, what happens when I reach those “maintenance” calories you talk about? There are three options in my mind:
- You continue to track macros because it keeps you accountable and you can eat more than you have been for the last 6 months ago while maintaining around the same weight you got down to. Take a few days off of tracking if you need it and enjoy yourself, then get right back it.
- You give yourself an extended mental break (1-3 months) from tracking and just continue those healthy habits you have established. I RECOMMEND THIS IF YOU DON’T INHERENTLY LIKE MACRO TRACKING. Just be aware you might put on a few lbs or body comp might change slightly. If you are OK with this, then definitely go for it! If you want to limit weight gain at all costs because it is summer, stick with option 1.
- You immediately start another phase of weight loss by cutting calories. Only if you have another, realistic goal weight you want to hit.
That is how I am currently eating and tracking my macros. But, there is one other way that reverse dieting can be very helpful. This is for people who come to me on a weight loss plateau from cutting calories so low that they can’t cut them any lower without hating life. Metabolism is basically in the tank at this point and they are on the verge of locking themselves in their bedroom with family size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, 3 double butter burgers from Culvers and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s because this “weight loss thing” sucks! By implementing reverse dieting with someone like this we recharge their metabolism with a slow and steady increase in carbs, slow enough that weight gain doesn’t happen. Once scale weight increases 2-3 lbs we know we have found maintenance calories and that is when we can begin a dieting phase of cutting calories or carb cycling (damn still need to get my blog up on that topic) to continue weight loss.
Here is another screen shot of someone who continued to lose weight while reverse dieting because she was still in a calorie deficit, even though she was starting to eat more.
The takeaway from this long and kind of boring blog post:
- Be patient with weight loss. It is up and down, not linear. You will hit plateaus. Don’t overreact.
- Finish what you started. Yes you deserve a mental break for losing 40lbs, but let’s keep it off this time.
- Realize that a goal weight of 140lbs is a great goal to have. This singular goal can drive you to establish better habits and stay on track because you so desperately want to see that number pop up on the scale. But, what happens when you hit that number? Are you happier than before? Do you move on to another goal or do you give up all you have learned and put into practice over the past 6 months-2 years?
- Also realize that a specific goal weight number will be impossible to keep every day for the rest of your life. If you hit 140lbs awesome job! But, you could be 142lb the next day because you ate at Carabas last night. Don’t freak out. Having a range of weight you are happy in (say 140-147lbs) might be the best way to look at maintaining weight.
- Maintaining a weight you are happy at does not need to be hard. Always revert back to those healthy habits and get back to tracking if you feel like you are getting off track.
A little extra patience can go a long way.