Welcome to How to Love Your Body - this week’s podcast episode is a review of Reverse Dieting. One of our community members sent us a post confused about whether it was a good non diet option so we wanted to review it to let you know what we think.
Disclaimer: This episode will discuss dieting behaviors, some calorie numbers and for the love of god, do not google reverse dieting if you are trying to avoid diet culture and before and afters.
The reason we are explaining it here is because it is one of those diets that don’t look like diets, it’s something that people trying to UnDiet may look at and be convinced that it’s a safe diet alternative… Here's what we found.
Let’s start by explaining what reserve dieting is:
Reverse dieting is often described as the diet after the diet, it is slowly increasing calories after a period of restriction.
Here’s where the first diet culture red flags come in - the intention of this is often weight loss or prevention of weight gain.
And honestly when we were first sent this I had a twinge of, oh this doesn’t look too bad, maybe that could work for some people, encouraging people to eat enough is never a bad thing...
Here are 3 red flags of reverse dieting:
- You still have to count calories for the rest of your life. It is assumed that each day your body needs to same amount of fuel. It treats your body like a machine, and we are not machines.
- It has the same freedom language as macro counting (and the dreaded Noom) - eat whatever you want, there are no good or bad foods! AND you can only eat x calories a day. Well that is not freedom, that cannot be intuitive, it’s still a calculation where, yes you can eat a burger and fries but then you can’t eat much else for the rest of the day…
- The intention is weight loss, there is a weight loss focus, no one reverse diets and accepts that maybe they were repressing their weight too much and their body WANTS to be at a different size. There is no body acceptance built into this work.
It comes across that the only issue with dieting is if you’re eating way too few calories and so if you increase your calories by a small amount, you will then solve all the problems that dieting causes.
But we know that undereating isn’t the only thing that triggers binge eating, food obsession, weight preoccupation … mental restriction, the diet mentality, focusing on weight - all these things cause negative side effects, so adding some calories in isn’t a cure all.
The biggest selling point of reverse dieting is around metabolism, eating in this way controls your metabolism.
The entire appeal of reverse dieting is the idea that we can control our metabolisms by manipulating the way we eat in a certain way: if you eat in this way you can override your metabolism and have all the benefits of weight loss while eating more, who doesn’t want that in the fatphobic world we live in!?
These are the factors that effect metabolism:
- Body fat percentage
- Body Temperature
- Racial variation
- Being active (ex: pro athletes and manual laborers have a slightly higher BMR)
- Diet - yes prolonged under nutrition lowers the metabolic rate but not by a profound amount (this is a part of it but only one element of many and most of them we have no control over)
Some simple googling online shows that metabolism is not something that we can change in any profound way:
While total metabolism can change at the drop of a hat (when you exercise your metabolism is higher at that moment than if you sit down), your BMR is like a glacier, moving and changing ever so slowly. Plus it’s important to note that most of the factors that determine your BMR are not something you can intentionally change or control. Your age, gender, height, somatotype, and even genetics all account for the lion’s share of what causes your BMR to be where it is.
Food Is a Relatively Minor Player in Maintaining BMR
Lots of diet strategy is aimed at boosting or protecting your metabolism. Most of it isn’t really going to do anything. Eating frequent small meals, never skipping meals, and eating at only certain times of the day has little, if any, effect on BMR. It’s like changing the course of that glacier with an ice pick.
Long story short, if anyone’s selling you a trick, hack or strategy to manipulate your body size, it’s a diet.
Our bodies are smarter than us , we cannot trick it, we’ve been trying for decades and here we are - working so hard to get out and just trust the bodies we have.
Your best bet moving forward is to begin to cultivate that trust, learn to work WITH your body, not against it and learn more about WHY our society is so obsessed with thinness.
Your body really is brilliant, even if it’s not the size you wish it were, even if it doesn’t look the way it should, even if you’re struggling with your health - this entire time your body has been on your side.
Imagine the power we can harness if you begin to join forces with your body instead of being on the constant hunt to fix it or change it.
Something coming up for you right now might be…
Yeah but, I have xyz pain.
Yeah but, I binge eat and it feels horrible.
Yeah but, there’s no way I should be this size.
No one said that you can’t work to feel better, to reduce pain, to repair your relationship with food or to find peace in the body you have - BUT focusing on weight loss, using calculations to trick your body into doing what you want it to do, does not work long term.
What does work?
Repairing your relationship with food
Creating trust between you and your body
Exiting diet culture and the diet mentality
Go to physio to get that knee feeling better - increasing strength, flexibility and moving your body (in ways you enjoy)
Doing the mindset work so you can be content NOW (even if you wish some things were different and you are working towards goals, hopefully not intentional weight loss, you can find peace in the present moment, it’s the only moment we have).
If you want to get a kick start in this work we recommend you grab our free guide “Top 10 Pieces of Advice from real UnDieters: What helped them the most and what mistakes not to make!”
You can get that at www.thebodylovesociety.com/top10