London: It sounds too good to be true: a plan that lets you eat more while still losing weight. No surprise that ‘reverse dieting’, as it’s known, is soaring in popularity on social media with young, attractive women crediting the regime for their toned figures. Even Kim Kardashian’s personal trainer is a fan.
Alongside envy-inducing selfies are images of the reverse dieters’ meal plates piled high with cheese-covered chips, burgers, crispy bacon, roast dinners, and curries. Not the kind of recipes you’d usually find in a slimming program.
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First, you have to shed the pounds by eating less and doing more exercise. But once you’ve reached your target, instead of simply abandoning caution, you increase your daily calorie intake by 50 to 100 every week – the equivalent of a small slice of bread, or an egg, for up to three months.
According to reverse dieters, this method combats the problem many encounters – as soon as you eat normally after a diet, you pile the weight back on. Instead, gradually increasing calories helps the body to burn fat faster and actually continue losing weight.
Advocates claim that dieters can end up eating a whole extra meal’s worth of calories on top of their recommended daily intake. The theory goes that eating this way gradually increases the amount of ‘fullness’ hormones in the body while building extra muscle that uses up more calories than body fat. The result is the body is ‘retrained’ to burn more calories.
As bizarre as this sounds, there is science behind the trend. Weight, broadly speaking, is determined by a simple equation: calories in versus calories expended.
We all need a certain amount of calories simply to keep our brains, hearts and other organs and tissues working healthily. So even without exercising, we have an energy need. And the bigger our muscles, the more energy we burn while moving.
But when we cut calories to lose weight, the body doesn’t just use up, or ‘burn’, existing fat stores – it also breaks down muscle tissue to use as energy. In fact, a quarter of all weight loss on a low-calorie diet is a muscle, according to studies.
A loss of muscle means the total amount of calories the body needs drops drastically, causing us to put on weight faster than we would have before after a diet. To make matters worse, when we diet, the brain sends signals to increase levels of the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin and reduce amounts of leptin, the hormone that tells us we’re full.
Scientists think this is an evolutionary tool, protecting the body from starvation. It’s a perfect storm that makes us eat more than we would normally. But reverse dieting offers a way around these processes. Gradually increasing calorie intake to gain a small amount of weight, researchers suggest, stabilizes hunger hormones, and when combined with a muscle-building exercise program, the balance of body fat and muscle will be restored, burning calories more efficiently.
University of Colorado researchers are running a trial to see if gradually increasing the daily quantity of calories will help formerly obese and overweight participants to keep their weight off for good. Meanwhile, scientists at George Mason University in Virginia are using gradual increases in muscle-boosting protein to help a group of young, active men maintain weight loss, and are seeing promising results. dailymail