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Reverse Dieting 101: How to Stop Counting Calories and Start Mindful Eating

how-tos mindful eating nutrition May 17, 2021

After six years of following a calorie-restrictive diet, reverse dieting was exactly what I needed to start eating normally again. After ending my service in the United States Marine Corps (USMC), I was struck by the realization for the first time in six years I didn't have to follow an overly restrictive diet. 

At the same time, I was concerned if I started "eating normally" again I would regain the weight I lost back. There was good reason for me to think that as there are more than a few consequences of excessive calorie restriction, that includes [1]: 

  • The eventual slowing of your metabolism.
  • The need to continually reduce calories to maintain weight loss.
  • The inability to stick to this long-term.  

So, I started to look for ways to maintain my weight loss and that's when I stumbled upon the concept of reverse dieting [2]:

Reverse dieting is the process of slowly increasing your calorie intake after a calorie-restricted diet that allows you to achieve long-term weight maintenance, without gaining all the weight back.

With reverse dieting, I realized I'd be able to slowly increase my caloric intake which would allow me to:

  • Eat more of the foods that I actually enjoyed.
  • Properly nourish my body so that I could feel full and satisfied. 
  • Focus less on weight gain and more on well-being. 
  • Stop calorie counting and start mindful eating. 

Whether you're looking to reverse the consequences of an overly restrictive diet or transition back to a normal way of eating, reverse dieting might the solution for you. In this post, I share four steps to help you stop counting calories and start eating mindfully.

4 Steps to Stop Counting Calories and Start Mindful Eating

1. Accept That Weight Regain Is Possible

There are no guarantees that you won't gain weight when reverse dieting. I'm not going to sugarcoat this (no pun intended). If you have been excessively restricting your calorie intake, there is a good chance that no matter how slowly you increase your calorie you will gain weight.

For that reason, accepting weight gain now as a possibility will help mentally prepare you for that moment you step on the scale and you don't like the number that you see. This is primarily the reason why when I went through the process of reverse dieting I did not weigh myself, because I knew weight regain was a possibility. The last thing I wanted was the temptation to start restricting again.

Instead, I focused first on tracking my body measurements, then when I became comfortable with that I started taking progress photos, and lastly, when I felt I made great progress I started evaluating how my clothes felt. By the time I got to this final stage, I was less concerned about my weight. While it's your choice if you want to utilize a scale or not, learning to accept that weight gain is a possibility will help you focus less on your weight and more on your wellbeing. 

 

2. Determine How Much You're Currently Eating

Before you can start increasing your calorie intake you need to know where you're currently at. If you're looking to reverse diet it's a good chance you already know what your current calorie intake is. Even if you think you do know what your calorie intake is supposed to be, you might find that you're eating more or less than you think.

This is where a food journal can really come in handy as a way for you to track your calorie intake. For me, that meant writing down my meals, snacks, and even those late-night treats I enjoyed. Once I saw what I was actually eating it was easy to see where there was major room for improvement.

You'll likely discover something similar during this process. For instance, you might notice that your carbohydrate intake has been extremely low which might be why you're always hungry. Or, you might be eating the right amount of calories per day, but not getting your nutrients from high-quality food sources. Either way being clear on where you're starting on your journey will help you know where you need to go.

 

3. Determine How Much to Increase Your Calorie Intake 

Knowing your maintenance calories (i.e. the number of calories you need to eat to maintain weight) and the body fat you're comfortable gaining will determine how much to increase your calorie intake. This was one of my top concerns, which is why I took a more slow and steady approach when it comes to increasing my calorie intake. If this is less of a concern for you then you can move at a moderate to fast pace. 

While there isn't a set number, in general, aim to increase your daily calorie intake by 50 to 250 calories every 1-2 weeks. If you're concern about gaining excessive body fat you can lean more towards increasing your calorie intake by 50+ calories every 1-2 weeks. If you're less concerned with body fat then increasing your calorie intake by 100+ calories every 1-2 weeks might be preferable. 

Either way, increasing your calorie intake in small increments will help you commit to the journey. As this process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, ensuring that you have a plan for how you're going to implement this will help you get back to your maintenance calories without greatly increasing your body fat. 

 

4. Relearn How to Eat for Satisfaction  

As you slowly increase your calorie intake, learning how to eat for satisfaction will help you depend less on calorie counting and more on mindful eating. One of the biggest consequences of calorie counting is that we can become disconnected from our innate hunger and fullness. As a consequence, when you start reverse dieting it might be difficult to know when you're actually full and satisfied. 

This is something I personally grappled with until I started practicing a few mindful eating techniques, such as eating slowly, chewing thoroughly, eliminating distractions, and stopping when I was full. These practices allowed me to be more mindful of and confident about my food choices.    

While mindful eating may not come naturally to you, it is a skill that you can develop over time. As you're creeping towards your maintenance calories, it is essential that you start building the foundation for healthier eating habits. By doing so you'll not only learn to eat for satisfaction, but you'll create a habit that will become a part of your lifestyle.

  

Even though reverse dieting isn't easy, it can be a powerful tool to help you reverse some of the consequences of maintaining an overly restrictive diet and help you build the foundation to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

When you're ready to stop obsessing so much over food and your weight join my FREE event: 3 Simple Strategies to Stop Thinking About Food and Your Weight! Join the waitlist today to learn more.

 

Sources.

1. Weller, C. & Malacoff, J. Reverse dieting: Can you really get better results by eating more? Precision Nutrition. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/reverse-dieting

2. Satrazemis, E. (2020). Reverse Dieting: Is This the Secret to Keeping the Weight Off? Trifecta Nutrition. https://www.trifectanutrition.com/blog/reverse-dieting-is-this-the-secret-to-keeping-the-weight-off

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