Reverse Dieting: Can It Prevent Weight Regain After Weight Loss?

Reverse Dieting

Weight loss is a challenging process, but for many individuals, the real struggle begins after they have shed those extra pounds. There’s the challenge of not regaining the lost weight, which, for many, is a major challenge. According to Cary Foster, Ph.D., the head of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania. 65% of people who lose weight regain it within 3 years.

One strategy you hear about for preventing weight regain is reverse dieting. The approach involves gradually increasing calorie intake after reaching the desired weight, aiming to maintain the achieved weight and avoid common weight regain. While there is currently no scientific research to support this method for weight maintenance, some studies are looking at its effectiveness.

What is Reverse Dieting and Its Purpose?

The concept of reverse dieting involves slowly adding calories back into the diet over several weeks to several months, roughly matching the duration of the initial weight loss period.  For instance, suppose you started with a 1,500-calorie diet to lose weight. In that case, you would increase your calorie intake by 50 calories every two to three weeks until you reach a calorie level that causes weight gain. At this point, you would reduce your calorie intake back to the previous calorie level to stabilize your weight and, hopefully, maintain it.

Adaptive Thermogenesis: How Your Body Works Against Weight Maintenance

According to research, most of the weight people regain after losing weight happens within five years.  But why? The bounce back to pre-weight loss weight can partly be explained by the theory of adaptive thermogenesis, which suggests that calorie restriction and weight loss trigger changes in behavior and the body’s metabolic, neuroendocrine, and autonomic systems.

Adaptive thermogenesis is a scientific term for your metabolism to speed up and slow down in response to how physically active you are and how many calories you consume. This physiological response enables your body to maintain energy balance, which is essential for survival. Adaptive thermogenesis involves hormonal changes, including changes in thyroid activity, and modification in brown adipose tissue activity.

These changes work against weight maintenance by reducing resting energy expenditure. In other words, the body tries to preserve its remaining mass and return to its previous weight. When someone loses weight, the body enters a state of energy imbalance. This means the energy intake through food is less than the energy burned through metabolism and physical activity.

In response to this, your body starts to adapt to the new energy balance by decreasing energy expenditure. This happens through several mechanisms, such as reducing resting metabolic rate, decreasing non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), and decreasing the thermic effect of food. These changes work against weight maintenance by reducing resting energy expenditure. In other words, your body tries to preserve its remaining mass and return to its previous weight.

The Process of Reverse Dieting: Incremental Calorie Increase

Proponents of reverse dieting claim that gradually increasing calorie intake, via reverse dieting, can mitigate the drop in resting energy expenditure associated with weight loss. Such an approach could allow you to consume higher calorie levels without experiencing significant weight regain. This method could also normalize hunger hormones and boost energy. Once used mainly by professional bodybuilders and athletes to preserve muscle mass while minimizing fat mass, reverse dieting has become popular with the public.

Ongoing Research on Reverse Dieting

Although limited data is available on reverse dieting, two ongoing studies aim to shed light on its effectiveness. One study, supported by George Mason University, looked at reverse dieting to prevent metabolic adaptation in weight-training athletes after a period of calorie restriction.

Another study, sponsored by the University of Colorado, involves 24 participants with overweight or obesity who have lost more than 10% of their body mass. These individuals are randomly assigned to either a reverse dieting intervention or a standard care control group for 12 weeks. Results from these studies are not yet available.

The Current State of Reverse Dieting

Bodybuilders and athletes claim reverse diet works, but it needs further research. Moreover, it may be impractical for many clients. Keeping track of an additional 30 or 50 calories per day can be burdensome, especially for those who did not count calories as part of their weight loss plan. Furthermore, this small number of extra calories does not amount to a substantial increase in food consumption, such as just a few almonds, peanuts, or half a stick of string cheese.

Avoid Restrictive Diets

Whether you reverse diet after losing weight, it’s best to avoid restrictive approaches to eating. Restrictive dieting can be harmful for several reasons. Regularly eating fewer calories than your body needs can lead to fatigue and nutrient deficiencies. Restrictive diets can also cause hormonal and metabolic changes, which lead to changes in your metabolic rate, and difficulty losing weight or maintaining weight loss.

In addition, restrictive diets can be unsustainable and unappealing, which can lead to going off the diet entirely or engaging in less physical activity as you consume fewer calories. Keep in mind there is no one-size-fits-all approach to losing weight. You want to do it healthily.

Also, consider the sustainability of any diet plan. Restrictive diets can be unappealing and difficult to maintain long-term. To make it work, strike a balance between healthy eating habits and enjoying the foods you love. Stay physically active, so you can lose weight without extreme calorie restriction. Focus on strength training too. Don’t focus on perfection, but on making small changes you can sustain. That’s the key to sustainable weight loss.


Reverse dieting may be a promising tool for preventing weight regain after weight loss. You can minimize the odds of gaining the weight you lost by gradually increasing calories after losing weight. This will allow your body to acclimate to a higher calorie intake. Hopefully, further research will clarify the advantages, advantages, and disadvantages of reverse dieting.

Remember that losing weight and keeping it off is a complicated process. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else, despite claims by the diet industry.  Successful weight loss and sustained weight control require a personalized approach, including a healthy diet, regular exercise, and a supportive environment.


  • “Ask the Expert: Reverse Dieting – Today’s Dietitian Magazine.” 2021. Todaysdietitian.com. 2021. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/JJ21p10.shtml.
  • When dieting doesn’t work – Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/when-dieting-doesnt-work-2020052519889 Accessed 5/19/2023.
  • The Impact of Restrictive and Non-restrictive Dietary Weight Loss …. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34318394/ Accessed 5/19/2023.
  • Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018 Jan;102(1):183-197. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012. PMID: 29156185; PMCID: PMC5764193.
  • “The Percentage of People Who Regain Weight After Rapid Weight Loss and the Risks of Doing So | livestrong”. Www.Livestrong.Com, 2023, https://www.livestrong.com/article/438395-the-percentage-of-people-who-regain-weight-after-rapid-weight-loss-risks/. Accessed 22 May 2023.

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