You've lost the weight, now what?
You met your goal of getting in shape and looking fantastic for the holiday season. Go you! But now you are faced with the challenge of transitioning out of dieting and you are completely at a loss of what to do next. Maybe you cut out some high calorie foods in order to stay satiated on a lower calorie diet and you want to put those foods back in. Heck, maybe you’re just tired of passing up the bread basket every single time! How do you get back to eating the foods you love while maintaining your goal look?
That’s the million-dollar question I want to answer for you.
The Backstory: What Dieting Does to Your Metabolism
What happens to your body when you diet? When you are dieting over time, your metabolism will adapt to the amount of calories it gets on a daily basis. It will become more efficient at using those calories. What this means is you will burn less doing your day-to-day activities to conserve energy (calories). Those of us with an exceptionally high metabolism are actually inefficient at using calories – nice problem to have!
During the dieting phase, there are some tricks you can use to keep your metabolism up like systematic re-feed days and high carbohydrate days, but ultimately your metabolism will adapt. After you have reached your goal weight, you are in a precarious place to put body fat back on. Your body is in a fragile state and hitting the dessert table hard after dieting is literally a recipe for disaster!
If you already know how many calories you are consuming as well as the grams of protein, carbohydrate, and fat per day, carry on to the next section. If not, you will want to tally that up. (A great way to do this would be to plug your nutrition details into a tracking application like My Fitness Pal or My Macros+.)
You’ll need to take it slow after you reach your goal and add calories back in gradually over time. Keep tabs on how your body is responding to the extra calories. Track your progress over this time in a similar fashion to how you tracked your progress while dieting. Utilize body fat tests, scale weight, how your clothes fit, and measurements. You can also head over to your local Max Muscle Nutrition store for a body composition analysis on their highly accurate InBody machines.
If you are maintaining your weight as you add calories in (or even continuing to lose), keep adding gradually. If you begin to gain, slow down and hold steady giving your metabolism a chance to catch up. It will! Metabolic adaptation is not a life sentence! This method of gradually adding calories in after a diet is called reverse dieting.
If you are ending your diet in constant fatigue, you may have to make a higher bump out of the gate to subside some of those symptoms and get back into a comfortable state. “If you were very low calorie by the end of your diet and you feel miserable, go ahead and make a higher caloric jump of 200 to 500 calories,” says Sohee Lee of SoheeFit. “Otherwise, increase your carbohydrate and fat intake by 2 to 10 percent per week while monitoring your body’s response.”
Alan Aragon, a nutrition researcher and educator with more than 20 years experience in the field, describes how coaches, myself included, conduct reverse diets with their clients:
“The broad definition of reverse dieting is a gradual, incremental re-introduction of calories (mostly from carbohydrate) into the diet for a prolonged period after the dieting phase. There is no universal or official set of reverse dieting rules, but the general incarnation in coaching circles is to increase carbohydrate (and to a lesser degree, fat and protein) on a weekly basis, to the order of roughly 5 to 10g carbs/week until maintenance levels are hit, at which point a decision is made to either hold steady or continue bulking.”
Once you have added those extra calories back in over time and have more space in your daily allotment, fitting in those higher calorie treats on occasion will be a breeze and you can still keep your six-pack abs! Winning! Mom’s Christmas cookies here we come!
Adjusting Your Training and Cardio Schedule
The next point of business is how often to train and participate in cardiovascular activity once you reach your goal. You will want to continue strength training, as what built the muscle keeps it, but you will want to pull back on the cardiovascular activity. You want to be strategic about using cardio to reach your goals and you definitely don’t want to be stuck taking 60-minute spin classes seven days per week just to maintain your weight.
If you’ve been a cardio bunny, take one session out at a time and assess how your body responds to the decrease in activity. Your body will also become more efficient burning calories during cardio so you will have to do more to get the same caloric burn. Removing sessions slowly will allow your body to adjust. Ultimately, take cardiovascular activities back to two or three sessions per week. Cardiovascular training has many health benefits and we don’t want to cut it out completely for that reason.
Having Flexibility Before You Complete a Reverse Diet
Say the hourglass of time before the holidays is running out and you haven’t had the chance to fully reverse. Should you forgo those parties or sit in the corner with a club soda? No way!
Another option is to go low fat and low carbohydrate during the day before a night out so you can “save room” for indulgences in the evening. This technique is much better than the popular technique of working it off the next day for two reasons: calories in do not always equal calories out, and it isn’t smart to get in the habit of punishing yourself for consuming food, as you’ll want to preserve your relationship with food over all else.
Small Changes Add Up To Big Results
As you can see, small changes each week add up to big results. It might not seem like much with a 2 percent increase each week, but after time passes and you are able to consume an extra 600 calories per day without gaining an ounce, you will realize it was well worth the patience and consistency involved with gradually adding calories in after reaching your goal. You worked so hard to lose the body fat, don’t turn around and put it back on! Reap the rewards of your hard work.
Enjoy the holiday season and your new physique! MS&F