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’ meals – 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 programme.
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 encounter – as soon as you eat normally after a diet, you pile the weight back on.
It sounds too good to be true: a plan that lets you eat more while still losing weight. Pictured: Stock image
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 which use 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 lost on a low-calorie diet is 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 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.
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. Pictured: Stock image
But reverse dieting offers a way around these processes. Gradually increasing calorie intake to gain a small amount of weight, researchers suggest, stabilises hunger hormones, and when combined with a muscle-building exercise programme, 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 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.
‘Participants have managed to keep the weight off after three months of intervention and they’re back to eating the same calories they were before they dieted, without piling on excess weight,’ says Dr Elisabeth De Jonge, assistant professor of Nutrition at George Mason, who is running the study.
Dr De Jonge is also testing participants to measure how efficiently their body burns energy – and says she’s seen improvements. Surely it’s too good to be true?
According to Dr Giles Yeo, obesity expert at the University of Cambridge, there’s a reason most of the success stories involve extremely athletic people. ‘Diet alone is unlikely to speed up calorie-burning. The only factor that could feasibly do this is exercise,’ he says. ‘It’s impossible to know if it’s the diet plan that makes a difference, or the sheer amount of exercise these people are doing.’
So, does increasing muscle mass boost the calories we burn? The answer is yes – but only significantly during exercise.
What’s the difference between laryngitis and pharyngitis?
Laryngitis and pharyngitis feel similar, both leaving you with a sore throat.
They describe inflammation in areas of the throat that result in the dreaded scratchy or painful sensation associated with colds and coughs, but there is a fundamental difference between the two.
Laryngitis is inflammation of the voice box or vocals cords at the top of the windpipe, known as the larynx.
In pharyngitis, it is the mucous membranes that line the back of the throat – called the pharynx – that become inflamed.
Both laryngitis and pharyngitis can be caused by bacterial and viral infections – including Covid-19.
‘Genetics are the driving factor of how many calories each person burns and how quickly they gain or lose weight,’ says Dr Yeo. ‘Sex and age are important, too.’
A 2011 US study found 43 per cent of the difference between participants’ basal metabolic rates – the minimum number of calories required by the body for basic functions – could be explained by the size of their organs.
The most ‘counter-productive’ element of the reverse diet plan, according to Dr Yeo, is that it requires participants to continue counting calories. Long-term calorie-counting dieters are far more likely be overweight some years later than non calorie-counters, according to studies.
Researchers say the regimes lead to obsessional thoughts about food, risking eating disorders and bingeing.
Professor Roy Taylor, a diabetes expert at the University of Newcastle, has pioneered a short-term, ultra-low 600 to 800-calorie-a-day diet as a treatment for type 2 diabetes that recently received NHS backing.
He agrees that persistent calorie-counting is not the answer, and says that when helping patients return to normal eating, they looked at their entire lifestyle rather than simply what their diet is.
‘We tackled a host of different factors, from underlying psychological problems and finding exercise people enjoy to ensuring the support of a spouse or loved one,’ he says. ‘Reintroducing food groups is slow and steady, and variety is crucial to avoid deficiencies.’
Studies have shown weight-loss interventions that focus on healthy behaviour, rather than nutritional properties of food, are far more effective for keeping off weight.
Two years after Prof Taylor’s intervention, a third of his participants have regained the weight they lost.
It is, as Dr Yeo explains, evidence of the harsh reality of dieting. ‘The depressing fact is that only a small number of people manage to lose weight and keep it off,’ he says.
‘For those that do, it takes an upheaval of lifestyle. Simply manipulating what you eat just won’t work.’