Dear Dietitian – Does reverse dieting work?

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Published Thursday, December 24, 2020
PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
by Leanne McCrate, RDN, CNSC

Dear Dietitian,

I have lost thirty pounds in the last nine months by cutting calories and exercising. I'm worried that I will gain the weight back as I've done before. Does reverse dieting work?


Dear Kathryn,

Congratulations on your weight loss! You should be proud of yourself!

Reverse dieting is the practice of gradually increasing calories after a weight loss diet. Its goal is to prevent weight regain. For example, a 25-year-old female named Carol has decreased her caloric intake to 1200 calories per day to lose weight. This is a severe restriction since Carol probably burns at least 2000 calories a day. Over time, her calorie restriction will result in a slower metabolic rate in the body's effort to conserve energy.

With reverse dieting, Carol adds 50 -100 calories each week until she attains her weight-maintenance calorie level. In this case, reverse dieting would take 8-16 weeks, assuming she burns 2000 calories a day.

The theory is that increased intake will provide more energy, less hunger, and a faster metabolism. Metabolism is the rate at which your body turns food into energy, and we know this rate slows down with age. While adding more calories, you will definitely have more energy and feel less hunger. That part is obvious. However, there are no studies to support that reverse dieting will increase metabolism or keep weight off.

Reverse dieting is also practiced when one reaches a plateau on a weight loss plan. The theory is that by adding more food, your metabolism increases, helping you burn more calories and lose weight. This is known as the thermic effect of food, but its impact on metabolism is slight. Again, studies are lacking.

Building muscle is the best way to increase metabolism, and you don't have to bench press 300 pounds to do it. Any exercise will build some muscle, and I always encourage people to choose an activity they enjoy. That way, you're more likely to keep it up.

Follow these strategies to increase your odds of staying slim:

  1. Eat breakfast every day. Breakfast anchors your appetite for the rest of the day, so you are less likely to overeat at other meals.
  2. Exercise, of course.
  3. Keep a food log -write down everything you eat. This allows you to see "slippery" areas, such as getting too hungry between meals. In this case, you may grab a high-calorie convenience food.
  4. Weigh yourself once a week. Keep track of it.
  5. Drink green tea. A meta-analysis found that drinking 3 cups of green tea may burn an extra 100 calories a day. The calorie burner in green tea is a compound called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, for short (1).

Finally, the word "diet" is from the Greek, meaning "a way of life." A healthy diet is a lifestyle and a better way of life.

Stay healthy!

Dear Dietitian


  1. The truth about metabolism (2018 April) Retrieved from

Leanne McCrate, RDN, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans. may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase products or services through links in an article. Prices, when displayed, are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time. Commissions do not influence editorial independence.

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