I’m now officially 8 months into a very long reverse diet & building phase!!!
What started out as a plan for a quick reverse diet to maintenance calories at the end of last year, ended up turning into an unplanned minimum of one year, VERY slow ‘intuitive’ reverse diet. When you have seen the outcome of building and cutting a few times AND have no desire to prep for anything special, one will tend to flip flop between wanting to be lean AND growing all of the muscle. It seems as though the grass is always greener on the other side and despite being in one phase or another at any given time, you always end up wanting the opposite of what you are doing. The struggle is real my friends! It’s nice to be a lean bean with abs popping out every once in awhile, BUT I personally feel that it’s MUCH nicer # 1. thinking and worrying about ‘numbers’ (macros, pounds, body fat, etc.), # 2. growing & re-shaping your body, # 3. getting stronger, # 4. feeling more confident, AND # 5. getting to eat more food! Seems like a no brainer to someone who loves to eat haha! I’m perfectly happy sacrificing some leanness for all of the above!
Because my first article on reverse dieting has been so popular, I felt like it was time to touch upon the subject again especially since it’s the only phase I’m going to be in for all of 2015. I spent a good deal of time last year in a cutting/dieting phase (roughly 6 months total) and then a couple of months at maintenance, so there wasn’t much talk about reverse dieting from me. This year, after flip flopping back and forth about what I wanted to do and what my next set of goals were, I decided to go with what was ultimately going to make ME the happiest and was most in line with mine & my family’s schedule for the year. Even the most slow, controlled, and flexible diet/cut will take it’s toll on you, your body, your mental well being, and those around you so I opted for booty gains and an even stronger metabolism over a six pack. Call me crazy, but personally I rather EAT than be hungry, tired, worn down, and miserable just for the sake of being below 15% body fat.
All that being said, let’s get to my check in, update, struggles, and then I’m following up with some common misconceptions I often get asked about… let’s do it!
First things first. Here is a series of pictures to depict the last 8+ months:
First shot on the left was the end of my last cutting/dieting phase that ended this past November 2014. Middle shot was March/April 2015. Last shot was taken a couple of weeks ago, late June 2015.
Overall weight gain of 15 pounds and body fat gain of 3-4% between the first and last pictures shown here.
CALORIES & FOOD:
I ended my cut eating roughly 1,300 calories and today I’m eating “intuitively” anywhere from 2000-2200 calories per day (keep in mind that I am only 5′ tall, 37 years old, and there are TONS of factors to consider when determining ones caloric intake so sharing my numbers doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of YOUR journey).
I chose to eat ‘intuitively’ VS tracking macros simply because I was burnt out on numbers. I just wanted to simplify my life, enjoy my training, and my food without stressing myself out.. Because I have tracked calories for a consistent and extended period of time over the course of the last two years, I have a very very good idea of the portions I need to be eating each meal/each day. Although I don’t track meticulously, I keep a mental note of my macros everyday. I always aim to hit my protein goals and roughly know where my carbs and fats need to land.
** Please note if you are prepping for a show, coming off of a cut/dieting phase and need to reverse diet, going into a building phase, etc. tracking your macros is the BEST way to ensure you are eating properly for your goals!!! **
I still take a flexible approach to nutrition. 90% nutrient dense, whole foods mixed in with 10% fun foods. I don’t label my food as “good” or “bad”, “clean”, etc. Everything I eat comes down to macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat. I LOVE and eat fruits/veggies with almost every single meal in addition to a HUGE colorful salad each day. I love brown rice and quinoa. I eat a lot of seeds and raw nuts. However, I also eat ice cream, cookies, popcorn, pie, donuts, and chocolate if I feel like it. I don’t eat those fun foods ALL day, but I definitely enjoy bits of those things everyday.
Balanced & moderate “diets” will lead to long term sustainability. Once you start to cut each and every food you ever loved out of your diet and label them as “bad” for you, chance are you will A. want them more which may lead to binge eating and B. could begin to have a poor relationship with food in general. Life and food should be enjoyed so although there are times I want to eat 10 cookies, I know that I should probably stick to 2 or 3. Macros, portions for your goals, and enjoy a wide variety of food.
My nutrition is simple for a lifelong journey.
STRENGTH & WEIGHT TRAINING:
I honestly cannot even compare my strength from last year to now. Up until this year, I was very very conservative with my weight training. I consistently lifted heavy, but rarely increased my loads or volume simply out of fear of injuring something. I train for longevity and not for ego at this point. Because I had so many issues with my right knee over the past 1 1/2 years, I was scared to push myself too far on my big lifts (squats/dead lifts). I also developed a slight issue with my right shoulder late last year that prevented me from pushing more weight around. However, I slowly worked up the courage this year and started adding more weight and volume consistently & conservatively to ALL of my big lifts (squats, deadlifts, overhead press, etc.) as well as some of my accessory work. There are certain muscle groups that I’m focusing on this year like shoulders, biceps, and back that I continue to increase work on. Then there are other groups like chest, triceps, and calves that I either rarely train or lift simply for maintenance. I rarely EVER do anything for abs and rely solely on compound movements for core work.
No brainer here. More food & fuel=better mood. It’s also been VERY nice to not rely on My Fitness Pal all day, everyday. I feel like a burden was lifted the day I decided to delete the app from my phone and focus solely on ‘intuitive eating’. Again, if/when it’s time to cut, I will be re-downloading the app and will consistently track my macros!
Overall though, I feel absolutely amazing and I’m happy with my slow body recomposition. I know it sounds strange, but I honestly feel more comfortable and confident with my body now plus those 15 pounds than 8 months ago at the end of my cut. Feeling stronger, progressing in my lifts, and having more energy are ten times more important to me than getting totally shredded. Some people strive to maintain abs and leanness year round, I now strive for something different. Two years chasing the “perfect” body and abs of steel are long gone for me. My journey is simply about feeling good and doing what I love every day.
LAST REVERSE DIET VS. CURRENT REVERSE DIET:
First image below was 6 months into my LAST reverse diet in 2014, right before I began cutting/dieting last year:
This image is where I am currently 2015, 8 months into this reverse diet phase:
As you can see from this last set of images, my body composition has changed pretty significantly. Can you believe I actually weigh 10 pounds MORE now and have reached the HEAVIEST I have ever been in my life (not counting my pregnancies). Even my body fat distribution has changed from last year. I do still hold the majority of it in my stomach (first place I gain/last place I lose), but you can see a big difference specifically around my belly button. I will always have a bit of extra skin there (thanks to my babies), but still pretty noticeable difference. I also used to hold fat in my hips/flank. It’s hard to tell from these images, but I have much less of a bulge on them now compared to any other time in my life. I used to think that my body structure was more curvy/hourglass like, but as it turns out I’m shaped more like a 12 year old boy with straighter hips LOL. Funny what happens when your body composition changes!
REVERSE DIETING PET PEEVES:
In general, I think there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to reverse dieting. There are a lot of women who turn to this process for ALL the wrong reasons simply because they are ill informed. They may follow a few women on social media who have gone through a couple of dieting/reverse dieting cycles, they very briefly discussed some basic principles (adding some carbs and fat into your intake and reducing cardio), they talk about how much they get to eat, they brag about losing weight when they first start out, and they may even appear leaner & tighter the first 1-4 weeks of their reverse diet. It all sounds so amazing and they naively jump on board and think they will lose a ton of weight in this process.
However…. I need to make this VERY clear!
The point of a reverse diet is NOT to lose weight. PERIOD. End of story.
Some people are hyper-responders and will lose weight initially, but this is NOT the ultimate goal nor will the weight loss continue. The point of a true reverse diet is to #1 add calories back in to your daily intake to help rebuild your metabolism #2 get your body out of ‘diet mode’ #3 build muscle (caloric surplus + effective training= gains) and #4 help increase your metabolism so that if/when you decide to diet again, the process will have the potential to be much easier.
With each reverse diet I have done, the following cutting/dieting cycles have been that much better and I struggled far less overall. With each of my reverse diet/cutting phases, my calories were able to stay higher each time, the amount of cardio I was doing was drastically different (first time I was doing 2 to 3 HIIT sessions per week, second time I was only doing 2 moderate sessions per week). I was also able to stay leaner during each reverse diet (case in point with the last set of pictures). Again, don’t forget… I have still GAINED 15 pounds during this last reverse process which was what I was working for and anticipated. When done properly, weight/fat gain can be minimal during a reverse diet, but you WILL gain weight.
My main goals this year was to put on some muscle overall, but specifically grow my glutes & shoulders. In order to grow and build muscle, you MUST eat in a surplus, I don’t care what anyone says… you CANNOT build muscle AND lose fat simultaneously UNLESS you are #1 new to strength training/lifting and working out #2 taking steroids. Those are really only the categories where people can make significant gains while eating less. Eventually you just end up in the same pool as other lifters/bodybuilders. Gotta eat to grow!
And now onto the dark side of reverse dieting that I don’t hear too many girls talk about…
First off, shit is NOT all sunshine, rainbows, hitting PR’s, and eating more. Sure there are days where your energy & mood are through the roof and you are feeling like you could tackle a bear, but there are plenty of other moments where you begin to second guess EVERYTHING you are doing.
I’m a big advocate of throwing the scale out of the window and avoid weighing myself as much as possible, but ultimately during a reverse diet (especially when you are eating intuitively and not tracking macros), you need to check in with the scale numbers every now and then just to make sure you are not gaining weight too rapidly (that means more fat gain than muscle gain). Same goes for dieting since losing weight too quickly is more likely to result in rebound when you are done and muscle loss. The scale is NOT a measure of success, but needs to be utilized when you have specific goals. So, I may be the heaviest I have ever been in my life which I’m honestly 100% happy about because that means I’ve put on some muscle and no longer feel “skinny fat”, BUT as a girl seeing the numbers on the scale steadily rise will usually still tug at your heart just a bit.
Also, going from being pretty lean after a 15 weeks cut/dieting phase and seeing all that hard work slowly go away can royally screw with your head. I worked my ass off last year staying totally compliant and 100% consistent to get to where I did (first image, first shot in this post) and in a matter of a few months during the reverse, my body certainly wasn’t the same. Sometimes its neat watching your body morph, but other times… not so much.
For me, I usually wake up feeling awesome. I’m ready to tackle the day. I can’t wait to train. And I’m feeling pretty lean and good about myself. Then I get a few meals in and my 1 1/2 gallons of water, it’s night time, I’m feeling fluffy, and I can’t help but think to myself “DAMNIT. OK, the cut starts next week! Screw this year long building/maintenance phase. Let’s get shredded!!!” This proves even more difficult to deal with during summertime when everyone seems to be “bikini ready”. Scrolling through my Instagram feed late at night (again, while feeling fluffy), does not prove to be a good idea! Everyone’s rocking their bikinis, abs are poplin’, and it’s shreds & cuts galore. Depending on the state of affairs with my head, I will either think A. OK, yup. I’m cutting immediately. OR B. Nah, I know that girl may be shredded but I also know she’s HUNGRY! No thanks. Let me go ahead and enjoy this second serving of ice cream I have right here! LOL.
It’s in these very brief moments I have to remind myself that this is MY journey and I don’t need to look like anyone else or follow the same path. Just as I was 100% committed to my cut last year, I need to stay focused on my goals this year. My worth has NEVER and will NEVER be measured by the numbers on the scale or my physical appearance, so it usually doesn’t take me long to snap out of the fluffy feeling pity party. I’ve gone hard with my reverse diet these past 8 months, put on size I was wanting, and most importantly I truly am more confident and happy with where I am at right now compared to any other time in my life.
Some people struggle with dieting, but I honestly feel like reverse dieting is much harder. Both take a great deal of mental toughness, but at least when you are dieting you can see all that hard work revealing itself week to week. Watching your body change like that is fascinating! During a reverse diet, you simply just get bigger. Knowing your getting stronger AND the extra food helps get through those sticking points though. Not quite as fun, but pretty neat as well!
Reverse dieting is a roller coaster of emotions, but in the end 100% necessary for people to improve their metabolisms and GROW!!!! Even at 37, I’m thankful that I chose to treat my body the safe and proper way. I never resorted to crash diets, detoxes, fads, or quick fixes. I’ve put in the work, all my effort, maintained balanced with my family, and made my health a top priority!
The plan for the rest of the year is to simply maintain the amount of food/calories I’m currently eating, make more booty gains, and then coast into the new year. At that point, I will see how I feel. If I’m ready to truly commit to a cut/diet, I will. If I’m happy with where I am at, no need to change anything! Playing the rest of my fitness journey by ear. For now, I’m going to continue to enjoy my life & loved ones, eat big, lift big, rest big, and set that to ‘repeat’ each and every single day!