Just about every major media outlet and mainstream magazine trick people into believing that the leaner someone is, the healthier they are.
After all, we know obesity is one of the unhealthiest states for the body to be in so it would only make sense that the opposite (i.e. being extremely lean) is the healthiest, right?
Well, in short, that actually is quite far from the reality of things. This is why the term ‘reverse dieting’ has become so popular in recent years.
Enter Joe, an aspiring bodybuilder who just competed in his first competition. He’s shredded to the bone and loves the way he looks, but each minute that passes is more stressful than the last because he’s afraid if he eats anything his leanness will disappear.
He wonders, “Where do I go from here? I worked through countless cardio sessions and endured months of low-calorie dieting to reach this condition.” For many competitors, reaching peak condition can be a bit anticlimactic because once you step off the stage there’s just an empty void. All that hard work for 15 minutes of fame and (maybe) a trophy.
This is not meant to undermine physique competitions because there are certainly many positive emotions that can arise from the journey to being as lean as you can possibly get.
But once you reach that point, your body hates you. As great as it is to look shredded and vascular, most people are just not going to be healthy in that state of leanness.
What Is Healthy?
Naturally, we must ask ourselves, “What really is healthy?” Is it looking a certain way or feeling a certain way? Frankly, it can be tough to explicitly define health since it’s a relative term; the term healthy is implicitly defined by the survivability of the individual in question. In Darwinian terms, health and fitness are synonymous.
In essence, an organism must adapt its body relevant to their environment if they wish to improve their fitness/health; thus, health/fitness are contextual terms.
In the medical world, we measure health by things like body fat percentage, oxygen uptake, mineral/vitamin balance, inflammatory markers, endocrine function, and many other biomarkers.
But are these assays the only way to determine whether or not you’re healthy? No, but they’re quite strong indicators at determining if your lifestyle is a sustainable one or if it’s taking years off your life.
Lo and behold, if you’re extremely lean (or leaner than your body naturally/genetically wants to be) then many markers of health and wellbeing can be out of whack.
As alluded to earlier, most people’s bodies would like to have a decent amount of fat on them for survivability purposes. If you’re very lean, your body is basically fighting against itself to regain some fat; this isn’t a bad thing though, and that’s where reverse dieting comes into play.
Enter Reverse Dieting
The primary goals of reverse dieting are to add bodyweight (mainly muscle) very slowly and consistently, while simultaneously increasing calorie intake.
Essentially, you’re reversing the damage incurred to your metabolism by getting lean. Naturally, you’ll need to back off cardio, rest more, gradually add calories to the diet, and focusing specifically on resistance training. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Well, unfortunately for many people, there are mental roadblocks that impede their reverse dieting efforts. For one, most people hate the idea of gaining fat, especially after working tirelessly to rid their body of almost all the fat it contained.
If your mind is set on staying as lean as possible, reverse dieting simply won’t be an efficient process because you’re never going to give your body the nourishment and rest it so badly wants.
In terms of energetic demands, your body works quite a bit harder to maintain muscle tissue in comparison to fat tissue; thus, by building more muscle, you effectively ramp up your basal metabolic rate.
Ever notice how there are ‘brick swolehouses’ at the gym who seemingly never do cardio and eat like a racehorse? All that muscle tissue makes it damn near impossible to eat too much; their metabolism is working hard even when they lounge on the couch.
Be aware that reverse dieting is a slow process and needs to be methodical to ensure the gains are muscle and not excessive fat tissue. You will inevitably gain some fat in the process, but reverse dieting is no excuse to get fat just for the sake of building muscle mass. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the goals that mantras one needs to focus on when reverse dieting.
1. Keep the Long Term in Mind
Improving your body composition is not a short-term endeavor; you need to be thinking two, three, and four years ahead of where you are currently.
If you are constantly in a calorie deficit, you greatly reduce your metabolic rate; in turn, you hinder your potential to get lean (let alone build muscle without gaining excess fat tissue).
Therefore, the higher your basal metabolic rate, the more efficiently you will be able to improve your body composition. Thus, it’s crucial to build your metabolism back to a healthy state via reverse dieting before you start to cut down again.
2. Being Healthy Is what Matters
Something to remember is that beauty is only skin deep; it is rather conceited and vain to believe that the “sexier” or “more ripped” someone is, the healthier they are.
As touched on in this article, many of the fitness models and bodybuilders you see in magazines and on the Internet are far from being healthy (not to mention they often abuse performance-enhancing drugs).
Nevertheless, read on to the next point as there is good news for those of you who want to look great and be healthy.
3. You Don’t have to Be “Shredded” to Be in Good Shape
A major oversight for many people when they hear that being peeled to the bone isn’t a very healthy state of condition is that they assume that means being even remotely lean is unhealthy, which is simply not what has been iterated in this article.
You can absolutely be lean, look great and be healthy. Many people can successfully maintain/build muscle while staying around 10-12% body-fat, which is certainly lean; others might even be able to hold around 8-9% body-fat rather comfortably (i.e. healthily) depending on genetics.
Just because you aren’t ultra lean doesn’t mean you are unhealthy and out of shape.
4. Nourish Yourself for Performance
Quite simply, food is fuel. What you eat ultimately determines how you feel and how you perform. Hence, your main goal when it comes to reverse dieting is looking at food as your fuel for performance.
Your goal is to always be progressing in the gym, and if you’re not nourishing yourself properly then odds are you won’t make much progress. Food is not the enemy, stagnating in the gym is.
5. There’s always a ‘Next Time’ to Get Lean
You’ve been lean before, so what makes you think you won’t be able to do it again? Especially when/if you ever get the desire to prep for a competition or photo shoot?
Just because you gain a little body fat doesn’t mean you can’t lose it.
Jumping back into ‘fat loss’ mode can be challenging at the beginning, we all know that. However, supplementing with Jacked Factory’s scientifically-dosed thermogenic fat burner BURN-XT will definitely kick yourself into gear.
BURN-XT will give you the daily drive and energy. Balancing it out perfectly is their stimulant-free PM fat burner and sleep aid LEAN PM that’ll promote a deeper, more restful sleep leaving you feeling recharged for the next day.
The main thing to really take home from this article is that reverse dieting is a necessary process after competing/getting very lean (or reaching a state of critical metabolic reduction).
Moreover, reverse dieting is meant to help you be healthy, eat more, build muscle, perform better, and enjoy the journey. Next time around you’ll be a new, improved version of your former self!
Article Written by: Elliot Reimers, BS Biological Sciences
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