Counter to common belief, what you do after the diet is the single most important piece to long-term fat loss success.
You've undoubtedly seen people (or experienced yourself) starting a diet, achieving their end result... and then feeling lost on what to do next.
Motivation and direction fade, and progress slowly regresses.
A year or two later, you're right back where you started.
Sound painfully familiar?
I get it. We work with many online clients who literally hire us to help with the maintenance phase after the diet; they've achieved their body composition goal over and over again on their own... but alway backslide after, as they have no direction on what to do next.
So, the goal of today's blog:
Helping you discover the nutrition methods needed to maintain your best physique ever, while actually understanding the concepts for a lifetime of application.
THE Reverse diet
When you've achieved the fat loss outcome you started online coaching with us for, the next is always the reverse dieting process.
Across the course of the diet, your metabolism is going to down-regulate, through a process known as metabolic adaptation.
Basically, your metabolism is made up four components:
1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - The calories you burn at rest for things like your heart, pumping, breathing, etc. just laying in bed all day, that you would still burn the same amount, amount of calories through BMR.
2. Thermic Effect Of Food (TEF) - Calories you burn during digestion.
3. Thermic Effect Of Exercise (TEE) - Calories burned through exercise.
4. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) - All the calories you burn in your everyday movement outside the gym. N.E.A.T. is the most controllable variable of your metabolism, and seems to be the biggest difference in the metabolisms of lean and obese individuals.
As most of you have probably noticed, your body doesn't necessarily want to lose fat... it wants to maintain homeostasis and have a comfortable amount of fat. This way, if you come across a period of famine, your body has plenty of energy stores (fat stores) to fall back on.
So when your body starts sensing that calories in have decreased, it'll put the brakes on energy-expensive processes to decrease calories out.
A good example of this is your N.E.A.T. - without realizing it, as you eat less you'll also do less pacing, fidgeting, etc. This equals fewer calories burned in the day (and is also why most of our online clients have a step goal).
That's just one of the ways that your body down-regulates energy expenditure across the diet or "slows your metabolism".
The primary metabolic slowing processes:
→ You burn fewer calories for non-exercise activity.
→ Your body is getting smaller, and weighs less. This means at rest, through your everyday movement, and while training, your smaller body takes fewer calories to maintain and fewer calories to move.
→ You're eating less. Thus, you're burning fewer calories during digestion. So these are really the components of metabolic adaptation.
All this means that at the end of your diet, your metabolism has slowed a good amount... but the thing to understand here is your metabolism is a very fluid thing.
So as we start feeding you more and your body senses more energy coming, in your metabolism will start to speed back up again.
→ You're eating more, so the thermic effect of food will be increased.
→ Because you were eating more, you'll have more energy. So N.E.A.T. will increase.
→ Due to increased energy, you'll also like train harder (and thus burn more calories).
→ Many will add back some weight via muscle mass, muscle glycogen, and gut content. A heavier, more muscular body is one that'll burn more calories, both when moving and at rest.
So, what we're doing in the reverse dieting process is trying to match these gradual increases in metabolism with your calorie intake.
This way, you maintain your current level of body fat, but you're eating more and more calories over time.
Now this isn't at all the old like bodybuilding method of reverse dieting (a.k.a. increasing calories by 5-10 grams of carbs every two weeks, and leaving clients in a deficit for months after achieving their fat loss goals).
Now while this is a very individualized process...
A general outline of the reverse dieting process we use with most clients:
1. When you've achieved your fat loss goal, we'll start by bumping your calories to 80-90% of your new estimated maintenance intake.
Let's say you started the diet 30 pounds heavier than you are now. 30 lbs ago, you maintained your weight on 3000 calories... but again, your metabolism slows across the diet.
This means your new maintenance intake will be lower than your starting maintenance intake was. So don't jump back to where your maintenance calories at the start of the diet were.
To make calculating your new maintenance easy, let's say you've been losing one pound per week for the last four weeks.
We know that to lose a pound of fat, you need to be eating in about a 3,500 calorie deficit. And let's say you've been eating 2000 calories per day.
Since you're losing 1 lb per week, we know you're about 3,500 calories below maintenance per week, or 500 calories below maintenance per day.
We can assume to maintain your weight, you could eat 2,500 calories per day/3,500 calories per week.
So to start the reverse diet, we're going to bump you up to 80-90% of this estimated maintenance, just to make sure you don't overshoot that and actually gain fat.
We prefer this large initial jump with clients, because being in a calorie deficit is very taxing both physically and psychologically. It's very stressful, and not something you want to spend unnecessary time doing.
So we're going to bump you up close to your new estimate and maintenance as quickly as possible.
2. Gauge how your body responds to the initial jump in calories.
From here, we're watching clients body weight changes, measurements change and biofeedback closely.
Here's what we're looking at:
→ Body weight: The first week of the reverse diet, most women will gain about 2-4 lbs of weight. Most men will gain about 3-5lbs.
You're taking in more carbs, and eating more total food.
Glycogen stores are being refilled - basically, your muscles are going to take in more carbohydrates, which are also going to soak up more water. This will help training performance & recovery.
Plus, you literally just have more food weight (gut content) in your belly.
The thing to realize is, this isn't fat gain. It's glycogen, water, and gut content.
→ Measurements: As always with our online clients, we're assessing how measurements are changing - NOT just looking at weight.
These are the measurements our online clients take...
We're looking for these to more or less stay the same, except for the 2" below the navel - this is the measurement that's most reactive to gut content, so it's was normal for this to be up a bit.
It's also normal to week to week to see +/- .25"-.5" measurement increase or decreases, but they'll bring themselves back to baseline over the next 1-2 weeks if you're truly at maintenance - so avoid overcorrecting here.
→ Biofeedback: We want to see hunger and cravings decreasing, motivation, energy levels, training performance, and recovery (all things we have our online clients track) improving.
→ Mindset: It's super important to stay just as focused, and pay just as much attention to detail during the reverse diet as during the fat loss phase (this is a big part of why being coached through this process yields such good results). This is how we get you to the point where you can maintain you current body composition at a higher calorie intake in the future, but you have to absolutely attack this process.
Again, after achieving your initial fat loss goal, it's very easy to lose focus and regress. This is why you always want to have a target that we're working towards 3-6 months down the road. With clients, we're always establishing... "where are we headed in the next 3 months? What are we working towards?"
This is how we help you as a client keep your results long-term. You're always focused on the next target.
3. Adjust accordingly
After week one of the reverse diet, we'll gauge how your body reacted to the jump in calories, and adjust accordingly.
Typically, the first two weeks of the reverse, macros will stay the same. After the first week of initial increases, we're looking for measurements and weight to essentially stay stable during week two.
4. Increase calories over the next 4-8 weeks
Given weight and measurements stayed stable OR biofeedback is still poor, we're going to add another 50-150 calories (depending on the size of the individual), and see how your body does with this.
Through this entire process, we're constantly assessing your weight, body measurements, and biofeedback.
How's your training performance? is hunger decreasing? How's your mood? How's your motivation?... All things that should be improving as we're feeding you more and more.
For some online clients, this process can continue for quite some time. but most typically, it'll last 4-8 weeks.
→ Macros: No matter the nutrition phase, clients are going to be somewhere from 0.8 - 1.2g protein per lb body weight
.8g/lb is the consensus "threshold" we want to hit for protein, but we prefer to have most clients closer to 1-1.2g/lb.
Looking at protein quality (especially in a building phase), most will start to implement more grains, and other plant-based sources that contain trace protein.
Problem is, the amino acid profile for plant-based sources of protein isn't as good for building/maintaining muscle, so it makes sense to set protein slightly higher than the 0.8g/lb target.
For fat intake, is that client below .3g/lb?
We know that below this intake, hormone production is going to be less than optimal, and you're more likely to develop fatty acid deficiencies. Think of .3g/lb as the "fat threshold".
So if you're below this mark, bumping fat up to .3g/lb+ will be the first priority when increasing macros.
If you're already consuming .3 - .4 grams of fat/lb, we're going to start the reverse dieting process primarily by increasing carbs.
As long as you can check these "threshold" boxes for protein and fat, increasing carb will produce the quickest improvements in how you feel as a client.
- Training performance will improve.
- Recovery is going to be better.
- You're going to have more energy.
- Libido will increase.
- Carbs decrease cortisol and aid hormone production as well. So stress is going to be lower all, and you'll feel better all around.
Typically, we'll increase carbs to 1.2 - 1.5g/lb as the first priority (assuming you're at the protein and fat thresholds).
What we do from there is very much where the individualization aspect of online coaching comes in.
- If you're more focused on continuing to improve your body composition, we'll continue to drive carbs up.
- If you're more focused on maintenance/lifestyle flexibility, do you prefer more carbs or more fat? Whichever you tend to prefer, is what we're going to increase more... ~75% of what they prefer, 25% of the other macro.
5. Ending the reverse diet phase
Two things to look for here:
→ Trunk measurements and weight are staying relatively stable: Again, fluctuations of +/- .25"-.5" are normal, but larger increases for multiple weeks here indicate you've likely passed maintenance.
That said, realize that most clients will also be capable of building some lean muscle at maintenance. This is especially true for newer online client that have never spent an extended period of time eating more and following a smart training program like our online clients do. So sometimes we'll see an increase in weight across the course of weeks. This is why it’s important that we’re also tracking body measurements.
Most online clients will have a “trouble spot” they really wanted to focus on losing fat from during the diet. This seems to be the last place that said client loses fat from their body.
It’s likely that the end of this clients diet phase was finally shedding the fat from their “trouble spot”... after that, said client is content with their current level of leanness, and ready to focus on maintenance.
Conveniently, the last place we seem to lose fat from also seems to be the first place we regain it. This means that in a case where your client is gaining a bit of weight, but you think it could be lean muscle not fat, it makes sense to look at measurement increases at the client's “trouble spot” as a sign that they’re potentially gaining fat (for 90% of clients it will be navel measurements, but occasionally hips).
If we start to see consecutive weeks of measurement increases at the trouble spot, it’s a good sign that body fat is being gained.
→ Biofeedback is normal: We all have a certain body fat percentage “floor”... below this body fat percentage, you'll struggle with hunger, being food focused, low energy, poor hormones, & building lean muscle is very unlikely.
Many of your hormones are a product of the amount of body fat you’re carrying, so no matter how much food you’re eating, you’ll still feel shitty below your “body fat floor”.
While you can dip below this “floor” for short periods of time (e.g. for a photoshoot), living below it is not healthy or sustainable. So the reality is, occasionally clients will have to add back a bit of body fat in order to return biofeedback to healthy levels and quit feeling like a zombie.
If a clients' biofeedback (weekly measures my clients submit for things like sleep, stress, motivation, mood, training performance, etc.) is still poor, they likely need to continue the reverse diet.
Two great example of this are online clients Jeff and Dave, both who recently got very lean for photoshoots:
As you can see, both clients were VERY lean for their shoots. In their specific cases, this was lean to a point that wasn't sustainable.
Biofeedback was poor - they weren't going to be able to build muscle/continue to improve their physiques long-term in this state. This is a great example of where adding body fat is needed.
On the flipside, normalized biofeedback is a good sign you can end the reverse diet process.
Now, we've reversed you to the point where your metabolism is at the ceiling of what we realistically think think you can maintain on.
The maintenance phase
A maintenance phase is the least sexy, but most important thing you can do as someone that has tried to lose fat numerous times, but never been able to stay as lean as you want.
And the reality, is we work with many, many people in this exact same scenario. If you're someone that's lost weight over and over and over again, but never maintain your end result, click here now to apply for coaching with us.
We'll guide you through not only the process of getting there in the most sustainable way possible, the reverse diet, AND (I'd argue most importantly) actually coach you through maintenance.
You see people all the time losing lots of weight... you also see people rebounding and gaining back at lots of weight constantly. It's not a dieting problem, it's a maintenance problem.
This is why for any client that's accomplished a major fat loss goal, we'll almost always push you into a maintenance phase next, for at least 4-8 weeks.
A few goals here:
→ "Practicing maintenance": How I typically explain this to clients is...
"When we don't work together anymore, how many times per week do you think you're going to go out to eat? Go drink with your friends? So on and so forth... Cool. We're going to start 'practicing' the skill of making these things work with your nutrition now (much of this happens during the diet and reverse diet as well)."
Rather than just pushing you to get us the best possible progress picture, we're actually taking the time to educate you how to keep your results without us.
Are you doing a good job selecting foods that are going to keep you full across the course of the maintenance phase? Are you staying consistent with your movement targets & training?
Periods of practicing maintenance allow you to learn new habits and behaviors around your food choices, training, daily movement, dietary flexibility, and what your entire lifestyle will need to look like to maintain this new body long-term.
→ Cementing your body's "new normal" settling point: We're looking for biofeedback to stay in a good place, weight & body measurements to stay stable. Basically, we're taking the time to establish this as your body's new settling point before pushing for any further changes.
→ Mindset: You need to understand that this is the MOST important piece of the process yet... even though it's "just the maintenance phase", this is no time to lose focus.
You've never been able to maintain your results in the past. This is your chance to finally show yourself you can maintain this physique long-term. This is the new challenge for you because it's something that you've never been able to do before.
As always, it's important to make clear to clients exactly what the wins are during this phase...
"Hey, did you go smash a bottle of wine over the weekend, make that work with your nutrition, and maintain your results? Okay, cool. That's a huge win for you."
→ Macros: Some clients metabolism's will keep increasing slightly, even in the maintenance phase. So you'll gradually be able to bump things a bit, although not as aggressively as during their reverse diet.
Here, it's typically closer to 50-10 calories every 3-4 weeks, following the same rules as the reverse diet for ratio of protein/carbs/fat.
From here, there are two different routes you can take going forward...
The lifestyle phase
For someone who wants to continue to maintain longterm. Here, you're basically just focusing on building a flexible lifestyle, and staying lifestyle lean.
My online client Jody comes to mind here:
As of now, her #1 goal is simply to maintain her current level of body fat, and build a flexible lifestyle she enjoys around that.
So for example, one of the things we worked on last week was...
"We want to make sure you have this very flexible lifestyle. Let's say last minute, your husband wants to go out for three glasses of wine. Even if you didn't have that planned ahead of time, we'd want you to have the knowledge and confidence to make that work. So, I want you to leave 300+ calories unaccounted for when planning ahead for the weekend, and literally fill that with whatever comes up."
There are tons of different directions we can take this, but basically we were practicing like all these little lifestyle tools and hacks to make sure you're really good at just living a flexible lifestyle - because for most people, this is something that takes practice.
I would always push you to set performance goals for your training as well. As you'll no longer be able to see your body visibly changing week to week (like you would in a fat loss phase), this gives you other measurable progress to focus on.
If you're in learning more about the lifestyle phase, check out my free ebook The Lifestyle Diet here.
The building Phase
The building phase is dedicated to eating more calories than you're burning to fuel performance, and building lean muscle.
Straight up, it's what 99% of you who can’t achieve the lean, strong body composition you’re chasing are missing. For women and men alike, spending 6-12 months focused on fueling your training will make a BIG difference in your body composition.
→ Who should do a building phase? The reality is, most everyone will need to do a building phase at some point in order to achieve the body composition they want to maintain long-term.
You should do a building phase if:
- Your goals are exclusively building lean muscle or improving performance.
- You just feel "skinny" when you lose fat... not the lean, strong body composition you want.
- You feel terrible at your desired level of leanness. The only way to maintain a leaner body without feeling shitty, is to add more lean muscle to your frame.
For women and men alike that I've coached online, committing to the building process is a game-changer if you want an improved physique next time you get lean.
Really, the only scenario where it doesn't make sense to implement a building phase at some point is if you're 100% happy with your physique. If that's the case, the lifestyle phase from above is a better fit.
The details of proper macros, rate of gain, etc. are a whole blog in themselves - check out The Definitive Guide To Periodizing Nutrition for all this info.
→ Mindset: Similar to the lifestyle phase, you're not going to see your body change every single week here. So it's smart to set performance goals.
"I'm NOT leaner than I was last week, but I added a rep with the same weight on the back squats from last week. I added a couple of pull-ups as well. I know I'm building muscle, which will improve my physique long-term."
We have multiple in-depth guides to setting up a proper building phase. I highly recommend you check them out:
conclusion: The biggest key to keeping your results long-term
If there's one thing we've found invaluable for keeping our online clients (and ourselves) constantly evolving, and moving forward, it's constantly asking...
"2-3 months on the road from now, where exactly do you want to be? How do you want to feel? What's your social life like? What's your performance like?"
Always be painting a clear picture of the future you're working towards.
Really, that's what coaching is all about.
Not just the physical changes we see, but who's the person that you're going to become through this disciplined process of changing your physique... who are you going to be? What's that future, leveled up version of yourself like?
So if you're ready to stop guessing and start achieving, click here now to apply for online coaching with our team. We apply proven, science-backed nutrition & training methods through individualized coaching to help you get the body you want, and teach you on how to keep it for a lifetime.