A zoomed in shot of food, Sweet potato chips, sour cream, chives and herbs,

Reverse dieting is a new idea which first appeared in the bodybuilding scene though is now becoming more visible in mainstream diets. But is it an appropriate dieting option? Is it safe, sustainable, and effective?

What Is Reverse Dieting?

Dr Layne Norton (PhD) or Biolayne as he is known in the bodybuilding/powerlifting arena, coined the term in his recent book: “The complete reverse dieting guide” (2020). The theory behind reverse dieting is in reference to bodybuilders coming out of the competition phase.

Imagine that you are super hungry after restricting your food intake for weeks or months to lose body fat, then eating whatever you want. Layne’s technique is to slowly increase energy intake rather than have an uncontrolled binge.

The theory is that metabolism will increase slightly to match a slightly higher energy intake. Thus, weight increases slowly until a stable weight is achieved.  It is important to note that reverse dieting is only a theory, there is to date no published study data to back it up.

Some dietitians have received queries from weight loss clients wanting to know if reverse dieting is appropriate for them.

Is Reverse Dieting An Appropriate Weightloss Method?

For those on a long-term weight loss journey, there may come a time where nothing seems to be working. For these people, one suggestion is to take a break from weight loss and just focus on weight maintenance for a period.

Reverse dieting, in this case, may be warranted. By increasing energy intake gradually: it is possible that weight may remain stable (according to Layne’s theory). This may have a two-fold effect: an increase in fullness through increased intake and also a potential increase in metabolism and the thermic effect of food (energy burnt eating).

To implement the reverse dieting approach correctly, Layne’s suggestion is a small increase in energy intake: which may only be 5% per week, every week until weight is maintained.

For example, for someone on a 5000kJ diet (low energy) we are talking about a 250kJ increase (or ½ Cup trim milk) per day. To implement this successfully requires the following:

  • Accurate client measuring/weighting and record-keeping (food diary)
  • Regular follow up with a dietitian
  • Consistent eating patterns
  • The client must be on board with the idea and understand that it is experimental

What Do Our Dietitian’s Think?

In my opinion reverse dieting would suit an extremely driven person, something that successful bodybuilders have in abundance. Weight loss clients may also possess this drive. Similarly, diligent clients who have reached a weight maintenance stage are potential candidates. However only if it is ‘client driven’, with the understanding that it would be purely experimental.

Reverse dieting may work against the long-term goals dietitians have for clients, for example: eating intuitively (to hunger) and reducing food rules (promoting enjoyment in all food).

While there are studies currently examining if reverse dieting is effective, no data has been published as yet.

Overall Thoughts

Reverse dieting is only a theory, popularized by bodybuilding guru Dr Layne Norton. It assumes that small increases in energy intake will be offset by increases in energy expenditure (modulated by hormones) thus maintaining body mass.

It requires extreme diligence and may suit those who would benefit from either a pause from weight loss or those seeking weight maintenance.


Written By Accredited Sports Dietitian, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, and Exercise Scientist, Peter Herzig

Peter is available for Dietitian appointments at our St Lucia Clinic.