1. REVERSE DIET PROPERLY
The first thing to do post-diet to make sure you maintain your results is to exit the diet with a reverse diet plan.
Reverse dieting is a way of bringing your food up in a systematic way so that you aren’t outpacing your metabolism.
When you diet your metabolic rate slows down. There are a few mechanisms for this slowdown.
The components of your metabolism are:
→ Basal metabolic rate (BMR) - this is the calories your body burns at rest just to keep you alive. This is to fuel processes like keeping your organs functioning–heart beating, lungs breathing, etc. while you rest.
→ Non-exercise thermogenesis (NEAT) - These are the calories you burn by not exercising. These are all the little movements you do throughout the day that aren’t structured. Think things like pacing around, blinking, fidgeting, typing on the computer, tapping your foot, etc.
→ Thermic effect of food (TEF) - These are calories burned through the digestion of food.
→ Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT) - These are calories burned during structured exercise–your training and/or cardio.
When you diet all 4 of these components are gradually slowed.
Your basal metabolic rate can slow because you’re smaller and hormones like thyroid hormone output can be altered by your body in an attempt to conserve energy.
Your NEAT will naturally decline because you’re in a calorie deficit and your body wants to conserve that energy expended through spontaneous movement.
You’ll also burn less calories through NEAT because it takes less calories to move around a lighter body.
TEF lowers because you aren’t eating as many calories.
EAT lowers because you will burn less calories doing the same activity with a lower body weight.
If you end your diet and go immediately up to what “should” be a maintenance intake, you’ll outpace the reverse of these adaptations and gain weight.
If you spent a really long time dieting and/or were in a very aggressive deficit the adaptations will be more extreme and your reverse diet may need to be more gradual.
If you dieting for a shorter amount of time or were in a much smaller deficit you won’t have to take it quite as slowly.
Another factor in how quickly you can reverse diet is how lean you got in your diet.
If you are a lifestyle dieter who just needed to lose some fat to get into a healthier range, you can likely reverse a bit slower because you won’t be experiencing any negative health effects from the level of leanness you achieved.
If you are someone who is either a competitor or a photoshoot prep client you will probably need to jump up to closer to an estimated maintenance range and accept a little bit of fat gain in the beginning of a reverse (because in this case your main goal is to get out of the deficit and add a little bit of bodyfat for health.)
On the slower end of reverse dieting you can add in small increments every 1-4 weeks.
The macros you add will depend on what your macros ended up at, but typically you will begin by getting fat to a healthy minimum (0.3-0.4g/lb of bodyweight) and then focus on just adding carbs from there.
On the quicker end of a reverse diet you’d want to begin by jumping calories up to about 90% of an estimated maintenance calorie intake.
From there, you can finish the reverse by using the slower approach discussed above.
2. EAT MOSTLY WHOLE FOODS
Anyone who keeps weight off long-term is going to be eating mostly whole foods.
Whole, unprocessed foods are more filling calorie-for-calorie than any processed foods, and they’ve also been found to have a higher thermic effect than processed foods.
Making the switch from processed to unprocessed foods is a simple way to reduce the total calories you’re eating without feeling hungry all the time.
This doesn’t mean you can never have anything processed, but if you’re filling your entire day with packaged food it’s really easy to go beyond maintenance calories without feeling like you’re eating much.
When you think of processed foods you’re probably thinking of things like pizza and donuts.
Those foods have a mix of fats, sugar, and salt that makes it extremely hard to stop eating when you’re full.
You get a dopamine release from those types of foods that you won’t get with something like chicken breast, broccoli, and rice.
A lot of processed snack foods also have people employed by the company to get all the flavors and textures just right to make it very hard to stop eating them. (Side note: if you’re interested in this kind of thing, The Hungry Brain by Stephan Guyenet is an excellent book that dives into all of this in detail.)
You can also think of processing in the terms of how a food is actually prepared.
Think of an apple vs. apple sauce vs. apple juice.
You could drink a glass of apple juice and get 60g of carbohydrate in that glass without making a dent in your hunger.
In order to get that from apples you’d need to eat 2.5 apples, which would also give you about 12g of fiber and you’d probably feel pretty full.
Staying close to the form your food was grown in will make it literally hard to overeat, making your weight loss and weight maintenance much easier.
3. EAT A PROTEIN-CENTRIC DIET
Protein is a great weight management tool and has a ton of effects that make it a powerful tool for maintaining lost weight or making fat loss easier:
First of all, protein has the highest thermic effect of food of all the macronutrients.
Protein digestion will burn about 25% of its calories, while carbs will burn about 10-15%, and fats about 0-5%. That’s a fairly small thing when you’re looking at numbers, but combined with it’s other benefits it’s meaningful.
Appetite response to activity is pretty individual; some people are ravenous after doing a hard workout and some people feel like they can’t eat anything because their appetite is completely gone for a while after training.
Either way, staying active can help you regulate your intake over time.
On a more practical level, working hard in the gym seems to have a psychological effect in regards to diet. If you’re working hard in the gym it’s easier to stay on track with your diet because you’re more in a mode of doing things that are good for your body, and the opposite seems to be true, too.