Can you really lose weight by eating more?

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It's not clear whether obesity causes brain changes or vice versa.
It's not clear whether obesity causes brain changes or vice versa.
sfam_photo / Shutterstock

LIFESTYLE


It sounds too good to be true – a plan that lets you eat more while you lose weight.

It’s no surprise that “reverse dieting” is soaring in popularity on social media, with young, attractive women crediting the regime for their toned figures. Even Kim Kardashian’s personal trainer Melissa Alcantara is a fan.

Alongside envy-inducing selfies are images of the reverse dieter’s meals – plates piled high with cheese-covered chips, burgers, crispy bacon, roast dinners and curries. Not the kind of recipes you’d usually find in a slimming programme.

First, you have to shed the pounds by eating less and doing more exercise.

Once you’ve reached your target, you increase your daily calorie intake by 50 to 100 calories every week – the equivalent of a slice of bread or an egg for up to three months.

Read: Obese patients must ‘choose’ their language

According to reverse dieters, this method combats the problem many encounter – as soon as you eat normally after a diet, you pile the weight back on.

Instead, gradually increasing calories helps the body to burn fat faster and continue losing weight.

Advocates claim that dieters can end up eating an extra meal’s worth of calories on top of their recommended daily intake.

The theory goes that eating this way gradually increases the amount of “fullness” hormones in the body while building extra muscles, which use up more calories than body fat. The result is a body that is “retrained” to burn more calories.

As bizarre as this sounds, there is science behind the trend. Weight, broadly speaking, is determined by a simple equation: calories in minus calories expended. We all need a certain number of calories to keep our brains, hearts and other organs working healthily. So, even without exercising, we have an energy need. The bigger the muscle, the more energy we burn while moving.

Read: Even a little exercise leads to better problem-solving

When we cut calories to lose weight, the body doesn’t just use up or “burn” existing fat stores, it also breaks down muscle tissue to use as energy.

In fact, a quarter of all weight lost on a low-calorie diet is muscle, according to studies. Loss of muscle means the total amount of calories the body needs drops drastically, causing us to put on weight faster than we would have before a diet.

To make matters worse, when we diet, the brain sends signals to increase levels of the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin and reduce amounts of leptin, the hormone that tells us we’re full.

Scientists think this is an evolutionary tool that protects the body from starvation. It’s a perfect storm that makes us eat more than we normally would.

But reverse dieting offers a way around these processes. Gradually increasing calorie intake, researchers suggest, stabilises hunger hormones and, when combined with a muscle-building exercise programme, the balance of body fat and muscle will be restored, burning calories more efficiently. MailOnline


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