A Masterclass on Reverse Dieting and Metabolic Adaptation (What the Recent Research Says) with Jordan Lips


Have you ever felt like your metabolism was broken or that your dieting history is why you can no longer lose the weight you desire?

You’re not alone.

If you resonate with that, you do not want to miss this episode with today’s guest, Jordan Lips.

In today’s episode, Jordan delivers an epic masterclass detailing what the latest research says about metabolic adaptation and reverse dieting. If you’ve been struggling to maintain your weight loss, then this episode is one I cannot recommend enough.

Get your pen and paper ready and start listening!

Connect with and Learn from Jordan:

Jordan is an ex-personal trainer turned online coach who’s been “in the space” for about 12 years now.  He is an MNU-certified nutritionist and hypertrophy nerd learning from the likes of N1, RP, and Revive Stronger. Jordan coaches people 1:1 on a wide range of health-related goals and has a group training program for people in the gym OR at home who want to make gains while being efficient with their time.

Thank you for being here.

If you found today’s episode valuable, please share it with a friend or family member who would benefit from hearing today’s message.

Join my Free Facebook Group for Women over 30 Seeking Diet Freedom – Join Here.
Follow me on Instagram – @paulsaltercoaching

Episode Key Highlights, Quotes, and Questions:

  • Learn more about what reverse dieting is (and is not) and the reason it is (and is not) recommended for everyone 
  • Discover how low you need to take your calories to begin losing weight if you previously lost weight by eating 1,500 calories per day.
  • Learn how long diet-induced metabolic adaptations last and how this influences your ability to successfully lose weight in the long run. 

Questions I asked Jordan include:

  • Talk to us about reverse dieting:
    • What is it?
    • Why is if often recommended?
    • What are the intended benefits?
    • Common consequences?
    • What do you subscribe to instead?
  • Tell us more about what truly happens physiologically after a diet: what metabolic adaptations occur, how long do they last, and does it become harder to lose weight the more we diet?

How I Can Help You:

I help women over 30 lose weight and rebuild limitless confidence so that they never have to diet again. 

To date, I’ve personally coached more than 1,500 women and helped them to collectively lose 10,000+ pounds of body fat and keep it off for good, while simultaneously empowering them with the education, strategies, and accountability needed to feel and look their best. 

Click here to learn more about how I can help you.

Follow me on Instagram – @paulsaltercoaching 
Join my Free Facebook Group for Women over 30 Seeking Diet Freedom – Join Here.


Paul Salter:

Hey Jordan, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Jordan Lips:

I’m doing great, man. Pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Paul Salter:

Yeah, absolutely. Really cool, like I was just mentioning, to connect beyond social media, close to human interaction as we can get in today’s world. So, I am excited to give our listeners an opportunity to learn from you because I’ll be honest with you, I have learned a tremendous amount and I’m looking forward to picking your brain on a few topics in particular and really looking forward to this conversation. So, you ready to rock and roll?

Jordan Lips:

Ready to rock and roll, man.

Paul Salter:

Cool. Well, let’s do this. Let’s begin sharing with our listeners a little bit about who you are, what you do, and how you got to be doing what it is you do today.

Jordan Lips:

Cool. Yeah, I’ll keep it brief. I became a personal trainer out of college as a way of, sort of a diversion between going to law school. I decided, “Well, I’ll just take a little break. Let me do a little personal training before I go do this,” which is what I had intended to do for… My family wanted me to do it, I wanted to do it, but fell in love with personal training from day one. Got a really nice opportunity to mentor with somebody who was doing really well in the space. Loved it, didn’t look back.

Things were going well for a while. Opened my own gym, which everybody thinks is the natural progression from being an in-person trainer is to then open your own gym. That was not true for me in the sense that the minute I opened the gym, within the first week, I knew that this was not for me, and that it was very much a different job than a progression of the job. It was becoming more of a manager, which some of those roles I really enjoyed. I liked building the onboarding process for new trainers and teaching trainers, but I was doing a lot more managerial work and a lot less working with people, which was what I found through this process was, ultimately, what I wanted to do.

And so, sold my portion literally within the first month to my partner, went completely online and just sought to fill that void of really wanting to work with a lot of people. And so, that’s what I do now. I run a one-on-one coaching like a lot of people do, not too dissimilar. And I also run a group training service, so it’s a lower cost option for people who just want to do, get a really good training program and have their form video checked and all that stuff. And so, it’s really nice to have a nice split between really intimate one-on-one coaching and a little bit more of a group setting as well. So, having a lot of fun with that.

Paul Salter:

That’s outstanding. I did not know the gym nugget in your journey, so that’s really interesting because I agree, having been a personal trainer and a group fitness instructor for, gosh, almost five years when I was younger too, that was what I always felt was the natural progression. But, thank goodness, I also had this little seed in me that said, Hey, go be a sports dietician instead. And I’m not one of those either, but I had that experience and took my own path just like you, so that’s awesome.

Jordan Lips:

Yep, yep. I agree. Very, very thankful that… I mean, I look back, and I know that those things happened for a reason.

Paul Salter:

Yeah, a hundred percent. There’s always a gift to glean from those chapters of our lives.

Jordan Lips:

For sure.

Paul Salter:

Cool, man. Well, I want to dive into this. This is something I really appreciate a lot of your education and discussion around on social media. I want to talk about reverse dieting, and I’d love to for you to share with us first and foremost what it is in your own words, why it’s often recommended, who it’s recommended for, what are the intended benefits, common consequences, let’s go all things reverse dieting here to kick things off.

Jordan Lips:

Yeah. And I think that one of the things I’ll start by saying is that I’ve made every mistake in the book, and I’ve made every misunderstanding in the book, and I’ve said and done things that I look back and realize didn’t make a whole lot of sense or were built upon a misunderstanding of certain things. And so, I’ll start by saying, well, we are going to go through maybe some misunderstandings and misapplications of reverse dieting that I’ve been there. And there’s no shame in you’re a coach listening to this, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s what I think is true.” And I’ve totally been there, and I understand how people come to these conclusions, and we’ll talk about some of that today. But, the biggest issue, I think issue’s a weird word, but the biggest thing I think is worth noting before we jump in is just that it depends what you mean when you say reverse dieting. It’s a word that can come in a lot of shapes and sizes with a lot of hopeful outcomes.

And so, it depends what you mean when you say reverse dieting. If somebody says, “Hey, Jordan, I just finished a deficit, I’ve lost some weight, and I’d like to go through this process of finding out what my new maintenance calories are at my new body weight, shape, size, activity level.” It’s like, “Hey, I’ve lost some weight and I’d like to maintain this new place that I’m at. And so, I know I’m a smaller body now. I was in a deficit. I’d like to find out where my maintenance calories are now.” That process of maybe increasing calories a little bit and finding where your new maintenance is, that is reverse dieting. And in that context for that goal, no qualms at all how you go about doing that.

Whether there’s an inherent benefit to going slow, there seems to be no physiological benefit, but I’m a little bit off that soap box in terms of, you got to jump right back to maintenance, which you don’t got to do anything. There’s no physiological benefit to going slow, but the rate at which you do that is, I think I’ve just done that so many times with clients. It really does come down to the individual. And there are times you’re going to go slower, and there are going to be times that you go faster, and you’re not doing either of those for a physiological benefit. You’re really treating the person in front of you, trying to help them be as most successful as possible.

And so, in that context, reverse dieting, I’ve got no issues with it whatsoever. And you should be doing that. I mean, let’s be real. You finish a deficit phase. The next step is to try and maintain as much of what you’ve lost while feeling good and figuring out where your new equilibrium and your new happy place is going to be. I love that. Totally no issue with that. The context in which I think it’s slightly problematic or represents a misunderstanding of what’s going on is this context. If I had to paint the picture, it’s in air quotes, “Jordan, I’ve been chronically dieting, and I’ve damaged my metabolism, which is why I’ve now gained weight, and I’m heavier than where I want to be, and I can’t seem to lose weight. So, in order to fix this scenario, I need to reverse diet, periodically increase my calories, supercharge my metabolism, boost my metabolism,” whatever words you want to use, “which will heal my metabolism because it’s broken or it’s damaged, and then I’ll be able to cut on higher calories next time.”

And so, it’s this idea of, “I take on…” You’ll see it on social media where the pitch will be something like, “Oh, if you’re struggling with losing weight, it’s probably because you’ve cycled through these extreme diets. You’ve damaged your metabolism, and what we need to do now is incrementally eat more. Going to boost your metabolism super duper high, higher than you ever thought you could do that. And then we’ll just kind of pop underneath those calories, and now all of a sudden, those will be a deficit.” And the tricky part is with every… I’m not saying people who think that are charlatans, I’ve thought that I’ve said that. I’ve coached that before. So, let’s be very clear here.

The problem is there are shreds of truth to that scenario. Not only are there shreds of truth, but whether or not we are very clear on what’s happening, that process where you take a client who’s been struggling, and you incrementally over with short increase in calories over a long period of time, that can lead to positive outcomes. And that’s awesome. And it’s a very big confounding variable because it’s having a really great outcome sometimes. Sometimes. And I think that the context that I just laid out where it’s like, “I’ve been chronically dieting, and now I’m heavier, and now I can’t lose weight. And so, what I have to do is incrementally eat more to boost my metabolism so that I can cut on higher calories, or I can break through a plateau or anything like that,” there are so many assumptions about physiology and metabolism that are made within that.

And I think that that’s really tricky because a lot of the assumptions that are made, they’re really made on… We have a lot of evidence it turns out on metabolic adaptation and what you think might happen in reverse dieting, and not a shred of it points to that being true or possible at all. And again, like we said, I’ll get off the soapbox in a second, but the problem is that sometimes this leads to a positive outcome. Sometimes. And if I post about reverse dieting, there will be somebody in the comments who says, whether they’re being, they’re attacking you in some way or there’s just sharing their experience. They’ll say, “Well, actually this worked for me. And I was eating 1,500 calories, and I was not losing weight. And then, I went up to 1,900 calories, and I was losing weight.” And I just want to be very clear that no, you weren’t. And I’m not being rude, but you ever say whether it’s on the podcast or in your content or to a person, “Eat less, move more”? Has that ever come out of your mouth, ever?

Paul Salter:


Jordan Lips:

Probably. Yeah, of course. And the backlash, which I would agree with, is that’s a non-contextual statement. That that’s not holistic, that doesn’t encapsulate all the complexities that come with that. But, you ever say to somebody, “Hey, if you’re not losing weight, you’re not in a deficit.” People are like, “Yeah, Jordan, that’s not helpful.” Just like eat less, move more. It’s not helpful. I know it’s not helpful by itself, but we have to be operating from a foundation of these truths, or we just can’t move on from them. And so, if you say, “I wasn’t losing on 1,500, I was losing on 1,900,” we need to understand we have to operate, with compassion, from a space of no, you weren’t. And that is not physiologically a thing. Nobody has ever lost more weight on more calories, all else being equal. That’s not possible.

And so, that’s not me shitting on your experience. There is an inherent benefit of understanding why these things are happening. And I’ll tell you what that inherent benefit is, is that for every one person who comes in my comments or DMs, and this is all good by the way, I love having these chats, and says, “Hey, this really worked for me,” there are 10 people like scorched earth who have gained weight they did not want to gain and then were told by their coach that they just had to keep going or they didn’t do it long enough or they got to keep bringing their calories up anymore or more and more and more. And they’re like, “I’m up 20 pounds now.” And they’re left lying in their wake with an outcome they didn’t want.

So, for every one person who has a positive experience for a reason that is physiologically not the thing, there’s 10 people who had an outcome that they did not want because the coach, again, not attacking people, but if they didn’t, they don’t really understand what’s going on. And so, they’re like, “Maybe this person just needs more calories, or they have to do it for longer.” And it’s like, no, that’s not the answer because these people are actually eating in a surplus. They don’t have any metabolic adaptation anymore. They don’t have any damage to their metabolism. They’re just straight up in a surplus. And so, I think it’s important that we operate from these fundamental truths of if you’re not in a deficit, you’re not losing weight, and that’s not attacking anybody, and there’s no way you could eat more. I mean, there’s so many…

I’ll pause for a second, and you can decide where we go, but we could even break down that context and go through each of those assumptions if you wanted to. But, there’s a lot going on here, and I don’t want to attack people. I just want, I think that with a better understanding of what’s going on, we can get that one person who had a positive experience, we can still get them their positive experience without the 10 people that need to be sacrificed in order for that one person to have a good experience. And so, that’s the end goal so that we can have a better understanding. We can just have a better ratio of people get helped.

Paul Salter:

Yeah. I love that. Yeah, you did such an awesome job articulating that, and I always laughed at some of the words you were using, supercharged, this turbo metabolism, that it just makes me just laugh. It’s the power of words. And for everyone listening, ourselves included, we got to step back sometimes. Just remember, people who market on social media have a goal of selling. There is power in words. So, reverse dieting, this supercharged metabolism is a way to get your attention and make you feel left out to buy. But to your point, one example I’d love to hear you expand upon is, let’s take that individual, let’s take that woman who is listening right now who swears she couldn’t lose weight eating 1,500 calories, but now all of a sudden, she’s been eating 1,900 calories the last six weeks, and she has lost weight. So, physiologically, we know that that’s not really what’s taking place, but where is she missing something or misunderstanding something that leads her to believe what she believes?

Jordan Lips:

Yeah. Yeah. I think when this person, this hypothetical person starts the sentence with, “I wasn’t losing weight at x,” I think a very simple blunt is that you weren’t actually eating X, you were eating more than that, you were missing things, and maybe you were eating that sometimes, and maybe you were, that’s what’s in your MyFitnessPal, and that’s what you’re targeting on a day-to-day. And I think there’s a difference between eating a certain amount and trying to eat a certain amount. And I think you can say, “I was trying to eat 1,500, and it wasn’t working, and now I’m trying to eat 1,900, and it is working.” And that makes total sense to me because somebody who’s trying to eat 15 might be eating 24 because four days out of the week, they hit their calories, but it’s so low and so uncomfortable and they don’t, whatever. And the other three days, they’re eating so much in a recoil effect that it feels like they’re in this very restrictive mindset, but on the net balance, their average calories across the week are higher.

And so, if I have a client who comes to me, and then we could talk about that. It’s like, hey, if you have a client who’s coming to you saying that, are you like, “No dude or lady, you’re just not doing that. You’re lying.” We wouldn’t do that. We would be compassionate. We’d say, “Okay, maybe we’re going to…” The funny thing is that at the end of the day, we suck at tracking. That’s what it is. I always get, I’m always amazed with the level of certainty that people hold onto the numbers where you’re so certain this is how much you’re eating. You’re so certain this is how much you’re moving, and you’re so certain that the number the calorie calculator gave you is you.

And so, there’s three assumptions you’re making. Each of them are off, probably in all directions that make it less likely. So, you’re probably overestimating your movement, underestimating your intake, and overestimating your TDEE based on the calculation that you put in. All of those lead into… We have to take these numbers with the grain of salt. A lot of times, people get very emotionally attached to the numbers, and they play this game of, “I should be losing at this number, and if I’m not, there’s two options.” One, you can go the root of like, “Hey, if I’m not losing, I’m just not in a deficit, and I should start to be a detective as to why that is.” P.S. That’s the correct answer.

The other answer is that, “I’m not losing, and I should be. And, thus, there’s something metabolically wrong that I need to fix.” If you’re not losing weight, you’re not in a deficit, and your best use of your brain power and bandwidth is to figure out why that is the case, not what else magically behind the scenes metabolically that we have no evidence for might be happening. That’s not, just let’s take our brain power and be like, “Okay, why am I not an in deficit? Let’s start to look at that. Let’s start to see what could I be missing? Maybe I’m overestimating movement, maybe I’m too attached to the number that I think I should be able to eat versus my friend is able to eat,” and we’re just too attached to those numbers.

And so, I think that, for one, is just to take a step back and view your situation a little bit more objectively. I’ll have clients fairly often who aren’t losing at a calorie amount that they think they should be losing, but they feel great. And they have no hunger, and they’re not tired, and they’re not fatigued. And I don’t want you to feel those things, but if you are not losing weight, and you have no signs of being in a deficit physiologically biofeedback wise, I would have to bet you’re not in a deficit. I mean, those are the two things. You feel amazing, and you are not losing weight. That doesn’t sound like a deficit to me.

And so it’s, in all likelihood, although you think 1,500 is not very much, and going underneath that sounds like blasphemy based on what you expect on the calorie calculator and what your friend does, it’s just an odd attachment to that number and what it represents based on what you think should be happening. Whereas if you just looked at it more objectively and you’re like, “Hey, I’m eating X, and I removed the number from it. I’m eating X and it’s not working and I feel great, so all signs are pointing to me probably not being in a deficit. I can either lower my calories from where they are, x minus 200, x minus 100, not get emotional about it, or I can spend a minute or two trying to figure out, am I missing something with that number? Is it actually higher?” A lot of people don’t do either of those, and they jump to like, “Oh, I got to heal something about my metabolism.”

Paul Salter:

Yeah, that was awesome. I appreciate you sharing that. And you’re right, I feel like there’s such a strong predisposition to be attached to numbers because numbers make sense. Two plus two is always four, and if I lost weight at 1,500 calories before, well of course, my body’s going to respond the same way. And I think, too, I’ve learned in my decade plus of coaching, one of the most overlooked variables that influences your individual calorie needs, we can get into age, height, weight, energy expenditure, yada yada, is your dieting history. If you are a chronic dieter, and you have constantly been in a deficit for three weeks and then binging for X number of weeks and cycling through that, your body has just been in a state of, and this is an oversimplification of sort, of just stress. It has just been absolutely stressed. So, jumping back down to a calorie goal that worked for you 10 years ago before you had two kids, and you’ve been yo-yo dieting ever since probably is not the right answer to your solution of wanting to lose fat now.

Jordan Lips:

Yeah, this isn’t even, going to pushback on that, but this is the, you didn’t say this. I would push back on the notion of somebody who’s, and the word overweight is incredibly subjective, but let’s just pretend like people who think they have more weight than they’d want to, they have more body fat than they’d want to. You cannot get there through chronically undereating. So, if there’s a downside to undereating, which when I say downside, I mean if there’s a metabolic adaptation, which verbatim there is, when you eat less, your metabolism adapts. P.S. One of the biggest adaptations you make is you lose weight, and then you gain weight in a future period of time. Whatever adaptations you had on the way down, they get rectified on the way up.

And so, if you’ve been losing and gaining, and you can extrapolate that to real extreme yo-yo dieting, or you can just say, over the period of the last 10 years, I’m up 20 pounds. That person, by definition has spent the last 10 years in a net, over those 10 years, a net calorie surplus. And so, over the course of the net, they have only adapted upwards. They’re not carrying any of those adaptations from the downward direction. And so, this idea that you’re chronically undereating, and you’ve gained weight through that process means that chronic and undereating is just an oxymoron. A person who chronically undereats is either incredibly lean or dead from starvation.

So, I would just say that if you’re like, “Hey…” I understand what that person often means is they’ve been chronically in a state of mental restriction where they’ve been chronically trying to lose weight and then binging and trying to lose weight and binging, and over the net, it’s caused weight gain. They’ve tried over eight weeks to lose, and then in four months into maintenance, they’ve reverted back to their old habits, and they’ve gained it back. That person, 20 years later, is up 20 pounds. They don’t have any metabolic adaptation. We see incredibly reliably in the research if you want to get rid of all metabolic adaptation, which I don’t know if we want to backtrack and define, just gain the weight back. It all goes away.

And so, that has always been an interesting one for me. It’s like, yeah, that one’s always been interesting just like the, “Okay, Jordan, but what about me? I’ve been chronically undereating,” and I’m like, “I don’t know what that means, really. I know you’re, that’s more of a state of mind because it can’t be an actual thing because you wouldn’t be overweight.” And I’m not saying anybody needs to lose weight. I don’t want to jump to those conclusions, but if you are saying you’re overweight, I’m telling you didn’t get there from chronically undereating. And I guess I would just, while we’re on this topic, while I’m on the soapbox here, the idea of reverse dieting is such. It’s that your maintenance calories are a range. And they are a range because, within a certain ballpark, your metabolism can flex upward and downward in response to more and less food. And how much that you can do that at a given body weight, body composition, and activity level is almost entirely down to genetics.

We see people that when we overfeed them by a thousand calories a day, they gain almost no weight. These are people that we took into a lab, tested their TDEE, and then gave them a thousand calories extra every day. And some people gained incredibly low weight, some people gained a lot of weight. I mean thousand calories a day is roughly extra two pounds a week. We saw some people who barely gained any weight whatsoever over, I think it was a 60-day period, which goes to show you that how our bodies can up-regulate in response to more food is very genetic and varies widely. The idea of reverse dieting is that we will do that. We will push your metabolism up, and if we can find the place where you’re burning the most calories at this body weight, and let’s say that’s 2,400 calories that we can jump back down to a calorie amount that didn’t work last time. And because we’ve boosted your metabolism up so high, we can duck underneath it, and now it’ll be a deficit.

I just want to make one thing clear. That process of finding your upper end of your maintenance, the most food you can eat and maintain your weight, where your metabolism is doing the best it can… P.S. If you keep doing that, eventually your body will say, “Okay, the only adaptation I have left is storing body fat.” I’m talking about this within the concept of trying to not gain body fat. But, that process is a fine idea. It’s a fine idea to find the most you can eat and maintain your body weight. That’s probably where life is easiest because in our food environment, it’s probably easier to have more calories. But, there is factually no amount of bringing your calories up that will change how your body adapts in the future to less calories.

So, if you were 150 pounds, I’m making this up, 150 pounds, you get 10,000 steps, and you’re eating 1,700 calories, you right now are listening to this, you’re like, “That’s me.” And you’re not losing weight, and am I saying not losing weight? I mean because you’ve been doing that consistently, and it’s been months. Not, “I do it sometimes, it’s been a couple of weeks. I do it all the time for months, and I’m not losing weight.” There is nothing you can do, nothing, no amount of incremental reverse dieting. There’s no strategy that you can come back to that exact scenario, and this time, it will be a deficit at the same steps, body comp, calories. There’s no, “I did this. I spent eight months doing this to my metabolism such that I could return back to this exact carbon copy scenario and break through that plateau.”

And so, while I think the pursuit of eating more is a fine option, it’s just not going to change how your body responds downward. And we know this because we have a ton of refeed and diet break research where, within 24 hours of people going from their diet break or their refeed where they were eating maintenance calories, but within 24 hours of going back to the deficit, everything, all the metabolic adaptations come immediately back within 24 hours. And so, there’s no lasting benefit from that period of eating more. No amount of the boosting has anything to do with how you will adapt in the future downward. I just want to make that clear because that is at the crux of the, that’s what is being sold. It’s like, “Hey, we’re going to have you eat a little bit more so that you can cut on higher calories next time.”

And I’ll end my rant with if that were true, every bodybuilder that’s ever stepped on stage would tell you that that’s possible, but it’s not. A bodybuilder is literally a competitive yo-yo dieter, and that means they get shredded this January, let’s say, and then they spend a month doing competitions. And for the other nine months out of the year, they are reverse dieting, going into a surplus, spending some time feeling great, more body fat, more muscle. They’re spending time in a surplus. And then, when it comes time to diet again, they always have to come to the same exact spot in order to get that lean. It’s not like nine months of eating more means that I used to have to go to 1,300 calories to get shredded. Now I have to come to 1,500 because I supercharged my metabolism. It’s actually closer to the opposite where things get harder and harder for that person.

And so, if this reverse dieting played out, you’d have bodybuilders being like, “Yeah, it’s even easier this time around because I really had, I didn’t have to go as low in my calories this time because I spent eight months in a surplus.” It’s actually quite the opposite where it’s almost exactly the same. They’re like, “I know exactly the amount of steps and calories I’m going to have to do because it’s the same thing every time because no amount of eating more will change how my body responds to eating less.” Wow, that was a monologue, so I apologize.

Paul Salter:

No, that was great. And I’m curious, a quick follow up there. What have you observed or seen in the research? I’m curious on this. Let’s say, arbitrary numbers here, bodybuilder A is typically eating 3,000 calories during the off season number one. He diets down to 1,500 calories, for example. Then in off season two, he gets up to 4,000 calories. Again, over simplified example here. Are we finding that, of course, he needs to get down to that 1,500 again, but because the reduction in calories this time around is so much steeper, is his journey downward that much more intense when it comes to feeling the effects of the adaptations that are taking place? Is hunger more pronounced? Is fatigue more frequent?

Jordan Lips:

I think most of what I would say is anecdotal. I don’t think we have high level research on diet fatigue symptoms with bodybuilders. I think, anecdotally, there’s an element of practically, it becomes easier because these people get better at doing it, the skill of getting lean. They know exactly what they have to do. They organize a meal.

Paul Salter:

Great point.

Jordan Lips:

If you talk to body builders, they’re like, “Hey, I’m better at my prep, my cut.” But, physiologically, I would suspect it’s equally painful each time. It’s equally painful, maybe less painful because the practical side of things. You get better at, whatever, at mealtime, you understand what things to do to maximize satiety. But, I don’t know of any research that’s directly looking at that.

What we do have is a lot of research on what’s called metabolic phenotypes, where we look at, again, where we look at these people… That same, it’s basically from a very similar piece of literature about the overfeeding study, but we see that people fall into roughly two camps in terms of how their metabolisms adapt. The words that we’ll use are thrifty and spendthrift. And a thrifty metabolism is a metabolism that adapts downward more rapidly and at a greater magnitude, which is in our world of trying to lose fat, that’s a downside. This is like if you go into a deficit, your body readily shuts down certain processes down, regulates your movement to try to make you not lose weight. And it’s also a metabolism that doesn’t up-regulate very much. And so, if your maintenance calories is 2,000 and you go down to 18, your body adapts very quickly and that very quickly becomes maintenance. But, if you go up by 300 calories, it doesn’t do the same thing.

So, that, in the context of our current food environment, obesity epidemic, that’s what we would say is a genetic disadvantage. The ability to up-regulate your metabolism is a real defense against weight gain. And what you’d expect, actually, is these people who have, I’d say the shit end of the stick from a metabolic adaptation perspective, you’d expect that they also have really low resting energy expenditure, where they really have also low TDEEs. And the irony is the people who have the best capacity to up-regulate metabolism where they eat more and they seem to not gain at any weight, and we all know that these people.

I will raise my hand up high. My maintenance calories are notably higher than a calorie calculator thinks they are because my genetics can do this really, really well. And what we see is actually those people, people who have the shit end of the stick from a metabolic adaptation perspective, actually have higher resting energy expenditure, which flies in the face of what you’d expect. And it almost completely discredits this idea that where you start with your TDEE, where you start with your metabolism has anything to do with what you’d expect in terms of an adaptation.

And so, this idea of like, “Oh, we just need to get your calories higher because if we can start them higher, then they’ll remain higher for the length of the cut. If you can start at 22, then we go to 17, and that will be a deficit for longer.” We don’t know that. Then we actually can almost firmly say that there’s just no reason to expect that having a higher starting calorie has anything to do with how your body will adapt.

I will say that I can eat, let’s say, whatever, I don’t like using anecdotes. It’s stupid. But, my metabolism can ramp up a lot. If I eat 3,500, my maintenance calories is between 28 and 35, and it’s incredibly wide. And if I want to cut, I go lower, I have to go lower than most people think. If I want to gain, I have to go higher than most people think. And my metabolism is quite flexible in that way, which is a defense against weight gain. And the ultimate irony is if you had this genetic capacity, this is a point Eric Trexler made. I’m going to steal it, and I’ll just let you guys know if you want more on his thoughts, he’s a wonderful resource for this.

But, on a grand scale, on a population level, the people, I’ll say it, and then I’ll explain it. The people who are seeking out reverse dieting as a strategy are the same people who are least likely able to capitalize on its benefits. And what I mean by that is that if you are overweight or you’ve gained significant weight over the years, I know that weight gain is very multifactorial. It’s not just genetic, it’s not just environmental. It’s everything in a matrix altogether. But, being able to have a metabolism that flexes upward is an incredible defense against weight gain. And then, you have a lot of people who’ve gained weight, and if these people had that genetic capacity to really ramp up metabolism, fight against weight gain, probably wouldn’t have gained as much weight.

And so, now, you have a whole host of people that are overweight being sold the strategy to up-regulate their metabolism when they’re almost certainly not the people who can up-regulate metabolism. And then, even if that was a thing, it won’t change, no reason to believe that it would change how they are affected by a calorie deficit in the future. And so, there’s just a breaking down of the chain from top to bottom. And that doesn’t, I guess, on a less depressing note, this idea of how we adapt. And so, there are studies that are looking at whether or not metabolic adaptation is a roadblock to weight loss. I know we’re coming up on time here, but I’ll just make this final point, and then you can let us know what you want to do.

But, take a good group of people, we don’t need to go into the exact specifics of the study. Group of people, and they get into a diet for 16 weeks, and they’re in a similar size deficit. And we’re looking for which people have the most metabolic adaptation, which people’s metabolisms are slowing down the most. And what we find is the difference between the people who have the most metabolic adaptation and the least metabolic adaptation. I think the first group lost 14 kilos, which by the way is a ton of weight, by all accounts, an incredibly successful fat loss phase. It was 9% of their body weight or something, whatever. No, no, it was more than that. It was 13%. Whatever. And then, that was the people who had the least amount of metabolic adaptation. Most people did the best. The people who did the worst with the most metabolic adaptation, they lost 13 kilograms. It was a one kilogram difference.

So, this idea that metabolic adaptation is stopping you from losing weight is absolutely not the case. They took those, not the same participants, but the same researchers did another study, and it was how much time would it take for you to lose X amount of your body weight? And you would assume that the people whose metabolism slows down more quickly, it’s going to take them longer. And that is true. I forgot the exact metric. I think it was about 10% of your body weight. And the first group who had less metabolic adaptation, they got there in, let’s say, 16 weeks. And the group of people who had the really shit end of the stick, the real, this is going to be really tough. They got there in 19 weeks. And so, this idea that metabolic adaptation is stopping you from losing weight, you’re like, “Well, my genetics are just really rough.” You’re either just going to have to eat a little bit less or just diet for a little bit longer. And we’re not talking about a huge difference here.

And so, it’s just a tough sell on a lot of fronts. And I know we covered a lot of things there, but there’s just, there are people out there who are like, “Hey, we have to do this study.” You mentioned a really good one with the bodybuilders. Is this study out there? It’s not really out there, but the irony is we have so much research that indirectly looks at this that it’s almost not worth the money to do this research because if this phenomenon existed, it would exist somewhere in research we’ve already done, and it just doesn’t.

Paul Salter:

Yeah. Those of you listening-

Jordan Lips:

Sorry about the monologue.

Paul Salter:

No, we got a masterclass in reverse dining and in metabolic adaptation. I love it. No, we’re going to keep going down this because I think what’s really important is you’ve just done a stellar job outlining all of the foundational research components of what we definitively know to be true and not true. And I want to know, now shift to get your perspective on, someone is listening right now, and they’re having some aha moments.

One thing that you said that really stands out to me that I love is that someone who thinks they’re a chronic dieter, you’ve said it so beautifully, I’m not, I’m going to butcher it, but it’s been a mindset. They’ve been thinking about dieting for 10 years, but the fact is if they are 20 pounds up from 10 years ago, net surplus is really what’s been taking place. I love how you phrased that, but for someone now who gets like, “Okay, I haven’t been in the deficit I thought have. I understand that my body, my metabolism is going to regulate based on if I am in a deficit or if I am in a surplus,” where do they practically go? Where do they practically spend their attention without getting too caught up in the numbers, which we already talked about is very easy to do, to ultimately reach a goal of, “I need to find an approach to eating that allows me to lose weight and keep it off that is sustainable and that is enjoyable.”

Jordan Lips:

Yeah. So, I mean, that’s where we should go with this now. It’s like, “Okay, what do I do with this information now?” And the first thing I’ll say is that when we have this conversation, you could sum it up, I wouldn’t sum it up this way, but one could sum it up this way and say there’s a big personal responsibility element. There’s like, “Oh, I guess I’ve been just not doing something right or I’ve been missing calories and I’ve been tracking inconsistently either in the short term or over the long term,” or it puts a lot of burden on the person listening. There’s people out there that are like, “Oh, I guess there’s no hack. It really is all on me.”

And I just want to say that that shouldn’t be, there’s a very natural human reflex for that to be disheartening, for that to be… Sometimes, we want there to be something actually wrong that needs fixing instead of realizing, “Oh, yeah, it really is on me.” But, what I would say is to just flip the perspective on that. Everyone right now who’s been in a struggle, who’s been confused whether or not they need to reverse diet and fix their metabolism, I’m here to tell you there’s nothing broken, and you have all the power. And it should be incredibly empowering for you to be like, “Wow, I really can do this. I don’t need to be doing, I don’t have anything broken about me. There’s nothing wrong with me. I have the tools, I have the facts, and I can deal with me as an individual, and I don’t need to worry about something magical that’s happening behind the scenes.” And this idea of personal responsibility, it shouldn’t be depressing. It should be empowering.

So, I’ll start by saying that. If you’re feeling like, “Oh, fuck. I’ve been sold down the river of doing this reverse dieting. I’ve gained weight, and I think something’s wrong with me, and my metabolism’s broken,” you have to let those thoughts and feelings die for a second and move on to taking control. And I’m not this, I’m not a, this is not a Timmy Robbins moment or anything like that, or an Ed Mylett moment or something like that. But, take control of this. You have the power, absolutely.

And so, that’s what we’re talking about now. I just want that to be empowering, not disheartening. And what I would first do is two things. One is a combination of what we talked about for is to eliminate some of the emotional attachment to your certainty around the numbers and your expectations based on the calculator, based on what Susan is doing over there, who you think is when you are not the same. You might think you’re the same, you’re not the same.

So, decrease the level of certainty with which you look at the numbers, and decrease the level of emotion you do attach to the expectations. Start to look at your own self, your own data. If you’re not tracking stuff, track stuff. We’ll talk about that in a second. But, trust, take your own situation and look at it a little bit more in isolation instead of like, “Oh, I should based on the calculator. I should based on what Susan’s doing.” And the second thing would be, yes, for a short period of time, I think turning up the dial in terms of detail, I don’t think, I’m not the you got to track every gram to the gram of every macro for every day for the rest of your life. That’s not my MO.

But, I think, in this moment, I think for a short period in air quotes, a short period of time, get a clearer picture of what you’re actually doing and just see if that maybe shifts your perspective because maybe, let’s be real. Dieticians are, they’re off, when we look at them in the research, by about 20%. They under report. Those are people who do this for a living. You think you’re that accurate? And I’ve had clients who are incredibly accurate, but there are baked in inaccuracies in tracking. Food labels can be off by 20%. When you go out to eat, you’re probably underestimating.

And so, even the most diligent trackers, whether it’s not that you’re doing something wrong, but there might be inherent variation built-in inaccuracies. And so, let’s say you’re eating 1,500, and you think that your maintenance is 2,000. And so, you think you’re in a 500 calorie deficit. If you’re off by 20%, you’re really eating 1,800, and maybe that 2,000 metric is based on an activity level that’s not really true. And actually, your maintenance is 1,800, and you’re at maintenance then.

And so, we want to both increase the level of detail to get a clearer picture for enough of a period of time and to get that clearer picture, but also detach the emotion of what you think should be happening and deal with, “How do I feel? How do I feel? Do I feel hungry? Do I feel tired? Do I feel lethargic? Do I feel overly food focused or not? And what’s actually happening? If my goal in this context is fat loss, what’s happening on the scale on average week to week?” If, “I’m not losing weight, and I feel totally fine,” then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with decreasing your calories outside. And even if in that moment you’re thinking, “Wow, that number looks low, it looks lower than it should be based on something I made up,” you are not in the deficit you think you are. You can lower calories to get there. Now, as long as you feel good. And there’s a ton of coaching that can go into that.

But, I want people to really deal with themselves as individuals. Get a clear picture, do the work, get more detail for a short enough period of time to recalibrate what you’re actually eating and then just get rid of the, “I think I should based on X, my expectation based on this.” Deal with what’s going on, your own data, your own biofeedback. Let that drive the wheel, take the wheel.

Paul Salter:

Go for it. That’s awesome. So, one quick follow up then. So, if you could distill one nugget of advice to somebody listening right now who is just so hung up on a number, whether it’s a calorie goal, a weight, or how things should be, what’s that first step for him or her to begin the process of detaching and really, I guess the word might be just refocusing and recentering on the present?

Jordan Lips:

I think it’s a matter of reframing what the goal is. And when I say that, I mean what’s the point of eating a certain amount of calories? The point of eating a certain amount of food, and I know that that goes real zoomed out here, but the point of eating a certain amount of food is to not meet some benchmark you saw on Google. The point of eating an amount of food is to feel good, to have good blood work, to feel generally good psychologically, physically, to be able to have the energy of the things you want to do. And I think a lot of people will look at what they’re eating and reverse engineer how they feel because it’s less than what they think they should be eating. And so, just remember what the goal is. You’re like, “Hey, if I’m at maintenance calories, the goal is for me to feel good, feel generally satiated, have energy for the things I want to do, not reference an arbitrary benchmark that I saw on the internet.”

And so, if you can think about it that way, a lot of people will be like, “Man, I thought 1,700 was quite low. But, if I’m looking at these boxes Jordan’s having me look at where it’s like, how’s my hunger level? How’s my food focused? How’s my energy level? How’s my sleep? How’s my whatever other symptoms of potentially not eating enough calories, what’s my blood work look like? All of those check off pretty well, then all of a sudden, 1,700 is doing the job of what the point of eating is, which is to feel good and to have good blood work and to be healthy and all that stuff.”

And so, a lot of people are just, again, they hear a number, and they have a direct association with it. And like you said, how do we detach that association is we just kind of look at how we are actually feeling and let that, at least, not be the only thing that matters, but it should absolutely move up the priority list. Take stock of how you’re feeling, and then look at your calories, and then maybe say, “Okay, that doesn’t really add up based on certain expectations. Let me look for maybe calories I’m missing. But at the end of the day, the goal that I am looking for is to feel good, feel satiated, feel energized, all of that stuff.”

Paul Salter:

Awesome. And like I told you from the beginning, when we kicked things off before we even hit record, I had no direction of where we were going to go today. But, I’m so grateful that we went this direction because I learned a tremendous amount. I think you do, I mean, would’ve made a great lawyer in case you didn’t know that. But, I really think you did such a great job articulating the research in an easy to grasp way, but then, like we did the last portion here, it’s like, how can we make this practical because it’s wonderful to be a nerd in the research here for someone listening, but if they can’t apply it’s like, “Eh, what can we do?” We encounter that friction. So, thank you so much for sharing everything you did. That was phenomenal.

Jordan Lips:

Thanks man. I appreciate it. I knew that when you said the word reverse dieting that there was no turning back.

Paul Salter:

Yeah, I got you. You had that look on your face in your eye like, “Okay, it’s go time.” So, with that said, my friend, where can everyone listening go to continue learning from you and to really have an opportunity to work with you because you do great work, and I want them to connect with you.

Jordan Lips:

Thank you. Yeah, I’m active on Instagram. I’ll answer a question or DM that you have at Jordan Lips Fitness. I also have a podcast. I’m sure it covers similar topics, Where Optimal Meets Practical, but you can find all that on Instagram. That’s definitely where I’m most active.

Paul Salter:

Outstanding. Well, Jordan, thank you so much for joining us here. This was phenomenal.

Jordan Lips:

Thanks, man. I appreciate you having me.

Paul Salter:

Yeah, absolutely. For everyone listening, thank you for choosing to listen to Screw the Scale Radio today. It’s a pleasure to always have you listening. And if, again, if you have not followed Jordan already, go ahead and make it a priority. Hit pause right now, and get that done. And if you enjoyed this episode, the best thing you can do to support his work and the show in general is share this with a loved one who you know would find the information discussed today valuable. Thank you again for being here. Have a wonderful rest of your day. And as always, screw the scale.

Share this post

Paul Salter

Paul Salter is a Registered Dietitian and Founder of The 5% Way. Since 2013, Paul has worked one-on-one with nearly 1,500 men and women, helping them to collectively lose tens of thousands of pounds of body fat and keep it off for good. He’s also published nearly 1,000 articles, two books, and 175 podcast episodes (and counting) on all things related to our five core elements of sustainable weight loss.



Micheala is a Transformation and Community Success Coach. She specializes in bringing out the absolute best in you and helping you see that you already have everything you need to achieve the transformational results you desire. Micheala will be an incredible asset for you on your journey since she went through the process herself and has seen long lasting results.

The Maintain My Weight Loss After A Diet Blueprint

Leave a Comment