what should my goal be? understanding which phase is best for you

deficit phase, maintenance phase, surplus phase, reverse dieting, weight loss, fat loss, calorie deficit, body composition, tracking, hunger, cravings, energy levels, muscle preservation, strength training, protein target, body fat percentage, exercise routine, metabolic health, recomposition, under-eating, strength training, progressive overload, muscle mass, strength plateaus, endurance sports, metabolic adaptation, yo-yo dieting, gradual increase, psychological benefits, sustainable results, nutrition goals

Emily Field (00:00:00) – Hello and welcome to episode 24 of the Macros Made Easy podcast, where we will be discussing the different macro phases and how to identify the phase that’s best for you. Welcome to Macros Made Easy, the podcast that takes the confusion out of tracking macros. I’m your host, Emily Field, a registered dietitian that specializes in a macros approach. In each episode, I help you learn how to eat in a way that supports your health, body composition, and athletic performance goals. We’ll cover the basics of macronutrients, how to track for various goals, the role of macros in your health, and how to make sustainable changes to your habits. I’ve helped hundreds of people experience more food freedom and flexibility while navigating their nutrition. So whether you’ve tried macros and it just didn’t stick or you just heard the word macros yesterday, I can’t wait to help you too. Three of the phases we’re going to cover today are short term and temporary. They are deficit, surplus, and reverse. One phase is more long term and actually could be permanent.


Emily Field (00:00:58) – That’s called maintenance. So keep in mind that macro phasing or the rotation and movement through each of these phases is completely optional and not required. You can eat slightly up or slightly down from your estimated maintenance calories and lead a very healthy life. That said, many of you may want or need to change your macros at some point, and you’ll have to have an idea about the advantages of each phase. In this episode, we’ll definitely be talking through the deficit phase, so this is where you’ll be consuming fewer calories and what your body needs in order to facilitate some weight loss. This phase can be tailored to different needs, whether it be a drastic or slight calorie deficit, depending on your goals and preferences. If you are ready to shed excess weight or improve body composition, the deficit phase is ideal provided that you’re ready for the discipline and focus that it requires. Alternatively, the maintenance phase revolves around consuming enough calories to maintain your current weight, support muscle preservation, support, athletic performance, and overall metabolic health.


Emily Field (00:02:01) – This phase suits you if you’ve reached your desired weight, you want to prioritize long term health or you wish to transition between a deficit and surplus phase. Next up is the surplus phase, which involves consuming more calories than you need, helping you to facilitate muscle growth and strength gains, making it suitable for you if you want to build muscle mass and improve your athletic performance. Lastly, we will talk through the reverse dieting phase, which serves to transition from calorie restriction to higher calorie intake gradually. This is going to benefit you if you have completed a diet, or you’ve experienced metabolic adaptation, or you’ve struggled with yo yo dieting in the past. Each phase has its advantages and considerations, offering a comprehensive approach to achieving diverse health and fitness goals. So let’s jump right into the discussion so you can feel confident to choose the best phase for you. Okay. So the first phase we’re going to talk about is the deficit phase. Choosing a calorie deficit would mean that you are eating fewer calories in what your body needs to maintain its current weight.


Emily Field (00:03:08) – It’s like spending more money than you earn. Your body is going to use up the stored energy, so that’s your body fat to make up for the shortfall in energy that you’re taking in. And this will lead to weight loss or fat loss. Now, you would choose this phase. If you or someone who is interested in losing weight or reducing body fat. So it’s ideal for you if you’ve got specific weight loss goals or you’re aiming to improve your overall body composition by decreasing your body fat percentage. This approach is commonly used by people who are looking to shed excess fat, whether that’s for a health reason or for aesthetic purposes only. I would also say that this phase is best for someone who’s been tracking macros, or at least knows that they have been eating at or near their maintenance calories for at least four months. But the longer the better. Eating enough calories and not drastically under them is the best way to set up for a painless, easy and enjoyable calorie deficit or fat loss phase. I would say that you need to understand and be okay with sacrificing some peak physical performance.


Emily Field (00:04:14) – For those temporary feelings of low or inadequate fuel. You are operating on less energy or less fuel, so you have to be okay and understand that there’s going to be more feelings of hunger or cravings. You might also experience some lower energy. This is not the time where you’re going to be achieving like Jim Pars or filling your absolute best. So you have to be okay with that. But that temporary feeling, okay, the last thing I’ll say here is that you’ve got to be able to properly manage your expectations for bandwidth and mood, because there’s less fuel available and you have less flexibility in your food choices when your calories are lower. So you might be feeling a bit more strained with that smaller flexibility, that very little flexibility and combined with that lower availability of food, you might be feeling a bit more short tempered and moody. So as long as you just know that those feelings are coming and might be a little bit more prevalent, then it’s probably an okay phase for you to engage in. Next, I will say, if you are someone who is managing their stressors well, you feel like you do have the bandwidth to be in control of most of your food choices for the near foreseeable future.


Emily Field (00:05:18) – You don’t have any elaborate travel or vacation plans on the horizon. Then maybe a deficit is the right thing for you right now. And then lastly, I would say, if you are someone who is ready for more focused, diligent, and accurate tracking at least 80% of the time for the foreseeable future, for the duration of your calorie deficit. Because during this time, more accuracy and consistency can yield better results. When I say 80% of the time, that means about 24 days out of 30 you are hitting your macro targets. Okay, so if now feels like a good time to increase your focus on food and nutrition, then a calorie deficit might be the phase for you. Now, I do think it’s important here to talk a little bit about the advantages and disadvantages of a drastic calorie deficit, which is something in the range of like 30% or more from your maintenance calories or a slight calorie deficit, which is something like 10 to 15% of your calorie deficit. Let’s talk about why you might want to choose one over the other.


Emily Field (00:06:19) – Now, typically I’m never recommending a Jurassic calorie deficit, something in the range of 30% or more from your maintenance calories, because, you know, for many reasons. But I am not going to be naive to think that you might not do this on your own. So let’s talk about it. The advantage of a drastic calorie deficit, something large, a bigger chunk from your maintenance calories is that you’re probably going to experience more rapid initial weight loss because you’re consuming significantly fewer calories than your body needs. Weight loss can happen quickly in the short term, so that can be kind of confidence boosting. And then you’re seeing the scale drop quickly. And that can provide some motivation and a sense of accomplishment, which might help you continue further. But it doesn’t come without its disadvantages. When you have a drastic calorie deficit from your maintenance, you might be more likely to experience muscle loss. Your body is going to break down muscle tissue for energy, which will slow down your metabolism in the long run. We do not want that.


Emily Field (00:07:15) – You’re also at risk for nutrient deficiencies because severely restricting your calories can lead to an inadequate intake of essential nutrients, and that can potentially cause some health issues for you. You also have an increased risk of rebound weight gain, because we know that drastic calorie deficits are really unsustainable and it leads to rebound with your weight once the normal eating pattern resumes. Okay, so please consider that when you are planning your deficit phase, it might be a bit advantageous because you’re eager to see results, but the consequences might outweigh the benefits there. Now, you might be in the position to opt for a slight calorie deficit. So that’s more about like a 10 to 15% calorie deficit from your maintenance. And I would say that the advantages of setting a slight calorie deficit means it’s going to be more sustainable for you. A slight calorie deficit is much easier to maintain long term, making it more sustainable for continued weight loss and maintenance of those results that you achieve. You’re also more likely to preserve muscle mass if you go on the more slight to moderate end of a calorie deficit here.


Emily Field (00:08:21) – So with a smaller deficit, your body is less likely to turn to muscle tissue for energy, which helps you preserve your lean muscle mass and therefore keep your metabolic rate high. Keep your metabolism high. You’re also at a lower risk for those nutrient deficiencies because you’re not severely restricting your calories. You’re going to be eating more food and likely be able to eat your body’s nutritional needs and prevent potential consequences. But overall, just support your health. Now, with a slight calorie deficit, you’re going to see slower weight loss, and that slower progress can be really discouraging for some individuals. It can be really frustrating. It requires a lot of patience out of that individual, and I know that that can be really tough, especially if those weight loss goals or, you know, achieving weight loss in general is something that you’ve wanted for a really long time. And I would say that monitoring is probably more required with a slight to moderate calorie deficit, because you might need to adjust your calorie intake and bust through plateaus as you keep moving.


Emily Field (00:09:19) – Whereas with a drastic calorie deficit, it’s very obvious that you’re seeing progress. With a more slight to moderate calorie deficit, you might need to monitor to a greater degree. It might require that progress tracking in the way of body measurements, progress pictures, or average scale weight might also mean that you need to be looking at your calories in your macros a bit more closely, because if you’re not monitoring this, you might slip back into maintenance or into a surplus just without even paying attention. So again, this might be best for people who really thrive on that data and are okay with things going slower. They want to take things a safe, slow, sustainable route. But I completely understand if you’re not somebody who wants to pay that much attention and would rather suffer the consequences of a drastic calorie deficit in order to see more rapid progress, now here are some ways that I see the calorie deficit, or I see recommending a calorie deficit show up in my practice. So the first way is that let’s just say you’re motivated to lose fat.


Emily Field (00:10:20) – You understand the discipline and the bandwidth required for a calorie deficit. You have an established routine for strength training, and you’re able to hit your protein target at least 80% of the time for several weeks. Because remember that muscle tissue is calorically expensive tissue, meaning it would be more advantageous to dump or to ditch that muscle tissue. When fuel stores are low, it requires more energy to maintain muscle mass than body fat. So by strength training and eating enough protein, you’ll better preserve that muscle tissue in the process of losing fat, and that will keep your metabolism higher and help you metabolically. Okay, so the person who’s got a strength training routine and is able to hit their protein target at least 80% of the time, is probably a pretty good candidate for a calorie deficit. The next example is that maybe you’ve never really been on a formal diet, or you’ve never really attempted to lose weight. Maybe you’ve tracked macros, at least for a few weeks and you’ve managed to hit. Your protein target about 80% of the time, you can see that.


Emily Field (00:11:22) – That’s kind of a caveat for me. And where I would see like, the most success out of a deficit is if you can pretty much guarantee that you know how to hit your protein target most of the time. And I see a lot of success for those people who have never really been on a formal diet or never really attempted to lose weight, they can have a very predictable and painless and sustainable fat loss phase through a calorie deficit. I will lastly say another example of where I see this showing up in practice is if you are significantly overweight, maybe 35% or more a body fat and you are not working out, so you’re not doing any formal strength training, you’re not doing any formal cardio. Maybe you’re walking, moving around more in your daily life, but that’s pretty much where your activity ends. You can probably get away with a more moderate to drastic calorie deficit. You know, I’d still love to see you attempt to get some strength training in because of all the advantages it provides. And I’d like to see you have a foundation of macro tracking before you get started in that deficit.


Emily Field (00:12:22) – But if you are hanging out in that higher percent body fat range and wanting to opt in to a calorie deficit, it may be the right time to do that. You know, you might not have to do a maintenance phase first, which is what I typically recommend for most people. You have enough stored energy in your body fat stores to kind of supply your energy throughout the day, so you might not really notice feeling lousy or low energy, especially if you keep that deficit more on the slight to moderate side. Okay, so the next phase we’re going to talk about today is maintenance phase. All right. So maintenance phase is the calories or the amount of energy that your body needs to maintain its current weight. It’s kind of like a break even point where the calories you consume much, the calories that your body burns throughout your daily activities, your bodily functions, keeping your weight ultimately stable. It doesn’t mean that your weight is going to be exactly the same every single day. It will absolutely fluctuate up and down on any given day throughout the week.


Emily Field (00:13:22) – But if you were to average all of your scale weights throughout the week and compare them week to week, there should be no trending data up or down. You’re largely eating enough food to balance out the activity that you are participating in. I would say you are best fit for maintenance and setting your calories at maintenance. If you’re somebody who has reached their desired weight and wants to maintain it, you can definitely benefit from eating maintenance calories. This approach is going to help you prevent both weight gain and weight loss, and it will keep your body composition mostly stable. I will say though, if you’re somebody who wants to see recomposition, so that’s fat loss and lean muscle gain at the same time, especially if you’re somebody who has a higher percent body fat, or if you are just new to strength training with progressive overload, you’ve never really done any structured strength training before. You are probably a candidate to see recomposition even while eating maintenance calories. That said, if you’re somebody who has a longer training history, you’ve been strength training for a number of years.


Emily Field (00:14:28) – You’re no stranger to progressive overload. You’ve been hitting your macros for a number of months or years. This is the place to be. This is the place to live, and you will largely not see much like notable change in your body composition by eating at maintenance. And that’s the goal. That’s totally okay if you are somebody who would consider their fitness and athletic performance particularly important. Maybe you’re an athlete or you’re just highly active. You require consistent energy to support your training and your performance goals. You would probably benefit from eating maintenance calories. This is because it ensures that you have enough fuel to sustain your workouts and recover adequately, without gaining or losing weight. If you’re training for something, if you would consider yourself an athlete, you do not want to be gaining or losing weight during that training period. You want to be largely meeting that expenditure, that activity expenditure with enough fuel. And that’s one way to measure if you are getting enough, if you’re losing a significant amount of weight while trying to optimize your athletic performance, it might be time to raise your calories and rework those maintenance calories to make sure you’re getting enough.


Emily Field (00:15:34) – If you are somebody who’s coming from a period of under eating, you know, on purpose for weight loss or fat loss, you want to preserve muscle mass. So the best place for you is to come back to eating at maintenance calories. This is going to help prevent muscle loss that can occur with prolonged calorie deficits, and in time will lead to that leaner, more toned physique. If you are somebody who is interested in improving their overall metabolic health, eating at maintenance is exactly where you want to be. That’s because you’re providing your body with consistent, stable energy, and that’s going to support proper functioning of all your bodily systems, hormone balance and nutrient absorption. All of these things happen readily when you’re eating enough food. I think a lot of times people forget that the word metabolism quite literally means turning food into energy at a cellular level. And the only way to do that in all of the hundreds and thousands of chemical reactions that have to happen. In order for that to be true, it requires calories.


Emily Field (00:16:36) – It requires nutrients in a wide variety of nutrients, can’t quite possibly ever have ideal metabolic health or improved metabolism if you’re under eating your needs. If you are somebody who does not know how to eat, if you are not on a diet, you’ve maybe felt as though you’ve never spent any time not dieting or chasing weight loss. You are a great candidate for maintenance calories. This is because you need to learn how it feels to eat enough. You want to know how amazing you can feel while eating enough. Some of the things that you’re struggling with might totally disappear. You know that could be conscious or unconscious symptoms of under eating that you don’t even realize. So if you would say to yourself, you know, I actually don’t know how to eat if I don’t have a plan or program to follow. I have quite literally been chasing a specific weight loss goal or fat loss school for as long as I can remember. I urge you to eat at maintenance, even if you’re not at your goal weight or at your ideal body composition.


Emily Field (00:17:39) – And we’ll talk about this later in the episode about reverse dieting. But it’s quite possible that you can get closer to your goals, your weight loss and fat loss. Maybe lean muscle gain goals by moving out of a deficit, whether that’s intentional or unintentional, and giving your body a break by eating at maintenance instead. Okay, so in summary, eating at maintenance is best for people who are craving more balance in their eating pattern. It supports weight maintenance, muscle preservation, athletic performance, and overall metabolic health. It provides a necessary energy for daily activities and bodily functions without leading to weight gain or weight loss. This is where your body thrives. Okay, I cannot stress that enough. This is the phase whether or not you are doing it and tracking diligently or just loosely tracking. This is the phase that you can live in forever. And that is quite literally the goal. Moving from deficit to maintenance to surplus. And, you know, rotating through those phases is completely optional. And it’s discouraged to go from overeating to under eating.


Emily Field (00:18:44) – So, you know, we are trying to get to a place where you are eating enough and you know what that feels like so that you can feel your best. So a little bit of practical application here. The way that I see recommending maintenance calories for somebody, the way I see it most often in practice is, you know, when someone comes to me and they said they’ve never really attempted to gain muscle and strength by using a structured strength training program, but they know that gaining muscle will probably have a profound effect on their metabolism, hormones, and their ideal physique getting closer to their ideal physique. So I would absolutely recommend eating at maintenance calories. You know, if your goal is to gain muscle and strength, to develop your physique, to become more toned and look more athletic, it’s going to especially if you’re somebody who has never eaten at maintenance or never actually tried a structured strength training program, you’re going to have great results. So I see this quite often. Many people are coming to me having years of under eating stints with diets, and they just feel like they don’t, quote, look the part for the amount of activity that they’re doing.


Emily Field (00:19:51) – You see, I hear this all the time. We have multiple podcast episodes on that very subject, but usually it’s because they’re not eating enough or at maintenance and they have not followed a structured string training template with progressive overload there too. I would say another practical application comes when someone comes to me and they have some experience tracking macros, but they haven’t really been able to hit their macros with any sort of consistency. That person simply needs more time and more reps in order to get the hang of it. So a really great place to be is to hang out at maintenance, really nail those basics down. Lay the foundation. Even if you ultimately want to lose fat or to lose weight, we can eventually dip into a fat loss phase or calorie deficit, as I call it throughout this episode, but it’s important to have that foundation first. I would always say that the success of your deficit, the success of your fat loss phase, depends on the amount of time that you put in at maintenance. So it’s never a bad idea to really nail down that foundation and get to a place where you’re averaging about 80%, like 8020 rule of hitting your macros consistently.


Emily Field (00:21:04) – All right, so a surplus phase is best for someone who is interested in providing the best environment to build muscle and strength. Okay. A surplus phase or being in a surplus means that you are consuming extra calories beyond what your body needs to maintain its current weight. It’s like having more money than you need in your budget, and your body will store those extra calories as body fat, or it will build muscle mass. There’s going to be a change in tissue over time, and that is the goal. You are trying to gain weight. We can limit the amount of body fat we gain by making sure that we’re progressively overloading our strength training, and really pushing hard and challenging our body through that strength training activity. But ultimately, you are going to weigh more over the course of this surplus phase. Your muscle weighs something, that tissue weighs something it’s impossible to be. You are absolutely not in a surplus phase. If your weight is staying the same or going down. Definitely need to see in order to like show progress and know that this phase is working.


Emily Field (00:22:11) – Your weight will be trending up even if it’s just ever so slightly week to week. You know, when we compare those averages. So I would say the person is best for a surplus, would be someone who’s trying to build muscle and strength in the most efficient and effective way possible. They are really trying to put on muscle mass. They’re really trying to push past those strength plateaus, and they can often do that fairly easily by eating in a surplus. It’s because the extra calories that are provided to the body provide energy for that muscle growth and that repair. It’s going to facilitate those gains in muscle size and strength, I would say, especially if you’re somebody who already engages in regular strength training or resistance exercises. You’ve been strength training, especially with a great template or program for more than three years. You are probably a great candidate for a surplus phase if you want to gain more muscle, okay, you want to push past that physique limitations that maintenance might give you by eating more. Next, I would say if you are somebody who is underweight or has a naturally fast metabolism, I usually would call these people out when you like.


Emily Field (00:23:21) – No, you are this person. If it takes a lot of effort to keep weight on you, if you get sick or you slack off with your macro tracking, you will probably lose weight. It’s it’s tough for you to keep weight on. Okay, so if you are that person, you might benefit from being in a purposeful surplus phase to help you reach a healthy weight or a higher, maybe more desirable body composition. Because consuming more energy will allow you to build more tissue that that be body fat tissue or muscle mass tissue, which may make it easier for you to hold on to that weight. If you quote slack off or you get sick, or you want essentially a little bit more cushion, there is room for error. Another person that would probably benefit from a surplus phase or, you know, at least set their macros in a surplus for a certain amount of time is somebody who would consider themselves an athlete and you’re participating in a high intensity or endurance sport, such as marathon running, cycling, or even competitive swimming.


Emily Field (00:24:22) – Those people, those athletes, have a high energy expenditure, so a surplus phase can provide that extra energy needed to support that intense training and recovery from that training. I would say that your performance improvements should absolutely trend up if you are consuming more fuel. And again, I mentioned this before, if you’re tracking your weight or tracking your body composition throughout this training period, it would absolutely be in your best interest to see that weight be stable, to know that you are meeting your needs enough. But beyond that, tracking stronger, faster, fitter in all those different ways, whether that be time trials, distance recovery, things like that, that can absolutely be measured to know that you’re consuming enough fuel to support your energy expenditure. Okay, to summarize, a surplus phase is probably best for those people who are aiming to build muscle, improve athletic performance, or address under weight concerns. It’s important to properly plan a surplus phase and monitor your progress in order to ensure that weight gain is primarily consisting of lean muscle mass gain rather than excess body fat gain.


Emily Field (00:25:31) – But understand that any time you overconsume your calorie needs, especially for a extended period of time, like months and months, there is going to be some body fat that you gain on your frame. It’s just the price you pay to gain that muscle and it is usually very much worth it. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about how to prevent that body fat gain and, you know, minimize that body fat gain while gaining muscle during a surplus phase. It’s just not the episode for that. But I will say that there is a very strong recommendation here to challenge yourself. To a great strength training program to find yourself a great template, a great coach. A great program that has you pushing your weights very much. Challenging your body while eating those extra calories is really going to go to great use, and you can really navigate those calories towards building muscle as your body breaks down and tries to repair and build that muscle to meet the challenge that you’re giving it, and minimize that body fat gain that you could experience during a surplus.


Emily Field (00:26:29) – All right. Now we are on to our last phase that you could pick for your macros. And that is the reverse phase okay. So this is probably very foreign to most listeners. So I’m going to try to break it down as simply as possible. And I’ll start by defining what reverse diet or reverse phase is. In simple terms, it’s a structured method of gradually increasing the amount of food that you eat after a period of eating less, like after a diet. The goal is to help your body adjust to eating more calories again without gaining a lot of weight back quickly. It’s like slowly turning up the volume on your food intake, giving your body time to get used to eating more without feeling overwhelmed or gaining excess fat. Usually, this phase is sandwiched between the end of a deficit, where you’re eating less than what your body needs, and returning to maintenance where you’re eating as much as your body needs or your body thrives. This phase is likely what’s been missing from your previous dieting attempts. If you’re somebody who has had experience losing ten, 20, £30 in the past but haven’t been able to maintain that weight loss, it’s likely because maybe that deficit was too restrictive, too drastic, and when you went back to your old eating habits, but you gained weight back very quickly.


Emily Field (00:27:45) – Now, if there was an alternative here, a space in between ending that diet and moving back up to where your body thrives, that space is called a reverse diet. We can do the reverse diet. The intention is to be pretty methodical and structured about it, so you’re not overnight rebounding back to your old habits. And I know this doesn’t likely happen in a day. It likely happens over a course of a couple days or a couple of weeks. I’m talking about the person who wasn’t able to maintain their results long term. It likely happens over the course of a couple of weeks. When you’re a little more loose with your food intake, you change your workout habits, you know, in general just over consuming your needs. But if we are able to take out that randomness and maybe be a little bit more structured and methodical about how we increase our calories, keep some tabs on it, it’s more likely that you’re going to maintain the results that you experience through a calorie deficit or fat loss phase.


Emily Field (00:28:40) – And so that brings me to my point of who would benefit from a reverse diet phase. And you know, you can’t live in a diet forever. You can’t live in a deficit forever, but you want to maintain the results that you’ve achieved through your fat loss phase or calorie deficit. Reverse dieting is the bridge. It’s the bridge over that gap between your low calorie targets that you had at the end of your deficit and your higher maintenance calories. I will say the person who has experienced some metabolic adaptation during a prolonged calorie deficit, their metabolism has slowed down. That person is going to benefit from doing a reverse diet to restore metabolic rate and prevent rapid weight gain. You might be asking yourself, how would I know if I’ve experienced some metabolic adaptation? And I would say, you know, one of the biggest telltale signs is that you’ve been attempting to lose weight and you are not successful. You are trying your hardest to put yourself in a calorie deficit, and it’s not working. Maybe you’ve lost a lot of weight, so your metabolism has slowed down.


Emily Field (00:29:41) – It’s a typical phenomenon during a deficit, your metabolism is going to change, and alter is going to slow down to meet the low energy intake that you are consuming. So know that that’s normal. But usually we can move through those plateaus by dropping calories about 5%. So if you’re at a point, though, that doesn’t feel feasible to drop your calories any lower. It just feels like you will be really, really racking your brain and really, really pulling on that willpower and discipline in order to make that happen. A reverse diet can help speed up your metabolism, restore that hormonal function, and kind of give you that mental break that you need before you start to attempt weight loss or fat loss. Again, I can’t stress enough that reverse dieting can give you that mental break that you need and help you set up for a future fat loss phase later on. So if you especially find yourself constantly preoccupied with food, you have that food obsession. You have that food chatter. Chances are you’re going to lose a grip on the success that you’ve experienced through your deficit, and we probably need to pause and reverse diet back up to maintenance, give your body a bit of a break, and then attempt another calorie deficit in the future.


Emily Field (00:30:55) – A reverse diet would be great for someone who oscillates between under eating and overeating, or rather, dieting and binging. Which can cause yo yo weight loss and gain over time. Yo yo dieting can absolutely mess with your metabolism and raise the risk of binge eating. When you swing from eating too little to too much, you increase your chances of losing muscle. And muscle drives our metabolism. So if you’re losing muscle, you’re slowing down your metabolism, and then you’re likely to gain body fat during those periods of time where you’re eating more than what your body needs. Okay, so losing weight, regardless of where that weight comes from, muscle or fat, means you require less calories. There’s simply less mass. There’s less of you that requires calories. So when you overeat later, especially if you don’t really have like a handle on how much you’re eating, you’re not tracking, you’re kind of just eating whatever. You’re likely to gain body fat, especially if that overeating pattern lasts more than a week. So reverse dieting can help with this because it can speed up your metabolism.


Emily Field (00:31:56) – It is essentially turning up the volume on the calories that you can handle. Okay, it’s helping to restore your hormones. It helps to regulate your hunger, which can ultimately prevent that yo-yo cycle that you’ve been in, that one where you oscillate between under eating your needs, losing weight, and overeating your needs, and gaining weight. Next, I would say someone who is best fit for a reverse phase is someone in the fitness community who has been in a calorie deficit for physique goals, but now they’re transitioning to more like athletic performance goals. They know that they need to replenish energy stores and support muscle growth, support you know, cardiovascular health and performance without gaining excessive fat. So getting back up to your new maintenance. So those maintenance needs for all that higher activity is essential. So doing a reverse diet to bridge that gap between maybe what you were eating for, maybe more aesthetic or physique driven goal and maybe more performance based goal is a great way to do that. If you are someone who prioritizes long term health and sustainability of your nutrition approach, you may benefit from reverse dieting to prevent the negative effects that come with rapid weight regain and yo yo dieting.


Emily Field (00:33:11) – I see this a lot where somebody has finally come to the light and they want to embrace eating enough. They want to maybe correct some of the metabolic adaptations and the hormonal adaptations that have come from, you know, years of dieting or yo-yoing with their weight, starting with a reverse diet and increasing your calories up and up and up can be one of the best ways that you can really set the stage for much better metabolic health long term. The person who is struggling with the psychological aspects of transitioning from a calorie restricted diet to a higher calorie intake will probably benefit from a reverse diet as well. That reverse phase can really be helpful to ease anxiety and promote a healthier relationship with food. We say this all the time to clients where you put your attention grows, and during a deficit, your attention is paid a lot towards the really minute details in your food. You’re paying much more attention to what your body looks like. You’re starting to become a little bit more preoccupied with food. It’s a normal thing, a normal phenomenon that happens when you are under eating or needs.


Emily Field (00:34:18) – So if you are, you know, stressed or have anxiety around moving your calories up, especially after they’re experiencing some fat loss benefits, it can be really, really helpful to take a very structured and methodical approach to bridging that gap through a reverse diet. It can absolutely help improve that relationship with food and body because by having more fuel, I would say your brain functions a lot better. So you’re able to have that more cognitive dissonance. You’re able to make decisions a little bit easier. Everything kind of comes into clearer focus, and your lens widens a little bit more when that fuel is adequate. And that can happen over the course of several weeks, as little as a couple of weeks, as many as several weeks. This just kind of depends on how low your calories are at the end of a diet, and how high your maintenance calories actually are. But rest assured that that bridge that reverse diet gap each week you’re going to feel better and better coming out of those deficit calories. So in summary, you should choose a reverse diet phase if you are looking to transition from that period of calorie restriction to a higher calorie intake, like maintenance in a gradual and controlled manner.


Emily Field (00:35:28) – So in summary, a reverse diet phase is for you. This is where you should start your macros or move your macros. If you are somebody looking to transition from a period of calorie restriction to higher calorie intake, like maintenance in a gradual and controlled manner, minimizing the negative metabolic risks and psychological effects that dieting can have on your body. Now, the practical application, or where this reverse diet shows up in practice is usually when I hear someone say they’ve tried everything to lose weight and each attempt seems to be more and more restrictive, or they seem to be feeling less and less successful with each attempt. Like, if you can’t confidently say you’ve ever eaten up to your calorie or macro needs at maintenance and you’ve at least attempted to diet for a very prolonged periods of time, you would probably be a great candidate for reverse dieting. You know that gradual increase of calories over time can be mentally and physically easier than just jumping right into maintenance overnight. And that might be the recommendation of a lot of coaches.


Emily Field (00:36:32) – Or you might download my DIY macros guide and learn that you know what your maintenance calories actually might be. And when you compare that to what you’ve been eating recently, it’s so far off. Like the thought of eating up to those calories is really shocking and scary. So a reverse diet like simply bridging the gap by methodically increasing your calories 150 calories, you know, every two weeks or so can be a really great way to start bridging that gap and to improve your metabolism and start feeling better. Another place that I see this very commonly is when someone says their goals have shifted from physique driven to fitness driven. So you know that the calories it takes to maintain a linear physique are not supportive of a highly active lifestyle or training for a competition. Increasing calories slowly over time can allow your metabolism, which is your digestion, your absorption, turning food into energy you know, allowing your body to catch up to those demands that you’re starting to put on it can be a really helpful phase for you. In this episode of Makers Made Easy, we explored the critical question of what should my goal be when it comes to macro phases? We talked about the deficit, maintenance surplus and reverse dieting phases, and we uncovered the nuanced considerations behind each.


Emily Field (00:37:49) – The deficit phase is a powerful tool for those who want to lose weight or reduce body fat. While maintenance is probably the most balanced approach to eating, it’s best for weight maintenance and for muscle preservation. On the other hand, the surplus phase offers an avenue for muscle growth and strength gains, while the reverse diet phase serves as a strategic transition from calorie restriction to a higher calorie intake. By understanding the unique advantages and considerations of each phase, you’ve gained insight into choosing the right goal to align with your health, fitness, and lifestyle objectives. Thank you so much for listening to the Macros Made Easy podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, take a screenshot of the one you’re listening to right now to share it on your Instagram Stories and tag me @emilyfieldRD so that more people can find this podcast and learn how to use a macros approach in a stress free way. If you love the podcast, head over to iTunes and leave me a rating and a review. Remember, you can always find more free health and nutrition content on Instagram and on my website at emilyfieldrd.com.


Emily Field (00:38:52) – Thanks for listening and I’ll catch you on the next episode.

Ready to optimize your nutrition and achieve sustainable results?

Whether you’re aiming for fat loss, muscle gain, or metabolic balance, understanding what your goal is and how to structure your nutrition to get there is critical.

That’s why in this episode, I’m taking you on a deep dive into the world of macro phases. I’ll walk you through what each macro phase is, including: the deficit phase for weight loss, the maintenance phase for muscle preservation and metabolic health, the surplus phase for muscle building, and the reverse dieting phase for post-dieting metabolism support. I’ll also share my insights on how to choose the right phase for you and the approach needed to see results.

If  you’re looking to shed some pounds, maintain your current physique, bulk up with muscle, or find balance after dieting, I’ve got you covered. Join me to learn more about:

the deficit phase

Embarking on a deficit phase means consuming fewer calories than your body needs, which is a strategy primarily used for weight loss or fat loss. It’s essential to approach this phase with discipline and focus, as it requires accurate tracking and managing expectations around hunger, cravings, and energy levels.

when to consider a calorie deficit

A calorie deficit is suitable for those with specific weight loss goals or those looking to improve body composition by decreasing body fat percentage. If you have an established strength training routine and consistently hit your protein target at least 80% of the time, a deficit phase can be a predictable and sustainable way to achieve fat loss. 

Even if you’ve never tried formal dieting but can hit your protein targets, or if you have a higher body fat percentage without a formal exercise routine, a moderate to drastic calorie deficit could be beneficial.

the balance between drastic and slight deficits

It’s important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of drastic versus slight calorie deficits. While a drastic deficit may lead to quicker weight loss, it can also result in muscle loss and isn’t sustainable long-term. A slight deficit, on the other hand, is more sustainable and better for muscle preservation.

the maintenance phase

The maintenance phase is all about consuming enough calories to maintain your current weight. This phase supports muscle preservation, athletic performance, and overall metabolic health. It’s ideal for those who have reached their desired weight and want to maintain it, as well as for individuals looking to improve metabolic health and understand what it feels like to eat enough.

who should focus on a maintenance phase?

If you’ve experienced years of under-eating or feel that your physical appearance doesn’t reflect your activity level, maintenance calories can help. Additionally, if you’re somewhat experienced with tracking macros but struggle to hit them consistently, spending more time at maintenance can provide the practice needed before considering a deficit phase.

the surplus phase

For those aiming to put on muscle mass and push past strength plateaus, the surplus phase is key. This involves consuming extra calories beyond what your body needs to maintain its current weight. Regular strength training or resistance exercise participants, as well as individuals who are underweight or have a fast metabolism, may find a surplus phase particularly beneficial for muscle growth and repair.

the benefits of a purposeful surplus

A purposeful surplus phase can support muscle and tissue growth, aiding in weight maintenance and athletic performance improvements for those who struggle to maintain weight or are involved in high-intensity or endurance sports.

the reverse phase

The reverse phase is a structured method of gradually increasing food intake after a period of eating less, such as after a diet. It’s designed to help the body adjust to a higher calorie intake without rapid weight gain, which is especially beneficial for those who have experienced metabolic adaptation during a prolonged calorie deficit.

who should consider a reverse dieting phase

If you’ve struggled with yo-yo dieting or are transitioning from a calorie-restricted diet to a higher calorie intake for athletic performance goals, reverse dieting can bridge the gap and support muscle growth and cardiovascular health. It’s a gradual and controlled approach that can prevent the negative effects of rapid weight regain and promote a healthier relationship with food.

Each macro phase has its benefits and considerations, and it’s important to choose the one that aligns with your individual goals and circumstances. Whether you’re looking to lose fat, maintain your current weight, build muscle, or transition from a calorie-restricted diet, understanding these phases can empower you to make informed decisions about your nutrition.

Remember, nutrition is not one-size-fits-all, and by tailoring your approach to your unique needs, you can achieve sustainable, long-term results.


  • DIY Macros Guide – Follow this free guide to set your own macros so you can start eating to your needs ASAP!

  • Custom Macro Calculation – No more second guessing those macro numbers or being confused by online calculators. Get personalized macro targets that you can trust. We’ll create your protein, fat, and carbohydrate targets, calorie goals, and give you bigger picture health recommendations for real results. To learn more, click the link or hop over to Instagram and DM me the abbreviation “CMC”!


  • Macros Made Easy – Get on the waitlist to learn when we enroll next and qualify for exclusive bonuses. This is a professional led, self-paced online course that teaches you how to track macros—the stress-free way. Learn how to eat for your unique needs so you can be in the driver’s seat of how you look, feel and perform without relying on a restrictive diet plan ever again.


  • Eat to Lean Coaching – If you’ve mastered the basics of macros, but there’s still room for more clarity and personalization for your particular goals, join us in Eat to Lean Coaching! In this group coaching program you’ll learn nutrition, exercise and mindset changes alongside other women who are in your exact shoes.

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