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Welcome to my review of the metabolic confusion diet.
As a Registered Dietitian and weight loss expert, I’ve tried different approaches to help my clients get results. After all, we all have different bodies, genetics, lifestyles, and more.
One diet I’m asked about often is the metabolic confusion diet.
So, what is the metabolic confusion diet?
The metabolic confusion diet, or calorie-shifting, is a popular weight loss diet where you alternate between high-calorie days (2,000 calories) and low-calorie days (1,200 calories).
This might prevent the metabolism from adapting to a low-calorie diet by making it slower, resulting in slower weight loss. Plus, by having higher calorie days, you are less likely to feel hungry and deprived.
However, if you choose the wrong calorie sources, this diet might cause more harm than good.
In this article, we’ll go over all things concerning the metabolic confusion diet. We’ll talk about the pros, cons, how to do it, and most importantly, how to do it effectively.
So, keep reading if you want to find out how I’ve used it during my consultations to help my clients achieve their weight loss goals.
What is the metabolic confusion diet?
The metabolic confusion diet, also known as calorie cycling or calorie shifting, is a diet or eating pattern that lets you alternate between a high-calorie meal plan and a low-calorie meal plan.
The goal of this diet plan is to create some “confusion” in the metabolism. Since you give it different calories some days, it needs to work harder to manage those calories.
In other words, it looks to keep your metabolism “on its toes” so it doesn’t metabolically adapt to a low-calorie diet. This may result in weight loss.
There is no set pattern to determine when you should be alternating. Some people do low-calorie days every other day, while others follow a low-calorie diet for five days followed by two days of a high-calorie diet.
To make things easier to follow, some people rely on intermittent fasting to prevent hunger during low-calorie days.
Evidence suggests there is some long-term weight loss following this diet since it gives people some freedom by allowing weekly breaks.
How does the metabolic confusion diet work?
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There are no set rules when it comes to the metabolic confusion diet.
For example, you might follow a low-calorie diet for 11 days, followed by four days of a high-calorie diet. Or, you can follow a low-calorie diet every other day.
The same applies to the calories it follows. There are no set guidelines.
However, most people recommend doing a 1,200-calorie diet on low days, and a 2,000-calorie diet on high days.
What about exercise?
Regarding exercise, there are no guidelines on how much or if you should do it.
While it is encouraged to do some activity, it is not a requirement to follow this diet.
However, as a Registered Dietitian, I always recommend doing some activity for the general health benefits.
Remember, weight loss is only one of the benefits of exercise. It can also improve heart health and boost mood.
Does metabolic confusion help with weight loss?
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It seems likely the metabolic confusion diet can aid in weight loss. After all, it promotes a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than the body needs).
However, there is something I would like to point out.
While you might not be able to “confuse” the body (the body is smarter than that), it can help prevent metabolic adaptation.
Metabolic adaptation is when the body adapts to a new set of calories.
When you’re following a low-calorie diet, if the body doesn’t receive enough to support basic bodily functions (basal metabolic rate or BMR), it will slow down the metabolism to thrive with the few calories it has.
This makes weight loss harder since you need to reduce even more calories to help you lose weight.
However, research shows that having different calorie days prevents this from happening.
A study compared a traditional caloric restriction against an alternating diet approach.
One group consumed around 1,200 calories per day. The other group followed a low-calorie diet (1,300-1,400 calories) for 11 days, followed by a three-day self-select diet.
While there was a greater weight loss in the calorie restriction group (3.4 kg vs. 2.1 kg of fat mass), participants had their metabolism lowered by an average of 100 calories. Those in the alternating group didn’t have any effect on their metabolism.
It’s important to point out that the alternating calorie group didn’t have as severe calorie restrictions as the other group. That’s something which we are going to talk about later in the article.
So, it seems following a low-calorie diet with a couple of days of a high-calorie diet seems to reduce the negative effects a calorie restriction diet might produce.
Is it safe to follow?
The diet might be safe to follow if you don’t have any underlying conditions. With that said, make sure you always consult a doctor first before making any changes to your diet.
If you want to follow a low-calorie diet, it’s always better to do it under professional supervision. A low-calorie diet might increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, muscle loss, and gallstones.
Does it work?
Yes, the metabolic confusion diet works because you are in a caloric deficit.
It might be a better option than having cheat days since you have controlled guidance. On cheat days, most people lose control and end up eating more than they should.
And, in the end, you obtain weight loss by the average caloric intake you have during the set time.
So, if you end up consuming more calories in one day than you wouldn’t have in a week, you are more likely to gain weight even if you follow low-calorie days.
Metabolic Confusion Diet Meal Plan
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Calorie cycling means you consume different calories on set days.
For example, on low-calorie days, you might eat 1,200 calories. However, on higher-calorie days, you eat 2,000 calories.
On low-calorie days, make sure you have a good intake of non-starchy vegetables. They are going to help you feel fuller, won’t have an impact on your caloric intake, and will provide essential nutrients to avoid nutrient deficiency.
When you choose to follow the low or the high-calorie days depends on your lifestyle.
Here are some examples of how you can distribute them:
Option A (Alternating)
- Monday: Low-calorie
- Tuesday: High-calorie
- Wednesday: Low-calorie
- Thursday: High-calorie
- Friday: Low-calorie
- Saturday: High-calorie
- Sunday: Low-calorie
Option B (Weekend)
- Monday: Low-calorie
- Tuesday: Low-calorie
- Wednesday: Low-calorie
- Thursday: Low-calorie
- Friday: Low-calorie
- Saturday: High-calorie
- Sunday: High-calorie
This option gives you more freedom over the weekend. It could be ideal for those who have a busy social life.
Option C (Training Days)
You can also modify the diet based on your training days.
For example, on harder training days, opt for a high-calorie diet. When doing a rest day or low-impact exercise, opt for a low-calorie diet.
You could also follow a low-calorie diet for 11 days, followed by a three-day high-calorie diet.
Metabolic Confusion Sample Meal Plan: Alternating Days
Now that you know your options, here’s an example of an alternating meal plan to help you get started.
|2 slices of whole wheat bread2 eggs and 1 slice low-fat cheese¼ avocado
|1 medium apple2 teaspoons peanut butter
|⅔ cup of brown rice3 oz of chicken2 cups of green salad1 teaspoon olive oil for dressing
|½ cup pasta3 oz low-fat ground beef1 cup cooked vegetables1 tbsp nuts
|1 cup sweet potato1 cup of raspberries3 eggs and 2 slices of low fat-cheese¼ avocado
|½ cup cooked oatmeal 1 medium apple1 scoop of protein powder2 tsp peanut butter
|1 cup mashed potatoes5 oz salmon 2 cups green salad
|1 cup quinoa 5 oz beef1 cup cooked vegetables2 tsp olive oil
|1 cup of low-fat Greek yogurt1 cup of berries1 tbsp chia seeds
|1 small banana1 tbsp almonds
|1 medium whole grain pita bread3 oz low-fat turkey1 cup green salad 1 tsp mayo
|½ cup sweet potatoes3 oz tilapia 1 cup cooked broccoli 1 tsp butter
|½ cup oatmeal1 small banana1 egg½ scoop protein Vanilla extract Cinnamon 1 tsp chia seeds(oatmeal pancakes)
|¼ cup humus1 cup carrot sticks1 medium apple 2 low-fat string cheese
|Whole wheat bun5 oz low-fat ground turkey1 tsp mayo Green salad on the side
|1 cup of pasta5 oz of grilled chicken2 tbsp pesto1 cup cooked vegetables
|1 cup of berries1 scoop protein powder1 cup almond milk (protein shake)
|1 cup celery sticks2 teaspoons almond butter
|½ cup lentils3 oz of grilled chicken2 cups of green salad1 teaspoon dressing
|1 slice of whole grain toast½ avocado2 poached eggs1 teaspoon feta cheese
|2 slices whole grain bread4 teaspoons peanut butter3 eggs + 1 tbsp parmesan cheese *Add sugar-free jello
|1 cup mango 2 tbsp almonds1 serving Greek yogurt
|1 cup chickpeas2 cups green salad4 oz pork 1 teaspoon olive oil
|1 cup rice noodles1 cup tofu1 teaspoon sesame seed oilSoy sauce, garlic, and ginger1 cup of cooked vegetables
|½ cup cooked oatmeal 1 cup almond milk1 cup berries1 scoop protein powder
|½ cup green vegetables1 tbsp chia seeds½ cup pineapple(green smoothie)
|One medium tortilla2 tsp fried beans2 oz chicken 1 oz low-fat cheese1 cup of green salad¼ avocado (quesadillas)
|⅓ cup corn 3 oz beef1 cup cooked zucchini 1 tsp butter
What are the benefits of the metabolic confusion diet?
Here’s a summary of the potential benefits:
- More controlled hunger levels, which makes weight loss easier to achieve.
- Allows you to have more flexibility. For example, you can enjoy birthdays, holidays, or weekends.
- Prevents metabolic adaptation.
- Might result in more sustainable results since you might be more focused on following the diet plan long-term.
Who should consider trying this diet?
Anyone who struggles with weight loss can follow this meal plan. It is ideal for those who lead an active social lifestyle and need some “freedom” on certain days without going overboard.
It can also be an excellent strategy for those who are at a plateau (the weight is the same for several weeks). It might give you that boost to get things moving again.
Finally, people who have an endomorph body type, meaning they are prone to fat accumulation, can give a metabolic jolt to achieve weight loss.
Drawbacks of the Metabolic Confusion Diet
Now, while there are several benefits to the metabolic confusion diet, here’s what to watch out for:
- It might be hard to follow a 1,200-calorie diet. People might experience hunger, fatigue, and poor mood.
- The diet doesn’t consider individual needs. So, you might be consuming fewer calories than you need, which can result in nutrient deficiency and can have an impact on the metabolism.
- There is not a lot of research regarding the benefits or drawbacks of alternating caloric intake.
Who Should NOT Consider Trying This Diet
People with an underlying condition like heart disease, diabetes, gallbladder problems, or any other disease should not be following this meal plan.
As mentioned before, make sure you consult with your doctor before you attempt this diet.
A Dietitian’s Recommendation
I cannot finish this article without sharing my experience using this approach during consultations.
During my years as a Registered Dietitian, I’ve found that this is a good way for people to let loose a little bit during the weekends or even on certain weekdays.
But instead of doing a regular 1,200-calorie diet on a low-calorie day, and a 2,000-calorie diet on the high-calorie days, I adjust it based on the person’s weight, height, age, sex, and activity levels.
So, how many calories should you have?
On low-calorie diets, I give my clients the calories for the basal metabolic rate. To find out how many calories you need, you can use a BMR calculator. For example, if you have a BMR of 1,350 calories, this is how much you’d eat on low-calorie days.
I never go below the BMR since that is where you might start to see changes in the metabolism.
On the high-calorie days, I use the calories for their maintenance weight. In this case, use a calorie calculator. For example, if you need 2,500 calories to maintain your weight, make that your target for the high-calorie days.
If I want to make a slight restriction on the high-calorie days, I remove 10% of the maintenance calories. For example, in the case stated above, it would mean consuming 2,250 calories on high-calorie days.
I’ve found this approach to be more personalized, with less impact on the metabolism, and it makes it easier to follow.
The metabolic confusion diet is a good approach to prevent the metabolism from slowing down due to a low-calorie intake.
It also allows people to have higher calorie days so they don’t feel so deprived and can let loose.
However, be careful about following a general template. For instance, eating 1,200 calories on low-calorie days and 2,000 calories on high-calorie days isn’t right for everyone. It might be too restrictive for some people, and it can increase the risk of nutrient deficiency.
So, if you’re going to follow this approach, make sure to tailor the calories based on your age, weight, height, and activity levels.
Have you tried the metabolic confusion diet? Let me know what you think of it in the comments.