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Metabolic Confusion: What It Is and How to Use It to Meet Your Goals
Is the metabolic confusion diet leaving you feeling — confused?
You're not alone.
With so much misinformation and confusion surrounding nutrition and what seems to be a new diet coming out of the woodwork every week, it can be hard to keep up.
In short, the metabolic confusion diet is a style of eating that involves alternating your daily calorie intake to “trick” your metabolism into speeding up.
But does it work? Is it safe?
Let's find out...
WHAT IS METABOLIC CONFUSION?
Consistently eating fewer calories than your body needs can cause your metabolism to slow down and increase your appetite, making weight loss and even weight maintenance very challenging.
Metabolic confusion refers to the concept of alternating your daily calorie intake between high and low-calorie days or periods to “confuse” your metabolism. According to studies, it may keep your resting metabolic rate (RMR) at higher levels and your appetite suppressed, which can aid in fat burn and promote weight loss.
METABOLIC CONFUSION DIET? CALORIE SHIFTING DIET? WHAT ARE THEY?
The metabolic confusion diet is also known as the calorie shifting or calorie cycling diet.
There are no set dietary guidelines or specific foods a person should eat when following the metabolic confusion diet.
The number of calories consumed on high and low-calorie days varies depending on a person’s nutritional needs. However, the low-calorie days generally are limited to fewer than 1,200 calories, while the high-calorie days are around 2,000 calories. Protein intake typically stays the same on low and high-calorie days.
Depending on personal preference, you may choose to cycle between high and low-calorie days every other day, weekly, or monthly.
One common approach is to split your week into high and low-calorie days. For example, you may eat normally for five days each week, designating the remaining two days as low-calorie days.
Another popular option is to follow a two-week cycle of 11 low-calorie days followed by three higher-calorie days.
While the metabolic confusion diet is still restrictive, it allows for more flexibility than many other diets commonly recommended.
CALORIE CYCLING DIET VS. CARB CYCLING DIET
Some individuals who use the metabolic confusion technique will alternate the number of carbs consumed each day instead of calories to reach their health and fitness goals.
During carb cycling, fat and protein intake generally stays the same. For example, a person may cycle between two days of moderate carb intake, four days of low carb intake, and then one day of high carb intake.
The theory behind the carb cycling diet is that by reducing your carbohydrate intake, your body will begin to burn fat for energy, which may promote fat loss and improve muscle definition.
Anecdotally, cycling your carb intake may help you lose weight or break through a weight loss plateau. However, there is no strong evidence to suggest carb cycling is more or less effective for weight loss than other eating patterns.
DOES IT HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT?
At this time, no solid scientific evidence suggests we can “trick” our metabolism. However, some experts believe that taking breaks from consistent calorie deprivation may help prevent metabolic responses that make weight loss difficult.
Additionally, the calorie-shifting diet encourages regular exercise and calorie restriction, which may aid in weight loss.
One 2014 study compared calorie shifting to calorie restriction over 42 days. One group consumed roughly 1,200 calories each day. In contrast, the other group followed a calorie-shifting diet that consisted of 11 low-calorie days that averaged around 1,400 calories per day, followed by three days of higher-calorie days, which averaged about 2,000 calories per day.
Researchers found that the RMR of participants who followed the calorie-shifting diet remained unchanged throughout the study. However, those in the calorie restriction group experienced a significant decrease in RMR.
While both groups lost weight overall, the calorie-shifting group reported less hunger and lost significantly more weight. The calorie cycling group also had greater adherence to the diet than those in the calorie restriction group. This suggests that it may be easier for people to stick with than traditional calorie-restriction diets.
SIMPLE VS. COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
In addition to losing weight, a person who follows the metabolic confusion diet may be more likely to stick to the diet longer and have better control of their appetite.
The main benefit of the metabolic confusion diet is flexibility. Although the eating plan is still somewhat restrictive, you are not required to restrict food groups or certain foods. Additionally, you can decide the foods you eat and the days you want to be low-calorie days. This makes it easier to stick with on the weekends and special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays.
Individuals who follow the metabolic confusion diet may experience greater satiety and have better control over their appetite.
For example, a long-term diet consisting of 1,200 calories per day is far too low for most people and can result in extreme hunger, muscle cramps, dizziness, and fatigue. What’s more, it can lead to overeating, which can set you up for failure if long-term weight loss is your goal.
Taking a break from very low-calorie days and allowing yourself more flexibility in your food choices every so often can prevent overeating and feelings of deprivation.
Although the metabolic confusion diet has many potential benefits, it also has several potential downfalls.
The metabolic confusion diet only encourages calorie restriction and does not specify which foods or food groups should be consumed. For instance, a person could consume pizza, chips, and cookies for every meal and technically still be following the diet as long as they stay within their allotted calories for the day.
If a person does not consume a variety of nutrient-rich foods on this diet, they may experience nutrient deficiencies, muscle loss, fatigue, and more.
Currently, there are very few studies on the metabolic confusion diet. While research appears promising, we still need long-term studies to determine the benefits and potential risks of the metabolic confusion diet versus other eating styles.
Furthermore, you can’t simply “trick” your body into increasing the number of calories it burns each day. Your body is very intelligent and can adapt to the amount of calories you consume each day.
Although it is more flexible than many traditional calorie-restricted diets, the metabolic confusion diet is still a diet. If you lose weight on the metabolic confusion diet, you will likely need to continue those eating patterns long-term to maintain the weight loss.
Unless you frequently include high-calorie days, the metabolic confusion diet may be difficult to sustain long-term because it is still low in calories.
While the metabolic confusion diet may benefit some individuals, it is not for everyone. There is no single best strategy for fat loss.
However, most experts agree that avoiding overly restrictive diets is key to losing body fat in a sustainable manner.
Instead, create a modest calorie deficit by finding out how many calories you need each day to maintain your current weight, then reduce that number by around 500 calories.
To avoid feelings of hunger or deprivation when following a reduced-calorie diet, focus on eating a high-protein diet that includes lean proteins, such as legumes, beans, wild-caught fish and chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Avoid processed foods, sugary beverages, and refined carbohydrates, which typically lack many essential nutrients.
Studies show that high-protein diets can increase satiety and reduce fat mass. It can also help preserve muscle mass and metabolism during periods of weight loss.
When it comes to exercise, combining resistance training and cardio into your exercise routine can help improve your body composition while promoting fat loss.
In addition to promoting the loss of body fat, studies suggest that resistance training may help increase your resting metabolic rate by increasing lean muscle mass.
If you're looking for more tips, read our Fat Loss Cheat Sheet.
The metabolic confusion diet plan, also known as the calorie shifting or calorie cycling diet, is an eating style that involves alternating between low-calorie and high-calorie intake periods.
It may be easier to stick with the metabolic confusion diet than a traditional calorie restricted diet because it allows room to eat more calories every few days. However, there’s no solid research to suggest that it will result in significant long-term health benefits.
To achieve sustainable fat loss, we suggest eating at a modest calorie deficit, consuming more whole foods, prioritizing protein, participating in regular resistance training, and getting enough sleep.
The number of calories you need will vary depending on your gender, body weight, age, and activity level.
If you are unsure how many calories you need each day or whether you may benefit from the metabolic confusion diet, consider meeting with a registered dietitian.