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June 29, 2022
Feeling confused about metabolic confusion? With new diets and eating trends constantly rolling out, it can be hard to follow them and how they work. But the metabolic confusion diet plan follows a simple premise, creates more dieting flexibility, and can help you lose weight.
After reading this article, you’ll understand metabolic confusion and have the information you need to determine whether it’s a good plan for you.
Metabolic confusion is a diet that puts a new spin on calorie counting. Rather than sticking to a daily calorie goal for weight loss, you alternate between high and low-calorie days. Metabolic confusion, also known as calorie cycling, follows the same general guidelines of calorie restriction, fewer calories in and more calories out.
But it does so in a way that enables you to have more freedom a few days each week. The best way to do it is to determine how many calories you need weekly for weight loss and divvy them up, creating low and high calories days.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’ve determined that 1,600 calories, or 11,200 per week, is your ideal daily intake for weight loss.
Following metabolic confusion, you could take your weekly allotment of 11,200 into two higher calorie days of 2,100 calories each day, leaving 7,000 for the other 5, equating to 1,400 per day.
You may be wondering what the difference is between calorie counting and metabolic confusion, aside from making you do some math and count different calorie amounts on various days.
The premise is that it keeps your metabolism running efficiently, helping you avoid the dreaded weight loss plateau many dieters face. This portion of metabolic confusion takes on similarities to intermittent fasting, in which a dieter alternates between eating and not eating, following one of several different methods and schedules.
Research shows that intermittent fasting works for your metabolism’s health and assists with weight loss1. And when paired with fasted cardio, the dieting method can even further reduce your daily caloric intake. The case for metabolic confusion is even stronger than intermittent fasting, as you aren’t going periods without eating. You have low calorie intake some days and higher calorie intake on others.
That brings us to another benefit of calorie cycling: Higher calorie days give dieters more wiggle room throughout their week by providing extra calories for more food intake. With 2-3 days of higher calories, you can go out to dinner with friends without stressing about eating over your 1,600 daily allotments or look forward to a big dinner one night a week without feeling guilty. Now we wouldn't recommend splurging on a cheat meal the way The Rock does, but it definitely provides you some additional eating freedom.
The trade-off is that you’ll have several days throughout the week in which you’re eating significantly less, but never less than 1,200 a day. Dropping below 1,200 is not good for you, your metabolism, or your muscle.
Carb cycling is not the same as metabolic confusion but uses the same principle, offering a different take on the diet plan. The general idea is still the same, but rather than tracking calories, you’ll rotate between low--carb and moderate-to-high-carb days.
Following the same metabolic confusion method, you could have five moderate carb intake days of between 100 and 125 grams per day and two higher carb days, ranging from 175 to 275 grams per day, depending on your size and goals.
You could also carb cycle according to your exercise plan, pairing higher carb days with high-intensity workouts, and lower carbs days with lower intensity exercise days. There are an endless assortment of HIIT workouts and exercises to try on your high-carb days.
Another option is to start your week with a low-carb day of 50 grams, which is around the range needed for ketosis, increase by 50 grams each day throughout the week, peaking at 200 grams, and then work back down to 50.
You could also follow the general guidelines of having one medium (100 to 125 grams), one high (between 200 and 250 grams), and several low (less than 50 grams) carb days per week. If you’re following this method, split up your medium and high-carb days with several low-carb days.
All bodies have a weight they're happiest at. As you lose weight, your body tries to resist weight loss behind its happy place, and it does a good job of finding ways to sabotage your diet. It can slow down your basal metabolic rate and mess with a few key appetite-regulating hormones: ghrelin and leptin.
When your body starts to get nervous about weight loss, it increases ghrelin levels, causing you to feel hungrier more frequently, and decreases leptin levels, so you stop feeling full after meals.
Research shows that after three weeks of dieting, your body can increase your hunger hormones by 18% and decrease leptin by 45%, causing you to feel hungry and unsatisfied2. Not only can this sabotage your diet, but it can lead to weight gain.
But all dieting hope is not lost thanks to metabolic confusion! The high and low-calorie days may prevent your body from figuring out food is being restricted, thus preventing it from unleashing its hunger hormones on you. It also more closely mimics eating intuitively by listening to your hunger cues, in which some days you eat more and others you need less. For an extra boost weight-loss boost, follow these rules to speed up your metabolism even more. Also, we recommend working the best food for muscles into this plan for ideal results.
More research on metabolic confusion is needed, but one promising study showed significant weight loss results for those following it. The study compared calorie restriction to calorie cycling, in which those restricted followed a low-calorie diet of 1186 calories continuously.
The calorie cycling group would alternate low and high-calorie days with 11 consecutive consuming 1,365 calories, followed by three days of no dieting restrictions, closer to 2,000 calories.
The researchers found that the calorie restriction group saw a significant decrease in their resting metabolic rate and reported feelings of less satisfaction and more hunger3. The group experimenting with metabolic confusion maintained their resting metabolic rate throughout the study and reported feeling less hungry and more satisfied.
There was a much more significant increase in calorie restriction participants who discontinued the study at 3.68% compared to 15.7% in the metabolic confusion participants, which is likely a reflection of the diet's flexibility.
The other thing to keep in mind is that at the end of the day, weight loss follows a simple formula of consuming fewer calories than you burn.
So if you take a step back from the research and look at the calories in vs. calories out portion, it’s likely that metabolic confusion will work as it follows that principle.
As long as you create a weekly calorie goal that puts you in a deficit, paired with weight lifting and some cardio, you will see results. And when done correctly, emphasizing strength training, a calorie deficit, and correct macro portions, you can even use this plan for body recomposition. Calorie cycling also gets bonus points for providing you with more flexibility in a week, making it easier to stick to in the long run. This is a great option for anyone wanting to lose weight and may be particularly beneficial for an endomorph body type who wants to shed pounds while boosting their metabolism.
To start the metabolic confusion diet, you need to figure out how many calories you need in a week for weight loss.
We highly recommend using The National Academy of Sports Medicine calorie calculator to determine this number as they help determine your metabolic rate, factoring it, your activity level, and weight loss goals into your daily calorie target.
Once you get your daily calorie goal, multiply it by seven to see your weekly target. From there, customize as you wish!
You can keep your calories low during the week with your higher calorie days on the weekend, or throw a high-calorie day in the middle of the week and another on Saturday.
It’s up to you how you want to divvy up your high and low days. It can even change week to week; flexibility and choices are the beauty of this plan.
For simplicity’s sake, we highly recommend tracking your daily calories with a calorie tracker like MyFitnessPal. You can even set macro counting goals as an easy way to ensure you’re getting in enough daily protein.
There are no set foods to eat on this plan, but the general guideline is to stick with whole, nutritious foods and avoid processed, pre-packaged foods most of the time.
Healthy foods, such as lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, help you feel full for longer and provide you with essential nutrients, and as these options are often lower in calories than less healthy options, your calories will go further.
For example, a medium-size doughnut is between 250 and 300 calories. If you’ve set a 1,200 goal for your low-calorie days, eating just one takes up 1/4 of your daily allotment.
Pair that with the fact that it's refined flour is a recipe for you feeling hangry an hour or two later, which is not great when you only have 900 calories to last the rest of the day.
But if you have a piece of whole-grain sprouted bread topped with 1/2 tablespoon of peanut butter and five pieces of chicken bacon, your breakfast will be just over 200 calories, containing over 20 grams in protein, about the same number of carbs, and about 9 grams of fat.
This balance of macros will keep you feeling full until lunch, and you still have almost 1,000 calories to disperse the rest of the day. Balance and nutritious foods are foundational for a healthy lifestyle.
The good news here is there are too many excellent metabolism-boosting foods to pick just five. Instead, we’ll focus on five types of food. These foods, combined with calorie cycling, will have your body burning fuel like crazy, boosting your basal metabolic rate.
1. High-protein foods:
Lean meats, eggs, dairy products such as yogurt and cottage cheese, and fish like salmon are all great options for revving up your metabolism. Plus, more protein helps you maintain lean muscle mass.
Studies show that protein increases your metabolic rate by 15 to 30%, significantly higher than carbohydrates at 5 to 10%, and fat by 0 to 3 %4. It can also keep you full for longer, causing you to crave less and go longer between meals. If you're vegan, vegetarian, or just have a hard time getting protein in, consider supplementing with a nutritious protein powder. From there, you can get creative with how you use your protein powder, including combining it with java to make protein coffee. Yum!
2. Calcium-rich foods:
Consuming foods high in calcium supports weight and fat loss, particularly when you’re dieting5. And since several dairy products also happen to be high in calcium, it’s a win-win for your weight loss goals.
Low-fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, broccoli, and canned salmon are great choices.
3. Iodine-packed foods:
Iodine assists your body in thyroid hormone production. If your iodine levels aren’t sufficient, your metabolism won’t be either. Higher iodine levels will keep your metabolism running efficiently, ensuring your food is used for energy and not fat storage.
Fish and seafood, including cod, tuna, seaweed, shrimp, and dairy products, such as yogurt, milk, and cheese are all great iodine-rich options.
4. Whole grains:
Refined grains, like those found in white bread and rice, are easy for your body to digest, which may explain why you’re hungry shortly after consuming them.
Whole grains, on the other hand, are harder for your body to digest, causing it to work extra hard, increasing your metabolic rate in the process6.
Choose whole-grain bread, whole oats, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and buckwheat.
5. Beans and Legumes:
Research shows that beans, lentils, chickpeas, and dry peas cause you to feel full for longer and contribute to weight loss. A study found that in six weeks, consuming 3/4 cup of beans or legumes each day led to half a pound of weight loss7.
Beans and legumes are also high in protein and fiber, which happen to be other important characteristics on our best metabolic foods list.
As an example, let's say you've determined consuming 1,700 calories per day will help you lose weight. This daily total equates to 11,900 calories per week.
Following the 5:2 cycle format of five low-calorie days of 1,500 per day and two high-calorie days of 2,100 each week, your weekly plan could look like one of the following:
Alternatively, you could stack both high calorie days on the weekend:
Taking this a step further, here’s a sample plan of what one day of low-calorie and high-calorie eating could look like.
How often you follow this plan depends on your weight loss goals. The main thing to keep in mind when determining the frequency is to plan your metabolic confusion diet in cycles until you achieve your desired weight.
The study we discussed earlier in the article had participants follow two-week cycles of 11 low-calorie days and three higher-calorie days for three rounds. You could follow this format continuing until you’re happy with your weight.
If you know you’ll be on it for longer, you could also turn it into a month-long cycle, including around six high-calorie days and the rest lower in calories. We like the week-to-week format for this plan, following the 5:2 ratio of five days of low calories and two days of high calories each week.
From there, continue week to week until reaching your goal.
There is no set timeframe for how long you should do metabolic confusion. Again, this is personal and based on your individualized goals. Due to its flexibility, it makes it more likely you can stick with it in the long run.
You can follow the metabolic confusion diet until you achieve your desired weight loss and from there, even use it to maintain your weight loss.
You can do this by determining your weekly maintenance calorie goals and continuing metabolic confusion with a slightly higher calorie intake.
If you decide you need a break from dieting or hit your goal and are ready for a maintenance phase, ease your calories back up gradually. In your first week of maintenance, add 50 calories to your daily intake, weighing yourself at the end of the week to ensure you’re still where you want to be.
Next week, add another 50 calories once again weighing yourself at the end of the week. You can continue doing this until you reach a week in which you notice the scale goes up slightly. This is an indication that you’re over your maintenance calories.
If you don’t want to track anymore, continue choosing nutrient-rich foods, and concentrate on eating a high-quality protein with each meal (remember, it’s great for your metabolism and feeling full!).
Stay active with cardio and weight lifting, because as you increase muscle mass, your metabolism will also speed up. This full body workout plan is a great way to build muscle and strength.
Periodically monitor your weight to make sure you’re still at your goal weight.
You may have to adjust along the way, but keeping an eye on your weight helps ensure you don’t stray too far off track.
1. Avoid going too low with your calories. Low-calorie days should never fall below 1,200 calories, and even that’s pretty low.
For long-term success, target these days closer to 1,400 or 1,500 calories per day, ensuring you feel less hungry on those days and helping make it a more sustainable and satisfying plan.
2. Plan for the week ahead. Dieting requires some preparation, so make sure you start your week with an idea of your meals along with the groceries to go with those plans.
Make life simpler by pre-washing and cutting your fruits and veggies over the weekend, so you’ve got easy add-ins to snacks, salads, and meals.
3. Track everything. It can be easy to skip tracking a bite here, or a little taste of something there. But all of those calories add up.
If you find yourself taking random bites of food throughout the day and not tracking them, you could unintentionally be exceeding your daily goal by 100-200 calories.
There you have it! Everything you need to follow the metabolic confusion diet and lose weight. Remember, diet is only part of the battle. Weekly strength training and cardio will go a long way in shedding body fat and building lean muscle. For best muscle-building results, find a workout split that works best for your current goals. Between that and calorie cycling, you're well on your way to achieving your weight-loss goals!
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