Metabolic Confusion Diet Guide: Does It Work? + Sample Diet Plan

Trying to decide which weight loss diet to follow can be challenging as there are so many popular diets to choose from these days, each affording a certain set of benefits, such as fat loss and satiety, while also having drawbacks, such as short-term adherence.

The monotony of consuming the same types of foods day in and day out with the eternal exclusion of others can make it challenging to maintain your diet and stick to your weight loss plans.

This is where most diets fail: sustainability.

But, what if your weight loss diet doesn’t strictly dictate what you can and cannot eat? Moreover, what if the amount of food you eat varies throughout the week?

This is the concept behind the metabolic confusion diet, a weight loss diet more loosely defined by having variety in the types and amounts of food you eat while switching up your daily calorie intake to keep your metabolism kicked into high gear.

This guide will discuss the metabolic confusion diet, its pros and cons, and give you a sample calorie intake schedule to try out to decide if this way of eating is right for you.

Let’s jump in!

A notebook that says diet plan, a pencil and apple and a dumbbell.

What Is the Metabolic Confusion Diet?

The metabolic confusion diet is a weight loss diet or eating pattern that involves alternating between periods of high-calorie intake and low-caloric intake.

For this reason, the metabolic confusion diet is also called calorie cycling or calorie shifting.

It can be considered a form of alternate-day feeding, a type of intermittent fasting, because of the fluctuations in calorie intake.

However, the difference in caloric intake between “high-calorie” days and “low-calorie” days is often less pronounced with the metabolic confusion diet than a true intermittent fasting approach.

Much like carb cycling, which involves alternating between high carb days and low-carb days, the metabolic confusion diet is based on the premise that being inconsistent in how much you eat keeps the body from adapting to your diet and subsequently stagnating any weight loss progress.

A variety of vegetables and a post it note in the middle that says counting calories.

Benefits Of the Metabolic Confusion Diet

So, does metabolic confusion work?

There are several potential benefits to the metabolic confusion diet.

The premise of the metabolic confusion diet is that it keeps your metabolism “on its toes” so that your body does not become so metabolically efficient and adapted to how many calories you eat that you reach a weight loss plateau.1Patterson, R. E., Laughlin, G. A., LaCroix, A. Z., Hartman, S. J., Natarajan, L., Senger, C. M., Martínez, M. E., Villaseñor, A., Sears, D. D., Marinac, C. R., & Gallo, L. C. (2015). Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics115(8), 1203–1212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.018

‌Evidence suggests that diets that vary your food intake and have more flexibility in what and how much you can eat are associated with better weight loss results and long-term compliance.

This is because they allow dieters more freedom of choice and breaks from restricted, low-calorie eating.2Rynders, C. A., Thomas, E. A., Zaman, A., Pan, Z., Catenacci, V. A., & Melanson, E. L. (2019). Effectiveness of Intermittent Fasting and Time-Restricted Feeding Compared to Continuous Energy Restriction for Weight Loss. Nutrients11(10), 2442. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102442

‌Furthermore, one benefit of the metabolic confusion diet over a stricter form of intermittent fasting with an alternate-day fasting protocol is that the “low-calorie” days on the metabolic confusion diet typically have a higher energy intake than a fasting day or even a modified fasting diet.

Although some may argue that creating less of a caloric deficit would impede weight loss results, it can also be argued that restricting your caloric intake too severely can slow your metabolic rate and thus stall your weight loss progress.

A person holding a sign that says weight loss.

Most adults need a minimum of 1,600 calories per day (if not upwards of 3,000 calories), so eating 1,200 calories per day on the metabolic confusion diet on your low days is still only, at most, 75% of your daily calorie needs.32015-2020 Dietary Guidelines | health.gov. (2015). Health.gov. https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/dietary-guidelines/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015

‌Prolonged or severe caloric restriction is perceived by the body as starvation.

Because our bodies are biologically equipped to be tremendous adapters, any sustained caloric restriction that results in an energy deficit or severe caloric restriction, even in an acute period, can trigger the body to make compensatory downshifts in your resting metabolic rate (RMR).4Müller, M. J., Enderle, J., & Bosy-Westphal, A. (2016). Changes in Energy Expenditure with Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Humans. Current Obesity Reports5(4), 413–423. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-016-0237-4

‌This process is termed adaptive thermogenesis, and it essentially makes your body more efficient at using fewer calories for the processes it needs to carry out to support your life and physical activity.

Thus, if you diet too long or too severely and trigger adaptive thermogenesis, you will burn fewer calories throughout the day, which can stymie your weight loss progress.5Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Norton, L. E. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition11(11), 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-7

Therefore, one of the benefits of the metabolic confusion diet is that if you strike the right balance of achieving enough of a calorie deficit on your low-calorie diet days to support weight loss without being overly restrictive, and you strategically pepper in plenty of “high-calorie days,” to avoid any potential compensatory reductions in your metabolic rate.

After a low-calorie day, you give the body enough calories and nutrients to meet your needs, so the threat of starvation remains undetected, and consequently, your metabolism keeps humming away. 

A variety of fruit, a glass of orange juice, and a tape measure.

Does the Metabolic Confusion Diet Work?

Some research suggests that the concept of the metabolic confusion diet can indeed work for weight loss.

One study compared the effectiveness of a traditional calorie-restriction diet with a calorie-shifting diet on weight loss for overweight and obese subjects.6Davoodi, S. H., Ajami, M., Ayatollahi, S. A., Dowlatshahi, K., Javedan, G., & Pazoki-Toroudi, H. R. (2014). Calorie shifting diet versus calorie restriction diet: a comparative clinical trial study. International Journal of Preventive Medicine5(4), 447–456. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4018593/

‌Subjects on the traditional calorie restriction diet consumed 1200 calories per day over the six weeks, while the calorie cycling group did three cycles of following a restricted calorie diet for 11 days and then having three days of unrestricted intake over the six weeks.

Subjects following the traditional calorie-restriction diet experienced a significant reduction in their resting metabolic rate (RMR) at the end of the study, whereas those who were in the calorie-shifting group did not.

Moreover, subjects in the calorie-shifting diet group also lost significantly more weight, had greater adherence to the diet, and reported significantly less hunger than subjects following the sustained caloric restriction diet.

These results suggest that the metabolic confusion diet, through its calorie-shifting nature, may help preserve resting metabolic rate, support weight loss, and be easier to maintain than traditional restrictive diets.

However, other studies show little to no benefit of the metabolic confusion diet over traditional calorie restriction diets.7Trepanowski, J. F., Kroeger, C. M., Barnosky, A., Klempel, M. C., Bhutani, S., Hoddy, K. K., Gabel, K., Freels, S., Rigdon, J., Rood, J., Ravussin, E., & Varady, K. A. (2017). Effect of Alternate-Day Fasting on Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Cardioprotection Among Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine177(7), 930. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0936

A notebook that says resting metabolic rate, RMR.

How to Follow the Metabolic Confusion Diet

There aren’t a lot of strict criteria that you have to follow with the metabolic confusion diet.

In other words, the structure in terms of your scheduling of “high-calorie” days and “low-calorie” days is the number of calories you eat on said days.

For example, some people practice the metabolic confusion diet by alternating between “high-calorie” days and “low-calorie” days every other day, whereas others may go a week at a time at each of the two caloric levels. 

Still, others might just have one high-calorie day per week, with the rest of the days falling in the low-calorie zone.

The amount of calories you can eat with the metabolic confusion diet is also undefined and up to the individual dieter.

Most of the time, people consume at least 2,000 calories or more per day on high-calorie days and approximately 1,200 calories or so on low-calorie days.

This will, of course, depend on the individual’s body size, preferences, and weight loss goals, as well as how strict or disciplined they are in their approach to dieting.

A person punching a dumbbell forward.

The metabolic confusion diet also recommends exercising regularly in conjunction with these eating habits.

However, there are no specific guidelines on how much exercise you should do with the diet.

In the absence of these stipulations, it’s reasonable to assume that following the physical activity level guidelines for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention8Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans | health.gov. (n.d.). Health.gov. https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines (CDC) and the UK Government,9Department of Health and Social Care. (2023, March 24). Physical activity guidelines. GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/physical-activity-guidelines, which are to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity workouts per week, is advisable.

With that said, it can be argued that one shortcoming of the metabolic confusion diet is that it lacks specificity in the exercise recommendations regarding types of workouts, such as strength training to build muscle mass or cardio workouts to burn extra calories.

Questions such as, “How many carbohydrates should I eat for metabolic confusion?” or “What is the best protein for metabolic confusion?” are difficult to answer because there are no specifications about what you can and cannot eat in the metabolic confusion diet. 

This gives dieters the ultimate freedom in food choices but can make for an unhealthy diet.

For weight loss and a healthy lifestyle in general, focus on nutritious, unprocessed foods from various food groups, such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, eggs, low-fat dairy, legumes, seeds, nuts, and healthy fats.

A farmer's market.

What is an Example of a Metabolic Confusion Diet Plan?

Some ask, “Can I do metabolic confusion every other day?

Here, we have set up our meal plan just like that. We’ve alternated low-calorie intake days and high-calorie intake days to show an alternate-day metabolic confusion diet schedule.

Monday: Low-calorie day (1,400 calories)

Tuesday: High-calorie day (2,100 calories)

Wednesday: Low-calorie day (1,400 calories)

Thursday: High-calorie day (2,100 calories)

Friday: Low-calorie day (1,400 calories)

Saturday: High-calorie day (2,100 calories)

Sunday: Low-calorie day (1,400 calories)

As with any diet, if you want to try the metabolic confusion diet, it’s important to listen to your body and focus on nutrient quality as much as nutrient quantity. 

See if it works for you, but be willing to adjust.

To look at one of our other healthy diets with a bit more structure, check out our guide to the Mediterranean diet here.

If you are looking for the right diet to get you to your ideal body weight or for health and wellness in general, getting guidance from a registered dietitian or nutritionist can be a great way to do so.

A variety of foods including lean meats, nuts and legumes.


Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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