The Metabolic Confusion Diet Explained + Sample Meal Plan

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Trying to decide which weight loss diet to follow can be challenging as there are so many popular diets, each affording a certain set of benefits while also having drawbacks.

For example, you might be interested in trying the paleo diet due to its emphasis on eating unprocessed foods, but if you love legumes like beans and lentils, you’ll be woefully missing these nutritious plant-based proteins.

You might want to try the vegan diet because you have concerns about saturated fats and animal rights, but if you love cheese and eggs, this can be a difficult diet to stick with.

And, that’s where most diets fail: sustainability.

The monotony of the same types of foods day in and day out with the eternal exclusion of others can make it really challenging to maintain your diet without wanting to abandon your weight loss plans altogether.

But, what if the weight loss diet you follow 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 that is more loosely defined by having variety in the types and amounts of food you eat.

In this article, we will discuss the metabolic confusion diet, the pros and cons, and a sample metabolic confusion meal plan.

We will cover: 

  • What Is the Metabolic Confusion Diet?
  • Benefits Of the Metabolic Confusion Diet
  • Does the Metabolic Confusion Diet Work?
  • How to Do the Metabolic Confusion Diet + Metabolic Confusion Diet Plan

Let’s jump in!

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

What Is the Metabolic Confusion Diet?

Unlike many popular weight loss diets such as the Atkins diet, paleo diet, or even the Whole30 diet, most people are rather unfamiliar with 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 referred to as calorie cycling or calorie shifting.

It can be considered a form of the alternate day feeding type of intermittent fasting because the calorie intake, although 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 days of eating a high-carbohydrate diet and a low-carbohydrate diet, 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

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.

There’s also evidence to suggest that diets that vary your food intake and have more flexibility in terms of what you can eat and how much you can eat are associated with better weight loss results and long-term compliance because they allow dieters to have more freedom of choice and breaks from restricted, low-calorie eating.

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 are typically a higher energy intake than a fasting day or even modified fasting diet.

Although some people 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.

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

Because our bodies are biologically equipped to be tremendous adapters, any type of sustained caloric restriction that results in an energy deficit, or severe caloric restriction even in an acute period of time, can trigger the body to make a compensatory downshifts in your resting metabolic rate (RMR).

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 you trigger adaptive thermogenesis, you will burn fewer calories throughout the day, which can stymie your weight loss progress.

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

There is some research to suggest 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.

Subjects on the traditional calorie restriction diet consumed 1,200 calories per day over the six-week period, while the calorie cycling group did three cycles of following a restricted calorie diet for 11 days and then having 3 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) and 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, there are other studies that show little to no benefit of the metabolic confusion diet over traditional calorie restriction diets.

A notebook that says resting metabolic rate, RMR.

How to Do the Metabolic Confusion Diet + Metabolic Confusion Diet Plan

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 as can 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 number 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, but it depends on the body size, preferences, and weight loss goals of the individual 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 the diet.

However, there are no specific guidelines as to 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 guidelines for adults set forth by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the UK Government, which are to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise 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.

There are also no specifications about what you can and cannot eat on the metabolic confusion diet. 

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

A farmer's market.

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

Sample Metabolic Confusion Plan

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 just as much as nutrient quantity. 

See if it works for you, but be willing to adjust if not.

If you would like to try yet another diet, we have a variety of popular diets for runners in our nutrition guide, here.

A variety of foods including lean meats, nuts and legumes.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. 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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