While most diets focus on lowering caloric intake to a specific amount every day, the Metabolic Confusion Diet does not. This diet instead focuses on switching up the number of calories each day, cycling through a rotation of high-calorie and low-calorie days. Proponents say this change tricks your metabolism into becoming more productive on high-calorie days, resulting in weight loss. Like many fad diets, there are both pros and cons to the Metabolic Confusion Diet – is there any proof it improves weight loss at all?
What is the Metabolic Confusion Diet?
Also known as calorie shifting or calorie cycling, the Metabolic Confusion Diet recommends alternating between high-calorie and low-calorie days or weeks. It also recommends regular exercise, although it doesn’t recommend any specific exercise routine. This cycle of high-calorie and low-calorie days is said to confuse your metabolism into overdrive by making it work harder to burn the extra calories on high-calorie days because it expects you’ll only be eating 1,200 calories that day.
High- and low-calorie days will look different for each person, depending on their weight-loss and health goals. There's no one set of calorie guidelines, either, though most people follow a plan of consuming around 2,000 calories or more on high-calorie days and no more than 1,200 calories on low-calorie days.
Here’s an example of what a week could look like for someone following this diet:
- Sunday: 1,200 calories
- Monday: 2,000 calories
- Tuesday: 1,200 calories
- Wednesday: 2,000 calories
- Thursday: 1,200 calories
- Friday: 2,000 calories
- Saturday: 1,200 calories
The Metabolic Confusion Diet is not unlike the popular intermittent fasting diet, where you go hours or even days without eating anything at all in order to do a daily or weekly reset of your metabolism.
Does it work?
Advocates of the Metabolic Confusion Diet claim that this cycle of highs and lows prompts your metabolism to work better and faster. In a 2014 study, researchers reviewed the effects of calorie shifting on weight loss, and the results surprised them. The study found that following a metabolic confusion–style program decreased hunger, increased fat loss, and allowed for an easier time maintaining weight-loss results in the long term.
Always consult a medical professional before starting a new eating regimen to make sure you’re getting proper nourishment and eating an adequate amount of calories for your height and weight.
Why does it work?
There are several theories on why calorie shifting or following the Metabolic Confusion Diet actually works. One theory is your leptin levels rise when you consume extra calories. Leptin is a hormone that controls appetite and helps regulate metabolism. Some research suggests that extra calories can boost your leptin levels, at least temporarily, which results in decreased fat storage.
Another reason is what some researchers call the “feast and famine” theory. This theory suggests that eating roughly the same number of calories per day is unnatural, as our ancestors went through periods of feast and famine, and their metabolisms reacted accordingly. By eating the same number of calories per day, our metabolisms have become accustomed to the amounts we eat and slowed down to work the bare minimum.
The most obvious benefit of following the Metabolic Confusion Diet is weight loss. Like any diet that restricts calories, the Metabolic Confusion Diet advises lowering your caloric intake. If you eat less calories than you burn, you’re going to lose weight. The Metabolic Confusion Diet restricts calories on low-calorie days and causes your metabolism to work harder on high-calorie days, resulting in more calories burned.
As long as you’re eating less calories daily than you are burning off, either through exercise or just existing (barring any medical complications for weight gain), you will lose weight. However, everyone is different, and there are many other health-related factors that can impact someone’s ability to lose weight.
Improved metabolic rate
Your metabolic rate is the rate at which your metabolism burns calories. Because the Metabolic Confusion Diet keeps your metabolism on its metaphorical toes, your metabolic rate never settles in one place and becomes flexible, depending on the day. Metabolic flexibility means you’re better at burning and storing carbohydrates when you need to as well as managing the storage and release of fat from fat stores. This ultimately improves insulin sensitivity, which reduces overall risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Because the Metabolic Confusion Diet doesn’t include buying preportioned meals or sticking to a workout plan, many people who try the diet find it easier to follow than a typical diet program. And because the number of calories you can eat on high-calorie days is technically unlimited, it feels much less restrictive than other diet plans. In addition, many people who follow the Metabolic Confusion Diet find they don’t feel the need to gorge themselves on high-calorie days in the first place.
Depending on your height and weight, 1,200 calories may not be enough for you to sustain a healthy weight loss, and 2,000 calories may be too few calories during the high-calorie days as well. Because the Metabolic Confusion Diet doesn’t account for variances in things like preexisting health concerns, exercise levels, or muscle-to-fat ratio, the 1,200/2,000 calorie recommendations will not work for everyone.
Feeling restricted from food can lead to rebounds of unhealthy eating habits and patterns, especially when following a diet plan. Because of this, many people find that following most diet plans is unsustainable in the long run, no matter what diet they’re following. This can be especially true for calorie-shifting diets, like the Metabolic Confusion Diet and intermittent fasting, when people become frustrated or irritable from hunger on low-calorie days.
The bottom line
Overall, following a weight-loss protocol that hasn’t been tailored to your specific fitness and wellness goals isn’t as likely to lead to success as structured lifestyle changes unique to you. Working to reach your health and fitness goals alone is possible, but working with a Health Coach can make the process a little easier. Health Coaches are qualified wellness professionals who can empower and guide you to make sustainable diet and lifestyle shifts to look and feel your best.
While there is some evidence that the Metabolic Confusion Diet can help people achieve weight loss, it may not be a sustainable or permanent way of eating. Ultimately, speaking with your medical provider, nutritionist, or registered dietitian to determine caloric needs should be the first step on a weight-loss or wellness journey.