<> <>
Health Hub

Metabolic confusion diet: What is it and does it work for weight loss?

This diet has recently gained widespread attention — but why?

What is the Metabolic Confusion Diet? | Juniper

In recent years, the metabolic confusion diet has gained widespread attention. Where it used to be the case that weight loss simply involved monitoring your calorie intake and entering a slight deficit, it now feels increasingly harder to navigate. From intermittent fasting to traditional calorie restriction diets and carb cycling, your options in the world of dieting are seemingly endless.

As anyone who has embarked on a weight loss journey can attest, you can’t underestimate the importance of diet. But the key is finding one that is sustainable and works within your busy lifestyle. This is why the metabolic confusion diet for weight loss has proven so popular.

Though you still might be restricting your calories, the flexibility of cycling through high- and low-calorie days on the metabolic confusion diet is an attractive process. Because your body is kept guessing, it can’t adapt and experience the stagnation around weight loss that typically accompanies a calorie-restriction diet

If you’ve found yourself intrigued by the workings of the metabolic confusion diet and want to know if it might work for you, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll explain what you need to know about metabolic confusion for weight loss, potential risks, and ways to improve your metabolic health. Let’s dive in!

What is metabolic confusion?

As the name implies, the metabolic confusion diet involves placing the body in a state of confusion. Unlike other diets that are regimented in their fixed set of daily calories, metabolic confusion refers to an eating pattern that involves alternating between high-calorie intake and low-caloric intake days. 

Also known as calorie cycling or a calorie-shifting diet, this eating style is based on the premise that being inconsistent with your daily calorie intake keeps your body guessing.

As findings in a 2014 study suggest, this irregular calorie intake will increase your body’s resting metabolic rate (RMR), allowing you to burn more calories throughout the day, which is conducive to weight loss and fat loss [1].

So, how does the metabolic confusion diet work, and just how many calories do you consume during the process?

On low-calorie days, you’ll consume fewer calories at 1,200 per day, or roughly half of what you would consume on a typical day. Then, on a high-calorie day, you’ll return to a normal day’s worth of calories or more. It’s suggested that on these days, you take in at least 2,000 calories.

Currently, there’s no verdict on just how often you should switch between high-calorie and low-calorie days. Some diet plans recommend switching every few days, while others advise switching between the two intakes every other week. 

For example, you could do 10 days of lower-calorie intake, followed by 4 days of higher-calorie intake. Or you could do a 1-month cycle, with 3 weeks being low-calorie days and 1 week of high-calorie days following at the end. Regardless of what cycle you choose, it’s suggested that you stick to a regular schedule to ensure you receive the intended benefits of the metabolic confusion diet. 

Does the metabolic confusion diet work for weight loss?

With the guidelines of eating below your calorie needs and exercising daily, the metabolic confusion diet plan will likely see you lose weight gradually.

It might sound counterintuitive: surely you want your body to adapt to your diet, right?

Well, when it comes to weight loss, typically when the body adapts to a reduced caloric intake, weight loss then plateaus. This is the point where you might find yourself eating all the right foods and doing the right exercise but struggling to see the number on the scale shift. The metabolic confusion diet works to reduce the likelihood of this happening so you can then keep losing weight. 

Though some studies have shown calorie shifting to maintain a high RMM for weight loss, more research needs to be done. As a 2018 study of 100 participants showed, there was no significant difference in weight loss between those who followed calorie shifting and those who simply restricted their calories, suggesting the metabolic confusion diet gets less effective with time [2].

What are the benefits of the metabolic confusion diet?

By positively impacting your metabolism, there are several benefits to the metabolic confusion diet.

For weight loss, the main benefit is that when your metabolism is higher, you burn more calories at rest and during exercise. As a result, metabolic confusion helps increase fat burning during exercise, even if you’re not necessarily working out for a long time. 

That’s not all, though. Other benefits of the metabolic confusion diet include:

Mindful eating

With a focus on tracking what you’re eating to stick within low-calorie or high-caloric intake days, there’s an emphasis on mindful eating with the metabolic confusion diet.

Though you never want to find yourself consumed by the process of counting calories, the process does help cultivate an awareness of the food you consume as you tune into what your body needs. 

Less hunger

The restrictions of a low-calorie diet can leave you feeling hungry, leading to binge eating or abandonment of the diet entirely.

Unlike cheat days which see you eat an unlimited amount of food, the metabolic confusion diet works to ensure that those days of higher caloric intake are well-planned and intentional and that the foods consumed are still healthy and in keeping with your typical diet. It’s a great way of ensuring you don’t feel deprived throughout the diet plan. 

The metabolic confusion diet can also help curb overeating or unplanned snacking. When your metabolism is constantly changing, it’s harder to make unhealthy food choices or overindulge. By keeping your appetite in check, you’re likely to consume fewer calories which also contributes to weight loss over time. 

Greater flexibility

You’re still restricting your calories on a metabolic confusion diet, but there is more flexibility on a day-to-day basis as you cycle between high and low-calorie days.

It’s for this reason that there’s growing popularity surrounding the diet, with many believing it to be more easily adaptable to their lifestyle and daily routines. 

It’s common for those who are dieting to eschew all social functions or work events, knowing it can lead to temptation or food options that are higher in calories compared to those prepared at home. But with metabolic confusion, you can treat these rare occurrences as high-calorie days without feeling like you’ve failed at your weight loss plan. 

This is particularly beneficial as studies have shown that greater flexibility in terms of what you can and can’t eat often leads to better weight loss results and long-term compliance. The rigidity of diets sees them broken or abandoned entirely, whereas greater freedom is more sustainable [3]. 

Are there any potential risks?

Like any diet, there are potential risks associated with the metabolic confusion diet. 

Primarily, metabolic confusion is a calorie-restriction diet. Though you cycle through low-calorie and high-calorie days, the fact remains that most of the time, you’ll follow a low-calorie plan, consuming no more than 1,200 calories a day per the guidelines.

The issue here is that this doesn’t take into consideration individual factors like age, sex, and activity level. As well as being hard to sustain for the long term, the risk with a restrictive diet is that you don’t consume essential nutrients which can lead to significant health issues. 

The other risk of the metabolic confusion diet pertains to the lack of research surrounding it.

Currently, scientific evidence is lacking when it comes to following calorie cycling over a sustained period. While some trials have shown great success regarding short-term weight loss with the metabolic confusion diet, a 2017 report published in Perspectives on Psychological Science suggests that decreasing caloric intake alone doesn’t lead to lasting weight loss [4].

Ultimately, the most sustainable approach to weight loss is a balanced diet and regular exercise to ensure you create a small caloric deficit of roughly 500 calories a day. And as research suggests, for optimal health benefits, we should be focusing on the quality of our food in terms of nutritional benefits and macronutrients rather than quantity or calorie counting. 

5 safe ways to improve your metabolic health

Our metabolism converts nutrients from the foods we eat into fuel. Not surprisingly, it plays an important role in everyday functioning, giving us the energy required to move, digest food, repair damaged tissues, and circulate blood. 

When it comes to weight loss, however, our basal metabolic rate refers to the number of calories we burn at rest. The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories burned which aids significantly with weight loss.

While factors like age, diet, body composition, sex, and physical activity can affect your metabolism, here are 5 ways to naturally improve your metabolic health. 

1. Consume protein with every meal

The thermic effect of food (TEF) refers to the increase in your metabolism following eating, as your body needs extra calories to digest, absorb, and process the nutrients in your meal. Protein causes the largest rise in TEF, with 20-30% of its usable energy required for metabolism. In contrast, carbohydrates need just 5-10% and fats less than 3%. 

According to a 2020 study, those who followed a high-protein diet with 25% of their calories coming from protein burned more energy than those who consumed less protein in their daily diets [5].

2. Incorporate high-intensity workouts into your exercise routine

High-intensity training refers to quick and intense bursts of activity that indirectly speed up your metabolism. During exercise, the metabolism speeds up and muscle cells burn energy at rest for fuel, contributing to overall fat loss. 

It’s believed that HIIT classes have the greatest effect on metabolism. If you can, exercises like biking and running are great options, while a HIIT class can also see you safely improve your metabolic health and overall well-being. 

3. Do strength training

Building muscle is essential when it comes to metabolic health. Given that muscle is more metabolically active than fat, it helps to increase your metabolism and see you burn more calories each day — even during rest. 

In a 2014 study, participants who did strength training for 9 months had an average 5% increase in metabolic rate. While findings varied between individuals, the consensus is that strength training helps build muscle, which then helps increase metabolism [6]. 

4. Get plenty of sleep

The importance of sleep can’t be overestimated. Lack of sleep has been shown to affect levels of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, in the body. Not surprisingly, inadequate sleep has been linked to increases in the chance of obesity as many people who experience it report having difficulty losing weight. 

According to a 2019 study, researchers found that lack of sleep for 4 nights or longer may decrease the body’s capacity to metabolise fat. This decrease was small, however, and they noted that it could be easily restored by one good night of shut-eye [7].

5. Drink enough water

Water is essential for optimal functioning, but it also impacts your metabolism too.

According to a 2016 study, increased fat oxidation occurred when people consumed 500mL of water, compared to those who only consumed 250mL [8]. While researchers didn’t find a link between increased metabolic rate and water consumption, it’s still believed that water helps the body burn fat. 

While it’s possible to improve your metabolic health naturally, it’s important to remember that diet is just one part of your weight loss journey. If you’re looking for sustainable results, it’s important to take a holistic approach and consider the behavioural changes that also need to be addressed. 

With Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme, you can rest assured that you’ll be supported throughout every stage of your weight loss journey. Designed by UK clinicians and dietitians, our programme is a medical pathway to long-term weight loss.

With our Juniper app, you can get the most out of the programme with Juniper in your back pocket. Gain access to breakthrough weight loss medication as well as health tracking, lifestyle coaching, nutritional advice and access to a private community. Check your eligibility for the programme today.

Image credit: Getty Images