Confusion is not usually met with welcomeness. And when it comes to diets, confusion is not normally part of the vocabulary.
Rather, consistency and regulation are the names of the game. Yet, the metabolic confusion diet has gained popularity in recent years.
Could metabolic confusion be the answer to typical dieting woes? Take a look at what science says.
What Is Metabolic Confusion?
Also known as calorie cycling or shifting, metabolic confusion involves alternating calorie intake between lower and higher amounts to essentially confuse one's metabolism. Proponents of metabolic confusion purport that varying caloric intake keeps metabolism "on its toes." Thus, such a calorie-shifting diet leads to a heightened metabolism, burning more calories and promoting fat loss.
For reference, most diets rely on the premise of severely restricting calories or food groups. IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) is an example of the former and the ketogenic diet which harshly restricts carbohydrates is an example of the latter. On the contrary, Whole 30 promotes eating only whole, real foods and is unconcerned with caloric or entire food group restriction.
So what deems the metabolic confusion diet superior to others? Let's break it down.
Potential Benefits of Metabolic Confusion
In short, metabolic confusion may be advantageous because the body is wildly efficient at adapting. This is precisely the reason most diets are intended to be followed short term. Diet creators know that the body will eventually adapt to whatever it is provided or in other cases, spared, leading to weight plateaus or rebound weight gain.
The process of dieting goes something like this:
One starts following said diet that is typically vastly different from what they were eating prior. In essence, this is metabolic confusion. The person experiences results and believes the diet is actually working this time. However, said person eventually hits a plateau and tires of the diet - this is the body adapting.
The dieter reintroduces prior eating habits and tends to gain much of the lost weight back. The person feels like they failed and remembers the results the diet initially provided and dives headfirst back into the diet and the cycle repeats.
Thus, the metabolic confusion diet essentially aims to keep a person in that first phase of dieting. It tries to bypass the adaptation phase to less caloric intake, which ultimately results in a lower metabolism long-term or a lack of a food group, which can also lead to a slower metabolism or becoming more efficient at burning one type of fuel. And efficiency is actually undesirable during dieting because it means fewer calories are required to execute a function.
Critiques of Metabolic Confusion
To reiterate, metabolic confusion aims to keep the body confused by overriding the inevitable adaptation phase of most other diets. It does so by varying caloric intake, which supposedly keeps metabolism high.
This mechanism seems plausible to some degree, yet, like all other restrictive diets, it still relies on caloric manipulation. And as mentioned, because the body is hardwired to survive, it's also plausible that the body can also learn to adapt to varying amounts of calories. In fact, this could fare worse in the long run because the body will want to preserve the calories from the higher days in anticipation of the lower days.
Furthermore, most modern articles discussing metabolic confusion describe the potential benefits of this diet plan and mention things like:
• It is less restrictive than typical diets
• It does not decrease metabolism as much as very restrictive diets
• It is easier to follow long term
• It promotes more weight loss
• It provides diet breaks that spare mental/emotional health
While these are certainly beneficial compared to other diets, in the end, they all mention that there is no difference in losing weight between the metabolic confusion diet and any other restrictive diet at the one-year mark. This implies that the effectiveness of this diet likely diminishes with time.
Perhaps, just always known, no specific diet is the real key to metabolic health for everyone. Perhaps focusing on the quality and functionality of food is the best approach.
Nonetheless, if still interested in trying this diet that seems to provide somewhat better results than others and may be easier to follow long term, here’s how.
Metabolic Confusion Meal Plan
The metabolic confusion provides some guidance on caloric intake. It does not, however, offer anything in terms of what to actually eat.
The metabolic confusion diet lacks formal guidelines for caloric intake. Rather, it suggests that one consumes around 1,200 calories on low days and about 2,000 calories on high days.
Do those two numbers sound familiar?
That first number is coveted as a standard weight loss target. The second is the estimated average amount of calories needed to sustain the entire human population.
The diet plan suggests it is more effective when more individualized caloric and/or macro amounts are applied. This makes sense, as a 5" female versus a 6" male will need vastly different caloric amounts to achieve goals.
Metabolic confusion also leaves room for flexible execution. Meaning, one can choose to alternate the number of calories per day, every other week, or anything in between.
For example, some followers:
• Follow a caloric deficit for two weeks followed by two weeks of higher intake
• Designate one day a week to higher caloric intake and implement the infamous cheat day every month
• Eat the same amount of calories on their low and high days
• Eat based on their activity levels
• Alternate between high and low calories every other day
Again, the diet encourages this flexibility because it is purported that this makes it easier to follow long term, which is actually what determines results.
The Takeaway of Metabolic Confusion
The metabolic confusion diet involves switching between eating lower amounts of calories on some days and higher amounts on others. There are no strict guidelines beyond alternating total caloric amount week by week or month by month. Proponents of this eating style claim it confuses metabolism enough to bypass the adaptation phase of typical dieting.
Yet, research shows it is no more effective for weight loss than any other diet in the long run. However, because it offers more flexibility, it may be easier to follow long-term, which may promote lasting results.
While not the most extreme diet, it also appears to be a glorified, marketable version of intuitive eating. Only, rather than allowing the body to naturally dictate when it eats more or less, it encourages one to set arbitrary caloric goals for distinguishing purposes.
Instead, try to "confuse" the body with different colored foods. Doing so will ultimately provide an array of nutrients that synergistically work together to naturally keep metabolism thriving!
Davidson K. What Is Metabolic Confusion and Does It Work? Healthline. Written January 14, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/metabolic-confusion#other-potential-benefits.
Fischer M. Gainful. Published December 2, 2020. https://www.gainful.com/blog/metabolic-confusion/.
Finn C. The Metabolic Confusion Diet: Why You Can't Outsmart Your Metabolism. Muscle Evo. Published October 20, 2021. https://muscleevo.net/metabolic-confusion/.