How Does Metabolic Confusion Work and Should You Try It?

Metabolic confusion: woman drinking a healthy smoothie while holding her phone

How Does Metabolic Confusion Work and Should You Try It?

The metabolic confusion diet, also known as a calorie cycling or calorie shifting diet, is a strategy theorized to trigger your metabolism to burn more calories, resulting in fat loss. Instead of eating the same number of calories every day, which proponents say allows your metabolism to adjust to your caloric intake, a metabolic confusion diet alternates between high- and low-calorie days.

Let’s delve into the metabolic confusion diet plan alongside the existing scientific research about this diet. Keep reading to learn more about how metabolic confusion works and whether it’s a fad diet or something worth your time.

What Is Metabolic Confusion?

Person writing on a notebook with dumbbells and a lunch box on a table

The metabolic confusion diet uses shifting daily calorie intake goals, which are intended to prevent your metabolism from adjusting to a specific calorie deficit. According to the metabolic confusion theory, your metabolism may slow down if you eat the same amount of calories each day on a low-calorie diet.

The metabolic confusion diet provides your body with fewer calories on some days and extra calories on others. The exact amount of calories used in metabolic confusion diets varies from person to person and is typically based on their resting metabolic rate (RMR) or basal metabolic rate (BMR).

While many metabolic confusion diet plans recommend around 1,200 calories on low-calorie days and over 2,000 on high-calorie days, no medical recommendation for calorie intake in metabolic confusion diets exists.

About Resting Metabolic Rate

RMR refers to the amount of calories or energy a person’s body needs to function. Online calculators allow you to calculate an estimated RMR based on your age, biological sex, height, and body weight.

For example, according to this calculator, a 5’10” male who is 25 years old and weighs 160 pounds has an RMR of around 1,962 calories per day.

If this individual were to create a metabolic confusion diet, his high-calorie days would include more than 1,962 calories, and his lower-calorie days would have less than 1,962 calories.

On a balanced diet, this individual would adjust his calorie intake based on his goals. For example, he might eat up to 500 calories under his RMR to trigger weight loss or more than 1,000 calories over to support intense activity levels.

About Basal Metabolic Rate

An alternative to the RMR is the BMR. While often used interchangeably, BMR and RMR are slightly different.

An individual’s BMR is usually a bit lower than their RMR, as it refers to the body’s base needs for survival. However, online BMR calculators often feature charts with adjusted caloric intakes based on activity levels.

The example of a 5’10” 25-year-old male weighing 160 pounds from earlier would have a BMR of 1,717 calories per day (as opposed to an RMR of 1,962 calories) using this calculator. However, adjusting for a sedentary activity level using the chart provided with the calculator would increase his calorie requirements to 2,060, which is slightly higher than his RMR.

Diet Plans Similar to the Metabolic Confusion Diet

The metabolic confusion diet isn’t the only plan that uses strategic eating patterns to trigger weight loss. It’s similar to other dieting plans and strategies, such as:

  • Intermittent fasting: This eating pattern mixes periods of fasting with periods of eating. One method is alternate-day fasting, where you shift between consuming no calories from food or beverages one day and eating whatever you want the next. Modified regimens limit calorie intake to 25% of energy requirements instead of abstaining from calories or controlling meal frequency by setting specific time windows for the dieter to eat.
  • Carb cycling: Similar to metabolic confusion, carbohydrate cycling diets change carb intake from day to day. For example, dieters typically alternate between high-carb days and low-carb days to keep their metabolic rate confused.
  • Calorie restriction: There are many different types of calorie restriction diets, and most of them center around calorie counting. This involves tracking the calories in foods and beverages to ensure the dieter does not exceed their set calorie limit.
  • Ketogenic diet: The ketogenic or “keto” diet plan is based on controlled macronutrients — protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Macros for a keto diet are high-fat and low-carb with moderate protein levels. This diet is known for increasing satiety, although it can be dangerous for individuals with health problems.

In one clinical trial published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, a metabolic confusion diet produced more consistent weight loss than a calorie restriction diet in 74 patients over a four-week period. However, more research is needed to compare metabolic confusion with the rest of the diets in this list.

The success of metabolic confusion in the study mentioned above may be due to other factors, such as adherence to the diet. Larger studies are required to prove this diet’s efficacy and safety.

Does Metabolic Confusion Work?

Metabolic confusion: man eating some oatmeal with berries

While the metabolic confusion diet might not be a fad diet and does have some scientific evidence behind it, research is limited. Currently, we do not have proof that metabolic confusion is a reliable dieting method for weight loss or maintenance.

There is much more scientific evidence supporting balanced food intake, regular fat-burning exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. For example, resistance training paired with an increased dietary protein intake is proven to help build muscle mass. And plenty of evidence supports that reducing daily calorie intake or eating a Mediterranean diet leads to stable weight loss.

The bottom line is that, based on existing research, metabolic confusion isn’t likely to “trick” your metabolism into burning more calories. However, you can increase your metabolism with metabolic conditioning workouts.

Always Consult a Professional

If you’d like to try a metabolic confusion diet, you can make it safe and track your progress by hiring a licensed dietitian to create your meal plan and seeking approval from your doctor. A nutrition professional can help you decide how many calories to eat each day while providing guidance on what to eat from each food group to ensure your body is healthy.

A licensed dietitian can help you determine the correct number of calories per day and the best metabolic confusion diet plan. However, even short-term dieting requires the professional expertise and medical supervision of your doctor to ensure safety.

Speak with your doctor before starting any new diet or dramatically changing your eating habits. They can confirm whether a metabolic confusion diet is safe for you while ruling out other possible causes for any weight gain or weight loss plateau you may be experiencing.

What to Do Instead of the Metabolic Confusion Diet

If you’d rather try a diet that has more scientific evidence behind it, consider a balanced meal plan combined with a regular workout schedule. You can still calculate your BMR or RMR and base your calorie intake on that number plus the amount of physical activity you get on a regular day.

In addition to calorie goals, set solid nutrition goals to support your health and well-being. Pay attention to your protein intake to ensure you get enough to support your body, and avoid processed foods when possible.

Meeting nutrition goals can be difficult when you’re busy, but meal prepping and incorporating quality supplements can help you overcome barriers to a healthy diet. If this interests you, we suggest trying MyProtein’s The ioPEA, Performix’s ioWhey, or Kaged Muscle’s Clean Meal. For example, you might supplement your breakfast with ioWhey, replace your lunch with Clean Meal, or have ioPea as a midday snack. You’ll get the calories and nutrients you want each day. 

Always Eat for Your Health

There isn’t enough scientific research on metabolic confusion to prove that this diet is safe or effective. It’s always best to eat for your health and your goals, and consulting a healthcare professional is the best way to determine which diet is right for your body.

If you’d like some help meeting your daily nutrient goals, Ingredient Optimized supplements can help. Every io product is designed for high bioavailability, making it easier for your body to absorb each nutrient effectively. To compare, using non-optimized supplements might not get all the nutrients you see on the label. 

Above all, make sure your diet provides the nutrients you need to stay healthy and feel your best.