What Is Metabolic Confusion, and Is It Right for You? by Mehdi Yacoubi

What Is Metabolic Confusion, and Is It Right for You?
Posted on
September 6, 2021

There's a new "diet fad" trending on social media every other week promoting some form of personal wellness. Each one is popular for its own reasons, but most promise results with an eye-catching guarantee — you can still eat the foods you want and lose weight. And the most recent diet to make it big on the internet, the metabolic confusion diet, is no exception.

Similar in many ways to intermittent fasting, the metabolic diet suggests switching between low-calorie days and high-calorie days in an effort to speed up your metabolism. Though it remains a diet focused on the amount of calories you consume, it allows more flexibility on a day-to-day basis because, unlike intermittent fasting, you won't experience prolonged periods without food.

If glowing testimonials have you wondering whether or not the metabolic diet is right for you, have no fear. Let's take a closer look at this trending topic as we explore your body's metabolism in greater detail. From there, we'll break down this latest diet to find out if metabolic confusion works, as well as its benefits and drawbacks.

What Is Your Metabolism?

Metabolism is a term that describes the conversion of food into energy. This energy is then used to keep your body alive and active, whether asleep or wide awake. We discuss metabolism as if it's an organ or a single bodily system, but it actually refers to a chemical process that takes place in each and every cell. From major organs like the heart and brain to processes like digestion and absorption, metabolism affects everything on a microscopic level. Let's take a moment to explore the different aspects of metabolism.

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or resting metabolic rate, dictates how much energy you use when your body is completely at rest. While major organs like the brain and heart account for nearly half of your energy burned at rest, body fat, muscle, and body systems account for the rest. When your BMR slows down, whether due to age, disease, or stress, you may experience any number of side effects, such as fatigue, bloating, or difficulty losing body weight.

Throughout this conversation, keep in mind that your metabolism is unique. There is no one else like you, which means nobody else has your exact metabolic type. This explains why some people never gain weight no matter what they eat (fast metabolism), and others experience weight gain with ease (slow metabolism). Factors such as age, sex, hormones, and lifestyle habits are only a handful of variables that dictate your metabolism; many others exist.

What Is the Metabolic Confusion Diet?

The metabolic confusion diet is also known as the calorie shifting diet, calorie cycling, or carb cycling. Unlike diet plans that restrict certain foods, this simplified dieting suggests alternating between periods of high-calorie consumption and periods of low-calorie consumption in an effort to promote weight loss. It also recommends performing regular physical activity, but there's no strict requirement that states how much or for how long you should exercise.

One of the easiest ways to think of the metabolic confusion diet is by breaking it down into days. One day is spent eating a high number of calories, and the next day is spent eating a low number of calories. This is the most popular method, but you might decide to eat high-calorie meals for a week, then eat significantly fewer calories the following week.

Keep in mind that "high-calorie days" and "low-calorie days" look different for everyone. Though there's no formal structure, popular programs suggest your daily calorie intake should be 2,000 calories or more on higher days and no more than 1,200 calories on low days.

How Metabolic Confusion Works

Metabolic confusion: daily calories tracker

By varying the number of calories your body processes, the idea is that you’ll keep your metabolism on its toes and raise your basal metabolic rate, or the number of calories your body burns at rest. This in turn will help you burn more calories and, more specifically, promote fat burning that leads to weight loss. 

While other diets focus on eating fewer carbs and more protein as a means of influencing your metabolism, the metabolic confusion diet shines a light on calorie restriction. Proponents of the diet believe it allows for more flexibility, as it more naturally matches a typical eating style with a diverse array of foods. 

That said, you should always consider what you eat before starting any diet. Even if the metabolic confusion diet allows you to eat your favorite foods, that’s not an open invitation to eat poorly. Doing so can increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and stroke. Remember to eat not only the foods you enjoy, but the ones that your body enjoys as well.

One noticeable difference worth highlighting is that the metabolic confusion diet allows for more calories on low-calorie days, unlike other fasting diets. If humans need anywhere from 1,600 to 3,000 calories per day, 1,200 calories would equate to 40-75% of your usual intake.

What Are the Benefits of Metabolic Confusion?

Now that we know how metabolic confusion works, let’s take a look at the benefits you may experience with this dietary trend.

Improve Glucose and Lipid Metabolism

Research suggests intermittent periods of energy restriction from lower calorie intake can improve glucose (blood sugar) and lipid (fat) metabolism. This means the body is more capable of processing carbs and fats after a meal, even if those macronutrients come from less-than-ideal sources, such as high-carb foods.

Develop Metabolic Flexibility

According to the Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes, "metabolic flexibility is the ability to respond or adapt to conditional changes in metabolic demand." In essence, your body is better at burning and storing carbohydrates depending on your needs and better at managing fat from fat stores. This should improve insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Promote Dietary Flexibility

One of the problems we often encounter when adopting a new diet is the sudden sense of limitations. Even the best diets tell us what we can and cannot eat, which severely limits major food groups and, more often than not, foods we love. The metabolic diet is considered a healthy diet in that it promotes flexibility — you can eat the foods you like, which leads to a greater sense of satisfaction and the likelihood that the diet will "stick."

Experience Weight Loss

Because the metabolic confusion diet limits caloric intake and promotes exercise, there's a good chance you'll be in a calorie deficit that leads to weight loss over time. A calorie deficit suggests you burn more calories than you consume over a period of time, which is considered by many to be the “golden rule” when adopting a weight loss plan.

What Are the Drawbacks of Metabolic Confusion?

No diet is perfect, and the metabolic diet is no exception. Let's take a look at some of the diet's more noteworthy drawbacks.

Every Body Is Different

You may be allowed to have high-calorie days, but most of the time, you're following a strict diet of no more than 1,200 calories per day. This arbitrary number doesn't consider your age, sex, body size, or activity level, which leaves you susceptible to feeling lethargic or tired due to a lack of fuel. In other words, metabolic confusion isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet.

For instance, an athlete that measures 6'6" and plays basketball can't survive on 1,200 calories, whereas an inactive, middle-aged woman of 5'4" can. For this reason, it’s important to select a lower calorie goal based on your body’s unique needs. Consider speaking with a dietitian to determine how you should implement the metabolic confusion diet.

Lack of Research

Despite the overwhelming online praise, there's not much research to certify the metabolic diet's various claims. Available research focuses on calorie shifting and alternate-day fasting, but little agreement exists from study to study. Moreover, the human body is extremely sophisticated and capable of adapting to sudden meal plan changes, so it won't become "confused" as the name suggests. Instead, it will shift and adapt depending on how many calories you consume and burn.

Quick-Fix Dieting

Although the metabolic confusion diet is more flexible than other popular eating plans, it's still a diet that promotes fast weight loss. Restrictive diets aren't considered a long-term solution and should only be used as a weight management tool that introduces a healthy eating plan and regular physical activity.

Understanding Your Metabolism

Metabolic confusion: dad and child cooking

Your metabolism will provide your body with the fuel it needs to function according to your personal food intake. Based on what we’ve learned, a continued focus on metabolic health will allow you to understand your body, what it needs, and what changes can be made through diet to optimize your personal health.

If you are looking to improve your health, boost your metabolism, or introduce healthy eating habits, sign up today with Vital. Vital will help you understand what’s happening within your body, and you’ll receive personalized recommendations about exercise, food, and daily habits.

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