Will metabolic confusion help you achieve your weight loss goals and turn your body into a fat burning machine? That’s what you may have been led to believe, but the approach is a bit more nuanced than that. Before we dive into the pros and cons of metabolic confusion, let’s first cover what it is and if it’s even possible to confuse your metabolism.
What Is Metabolic Confusion?
Metabolic confusion is an approach believed to trick your metabolism by eating a lot of calories one day and much less another. In theory, this confusion technique will keep your metabolism higher and your hunger levels lower than a solely low-calorie way of eating will. The goal is to bypass the weight loss plateau that accompanies sustained low calorie intake due to your basal metabolic rate slowing down.
However, the guidelines for a metabolic confusion plan are loosely defined. There are no set parameters for the high and low calorie intake days, nor for how to break out the cycle from a time perspective. Some people do one day on, one day off of high calorie foods. Others do it by week, and some follow a month-long cycle consisting of a three weeks on and one week off. And while some choose to calorie cycle, others choose to follow a carb cycling plan and follow low carb days and high-carb days in lieu of a calorie goal. The general consensus, however, is to stay under 1,200 calories on restricted days and 2,000 calories on higher intake days.
Is Metabolic Confusion Healthy?
The answer is inconclusive. There has not been sufficient research yet conducted to suss out any long-term benefits. Since there are no definitive guidelines to metabolic confusion, it all depends on how you approach the technique and your food choices. The only thing tracked is calories or carbohydrate intake. The what is not addressed, just the how much. There is no focus on nutrient-density or appropriate macronutrient intake and the suggested calorie intake is low for the majority of adults.
Is Metabolic Confusion Primally Aligned?
In a way, the premise around metabolic confusion is most likely how our primal ancestors ate. There were no consistent snack breaks and three meals a day. Hunters and gatherers may have gone through periods of time with abundant food and other periods of scarcity, depending on the animal kill and season. However, our primal ancestors were consuming real, whole foods.
A metabolic confusion plan can be primally aligned if it’s followed from a carb cycling standpoint and the focus is on a whole foods, nutritious diet— high-quality animal protein, fats, vegetables, and fruit. Shifting the focus from calorie counting to carbohydrate intake and the source of your food is a primally aligned approach to the technique.
Pros of Metabolic Confusion
1. Less Restrictive Than Other Diets
Because a metabolic confusion diet plan allows for days that are less strict, people may find they are able to stick with it longer than a mere calorie deficit diet. A clinical trial published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2014, found that participants were more likely to adhere to a calorie-shifting diet than a calorie restrictive diet. There is less room for black and white thinking as the increased calorie days allow for mindfulness and flexibility around daily calorie needs.
2. More Flexible Than Other Diets
Since there is no one metabolic confusion diet plan and the foods you consume are entirely up to you, it is much more varied than other fad diets and weight loss programs. There is no yes/no list of foods or carefully calculated macros, unless you choose to follow a carb cycling plan.
3. Less Hunger Than Other Calorie Restrictive Diets
Participants of the 2014 study also experienced a decrease in hunger and increase in satisfaction on the calorie-shifting diet. A metabolic confusion plan may lead to less feelings of deprivation than traditional calorie restriction. Consuming significantly fewer calories than your body needs to perform its daily functions can leave you in starvation mode and dealing with perpetual hunger and fatigue.
4. Weight Loss Is Likely
You will probably lose weight. Although a metabolic confusion plan allows for flexibility, increased daily calorie intake and weekly calorie range, it is still ultimately a caloric deficit way of eating. This will lead to weight loss if sustained for an extended period of time. That same study found that those following the calorie shifting group lost substantially more weight and increased fat loss when compared to the the participants in the calorie restriction group. They also experienced longer lasting weight loss post-study compared to those consuming significantly fewer calories, and less participants dropped out during the duration of the experiment.
Cons of Metabolic Confusion
1. Long-Term Viability Is Questionable
For most people, metabolic confusion is not a sustainable way of eating. There may be initial fast weight loss due to calorie restriction, but long-term compliance is doubtful. Although the technique allows for days of higher caloric intake, there is still tracking and counting involved which becomes cumbersome at a certain point.
2. Restrictive Calorie Intake
The eating regimen for metabolic confusion calls for calorie intake on the lower end of the spectrum on both high and low calorie days. Most adults who are relatively active require more than the recommended amounts. This will lead to hunger, fatigue, and make the plan even harder to stick to on a long-term basis. In addition, the suggested calorie intake does not take into account gender, age, or activity levels.
3. Lack of Evidence-Based Research
While the pros sound promising, it’s important to keep in mind that there really is just one study on metabolic confusion and shifting calories. The research on metabolic confusion is limited and it’s presumptuous to assume that we can outsmart our bodies and confuse our body’s metabolism. Any weight loss is most likely from basic calorie restriction.
Participants of the study in the calorie shifting group did maintain their resting metabolic rate while the calorie restriction group substantially dropped, but this most likely has less to do with the diet claim of metabolic confusion and more to do with significantly fewer calories consumed over a longer period of time, which is known to reduce the resting metabolic rate. It is more a matter of metabolic adaptation to the varying calorie intake than confusion.
4. Possibly deficient in nutrients
The focus of metabolic confusion is on how much you eat and not what you eat. There is no attention paid to consuming nutrient-rich foods or the source of the calories. Protein intake is not taken into account and neither is limiting refined sugars, vegetable oils, or ultra-processed foods. There is no focus on consuming real, whole foods.
Essentially, one could follow a metabolic confusion plan and consume fast food on a daily basis while technically adhering to the minimal guidelines provided. The technique offers little guidance to help correct bad eating habits and may potentially lead to the formation of some.
Ultimately, metabolic confusion offers a more flexible approach than a traditional calorie restriction diet. While your metabolism will not be confused, it may offer weight loss. A more sustainable approach is to focus on the quality of the macronutrients you consume and the source of your calories, not counting them.
If you’re curious about trying metabolic confusion as a part of your weight loss journey, a myPrimalCoach can guide you in finding a healthful and sustainable path to overall health including working on your fitness goals and methods for weight maintenance.