Calorie Cycling: A Worthwhile Diet Plan or Overhyped Fad?

by Matt Weik

You may have heard of weight loss diets that only allow you to eat a certain number of calories per day. They might say you can only eat 1,200 calories per day or only eat [fill in the blank with a number here] calories per day. These diets are popular because they deliver results. That said, it can be hard to stick to things that require you to count calories all the time. This is where the idea of “calorie cycling” comes in. But what exactly is calorie cycling?

There are numerous ways to plan your nutrition in order to promote weight loss and fat loss. Some people go on every diet they find on the internet or the new hyped-up fad diet their friends are using, desperate to find one that will work for them. However, there is something much more straightforward when it comes to weight loss, and that is calorie cycling. This is an effective way of tricking your body into thinking it is going through different “diets” each week, thus potentially leading you to lose more weight.

What is Calorie Cycling?

Calorie cycling is a way of eating that can help to keep your metabolism revved up and your weight down. While there are many different types of calorie cycling diets roaming around out on the internet, they all have one thing in common — they alternate between higher and lower calorie days. The idea behind this type of diet is to keep your metabolism “guessing” so that it doesn’t get used to eating fewer calories than you need.

The Difference Between Calorie Cycling and Intermittent Fasting

Many people think that calorie cycling is just another name for intermittent fasting, but the two are actually quite different. While both involve eating fewer calories than most diets recommend, intermittent fasting only requires that you fast one day per week (utilizing that specific type of intermittent fasting protocol since there are various types). In contrast, calorie cycling requires eating fewer calories on some days of the week and more on others.

There are several different ways to go about this. Still, the basic idea is that on high-calorie days, you will be eating anywhere from 300 to 500 calories above your daily maintenance level (which will be different for everyone). On low-calorie days, you will be consuming anywhere from 300 to 500 calories below your daily maintenance level.

The Benefits of Calorie Cycling

The benefits of calorie cycling are the same as you would get from any weight loss plan, but the results can be even better. You don’t have to constantly be lowering your calories to see results, and you don’t have to eat tasteless food just to keep your calories under your maintenance every day. As long as you are cycling your calories, you have (somewhat) free reign to eat what you want, when you want it.

That said, you clearly don’t want to go on an all-out binge on the days that your calories are higher than your maintenance, or you risk actually gaining weight when you’re trying to lose it.

So, why should you give calorie cycling a try?

• It’s an easy way to take advantage of the benefits of both a low-carb and low-fat diet.

• It’s good to take advantage of the benefits of intermittent fasting while still being able to eat normal meals.

• You can fit more nutrient-dense foods into your diet without eating more calories.

• You can make sure you are getting enough protein at every meal, even if you are not counting grams or ounces.

• It’s an easy way to “eat clean” without having to track macros or calories.

• You can easily make sure that your body is always in the process of burning fat instead of storing it, even when you are eating plenty of calories, and even if most of your food choices are not exactly what you’d consider on a “fat-burning” diet (think along the lines of green vegetables and fish).

Should You REALLY Consider This Diet Plan?

The key to most weight loss strategies is to limit calories, but this has a serious drawback. If you only eat a certain amount of food every day, you will have to eat less food on some days than on others, and this has two consequences:

1. First, you’re going to be constantly hungry on some days, and in fact, will often have to fight hunger pangs. This is not an attractive expectation for most people. No one wants to wake up knowing their calories are going to be super low, and they’re going to get “hangry” in the middle of the day.

2. Second, if you do manage to lose weight using this method when you stop dieting, the weight usually comes back even faster than it came off in the first place — the more extreme the diet, the more extreme the rebound.

In contrast, if you regularly vary your calorie intake from day to day or week to week, then your body never gets used to a reduced calorie intake.

As a result, you need less willpower because your body isn’t trying to fight its natural tendency toward maintaining homeostasis. This means that if you get tired of dieting and decide to stop, your body is much less likely to regain all the weight it lost – or worse yet, gain even more.

So, should you try calorie cycling? It wouldn’t hurt. If you’ve tried many diets in the past with very little success, this might be something you can adhere to versus many of the other diets that are impossible to maintain with your lifestyle.