What is Metabolic Confusion?

What is Metabolic Confusion? Metabolic Confusion Diet Explained

What is Metabolic Confusion?

Each year, new diets emerge which claim to have cracked the code of lasting weight loss. The keto diet and intermittent fasting are two that have gained popularity. With traditional low-fat diets falling out of favor, the quest for a sustainable diet and results continues.

One of the latest diets gaining traction in this crowded field is the metabolic confusion diet. Although many of us are familiar with metabolic processes and the impacts of maintaining a healthy weight and living a low-stress lifestyle, the term "metabolic confusion" is probably an idea that has even the most informed of us scratching our heads [1].

In this article, we will examine the question, "What is metabolic confusion?" We'll discuss -

  • Does metabolic confusion work? 
  • What are the benefits of metabolic confusion?
  • What are metabolic confusion tips & tricks?
  • How to confuse your metabolism?

Metabolism Defined

Metabolism represents the sum of every biochemical reaction in the body for essential function, growth and maintenance [6]. It is the all-encompassing reconciliation of two opposing forces in the body simultaneously generating and breaking down the body.

The two forces include Anabolism and Catabolism. While Anabolism is responsible for constructing things and consuming energy, catabolism breaks down molecules and releases energy.

What is Metabolic Rate?

Metabolism Rate represents the efficiency of our bodies using energy (glucose) for activity now vs. storing the excess energy (glycogen) for use later.

Metabolism rate is expressed in calories (unit of energy) over time and represents the total calories exhausted to support the following three metabolic processes over a given time.

  • Activity Energy Expenditure (AEE) is the energy your body uses when active and accounts for 10-30% of your daily caloric usage.
  • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is the energy your body uses to digest or store food and accounts for 10% of your daily caloric usage.
  • Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is the most heavily weighted factor in determining your metabolic rate. Our RMR accounts for up to 70% of your caloric usage and is dependent on body composition and body weight.

Fast Metabolism: People with a fast metabolism naturally burn more energy (glucose) from consuming food and are thus likely to store less in the form of glycogen.

Slow Metabolism: People with slow metabolisms will naturally store more energy in the form of glycogen due to not burning off glucose above what their body predict is needed in the short term.

Although our metabolism is unique to every individual, it is easily influenced, and intentional actions can sculpt it. 

How to Increase my Metabolism?

    1. Eat more protein to take full advantage of the increased Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). Protein solicits the most significant rise in TEF compared to Carbohydrates and Fats. In short, the body will burn more calories breaking down protein than other macros.

    2. Reduce caloric intake before long periods of inactivity. Eating more before being active leads to significantly less weight gain than eating before sedentary [4]. Our metabolism slows down up to 15% during sleep compared to being awake [7].
    3. Increase your muscle mass. For every one lb. of muscle mass, the body burns 6 to 7 calories per day—the more muscle, the better when it comes to a high metabolism.
    4. Incorporate high-intensity training into your regime. Low-intensity exercises like walking, jogging, long-distance cycling do not utilize glucose as the primary energy source but rather fatty acids. On the flip-side, high-intensity strength training or isolation exercise burns up glucose stores which temporarily increases your RMR.

    Muscle mass is the key factor when you read about other indirect components like age & gender impacting metabolic rates. The relationship between increasing age and decreasing muscle mass and the relationship between gender and muscle mass all make assumptions about age and gender that may or may not be accurate. Muscle mass and the ability to gain it or lose it is mostly about choices and less about what you were handed at birth.

    Does Sleep Impact Metabolism?

    Sleep impacts everything and remains a staple of health and wellness. Sleep deprivation proves to reduce metabolic rates, albeit not so much that it's a fast track to gain weight. Studies show a difference in < 3% when comparing 6 hours of sleep to 10 hours per night [5].

    How to Confuse Your Metabolism?

    There is no medical definition for the term metabolic confusion. In fact, this is an unscientific term. While it is not possible to 'confuse' your metabolism, there are more appropriate identifiers for this type of dieting regime such as calorie shifting or intermittent fasting.

    Similarly to calorie shifting or alternate day fasting, the metabolic confusion diet yields inconsistent results and proven to be no more effective than other calorie restrictive diets [8] [9] [10]. 

    The principles surrounding "metabolic confusion" are straight forward - 

    1. Weight loss occurs when caloric intake is less than caloric burn rate 
    2. The greater the caloric deficient the faster the weight loss  
    3. Your metabolism will adjust, adapt, and correct accordingly
    4. High caloric intake puts upward pressure on metabolic rate
    5. A caloric deficit puts downward pressure on metabolic rates 

    The Goal of Metabolic Confusion?

    The goal of the diet is clear: to stop your metabolism from adjusting during periods of low-calorie intake to maximize weight loss. And there is scientific evidence to suggest that your metabolism can tank if you are not careful.

    Metabolic Confusion is the dieting process that attempts to limit the impact of a naturally falling metabolic rate when calorie intake is reduced. By calorie cycling and the correct timing, the logic is very believable. 

    Metabolic Confusion for Weight Loss?

    In order to lose weight sustainably, our bodies must be on our side.

    Our resting metabolic rate - the rate at which your body uses energy while your body is at rest - is affected by several factors.

    These include -

    • Age & Gender
    • Size
    • Lean Muscle Mass

    When you lose weight your resting metabolic rate undergoes downward pressure because your body mass is lower. 

    As the body gets used to having access to fewer calories and uses less energy given the less lean mass to consume it metabolic adaption is soon to take place and settle in for the long haul. 

    Metabolic adaptation will always be victorious in any battle that is waged in an attempt to manipulate the metabolism in the short term for a quick result. Any science that suggests otherwise is leaving out the long term benefits of a constant and predictable restrictive caloric diet. 

    Does Science Support Metabolic Confusion Diet?

    The metabolic confusion diet goes by a few names. The most common is calorie cycling & calorie shifting; most science on "metabolic confusion" is searchable via these aliases, which is why the metabolic confusion diet at face value is perceived as a new trend.

    What is Calorie Shifting?

    Calorie shifting gives you a good idea of the concept. Ultimately, all weight-loss diets come back to the conceptual center of consuming fewer calories than exhausting via activity.

    Calorie shifting is not different in that it too utilizes the benefits of being at a caloric deficit. The "shifting" component has to do with timing.

    "Shifting" in the context of calorie consumption has to do with attempting to stay one step ahead of metabolic adaption. Hence, the body never settles into a sustained lower metabolic rate.

    A 2014 study compared a calorie-shifting (metabolic confusion) diet with calorie restriction. This study looked at weight loss, but also considered how the subjects felt about the diet [3].

    The result was that those on the metabolic confusion diet lost weight. They felt less hungry and were more satisfied than those on the calorie restriction diet. They also saw improvements in their plasma glucose, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

    The most interesting outcome was the effect on their resting metabolic rate. This remained unchanged, although they had lost weight.

    This was a relatively small-scale study, but the results are encouraging. Despite the size of the study, most studies on this topic in fact support the concept that the metabolic confusion diet can help people to lose weight.

    Good News: The Metabolic Confusion Diet does help weight loss efforts due to its dynamic and enjoyable nature, more so than a constant caloric restriction diet.

    Not so Good News: While metabolic confusion is flexible and dynamic keeping you hooked, restrictive dieting does provide the most sustainable and long term solution.

    What is considered High Calorie vs. Low Calorie?

    The US Department of Health and Human Services provides guidelines for calorie intake based on age, gender, and activity level. The guidelines can provide a useful starting point for you to work out what a low-calorie or high-calorie day means in terms of actual caloric intake [2].

    There are no set rules for the metabolic confusion diet. Most advocates recommend eating 1,200 calories or less on a lower intake day while being closer to 2,000 calories on a high calorie day.

    How Easy is the Metabolic Confusion Diet?

    For any diet to be successful long term, it needs to be easy enough for people to stay on it. The challenges of the metabolic diet are that it does involve calorie counting on both days. The higher intake day should not be confused with a free day or binge day.

    The advantage is the freedom that the higher calorie day allows you. It's a more natural way of eating because we naturally eat more on some days than others. Also, it will relieve your desire to enjoy treats and be more relaxed about what you eat every other day.

    The Role of Leptin in Weight Management

    Leptin is a hormone naturally released by our fat cells within the body. It is sometimes called the 'satiety hormone' as it signals to your brain (hypothalamus) that you have enough fat stored in your body and thus creating a fulness feeling (full tank light is on). While eating, glucose & insulin entering your bloodstream will also trigger a leptin release [11].

    The job of leptin is not to make you lose or gain weight; instead, it is to sustain body weight and thus, in specific circumstances, can work against efforts to curb diets combatting long-term obesity. When a person has been overweight for an extended time, the blood may already be saturated with leptin, creating a leptin-resistant environment. A person experiencing leptin resistance is desensitized to elevated leptin levels, and thus the battle becomes more difficult.

    As you can imagine, when the body knows it has stored too much fat, plasma leptin levels in the blood remain high such that the brain doesn't let up in making us feel full. The opposite is also true when the body desires more fat consumption; the plasma leptin concentrations in the blood decrease, stimulating the onset of a big appetite.

    When the body's fat mass is low, plasma leptin levels fall, stimulating appetite and suppressing energy expenditure until fat mass is restored.

    When the body's mass rises, leptin levels increase, suppressing appetite until weight is lost.

    There is a possibility that leptin plays a part in the success of the metabolic confusion diet. The leptin concentrations in the blood naturally lag behind food consumption, similar to our metabolic adaption rate where timing is everything.

    The benefit of this natural lag is that leptin levels stay more consistent, reducing signals telling the brain to store energy or minimize activity. This theory continues to get challenged when more and more evidence is published showcasing the short term impacts of glucose and insulin on leptin levels. 

    Does Metabolic Confusion Work?

    Yes, no, it depends. Speaking in absolutes will get us nowhere fast. Hence, the middle ground relies on the premise that "everyone is different, and the ability to train your metabolism is no easy feat."

    All things equal the science is not wrong; however, many overlooked factors can quickly destroy the notion of the metabolic confusion diet.

    Does Stress Slow My Metabolism?

    When you take on high levels of stress, the body creates an environment that allows easy access to blood sugar.

    The step-by-step logic series flows like this -

    • You become stressed for a myriad of reasons.
    • The body produces increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone)
    • Cortisol slows the metabolism down, so the body stops storing glucose (glycogen) but keeps it available in the bloodstream.
    • Glucose levels increase in the blood so that if the body needs to fight or flight, it has immediate access.
    • With many metabolic functions abated due to increased cortisol levels, you no longer burn calories. 

    Chronic stress is the silent killer that can quickly spiral your health out of control. The impacts are not limited to weight gain and negatively impact your general immune system, thus the body's ability to protest itself.

    What are the Benefits of the Metabolic Confusion Diet?

    A 2017 study compared alternate day fasting against calorie restriction. Alternate day fasting is similar to the metabolic confusion diet with a set time between the high and low-calorie shifts.

    The study determined no more significant weight loss in the alternate-day fasting group than in the calorie restriction group.

    Why is this a good thing? Because most people find that calorie shifting is more enjoyable. Constant calorie restriction is hard to stick to long term. The alternate-day dieters have more flexibility, and they report higher satisfaction levels in exchange for the same result.

    Metabolic Confusion may not be more beneficial in weight loss than calorie restriction, but the journey may be more pleasant.
    People on the metabolic confusion diet highlight one huge benefit - they feel less hungry. Low-calorie diets are notorious for leaving people feeling tired and hungry. This is one reason why long-term compliance is so difficult.

    Because you can eat a higher level of calories every other day, you are less likely to give in to negative eating behaviors. These include bingeing and overeating.

    Metabolic Confusion & Keto Diet

    Combining Metabolic Confusion with other diets is common practice with Paleo or Keto. Paleo and Keto dictate what is consumed, while the Metabolic Confusion diet dictates how much and when food is consumed. 

    You may find it beneficial to add a high-quality protein supplement to your diet to hit protein-calorie targets to reach a specific goal. 

    Do you know how much protein you need? 

    Learn More: Rated #1 Protein Intake Calculator
    Learn More: Keto Diet 101 & Keto Flu

    What is Metabolic Confusion?

    The answer to 'what is metabolic confusion?' while the term may not be scientific (it is made up), the logic of the metabolic confusion diet seems to help people lose weight, especially if you are the type to give up on consistent restrictive calorie diets.

    Learn More: Articles & Info
    Learn More: FAQs

    [1] Medical Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Can You Boost Your Metabolism?Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Nov. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/metabolism/art-20046508.
    [2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015.
    [3] Davoodi, Sayed Hossein et al. “Calorie shifting diet versus calorie restriction diet: a comparative clinical trial study.” International journal of preventive medicine vol. 5,4 (2014): 447-56.
    [4] Perakakis, Nikolaos et al. “Research advances in metabolism 2016.” Metabolism: clinical and experimental vol. 67 (2017): 41-53. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2016.11.001
    [5] Spaeth, Andrea M et al. “Resting metabolic rate varies by race and by sleep duration.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) vol. 23,12 (2015): 2349-56. doi:10.1002/oby.21198
    [6] Sharma, Sunil, and Mani Kavuru. “Sleep and metabolism: an overview.” International journal of endocrinology vol. 2010 (2010): 270832. doi:10.1155/2010/270832
    [7] Brebbia, D R, and K Z Altshuler. “Oxygen consumption rate and electroencephalographic stage of sleep.” Science (New York, N.Y.) vol. 150,3703 (1965): 1621-3. doi:10.1126/science.150.3703.1621
    [8] Trepanowski, John F et al. “Effect of Alternate-Day Fasting on Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Cardioprotection Among Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA internal medicine vol. 177,7 (2017): 930-938. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0936
    [9] Varady, Krista A et al. “Alternate day fasting for weight loss in normal weight and overweight subjects: a randomized controlled trial.” Nutrition journal vol. 12,1 146. 12 Nov. 2013, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-146 
    [10] Catenacci, Victoria A et al. “A randomized pilot study comparing zero-calorie alternate-day fasting to daily caloric restriction in adults with obesity.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) vol. 24,9 (2016): 1874-83. doi:10.1002/oby.21581
    [11] Boden, G, et al. “Effect of Fasting on Serum Leptin in Normal Human Subjects.OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Sept. 1996, academic.oup.com/jcem/article/81/9/3419/2651139.
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