What is Calorie Cycling?

Erin J. Hill

Calorie cycling is a form of dieting that is based on switching the maximum daily calories by several hundred once every few days to a week. The idea is that since the metabolism gets used to burning a set number of calories per day based on what one eats, it can be tricked by eating less than that amount on certain days. For instance, if someone’s metabolism was “programmed” to burn 1800 calories per day based on the person’s diet, and he consumed only 1200 one day, his body will have burned 600 calories more than what he consumed.

Weight is lost when one consumes fewer calories than the metabolism burns off in one day.
Weight is lost when one consumes fewer calories than the metabolism burns off in one day.

Weight is lost when one consumes fewer calories than the metabolism burns off in one day. The problem with switching to an overly restrictive diet, however, is that eventually the metabolism catches up and begins burning fewer calories. This means that when the person goes off the restrictive plan, his metabolism will still be burning the smaller number of calories. The result is generally weight loss followed by a period of extreme weight gain. This is what is known as “yo-yo” dieting.

Calorie cycling is often more effective because instead of eating an overly restrictive diet, one is able to eat more calories for several days, followed by a few days of food restrictions. Research shows that it takes the metabolism three days or more to begin slowing down due to lack of food. This means that as long as dieters begin eating normally again within that time period, their metabolism will continue running at optimum levels.

Although calorie cycling does allow dieters a less restrictive option, it does not mean that they are able to eat whatever they want in large amounts. Calories should still be kept at reasonable levels during the “higher calorie days”, meaning no more than 1400-1800 for women and 1800-2500 for men. The exact calorie count for each individual will depend on current weight and body mass index. No fewer than 1200 calories per day should ever be eaten for a long period of time unless specifically instructed by a doctor.

On the restrictive days of the calorie cycling diet, exact calorie counts will vary based on the individual and how quickly weight needs to be lost. Most experts agree that more than two to three pounds (0.90 - 1.36 kg) per week is excessive after the first week of dieting. Dieters may need to experiment in order to determine how much or how little can be eaten to keep weight loss within the healthy range.

As with any diet plan, calorie cycling should not be used until a physical and health check has been completed by a licensed physician. Those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, should receive guidelines for completing the diet in order to keep blood sugar levels stable. Exercise and eating plenty of fruits, lean meats, vegetables, and whole grains should be the basis of this and all healthy diet plans.

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