When it comes to physical wellness, everyone has different goals, but the most common one is weight loss and acquiring a toned physique. Weight loss can be quite demanding and difficult, requiring you to get into restrictive diets, extreme fitness routines, and a whole lifestyle appraisal. Even with these lifestyle changes, you are often slapped in the face with the disappointment that comes with the same number (sometimes even a higher number) on the weighing scale. As a result, some of us give up entirely, and often dive into a slump after putting in the work and not seeing any substantial results.
Over the years, we have seen numerous diets that claim to be the best way to lose weight fast. Many of them are oversold, ineffective, and unhealthy. The truth about diets is that it is imperative to find a healthy one that suits you and is efficient in helping you meet your goals. For instance, Karen might find the keto diet perfect for weight loss, but if Susan tries it, the results might differ. This is often caused by factors because there are striking differences between people’s responses to identical foods.
We have all learned numerous things about diets. For example, most people think “carbs are evil,” fatty foods have gained a bad rep over the years, sugar is definitely not invited to the healthy foods’ party, there are a lot of negative reviews for animal proteins too. These popularized opinions about certain foods can destroy the relationship you have with food. Although it is essential to know what’s good for your body and what’s not, it is also crucial for you to have a meal without feeling guilty or disgusted afterwards.
What is calorie cycling?
Also known as calorie shifting, calorie cycling is a dieting style that allows you to cycle through high-calorie and low-calorie days or periods. Calorie cycling does not have any strict guidelines or restrictions. This style relies solely on the number of calories you should eat in a day or ion a week.
We can all admit that a strict diet can be hard on your body and your will to remain consistent, especially in the long term. Caloric cycling allows you to regularly change the number of calories you take and sometimes the types of food you eat in order to prevent fat loss plateau and maintain metabolism and workout performance. This style of structuring your weekly or monthly food intake keeps your body from adapting to a set number of calories and keeps your metabolism high.
How does calorie cycling work?
The best thing about calorie cycling is that it can be structured in a way that suits any individual. According to a University of Fribourg research, at least one-third of dieters regain more weight than they lost, which is extremely unfortunate if you were on an unpleasant diet. However, calorie shifting has been proven to work because it shows significant improvement in some anthropometric measures (measures used to assess body composition such as Body Mass Index (BMI), height, skinfold thickness, weight, and body circumference) as compared to calorie-restrictive diets.
Our bodies are designed to go into full survival mode in case there is any danger. As such, restrictive diets cause your body to adapt to the reduced calorie intake, i.e., metabolic adaptations. These adaptations include:
- Low levels of testosterone: lower than normal testosterone levels cause an increase in body fat, especially in the midsection, even for women.
- Adaptive thermogenesis (starvation mode): a slowdown in metabolism makes it hard to lose weight at all, causing a weight loss plateau.
- Decreased thyroid hormone levels: hypothyroidism interferes with metabolism and leads to a weight loss plateau.
- Increased cortisol: this may lead to insulin resistance, which causes an increase in blood sugar, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes in some cases.
- Decreased leptin levels: leptin alters food intake and controls energy expenditure, with lower than normal levels, it causes uncontrolled food intake and weight gain result.
- Increased ghrelin: ghrelin is a hunger hormone that increases with restrictive diets. In high levels, it intensifies feelings of hunger in and leads you to eat more, therefore causing weight gain.
Calorie cycling works by bringing a balance in your lifestyle in that it allows you to have high-calorie days/meals without feeling guilty. Unlike various restrictive diets, calorie cycling helps you maintain your muscle mass while losing excess fat. It also doesn’t stop once you have reached your desired weight; you can maintain a calorie cycling diet structure to help you maintain your weight and build your muscles if you so desire.
How to implement calorie cycling within your plan
Calorie cycling is not a diet that you just get started on; it is a style that structures your already existing eating pattern. As such, you can implement calorie cycling when you notice physical changes such as a decrease of energy, poor gym performance, bad quality of sleep, lower sex drive, or a weight loss plateau. This usually signals that your body is adjusting to the diet you are on, and it is an excellent time to make the right changes, which will help you meet your goals.
The key to calorie cycling is listening to your body. Use high-calorie days to refuel and reenergize before you get started on your low-calorie days. For low-calorie days, reduce your calorie intake by 500 to 1000 kcal.
Calorie cycling provides that you have high, medium, and low-calorie days, which have a difference of about 500 to 1000 calories. To determine how your meals are going to be, you must be fully aware of your goals. If you intend to lose weight, you should have more low-calorie days than high-calorie days. This means that you should maintain a calorie deficit for 5 to 6 days and then increase your calorie intake for 1 to 2 days per week.
- High-calorie days: 10% above maintenance calories
- Medium calorie days: Maintenance calories
- Low-calorie days: 20% below maintenance calories
For instance, if your daily maintenance calories are 2,500 kcal per day, yore high-calorie days will have 2250 kcal/day and your high-calorie days will have 2000 kcal/day. You can split these calories for all your meals with high-calorie days and low-calorie days as you wish. By making sure that you have high-calorie days, you will have an increase in energy, which leads to an increase in energy expenditure during training and accelerates fat loss. This is because after high-calorie days, your metabolism will be recovered, and the following low-calorie days make fat loss more efficient.
The food you consume is also crucial. For proteins, the daily intake should remain consistent, at 6 to 8 grams per pound of bodyweight. Carbohydrates will vary a lot because they are the primary source of calories in your diet. On high-calorie days, you should have lower fats because you want to use carbohydrates to regulate essential hormones.
For calorie cycling, you need to take frequent breaks from dieting, where you eat the calories required for bodyweight maintenance. You get better results if you take a two-week break after every six to eight weeks cycle. You can go back to dieting after the two-week break with a better metabolism rate and more energy for your body to function properly even through extreme workouts.
Calorie cycling and workouts
You are also required to plan your calorie intake around your activity level and the muscle groups you are working on. For instance, if you are working on your posterior chain muscles, you can plan your high-calorie days to be on the days that you are doing your lower body training, your medium calorie days on the days that you are doing upper body training, and your low-calorie days on the days that you are not training at all.
Calorie cycling plan example
- Sun – 2000kcal – Rest day
- Mon – 2500kcal – Leg day
- Tue – 2500kcal – Abs day
- Wed – 2000kcal –Rest day
- Thu – 2250kcal – Arms day
- Fri – 2250kcal - Chest day
- Sat – 2000kcal – Rest day
Total: 15,500kcal/week (calorie deficit if your maintenance weekly calorie intake should be 17,500 calories per week)
The above plan will help you lose weight and efficiently work on specific muscles. Please note that you can change the calories based on what your goal is. If you want to gain weight, then you should add a few calories to your daily maintenance calorie quota (above 2500). If you're going to maintain weight, then you should make sure that your weekly calorie intake averages to your daily maintenance calorie quota (2500).
Benefits of calorie cycling for women Over 40
In your 40s, it becomes easier to put on a few pounds than it is to lose them. However, you can still get the body you desire with regular exercises, what you eat, and when you eat it. Calorie cycling has numerous benefits that are fundamental for long term sustainability.
In order to see how important metabolism is, you need to understand energy expenditure in your body. Energy expenditure has three components: physical activity, Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and thermic effect of food (energy required for absorption, digestion and disposal of consumed nutrients). Your BMR is the energy used by your body for vital functions such as breathing when you are at rest, and it sums up to 65% to 70% of all the energy. A low BMR cause fatigue and low physical activity, but when you keep your BMR high and maintain a calorie deficit, you have a better chance of losing excess weight because you have more energy. Calorie cycling allows you to maintain a high BMR, and this is highly beneficial for healthy weight loss.
Sometimes, all you want is good food to make your day a little brighter, but when this constantly happens, and you always want to chow down on something, you will put on a few pounds. A study done by the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences revealed that unlike the calorie-restrictive diets that increase your appetite, calorie cycling suppresses it and increases the feeling of satiety.
A sudden calorie deficit can have adverse effects on your body, such as a lower metabolism rate, fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, weaker bones, reduced fertility, and lower immunity. This can be avoided by calorie cycling. When you start feeling sluggish and physically unwell on any diet, calorie cycling can help you to get back on track and recover your regular metabolism rate.
Highly restrictive diets are hard to stick to. You often find yourself craving carbs or sugary drinks, tracking your macros becomes a nightmare, and social gatherings become hectic because you can’t eat all the tempting delicacies laid in front of you. Calorie cycling can be structured in a way that allows you to enjoy your favourite meals and still maintain your calorie intake. This makes it less daunting and easy to adhere to.
Most dieters have experienced low energy levels, weight loss plateaus, hormonal changes, etc. these adverse effects are usually balanced by calorie cycling. Although your body will experience some changes, they will not be extreme and detrimental. Because calorie cycling does not cause sudden metabolic and hormonal changes, it is a better alternative to extreme diets which promise similar results.
Tips to make calorie cycling easier
- Plan your high-calorie days around the days when you are tempted to eat more calories. For instance, if you know that you will be going out on a Friday night, you can plan your calories and ensure that you have an allowance to eat slightly more calories on Friday. This makes it easier for you to remain consistent with your calorie intake.
- Accountability is crucial. If you have been tracking your calorie intake, you should start now. This might seem like a tedious task, but there are apps that make it easier for you. You can keep track of your calorie intake and make changes wherever necessary to suit your needs.
- Consult a professional. If you have any underlying medical conditions, making dietary changes requires you to consult your doctor or nutritionist beforehand. It is always advisable to be aware of any implications any diet or dieting structure may have on your diet.
- Drinks have calories too. When tracking your meals, don’t forget to calculate the calories in your wine or beer.
- Enjoy your high-calorie days. If it’s cheat day, make the most out of it and enjoy your favorite calorie-packed meals guilt-free. Feel free to eat that pizza you’ve been craving all week! This will have striking psychological benefits, and you won’t even realize that you are dieting at all.
- Make healthy choices. The fact that you can have cheat days does not mean that you should eat unhealthy food. Opt for a healthy alternative. When you are craving greasy fries, try baked fries instead.
Our bodies work to protect us, but these biological processes can have the opposite effects as seen with metabolism and weight loss. Calorie cycling, however, makes it easier for you to trick your body into maintaining optimum functionality, which in turn makes it easier for you to achieve your goals. As we grow older, one of the most desirable attributes is aging gracefully and maintaining youthfulness. Although dieting works, a better approach to your diet might actually be the key to aging backward.
Nothing worth having comes easy, and it turns out that a dream body is worth having. The challenges you might face as you try o get back in shape or maintain your current physical appearance do not have to be too overbearing. Calorie cycling makes it easier for you to achieve your body weight goals and sustain a healthy lifestyle.
Pathways from dieting to weight regain, to obesity and to the metabolic syndrome: an overview.