Insight into Calorie Shifting Meal Plans to Help You Lose Weight and Live a Healthy Life

Page content


Calorie shifting meal plans or diets have been called by many other names: zig-zag dieting; calorie cycling; body confusion. Regardless of what it’s referred to, the basic concept of alternating daily caloric intake is the same.

When calorie shifting is used for weight lose, it is most commonly done by shifting by the day or by the meal. The idea is to keep the body’s metabolism continually burning, not allowing it to adjust to a set caloric intake. When you shift by the day, you would consume a certain amount of calories one day and then shift it to a different total the next. Shifting calories by the meal maintains a steady daily calorie intake throughout the week, but fluctuates individual meal totals from day to day. For example, the total calories consumed for breakfast on Monday could equal 300, but will then change to 500 calories for breakfast on Tuesday.

Creating a Customized Plan

Creating meal plans is done individually. As each person is different, has different goals and will not respond to calorie shifting the same as others, it’s important to customize. While it may seem difficult, it is possible to complete in a few simple steps. There are many online sources that will create a customized program for each individual. However, membership is required, and there is usually a fee charged for the service – ranging from $39.00 to $119.00.

Step 1

To create custom calorie shifting meal plans, it is first necessary to determine the total amount of calories needed weekly in order to lose weight. Here is a formula to help determine a starting point:

Current weight X 12 (amount of Kcals per pound) = A (calories consumed per day to maintain current weight)

A X 7 days per week = B (total calories consumed in a week)

For a one pound loss per week, subtract 3,500 calories (the amount of calories in one pound of fat) from “B” to obtain the total number calories to be consumed per week. For a two pound loss, it’s necessary to subtract 7,000 calories from “B.”

NOTE: It is not recommended to reduce calorie intake as to lose weight faster than 1-2 pounds per week. For healthy, permanent weight loss, a weekly goal of 1-2 pounds is recommended.

Step 2

Next it is necessary to decide if the plan will follow the 2 by 2, or 1 by 1 pattern. Put simply, the 2 by 2 pattern means two days of higher calories (2000, 1800 or 1600 calories, depending on your weekly allotment) followed by two days of lower calories, (1500, 1300 or 1200 calories) with the pattern repeating. The 1 by 1 pattern is an alternating one up, one down pattern. If doing meal shifting instead of by day, simply alternate your meals using the 1 by 1 pattern.

Step 3

Once a weekly calorie total has been calculated, it must be determined if shifting will be done by the day or by the meal.

If day to day shifting is the goal, it is necessary to calculate a calorie allowance for each day ahead of time, to ensure the total does not exceed the weekly allotment. For example, a woman with a weekly allotment of 11,200 may schedule daily calories such as (following the 2 by 2 pattern):

Day 1: 1,300

Day 2: 1,500

Day 3: 1,800

Day 4: 2,000

Day 5: 1,300

Day 6: 1,500

Day 7: 1,800

With meal shifting, the daily allotment of calories does not change from day to day. However, the meals at which the lowest and highest amounts of calories are consumed do change. A woman with a daily allotment of 1600 calories may schedule her calories such as:


Breakfast – 300

Snack – 150

Lunch – 550

Snack – 100

Dinner – 300

Snack – 200


Breakfast – 600

Snack – 100

Lunch – 300

Snack – 50

Dinner – 450

Snack – 100

Step 4

Creating menus and meals is the next step. It’s important to spend the allotted calories wisely. Some calorie shifting meal plan sources state fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy, should be excluded from the plan. However, others have included these with equal success. Each meal should consist of a lean protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Snacks should be lean proteins, or fresh fruits or vegetables.

Step 5

After repeating the pattern (either 2 by 2 or 1 by 1) for a maximum of 12 days, take a small break – most commonly two days. During these two days, eat normally. This is not an open invitation to consume large amounts of junk food, to eat out for every meal or to live solely on chocolate and soda. Instead, eat what everyone else is eating without worry or concern. Simply use moderation.

After those two days, resume the pattern from the beginning, following as before, taking a break after an additional 12 days.

Additional Tips

When utilizing the calorie shifting meal plans, be sure to track calorie intake. This ensures daily and weekly totals are not exceeding the allotted amounts.

If daily calorie shifting is being used and a hunger is repeatedly noticeable on lower calorie days, adjust daily calorie allotments, increase slightly the lower calorie days and decreasing the higher calorie days. This should help with any issues of excess hunger.

As this plan is flexible, there is room for any adjustments that need to be made – and as weight is lost, adjustments should be made. Recalculate total weekly calories after approximately every 15 pounds lost, and adjust daily or meal calorie allotments based on new weekly allotments. Other adjustments can be switching from the 2 by 2 pattern to the 1 by 1 pattern, or if weight loss has stalled, switching for one cycle from calorie shifting by days to calorie shifting by meals.

Calorie shifting meal plans are a good alternative to traditional low calorie diets, offering flexibility to those who are looking for a way to lose weight and eat healthy.


Mayo Clinic.

United States Department of Agriculture. Food and Nutrition Information Center. Weight and Obesity.