Calorie-shifting meal plans change calories consumption from one day to the next so that over the course of a week, calories equal an average number that allows you to reach weight management goals. For example, if you maintain a 2,000 calorie diet, then shift consumption anywhere from 1,200 to roughly 2,800 calories per day so daily consumption averages 2,000 calories over the course of a week. Meal plans can include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, or five to six small meals that add up to the day's calorie limits. Consult your physician before altering your diet.
Calorie shifting diets are based on the notion that by changing the number of calories consumed from one day to the next, you can increase your resting metabolic rate (RMR), or how many calories you burn at rest. This will ideally lead to weight loss. Whether you are on a low calorie, medium or high calorie day, meals should include a balance of essential macronutrients and a variety of foods to ensure adequate nutrient intake. The USDA's dietary guidelines recommend a dietary foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean dairy. Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber and help you stay full while adhering to calorie limits.
Identify the calories you need to meet your weight maintenance goals by visiting a registered dietitian or using an online tool such as the Dietary Reference Intake calculator from the USDA. Shift your daily consumption around your calorie needs. For example, if you need 1,500 calories a day to lose weight, you can plan a 1,200 calorie day with four small meals of 300 calories each then shift to a 2,000 calorie day with three meals of 600 calories each and two snacks with 100 calories each.
When planning your calorie shifting meal plans, do not restrict calories below recommended levels. Instead, consume meals that are balanced in protein, carbohydrates and fat, such as oatmeal with eggs, or rice with beans and vegetables. Women should not consume less than 1,200 calories a day and men should not restrict daily calories to less than 1,500. Very low calorie diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies, slowed metabolism and binge eating, which in turn causes weight gain. Special populations such as pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants and children and the elderly are not good candidates for dramatic shifts in calorie consumption.
Following a calories shifting diet requires planning, tracking and vigilance so you can stay within calorie limits while meeting nutrient requirements. Food labels, which state the number of calories per serving of all packaged goods, can help you track your calories. For foods that are not labeled, use an online calories calculator such as the one from the Calorie Control Council, or the USDA's database of foods and their nutrients. Eat a variety of foods with a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein and dairy to ensure you get the full range of vitamins and minerals.
When planning a calorie shifting diet to reach your weight loss and maintenance goals, consider that the evidence to support calorie shifting diets and their ability to alter RMR is inconclusive. A 1989 study by Jo Hill and colleagues published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that calorie shifting was no more effective for weight loss than a consistent calories diet, and that shifting calories did not increase RMR. The critical variable that impacted weight loss was whether study subjects exercised.
- "Nutrition: Real People, Real Choices"; Susan Hewlings and Denis Medeiros; 2008
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition": Evaluation of an alternating-calorie diet with and without exercise in the treatment of obesity; Jo Hill, et al.; 1989
- National Heart Blood and Lung Institute: Aim for a Healthy Weight
- USDA: Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- "The Gale Encyclopedia of Diets"; Gale; 2008.