The Zig Zag Diet [+ Step-by-Step Guide]
The Zig Zag Diet, a type of cycling diet, is an interesting weight-loss approach. It works by alternating between high- and low-calorie days to confuse the body’s metabolism as an easy way to fit your weight loss goals into your lifestyle.
This approach could also break you out of a weight loss plateau. Intrigued? Keep on reading.
What is the Zig Zag Diet?
Also known as a calorie cycling diet, the Zig ag Diet is a diet plan that involves cycling your daily calorie intake. Instead of eating the same number of calories daily, you alternate low- and high-calorie days. The total calories you eat during the week do not change, only how you distribute them.
The idea behind this type of eating plan is that it keeps your metabolism guessing to prevent it from slowing down, which in turn helps you burn more calories.
This way of eating can also facilitate a more flexible weight loss plan. You can accommodate your life needs and events by alternating high- and low-calorie days.
For instance, let’s say your daily calorie goal is 1,800 calories. In a traditional diet, you would consume this exact amount every day.
In contrast, with the Zig Zag Diet, you might consume 1,500 calories on Monday (a low-calorie day), followed by 2,100 calories on Tuesday (a high-calorie day). This pattern would then continue throughout the week, maintaining the overall weekly total of 1,800 calories daily, but distributed differently each day.
You could use this method to consume more calories during those days of the week when you have a special event (like when you are going out for dinner), but without increasing your overall weekly consumption. On days when you don’t plan on eating out and want to stay more focused, you keep the calories low.
This method keeps the metabolism active and allows for variation and flexibility in your eating habits, making the diet more sustainable and enjoyable than traditional calorie-counting plans.
5 Reasons the Zig Zag Diet Works
- You can still enjoy your favorite foods without guilt. By cycling through calorie amounts, you won’t have to go without your favorite snacks and meals because you’ll be able to enjoy them in moderation.
- It prevents diet boredom. The Zig Zag diet provides variety as it doesn’t restrict you to eating the same amount of calories every day. This makes the diet interesting and reduces the chances that you’ll get bored and give up.
- It’s flexible. This diet can be adapted to your lifestyle, activity levels, and special events. You can adjust your calorie intake on days when you know you will be consuming more calories, thereby making it easier to stay on track.
- It might boost your metabolism. By maintaining different levels of calorie intake throughout the week, you can prevent your metabolism from slowing down.
- It helps to prevent plateaus. The cyclical nature of the Zig Zag Diet prevents your body from getting used to the same calorie intake each day, keeping it guessing and preventing plateaus that often occur in traditional diets.
This diet can be an effective way to lose weight without feeling deprived or bored.
- It doesn’t consider food quality. The focus of this diet is calories, not quality. This means consuming more unhealthy food items while on this plan is possible, which could lead to weight gain and health problems down the road.
- It can be complicated. The Zig Zag Diet requires careful planning and tracking of your calorie intake, which can be challenging and time-consuming.
- You can overeat unhealthy foods. On days when you consume more calories, you might be inclined to eat junk food or consume more calories than you need, which can lead to weight gain.
- It might trigger rebound overeating. On days when you consume fewer calories, you might end up feeling ravenous and eat more than you need, leading to weight gain.
- It is not backed up by science. While popular, there is not enough scientific evidence that this eating plan helps people to lose weight.
What Science Says
A 2014 study compared a calorie-cycling diet to classic calorie restriction.
The participants who were calorie cycling followed a calorie-restricted diet for 11 days, followed by four days of a self-selected diet. The cycle was repeated three times.
Compared to the calorie-restriction group, the calorie-cycling group:
- Had better weight loss and improved levels of glucose, total cholesterol, and triglycerides
- Reported that feelings of hunger decreased and satisfaction increased
It should be noted that this was a very small study, and the duration was short.
There are few studies specifically on the Zig Zag Diet, and further research is needed to prove that it can be beneficial in the long run.
Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Own Zig Zag Diet
Creating your own diet plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to create your own Zig Zag Diet:
Determine your calorie level. A reliable method is to use the Mifflin St. Jeor equation. Make it easier by using this calculator. Eating approximately 500 calories less than your needs is recommended to lose weight. Remember that it’s not recommended to eat less than 1,200 calories per day if you are a female or 1,500 if you are a male.
Determine the days you want to eat more calories. It can be two or three days per week. You can select days based on your social or physical activity. For example, you might choose to eat fewer calories during the weekdays and more during the weekends. Alternatively, if you feel hungrier on the days you engage in cardio exercises, consider increasing your calorie intake specifically on those days.
Select the number of calories you want to subtract from your low-calorie days and add in your high-calorie days. Generally, 200 to 300 calories is a good amount to vary your intake.
To make sure you’re eating the right amount of calories, once your plan is ready, add all the calories and divide by the total number of days to get the average daily calorie intake. Your goal should be close to that number.
Determine how you’re going to track your calories. This plan only works if you carefully count your calories. Apps such as MyFitnessPal or Chronometer can be useful for this.
Ensure you eat healthy and balanced meals with all the nutrients your body needs. Fruit, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fat will provide you with energy and help you reach a caloric surplus on your high-calorie days without resorting to unhealthy or junk food.
At the end of each week, take a moment to reflect on how you feel and adjust as necessary.
Tips for Success on the Zig Zag Diet
If you’re considering the Zig Zag Diet, here are a few tips to help ensure that it works for you:
- Plan ahead. Planning your meals for the days ahead can help you ensure you consume the right number of calories each day.
- Use apps to track your progress. Monitoring your calorie intake and expenditure is key to the success of the Zig Zag Diet, so make sure you’re using a reliable tracker.
- Eat nutritious meals. Eating healthy food can help you stay full for longer and manage cravings. Ensure you get plenty of fruit, vegetables, protein, and whole grains.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to cravings that may cause you to break your diet, so stay well hydrated for optimal results.
- Don’t forget about snacks! Low-calorie snacks, such as fruit or small portions of nuts, are important to any successful diet plan. They help keep hunger at bay.
The Bottom Line
If you’re tired of restrictive traditional diets, then the Zig Zag Diet might be worth considering. This approach to dieting is more gentle than others, and it can be a great way to kick-start your weight loss journey or beat a plateau. Plan ahead and keep track of your progress for the best results. With dedication, this diet can help you lose weight healthily and effectively. Good luck!
Before starting any diet plan, consult with your doctor to make sure you’re within a healthy weight range to do so.
Dr. Su-Nui Escobar, a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in Miami, FL, is dedicated to empowering women in perimenopause and menopause to live healthier, more satisfying lives.
With a doctorate in clinical nutrition from the University of North Florida, she has expertise in menopause and weight loss, including the unique challenges faced by those on weight loss medications.
Su-Nui’s passion for her field is evident in her previous role as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson.