Zigzag Dieting For Fat Loss

by Jen on September 12, 2014

Zigzag Dieting for Fat Loss


Have you heard of the term, “Zigzag Dieting?”  While I have heard the term in my fitness circles, I have never really looked into it…until now.

I get a lot of people messaging me, asking me how much they should eat to lose weight, how many calories they should be consuming on a daily basis for maximum weight loss.  Of course everyone is different, but the math is still the same no matter what: To lose a pound of fat requires a weekly caloric deficit of approximately 3,500 calories.

Using a traditional diet plan, this means eating about 500 fewer calories per day.  So, for example, if you calculate your calorie intake to be 2,000 calories per day, that would mean you would have to eat 1,500 calories per day to lose 1 pound per week.


With zigzagging, instead of subtracting 500 calories per day, you would stagger the deficit of 3,500 calories across 7 days.

Maybe a graphic would help (this is based on a 2,100 calorie diet):


In the graph above, you are staggering your calories by about 200-300 each day.  But some prefer to stagger their calories just 2-3 times per week: on 2-3 days per week, eat the same number of calories you usually would, and then on 4-5 days per week, eat more (or less) calories.

The general rule is 4 days of change and 3 days of remaining the same.


The bigger and more active you are, the higher number of calories you should add or subtract. Most people move in a 200-500 calories per day range.  Don’t get too caught up in the number though. There’s nothing wrong with going too low, and then zigzagging again. Unlike yo-yo dieting, zigzagging won’t negatively affect your metabolism. Instead, if you pay attention to your workouts, and keep zigzagging until you’re nailing every workout, your body will respond by raising your metabolism to handle the stress and gaining or losing weight will become easier.


Say, for example, you’re eating 1,500 calories a day and you’ve lost weight. But, now your weight loss has stagnated. That’s because the new, fitter you has a different body composition than the former you. You have more muscle and a higher basal metabolic rate (BMR). In order to continue your weight loss you need to eat more, because 1500 calories isn’t enough and your body is reacting by slowing down your metabolism and releasing cortisol in a protective response (this is often called starvation mode because this is how your body would respond to being starved).

For the sake of this example, let’s say your run a calorie calculation and determine that you now need to eat 2,000 calories per day.  You don’t want to jump straight to 2,000 calories. First, it would cause some shock to your system and, second, it might be inaccurate, as those calculators only give ballpark figures.

The most effective thing to do is to zigzag your caloric intake. In this instance, I would recommend eating 1,500 calories per day 3-4 days per week and 1,200 calories on the other days. Note how your body responds. My expectation is you’d feel good on the higher calorie days and famished on the lower calorie days.

You want to be energized but not hungry and not full. So, after a week or two, bump up your calories to around 1,700 calories for 4-5 days and 1,200 calories on 2 days. Do this for about a week. If you’re still starving on the low days, try bumping them up to 1,500 on the low days and see how you respond. You can tell when you’re eating too many calories because you’ll begin to feel full, you won’t digest your food between meals, and you’ll feel more lethargic at the beginning of workouts.

After reading more about zigzagging, I have to say that I think I unintentionally already practice this way of eating.  There are some days where I can eat, and eat, and eat and then there are other days where I’m not that hungry and eat a lot loss.  Overall though, my calories tend to average out over the course of a week.  Eating this way has helped my metabolism stay high so on the days I eat more, my body is more effective at burning those extra calories!!

My dessert last week!

To summarize, zigzagging or “calorie cycling,” helps you to avoid going into starvation mode and instead tricks your body into staying away from a homeostatic state.  There are many fitness professionals and weightlifters who swear by this approach, so we know it can work.  **But ALWAYS check with your doctor before starting any new weight loss plan!!

Have you tried zigzag dieting before?  If so, were you successful?


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