Calorie Cycling: Why I Cycle My Calories, and Why it Might Be Right For You, Too
Calorie Cycling is a valuable, easy tool to use during your fitness journey. Read on to find our what calorie cycling is, and why I choose to do it. You may discover it’s right for you, too!
It’s Monday and your weight loss journey has begun! You start strong, making smart food choices and logging in under your calorie limit. The momentum builds as the days go by, and the scale has started to follow suit by the end of the week. You think to yourself, “this isn’t so bad, I’ll reach my goals in no time!” But, little do you know, there is a crucial obstacle approaching…DUN DUN DUNNNN….
Weekends are hard when it comes to weight loss and fitness goals. They have the opportunity to either set you back or propel you forward. Allow me to continue…
So it’s Monday again, after a particularly indulgent weekend, and you open MyFitnessPal for the first time since breakfast on Friday to log your weight. You’re up a couple of pounds on the scale this morning. You weigh more than you did on Friday morning, after being soooo good Monday through Thursday last week. Frustrated, you do one of two things:
- Defeated and discouraged, you go into the new week with an “eff it” attitude, order a greasy drive-thru breakfast sandwich on the way to work. Then you down a couple donuts from the office kitchen, and have take out for lunch. You skip the gym on the way home, and overeat when you get there. Ultimately, you feel like shit. Now you have a deeper hole to climb out of, so you give up altogether.
- Ashamed of and mad at yourself, you go into the week with a “gotta fix it” attitude. You drastically lower your daily calorie goal to “make up” for your weekend, and feast on lettuce and Diet Coke all week. Almost passing out during your daily hour+ long cardio sessions you have to do to burn off the calories you ate last weekend. Ultimately, you feel like shit and, come the weekend, you binge on ALL the things you’ve deprived your body of all week long. The cycle continues this way week after week. One step forward, two steps back.
Do either of these outcomes sound like you, either to the extreme or a lesser degree? If so, I might be able to help you.
There have been plenty of weekends where I felt like I’d “undone” the progress I made during the week by YOLOing over the weekend. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please know you have not “undone” anything. A week of forming habits, treating your body with respect, and working toward your goals is important and doesn’t just go away. You bettering yourself for a week is an incredible feat and a great foundation to build upon. A few days of subpar eating cannot undo that.
Weekend “Weight Gain”
Your “weight gain” after a big weekend, holiday, or vacation is very, very, very, extremely unlikely to be made up of pure fat. In fact, it’s basically impossible. If it is pure fat, don’t even be mad; be grateful for the fun you had gaining that fat. You must have had one hell of a time. My hat is off to you, madam!
Increased caloric intake means increased sodium, carbohydrates, and sugar intake, as well. All of which result in water retention. Much of the weight gain you see after a calorie-heavy day or two is simply extra water your body is holding onto. Not to mention, it takes time for your body to “dispose of” the extra weight of the food, itself. If you know what I mean.
So, repeat after me: I did not gain 3-5 pounds of fat over the weekend. Repeat as many times as necessary until you truly believe it. To actually gain 3 pounds of fat you’d have to eat a whopping 10,500 calories (approximately 3,500 calories = 1 lb of fat).
Now you know the scale weight isn’t telling you the whole story. Let’s move on to how you can get away from from dieting, and set yourself up for success. Even on the weekends!
**Disclaimer: This post may contain Amazon affiliate and other affiliate links. Any purchases made through these links may result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you), but all opinions are my own. Thank you 🙂 **
What is Calorie Cycling?
It may sound fancy or complicated, but it’s really not. Calorie cycling is simply eating fewer calories some days and more calories other days. I tried wording that as delicately as possible, as this is not about restriction. It’s not that some days you “can” or “can’t” eat more or less. Calorie cycling is very forgiving and fluid.
For example, let’s say your daily calorie goal is 2000. ** Before I continue, please, please find your own, unique calorie needs – this number is only to show you how this works. Calorie calculators like this one or this one are great places to start. **
With a calorie goal of 2000/day, your weekly calorie goal would be 14,000 calories. 2,000 x 7 = 14,000. Easy enough? So, aiming for 2000 calories per day would be a fine option. If that works for you, that’s great. Always, always, do you when it comes to your nutrition. On the other hand, however, if you fall victim to regularly overdoing it with food and drinks on the weekends, calorie cycling can be magic.
Calorie Cycling Makes Indulging Easy
Instead of eating 2000 calories every day of the week, mix it up. Set a higher “allowed” calorie limit on the days you need it most. This way you can reach for a few more treats, as well as reach your weight loss goals, on days you’re out of your usual routine, or more likely to be going out and socializing. For me it’s the weekends, but maybe you have events or commitments that pose dieting challenges during the week. Regardless, with calorie cycling, your total weekly calorie goal remains the same. But your daily calorie goals will vary from day to day. You can shoot for a different number every day of the week if you want. No need to overcomplicate things, but tailor it however you see fit.
The beauty of this is you can cater it to fit your individual needs on any certain day or week. If you know you have a birthday party, happy hour, pizza night, or what have you, you can fit it into your week seamlessly with minimal planning. Depending on how blow-out your weekend is going to be, these numbers could look completely different from one day and week to the next. As long as your total calorie average for the week remains the same and lines up with your overall goals.
Why and How I Calorie Cycle
Calorie Cycling Puts Me in Control
With calorie cycling, I manipulate my calorie needs based on my schedule in order to reach my goals. I am in control of my way of eating. My way of eating does not control me. I’m not at the mercy of anyone else’s rules, and have a handle on my nutrition and work toward my goals even on the weekends.
My current calorie cycling schedule and calorie goals are actually the top row on the table above. My weekly calorie goal is 14,000. Here’s how a typical week shakes out for me:
- Mondays through Thursdays I aim for 1800 calories each day because I’m in my usual routine and rarely go out to eat those days. Quick breakfasts at home, meal-prepped lunches, and healthy homemade dinners are the norm on weekdays at my house.
- Fridays and Saturdays I shoot for 2400 calories, because mama enjoys her desserts and weekend draaaanks. Okay, so I limit it to 3 drinks each night because mama also can’t deal with hangovers while overnight and early wake-ups with the kiddos are all but certain. Jk…they are 100% certain.
- I eat my average daily goal of 2000 calories on Sundays. The chances of a big breakfast, random afternoon beer, or special meal out are higher on Sundays than on weekdays. But they’re still lower than the odds of those things going down on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Add all 7 days together, and you get my 14,000 weekly calorie goal with an average of 2,000 daily calories.
You can see, Fridays and Saturdays I am “allowed” 600 more calories than on my typical weekdays. That’s the equivalent of 6 rum-and-diets, 2 slices of a large Papa John’s pizza, or 2 Coors Lights with an order of French fries. On top of my other 1800 calories worth of food and drink for the day. Not too shabby!
With Calorie Cycling I Start my Week Feeling Confident and Proud
Coming out of a weekend feeling like a million bucks because I didn’t blow my diet and happily lived my life is empowering as hell. Working toward goals – check. Enjoying days off – check. Starting the week with confidence – check. Feeling healthy, happy, and strong – check, check, check. Being proud of yourself and your efforts should not equate to patting yourself on the back for depriving and surviving.
Diets should be catered to each individual, not the other way around. So make yours work for you. The key to any diet is the ability to adhere to it. Feeling like a failure every Monday morning isn’t going to do much for confidence and motivation – two things that are vital to the ability and willingness to continue along the path to a healthier you.
Calorie Cycling Tips & Tricks
Set yourself up for success with these calorie tracking and calorie cycling tips and tricks.
1. Make sure you are eating enough.
Making sure you’re not eating too much is also important, but not as important as making sure you’re eating enough. You’ll want to test the limits of how much you can eat and still progress toward your goals. If you could choose to reach your goals eating either an average of 1800 calories/day or 1200 calories/day, I’d hope you’d choose 1800 calories/day.
My friend compared her monthly calorie intake averages to her weight loss progress and analyzed the highest and most efficient weight loss range for the needs of her lifestyle and body here – and you can bet your ass it wasn’t anywhere near 1200 calories/day.
You WILL Lose More Efficiently at a Higher Calorie Goal
On paper, reaching your goals might appear to take longer at the higher calorie intake, however, the odds of binging and quitting are far higher at the lower calorie intake. Living in a constant binge-restrict cycle guarantees it will take longer to reach your goals than if you consistently eat a more satisfying calorie count. And if you’re so unhappy with your impossibly low calorie intake that you give up altogether, you’ll never reach your goals.
Trust me, a higher calorie intake resulting in slow, steady progress will always trump the unpredictable wildcard outcome that happens when you are deprived and miserable.
Check out some free online calorie calculators to get an idea for what the appropriate calorie intake is for you based on your body, activities, and goals. This one and this one are both great options. Don’t be afraid to start high and see what happens!
3. Be flexible.
Oops! Have a random Moscato Monday or Wine Wednesday? Don’t fret! Because first of all, that sounds awesome. Secondly, your calorie cycling numbers aren’t set in stone. Going over your calories one day doesn’t mean a damn thing, because it’s all about your weekly averages. How you like them apples?
Let’s say you had – nay, ENJOYED – two 5-oz glasses of wine for approximately 250 calories total. That’s easily accounted for by adjusting the rest of your week, if you choose to do so. Having some untracked food or booze here and there certainly isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re anything like me, I just like knowing so I can more accurately track trends and progress.
Use Weekly Averages to Your Advantage
So let’s say it was a Moscato Monday…divide the 250 calories by the remaining 6 days of the week ahead and lower your daily intake by about 40 calories per day. If it was a Wine Wednesday, divide 250 by the remaining 4 days ahead of you, and lower your daily calorie intake by 60. Another option would be to decrease two of your higher days by 125 calories each. Really, the possibilities are endless and entirely up to you.
Note: I “start” my weeks on Monday rather than Sunday because 1) I like to group the whole weekend under the same week, 2) Monday just seems like a good fresh start, clean slate kinda day, and 3) the fitness program I follow on the SWEAT app starts my new workout week every Monday morning.
3. Check your stats in MyFitnessPal.
If you use MFP for your calorie and/or macro tracking, there’s a clever little feature that isn’t widely known. You can view a summary of your daily calories and weekly average numbers in graph form and save yourself the unpleasantry of doing math. See below for pictures and step-by-step instructions on how to find this feature.
Navigating Calorie Cycling with MyFitnessPal
- Go into your Diary from the Home screen
- Click on the Pie Chart at the upper right corner to bring up the Nutrition macronutrient summary
- Click on “Day View” to bring up a drop-down menu
- Click on “Week” and note the option to “Change Date” range
- The table that pops up displays each of your daily calorie intakes for the previous week, or whichever week you choose to view, as well as the daily average of the entire week, and average daily macros
- Click on one of the bars on the graph to display the calorie numbers above each bar
Is Calorie-cycling a Right Fit for you, Too?
If you often find yourself “being good” all week, then fumbling in the end zone when the weekend comes around, calorie cycling may be a great option for you. Reserve some calories for social and out-of-the-ordinary activities on the weekends, and save yourself unnecessary heartache or regret.
The Day/Week is Never “Already Ruined”
I know all too well the “this day is already shot, so screw it” feeling, urging me to grab the bag of chips or box of donuts. I still do this from time to time, because I’m human and chips and donuts are the shizzle. Because of calorie cycling, however, it happens so rarely it’s barely even a blip on the radar. I regularly enjoy these “indulgences” and don’t feel the need to go overboard.
I go into the weekend on Friday knowing I’ve got calories in the bank and can afford to live a little without feeling like I’m setting my progress back whatsoever. This sense of freedom on the weekends helps me to stay the course throughout the rest of the week, as well.
Calorie Cycling Gives Me Food Freedom
And that’s what it’s all about – experiencing a mental contentment around food to keep your head in the fitness game. Food freedom doesn’t mean eating everything you can shove down your gullet. It means you don’t have to restrict any foods to live your life and reach your goals. Moderation, consistency, and balance are far more worthy of your energy than feelings of guilt, shame, or failure.
Calorie cycling has given me the ability to lose weight and keep it off while living and enjoying my life. For Frequently Asked Questions I received after writing this post, see my Calorie Cycling FAQs.
Do you calorie cycle? If so, how do you spend your “extra” calories on your higher days? If not, has what I’ve said here persuaded you to give it a try? Let me know in the comments! Follow my fitness journey on Instagram to view my progress, as well as my daily food diaries and nutritional summaries.
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