Calorie cycling: the zig zag challenge

After a short walk to take out my garbage, I found myself huffing and puffing from the heat. As I walked back into the building, a brilliant idea hit me about my daily calorie intake. I thought, to myself, “Wait, I don’t have to eat the same amount of food every day – what if I change it up daily? Is this a thing? It must be a thing.”

So, once I got back inside, I headed on over to Google and typed in “calorie calculator” and to my surprise, I came across a website called

It’s a pretty simple calculator. You enter your basic stats including your age, height and weight. Then you hit enter. There is an option for metric or US standards so you don’t have to do the math in your head like I tried to do and failed miserably.

The amount of information that surfaced after was astounding. And it got me thinking, that this might be an excellent way to lose weight faster and in a healthy manner. But as I always do, I decided to do some more digging to find out if this really works. Here’s the table that I was given based on my current stats.

My results:

The results show a number of daily calorie estimates that can be used as a guideline for how many calories to consume each day to maintain, lose, or gain weight at a chosen rate.

Maintain weight2,602 100%Calories/day
Mild weight loss 0.5 lb/week2,352 90%Calories/day
Weight loss 1 lb/week2,102 81%Calories/day
Extreme weight loss 2 lb/week1,602 62%Calories/day

The Zig Zag Diet (not a fad diet)

Before I get into the details, let’s first go into what calorie cycling is and why this can be beneficial for your weight loss goals. This is a new discovery for me though I’ve heard the term before – so I am learning this all right with you.

This was a lot easier to explain that I thought it would be. It’s all math.

  • Take the number of calories you should be eating to maintain your current weight.
  • Determine your weight loss goal (make it realistic)
  • Determine how much you want to lose per week (aim to 1 to 2 pounds to start)

Or you can use this calculator to do the math for you:

Your main goal here is to have a calorie deficit on more days than not. The great thing about this plan is that it allows you to have cheat meals and you can eat the foods you love in moderation. For me, that is a huge bonus.

You can change things up as you go to suit your lifestyle. You may want to save higher calorie days for the weekends when you are more social and likely to go out to eat. And plan for low calorie days during the week when you’re working. Or you can choose up to two cheat days and spread them out during the week. For instance, Saturday and Wednesday could be your cheat days.

Don’t binge over the weekend. This will undo all the hard work you put in during the week!

The big question is – does this work?

And the answer is YES. There are many fitness and health professionals, weight lifters and pro athletes that swear by the Zig Zag method. You can read more about this in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a paper published in 2020.

Diet schedules

The calculator then went on to show me a sample diet schedule for two weeks. There are three samples shown – calorie goals for mild weight loss, weight loss, and extreme weight loss. The website doesn’t give much of an explanation on the definition from mild to extreme – so this is where people will have to use common sense.

This is what my first week would look like for extreme weight loss. My definition of EXTREME weight loss would be 2-5 pounds per week. A healthy and sustainable weight loss for the average person would be 1-2 pounds per week.


  • Sunday – 2600 calories
  • Monday – 1200 calories
  • Tuesday – 1200 calories
  • Wednesday – 1200 calories
  • Thursday – 1200 calories
  • Friday – 1200 calories
  • Saturday – 2600 calories


  • Sunday – 1200 calories
  • Monday – 1450 calories
  • Tuesday – 1700 calories
  • Wednesday – 2000 calories
  • Thursday – 1900 calories
  • Friday – 1600
  • Saturday – 1300 calories

For me, week 2 seems a little harder to keep track of. That would take A LOT of meal planning and prepping ahead of time. I’m just not built that way. Some days I’m not as hungry as other days. So, I think for me – the first schedule makes more sense. And I’ll do something like this for the second week – which allows me to have foods that I love like pizza and bread every now and then.

  • Sunday – 2600 calories
  • Monday – 1500 calories
  • Tuesday – 1200 calories
  • Wednesday – 1500 calories
  • Thursday – 1200 calories
  • Saturday – 2600 calories

Exercise schedule

This will vary for person to person. I need exercise for joint health and to combat inflammation of my knees and ankles. For most people, weight loss comes from changes in the kitchen. Yes, there are tons of benefits for exercise like getting your heart rate up, and keeping your body moving in general. But for long-term weight loss success, it’s all about what you put into your body.

I try and move a little every day. It’s hard on hot days like today. It’s really hot right now. But on cooler days, I alternate between cardio and strength. I’m waiting for the weather to cool down before heading to the gym down the street. And the pool nearby reopens in the fall. I’m hoping to join some aqua fit classes. And am really hoping my doctor will give me a prescription for a discount. Yep, that’s an actual thing!

Potential risks

Like any new diet or food schedule, there are risks. If you are diabetic or have insulin related issues, you may want to check with your healthcare provider before trying this method. You may ask your doctor to monitor your status on a monthly basis just to make sure that there is no danger in what you are doing.

Also, you should never go below 1000 calories. 1200 is around the low point for most people who are fairly sedentary. While others who are more active, may need more calories to sustain their energy through the day. To learn more about the dangers of starvation diets, please visit my post here on Fasting vs. Starvation.

I’m excited to try this new plan and I will keep you posted on my results. I always post a follow up article whenever I do a new challenge. I hope this one works for me. If you have tried something similar, let me know in the comments!

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