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Metabolic Confusion, Carb Cycling, and Hypothyroidism Weight Loss

Learn if metabolic confusion and carb cycling are the right approaches to help support your hypothyroidism weight loss goals.
Metabolic Confusion, Carb Cycling, and Hypothyroidism Weight Loss
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Hypothyroidism can make weight loss challenging for many individuals. Metabolic confusion and carb cycling plans have gained popularity as a way to boost metabolism and shed pounds. But can these approaches help people with hypothyroidism? Let’s explore the potential benefits and drawbacks of this approach for people with an underactive thyroid.

What is metabolic confusion/carb cycling?

Metabolic confusion is a nutrition and exercise strategy that uses alternating periods of caloric and carbohydrate intake, as well as activity levels, to prevent your body from getting used to any one type of diet or workout. Carb cycling is a form of metabolic confusion that focuses on alternating levels of carbohydrate intake. The goal is to keep your metabolism from slowing down to achieve better fat loss. It’s based on the idea that switching up your routine can keep your metabolism stoked and prevent it from adapting to the same old diet or exercise program. At the same time, the body has to work harder to adjust to the changes, forcing it to use more energy and burn more calories. These approaches may also help with fat loss by preventing fat and weight loss plateaus.

How does metabolic confusion/carb cycling work?

When you’re following a metabolic confusion and carb cycling plan, you follow a plan where you cycle between two separate ways of eating. On high-carb days, you consume more carbohydrates and calories and do more intense workouts and physical activity. On low-carb days, your physical activity, carbohydrate intake, and calories are reduced to promote fat-burning and insulin control.

There’s no one specific schedule to follow for this approach. Instead, people typically choose one of the following metabolic confusion and carb cycling plans:

Classic schedule 

  • Alternating between high- and low-carb and calorie days 6 times a week
  • Seventh day is a “reward” day

Alternating schedule

  • Sunday/Monday – low-carb/low-calorie
  • Tuesday - moderate carb/moderate calorie
  • Wednesday – high-carb/high-calorie
  • Thursday – low-carb/low-calorie
  • Friday - moderate carb/moderate calorie
  • Saturday - “cheat” day

A 4-7 schedule

  • 4 high-carb/high-calorie days
  • 3 low-carb/low-calorie days

An 11-3 schedule in a two week cycle 

  • 11 days of low-carb/low-calorie
  • 3 days of high-carb/high-calorie

A 3-1 schedule in a 1-month cycle

  • 3 weeks of low-carb/low-calorie
  • 1 week of high-carb/high-calorie

A 2-2 schedule in a 1-month cycle

  • 2 weeks of low-carb/low-calorie
  • 2 weeks of high-carb/high-calories

What are the benefits of metabolic confusion/carb cycling?

There are a number of benefits of this approach.

  • It helps avoid plateaus and keeps the metabolism more active
  • It reduces cravings by providing your body with regular doses of carbohydrates throughout the week
  • It forces your body to use more energy – and burn fat -- to adjust to changes in carbohydrate intake and activity level
  • Since you won’t be completely cutting out carbs, you can indulge in your favorite foods occasionally without feeling guilty or like you’ve strayed off your plan
  • It helps build and preserve lean muscle mass
  • Can reduce swings in blood sugar

What are the potential downfalls?

One of the potential downfalls of metabolic confusion/carb cycling is that this approach can be challenging to stick to. It can be hard to stay on track if you’re constantly changing your diet and exercise routine. Additionally, if you’re not careful, you may find yourself eating too many carbs or calories or too much junk food when alternating between different diets.

It’s important to remember that while metabolic confusion/carb cycling can help with fat loss, it isn’t a magic bullet – you still need to watch what you eat and follow a balanced, nutritious, and healthy diet.

Is metabolic confusion/carb cycling safe for people with hypothyroidism?

For individuals with hypothyroidism, metabolic confusion/carb cycling can be a safe and effective way to improve health, lose fat, and boost energy levels. By controlling carbohydrate intake, you may be able to minimize symptoms of insulin resistance and stabilize or reduce blood sugar levels. Additionally, cycling carbohydrates can help prevent weight gain often associated with hypothyroidism. Some experts also believe that blood sugar improvements and increased insulin sensitivity also can increase your sensitivity to thyroid hormone. Evidence shows that low-carbohydrate eating may even help improve autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

However, it is essential for hypothyroid patients to approach metabolic confusion/carb cycling with caution. Drastically restricting carbohydrates for extended periods can potentially affect thyroid function and lead to further complications. The thyroid gland requires adequate carbohydrate-derived energy to produce and regulate thyroid hormones properly. The concern is that extended periods of very low carbohydrate intake inhibit the conversion of the storage hormone thyroxine (T4) into the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3). In addition, very low carbohydrate intake can trigger the body to shift into fat-storage mode. People with adrenal fatigue or Hashimoto’s (autoimmune hypothyroidism) may also experience a decrease in thyroid hormone production and metabolism. For more information, read Why Your Thyroid Needs Carbohydrates.

There is also evidence that significantly reducing calories and carbohydrate intake can lower the resting metabolic rate.

Ultimately, there is no clear consensus on whether metabolic confusion/carb cycling is safe for people with hypothyroidism. While some sources suggest it may be beneficial, others caution against this approach. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new diet or exercise program, especially if you have a medical condition like hypothyroidism.

Your next steps

Following a metabolic confusion/carb cycling plan can be an effective way to achieve your weight loss goals, but there are some guidelines to follow to help ensure success.

First, it’s always advisable to work closely with knowledgeable healthcare professionals, including a nutritionist. Paloma Health’s expert thyroid practitioners and nutritional consultants can work with you to develop a plan for optimal thyroid function and nutrition for a healthy weight and metabolism.

Monitor your symptoms: It’s also essential to monitor your symptoms carefully and listen to your body’s response. Each person’s nutritional needs vary, especially in the context of hypothyroidism. Pay attention to how your body responds to different approaches. If you experience any adverse side effects, such as increased fatigue or changes in body temperature, work with your care team to make appropriate changes to your plan.

Don’t overeat: It’s important to track your carbohydrate intake and adjust it based on your goals and activity levels. Eating too many carbohydrates or calories can derail your progress.

Prioritize healthy, nutrient-dense foods: Whether on a high-carb/high-calorie or low-carb/low-calorie day, focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods to support overall health. Opt for whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, and don’t eat too many processed and refined carbohydrates:

Don’t schedule too many low-carb/low-calorie days: Cutting carbs and calories too low can wreak havoc on your hormones and energy levels.

Adjust your carb and calorie intake based on your activity: You need to eat more carbs and calories on the days your body requires more fuel, such as higher-intensity workout days, and less on the days you’re not as physically active.

Remember, the key to balancing metabolic confusion/carb cycling and hypothyroidism is prioritizing health, monitoring symptoms, and working closely with healthcare professionals who can provide personalized guidance. By taking a tailored and cautious approach, you can enjoy the benefits of metabolic confusion/carb cycling while supporting your optimal thyroid function and overall well-being.

A note from Paloma

To stay on top of your thyroid levels, Paloma Health offers a convenient at-home thyroid test kit that measures TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb). You can also add a Reverse T3 and Vitamin D test to the thyroid panel.

Most importantly, optimal treatment of your thyroid condition must be a top priority for healthy weight loss and weight management when you’re hypothyroid. To ensure the greatest success, consider working with one of Paloma Health’s expert thyroid practitioners, who can work with you to develop and implement a customized hypothyroidism treatment plan. You can also work with one of Paloma’s knowledgeable nutritionists to help you fine-tune your nutrition and eating plan for metabolic health and weight loss.

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Is hypothyroidism a metabolic disorder? Published January 31, 2022.

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Mary Shomon

Patient Advocate

Mary Shomon is an internationally-recognized writer, award-winning patient advocate, health coach, and activist, and the New York Times bestselling author of 15 books on health and wellness, including the Thyroid Diet Revolution and Living Well With Hypothyroidism. On social media, Mary empowers and informs a community of more than a quarter million patients who have thyroid and hormonal health challenges.

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