The Best Zig Zag Diet for Fat Loss

“I don’t know about you, but I’m not in to eating dried chicken breast and veggies six times a day, day after day, week after week, month after mind-numbing month.” –Joel Marion

Calorie restriction will take you a long way.

But it will only take you so far. Once you get to a certain point, your body starts taking measures to prevent fat loss and promote fat storage because this is what it thinks will help you survive. Your body can’t really tell the difference between a calorie restricted diet and starvation except that the former is simply a milder form of the latter. This is why the leaner you get, the more difficult it becomes to lose fat. You can create a massive calorie deficit by eating very low-calorie and low-carb for a few days, but take it any further than that and you will hit a fat loss brick wall. Your body will trump all your efforts by reducing levels of fat burning hormones and increasing levels of fat storing hormones. However, a zig zag diet will keep your fat burning hormones running solid.

You can eat like this and have a body like this too.

The main hormone that controls all the others is leptin.

High leptin levels are associated with higher body fat levels and a higher calorie intake, which allow you to burn fat more easily. Low leptin levels are associated with lower body fat levels and calorie restriction which makes it more difficult for your body to burn fat. That’s pretty much all you need to know without getting too scientific. If you want to get super lean and drop fat more rapidly than just a normal person on a diet, you need to outsmart your body and maximize its fat burning potential, even when it doesn’t want to do so.

This is where a zig zag diet (also known as calorie cycling) comes into play.

So we know that in order to lose fat, we must create a calorie deficit, which means eating less. But at the same time, as we do this, it makes it more difficult to burn fat because the body is taking measures against it. So what’s the solution? Restrict calories for a few days to burn as much fat as you can while your leptin levels are sufficient. Then, as soon as they start to drop, have a cheat day and reset your leptin levels. This works like a charm because it takes several days of calorie restriction for your leptin levels to drop significantly, but only a single day of overeating to reset them.

So let’s get this straight… overeating once every few days is actually good for fat loss?

Absolutely. In fact, the best foods to cheat with are the worst foods for you: high carb and high fat foods boost leptin levels more than any other types of food. But you have to do it right. Don’t play the leptin card and use it as an excuse to have several cheat days per week. This will blow up in your face and in your gut. A cheat day every few days is fine and will actually work in your favor if you’re putting in the work on the non-cheat days and doing what you’re supposed to. I’ve known about the magic of cheating for a while and I’ve been implementing cheat days regularly, but I was making two big mistakes.

A cheat day can be an amazing fat loss tool if you do it right.

The first mistake was having back-to-back cheat days.

I used to do this quite frequently on either Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday. I figured I was good all week, so I could indulge all weekend. The problem with this was that after my first cheat day, my glycogen stores were maxed out from my carb binge. So when I had my second cheat day immediately after, the next carb binge would go straight to fat storage. I was still losing enough fat on my non cheat days to create a net fat loss for the week, but I could have dropped even more fat by strategically spreading out my cheat days. Now, I have a moderate cheat day mid-week and a full out cheat day on the weekend. The added benefit of following a cheat day with a fasting day or extremely low-calorie day is that your body burns even more fat on the low-calorie day because leptin levels are restored.

The second mistake was inactive cheat days.

Obviously, when you are taking in more food energy than you’re burning off, you’re bound to store some of it as fat. You might gain a little bit of fat during these cheat days. But on your non-cheat days, there’s a good chance you’ll lose even more fat for a weekly net fat loss. This is what you are shooting for. But what if there was a way to avoid fat gain altogether during cheat days improving your results even more? Well there is and it’s called intense exercise. When you undergo rigorous strength training or intense cardio such as HIIT, it depletes the glycogen stores in your muscles. Then when you eat a bunch of pizza or pasta, the first thing your body wants to do is replenish those stores… which means the cheat food is going to your muscles and not your fat stores. Boom!

Intense exercise on cheat days is money for preventing fat gain. Intense is the key word here. Walking around the block is fine, but it won’t work well for this. You want something that’s going to knock you out and give your muscles a severe beating. Once I started incorporating intense exercise on my cheat days, I felt a pump like never before during my workouts. Further, and I know this sounds stupid but it’s true, I felt less of a bloated, heavy feeling in my stomach after eating junk food because it wasn’t going to my gut. Just trust me on this one.

The Xtreme Fat Loss Diet teaches you how to use calorie cycling to maximize fat loss.

I learned all of this from the cheat day master, Joel Marion.

His new program called Xtreme Fat Loss Diet goes through all of this in depth plus much more. There are other topics such as supplementation that I haven’t even mentioned in this post. Joel has tweaked this program after years of experimentation to create a five-day cycle which is the perfect zig zag diet for fat loss. In fact, it’s so Xtreme, that Joel himself stresses it’s not meant to be a long-term plan. But the principles you learn from the program make it completely worthwhile because you can tailor them to your routine. The most impressive thing about XFLD is that it’s the first program I’ve seen that creates a synergistic effect from fasting, cheating, and exercise so that when you combine all three in the correct fashion, the results you achieve completely blow away anything you could accomplish from doing each one separately. I’ll just leave it at that. Go check it out for yourself!


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I'm an introvert, number nerd, food junkie, personal finance enthusiast, and fitness blogger. I specialize in fat loss and stress-free fitness for busy people.


  1. All good tactics to try and eat less, I hate eating with rules but if you can’t lose weight something like this could help.
    Also depends on how much you need to lose, if you are really over weight you don’t need any cheat meals really ..if you are very lean and trying to drop the last few pounds … then cheat often.
    It’s good the Joel says its not a long term plan diet is (in fact you seen Joel lately? he needs to lose a bit of weight himself showing its hard to keep it off).
    The important part is get started sounds like using this program could be good and then develop good eating habits for a lifetime.
    Raymond – ZenMyFitness´s last blog post ..Discover How To Run Faster That helps Build A Muscular Body

  2. It’s funny how weight loss works. For so long I could not figure out why I managed to stay thin while eating so much, not every day but every couple of days. Nobody really ever broke it down to a science until recently with programs like the one you mention above. I never believed in cheat days and felt eating light one day and more on others was easier for my body to handle. These programs teach it as a plan and that is an advantage.

    Sam- Look Like An Athlete´s last blog post ..The 5 Best Obliques Exercises- Turbo Charge Your Midsection The Right Way

  3. @ Raymond,

    While this program will work for anyone, I agree it’s better suited to someone who has only those last few pounds to lose and who is already in somewhat decent shape and can handle the rigorous workouts. For severely overweight people, their leptin levels are already high so cheating is less of a necessity and calories in vs. calories out should work fine.

    @ Sam,

    I can see how many people may accidentally fall into this pattern and stay lean, but understanding the science behind cheat days is great because it allows you to indulge without feeling guilty. Further, you can tweak details like workouts and pre and post-cheat days to improve your results even more.

  4. Some great info.

    I love cheat days. In the past I used to think that the best thing for my body was to try and control my mind to the degree where I didn’t actually desire certain types of food. It was sort of an Anthony Robbins thing where you think about food differently.

    However, these days I am not as strict as I use to be and I feel much better because of it. As long as you don’t over do the cheat days and you still have your eye on the calorie intake and what sort of foods you are eating, you can actually really help your body by cycling.

    Great post.
    Carl – Six Pack Workouts´s last blog post ..What’s The Best Way To Burn Belly Fat

  5. @ Carl,

    I used to try to control my mind also, but now I believe that keeping no foods off limits is best, from a psychological perspective as well. You always hear the saying “everything in moderation is ok” and although cheat days don’t seem to fit in with that, in the big picture, they do because if you eat low-calorie, healthy foods the majority of the time, you will burn plenty of fat and stay lean despite the one or two days a week when you cheat.

  6. Thanks for the cheat day tips, it really does make sense that if you exercise and cheat at the same time the results are better!
    underde´s last blog post ..Corporate Event Management Tips

  7. This is really interesting stuff! I’ll have to take a more in-depth look into this program.

    I find it fascinating how the body works. It works so hard to keep us running and yet we’re always looking for ways to bypass it’s natural self-defense mechanisms. No wonder it’s so difficult to lose the last few pounds!
    Srdjan – Bloom to Fit´s last blog post ..10 Skipping Rope Exercises for a Better Body

  8. @ Underde,

    Definitely! Thanks for stopping by!

    @ Srdjan,

    The self-defense mechanism is there for a reason, but I have a feeling the people reading this aren’t in danger of starving to death so I’m not losing any sleep over delivering this information! The last few pounds are definitely tough and this final stage of fat loss is where things like calorie cycling can really make a difference.

  9. I think this is what has kept me lean…
    overeating once every few days is actually good for fat loss

    All my life I have been known as a guy that can out eat anyone but I have always been lean. Sure I was active always doing exercise but I think this tip has helped me the most and I didn’t even know it.

    For the most part i would eat clean, but there were days that I would eat more food than you would think one person could eat. A few times a week I would go some where that had endless amounts of food. And I would take full advantage of it. What I would do is start with veggies, I would get a few plates before moving on to the meat. I would always eat the lean cuts of beef, have chicken a fish. Then when I have eaten about as much as I could I would have a little treat. I love ice cream so that would often be my choice.

    I always ate foods that were better for me but ate as much as I wanted. Never was i considered fat. I think eating sensible on the other days made the difference.
    Jason – Fitness Workouts´s last blog post ..Best Cardio Intervals Fat Loss Part 2

  10. Excellent set of points and I find calorie cycling and zig zag diets are not only good for fat loss but also good psychologically. You only have to restrict for a finite numbers of days before you can indulge in foods you enjoy. I’m currently on vacation but when I get back I’m going to go through the Xtreme Fat Loss Diet. Even though I already do a lot of the recommended tips, I feel like the laser focus I’ll have over the next 3-4 weeks will make it highly effective.

  11. @ Jason,

    Sometimes my friends are amazed at how much I can eat also. When we are out at restaurants they tell me I have a naturally high metabolism but I know that’s not the case. They don’t always see the work I put in behind the scenes (like the extremely low calorie Primal diet days) to keep me constantly burning fat. Eating sensible the majority of the time really does make a difference.

    @ Dave,

    I love the psychological freedom this eating plan gives me. With my current mid-week and weekend cheating schedule, indulging in my favorite foods is literally no more than two or three days away at all times! I think you’ll find that XFLD is great for pre and post-vacation dieting. Enjoy the rest of your vacation!

  12. I completely agree with cheat/re-feed days and the benefits they offer. The boost in metabolism and energy that can be felt the next day (as long as it’s not overdone) is reassuring also.

  13. @ Ahmed,

    I began fasting and/or eating really low-calorie on days following cheat days to take advantage of the leptin spike – optimal conditions for accelerated fat burning. I can do this without any problem because I’m usually still full from the day before for several hours into the next day. If I try to force myself to eat again the morning after a cheat day, I actually feel more sluggish and less energetic.

  14. I think cheat days are great, but like Raymond stated it might not be that way for people that need to lose a lot of weight. I was very strict on my Paleo Diet when I started a few years ago. I lost 50 lbs with essentially no exercise. Now that I am training and cheating, my body does look better.

    The important thing like you said is to cheat the right way, and not make it a habit. I have been having more full weekend cheats then I should, and it’s time to get focussed again!Thanks buddy!


  15. What’s your best definition of calorie cycling?

  16. @ Jordan,

    The full-weekend cheats hurt me as well. I didn’t realize it until I tried this modified cheating schedule and began performing intense strength workouts on cheat days. I feel like my metabolism has improved now that I don’t need to dig myself out of a major hole after every weekend.

    @ Srdjan,

    I would define it as strategically manipulating your calorie intake by alternating between high and low calorie days in order to maximize your body’s fat burning ability.

  17. Hey Alykhan, I have a copy of the Extreme Fat Loss Diet and it is definitely extreme. I tried it for a week just to see how I will do and it was too difficult for me to follow. Although, I did lose 2-3 lbs during that week. I like that they outline what you need to eat and everything including the workouts. This is for people who like the 5-6 meals a day approach and can do well on a low-carb diet.

    Anna D.

  18. @ Anna,

    XFLD is definitely extreme. It’s probably a good program for right before a vacation and even then, I bet a lot of people would struggle to follow it to the letter. I think the important thing is understanding the principles behind the program such as pre-cheat day depletion, cheat day exercise, and post-cheat day fasting. You can incorporate these into your normal routine without following the program and still reap the benefits.

  19. Dude, love the article! I just learned about the Zig Zag diet recently myself. Although I have not tried it yet, I have heard of people having success using it. Have you had a lot of success?

    I’m 5’8″ 175ish pounds 11% body fat. I want to lose more fat and gain more muscle (don’t we all) but I’m at a plateau. Right now I’m doing a lot of circuit training.

    Let me know if this diet program has been beneficial for you. Thanks!

  20. @ Brandon,

    This diet program has been very beneficial for me. It’s perfect for losing fat and gaining muscle because you eat more on your lifting days which helps you put on muscle, but you burn a ton of fat on your low-calorie days.


  1. paleolithic says:

    paleo diet…

    The Best Zig Zag Diet for Fat Loss | Fitness Breakout…

  2. […] i don't know exactly what a "refeed" is but since i have incorporated one cheat day a week (Fridays-definitely higher calorie day) and eat clean and moderately the rest of the week it has definitely worked in my favor as long as i reign it in and not let it continue throughout the weekend or "binge" but i really let myself eat whatever and how much i want that day and i have not gained. Also i believe that HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has also helped a great deal. I'm not able to do much because of CFS but i walk my hill as fast as i can go (which leaves me gasping for breath) and the recovery phase is on the way down and i repeat this for about 20 minutes. This combined with a calorie "free" day has made the difference but you'll have to experiment what is best for you Some food for thought (whether there's "science" behind this or not, it works for me):…t-for-fat-loss […]

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