Can You Lose Weight On Keto Without A Calorie Deficit?


There is a lot of confusion around the keto diet so in this post I will explain can you lose weight on keto without a calorie deficit?

You cannot lose weight on a keto diet without being in a calorie deficit. The keto diet leads to gluconeogenesis and ketogenesis primarily by consuming high-fats and very-low-carbohydrates. However, despite being in ketosis, to lose weight you need a caloric deficit.

But that is applied with any diet, not just the keto. To lose weight, the body needs to be in a negative energy balance which means expending more energy than is consumed.

Does Keto Work Without A Calorie Deficit?

Keto does work without a calorie deficit, meaning you can get into nutritional ketosis without a negative energy balance. However, you cannot lose weight on keto without being in a caloric deficit because for weight loss to occur body needs to burn more calories than it consumes.

There are plenty of benefits from being on the ketogenic diet, without being in a caloric deficit. In the medical world, a ketogenic diet had a place as a therapeutic diet for pediatric epilepsy.

The actual name “ketogenic” was coined by Russel Wilder in 1921.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that is characterized by recurrent seizures (sudden and uncontrolled electrical disturbances).

Classic pharmacological treatment only works with limited effectiveness, therefore a ketogenic diet is been useful for people with difficult-to-treat epilepsy (source).

Today the main reason why people embark on keto is to lose weight.

And with the effect of consuming predominately fats and almost no carbs, our metabolically flexible body starts to adapt and utilize fatty acids in the process called gluconeogenesis (creating glucose from non-glucose materials) and ketogenesis (ketone bodies formation) (source).

So the body basically uses fat instead of glucose.

But this process doesn’t mean we gonna lose weight.

It just means we can use different sources of energy than glucose.

Related article: Calorie Deficit For Beginners How It Works, Tips & Guides

Can You Eat Unlimited Calories On Keto?

You cannot eat unlimited calories on keto because excess calories will lead to weight gain, despite being in ketosis. For weight loss to happen, the body needs greater calorie expenditure than calories consumption. Therefore, unlimited calories on keto will lead to a positive energy balance.

So there is a big discrepancy between doing keto versus doing keto for weight loss. That is the main underlying issue with the marketing and advertisement of keto (or any weight loss diet).

Because it is misleading to the belief that you can eat as much as you want, as long as you stay away from specific food items.

Which is total nonsense because to lose weight on keto you need to be in a caloric deficit. That’s why the promise of “eating what you want” can be deceptive. And at the same time excellent selling point because nobody likes dieting and feeling hungry all the time.

So the story that you can eat what you want without being hungry is very attractive.

But to lose weight, there is no other way around it.

You need to be in a caloric deficit (source). And caloric deficit means you gonna feel hungry at some point. Regardless if you’re doing keto, Atkins, paleo, plant-based, zone, or intermittent fasting.

But feeling hungry is subjective. It’s a perception rather than a state. Which means it can be trained or at least get accustomed to. But no one is teaching people how to get comfortable with hunger.

It’s better to promise something that is easy, ready-for-you, and effortless.

Because if they would, nobody would be doing keto anymore. If you’re more comfortable with hunger, this means you can eat foods that you like, not because they are the “keto” or “paleo”.

Just to be clear, I’m not picking up on keto. It applies to any diet. Weight loss happens only by eating less food. So keto works because of caloric deficit, not because of ketosis.

Related article: Does Calorie Deficit Work Without Exercise?

Keto Works Because Of Calorie Deficit

Being on keto is not enough to drive weight loss. Keto works because of caloric deficit, not because of gluconeogenesis or ketogenesis. It means you need to be eating fewer calories than your body needs, so it can start using the excess that is already stored.

I’ve heard a great analogy on one of the Dr. Peter Attia podcasts recently regarding weight loss. If your car is overflowing with petrol because you’ve poured too much into the tank, to the point where it starts to overflow, you cannot keep on refueling it 3 times a day.

You need to stop refueling and keep driving.

Related article: Can You Get A Six-Pack In A Calorie Surplus?

Which is exactly how the diets work.

But people get uncomfortable with hunger so they want to believe there is some magic trick that can be done or some magic ratio of foods that will make us lose weight without feeling hungry.

But the reality is so different.

To have a lean body for life, you need to be able to stay in touch with your hunger signals and understand that hunger is not an emergency.

It’s just a feeling.

And the more often you will expose yourself to feeling hungry, even for a moment, the better your results will be (source).

That’s why intermittent fasting has been so life-changing for many people. Not because of ketosis. No because of some magic ratio of the fasting period and eating window.

It works simply because you eat less food. And the longer you don’t eat, the more you get comfortable with hunger.

And once you realize that hunger is as natural as breathing, it will transform your point of view on weight loss forever. To find out more about how to get more comfortable with hunger, check out my article about doing intermittent fasting.

If you wanna know can you do keto without counting calories, check out my article here.

In Conclusion

You cannot lose weight on any diet without being in a caloric deficit. A caloric deficit means the body receives less energy than it needs on a daily basis. So because we are metabolically flexible, our body switches into using other resources already available (stored body fat).

Regardless if you’re doing a diet high on meat, plants or the combination, any diet that creates weight loss works by calorie deficit. With keto there is no exception. Keto diet works because of calories deficit that creates negative energy balance.

So the most important task while on any diet should be to understand that caloric deficit is part of the game. You cannot drop a large amount of weight without calorie restriction and feeling hungry.

So by focusing on how I can get more comfortable with hunger pangs, instead of which diet works best will not only transform your body but also your relationship with food.

Related article: Do You Poop Less In A Calorie Deficit?

Related Questions

Does Calorie Deficit Matter On Keto?

Calorie deficit matter on keto because any diet that is designed to lose weight works by reducing consumed calories. People can get mislead by the information that you don’t need to eat less to lose weight, however, any hypocaloric diet works only by caloric deficit.

Can You Do Keto And Calorie Deficit?

You can do keto and calorie deficit because to reduce excess weight it is necessary to reduce the number of energy. Keto works by switching from using glucose to utilizing fatty acids and ketone bodies, and once the body enters into a caloric deficit, the weight loss will exceed weight gain.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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