Can You Lose Weight Without Being In A Calorie Deficit?


In this article, I will explain everything you need to know about the caloric deficit and help you understand if you can lose weight without being in a caloric deficit?

You cannot lose weight without being in a caloric deficit because the only way to lose weight is by negative energy balance when the body switches from using external sources of energy (food) to internal sources of energy (stored body fat), which is only triggered by caloric deficit.

So doesn’t matter how you cut it. It’s all about energy balance, and if you have more energy coming in than going out, you won’t lose weight.

How Long Does It Take For Your Body To Get Used To A Calorie Deficit?

It can take around 1-2 weeks to get used to the caloric deficit because physical hunger is the most uncomfortable element of caloric restriction. The more you get comfortable with hunger and appetite signals, the faster you will be able to get used to the caloric deficit.

The number one reason why people are afraid of the caloric deficit is that they feel uncomfortable with physical hunger. They believe it’s just gonna get worse. So if I feel hungry right now, later on, I will be starving. But the reality is different.

Physical hunger comes and goes. And it’s not an emergency. It can It’s directly related to the ghrelin levels in the body. Ghrelin is a hunger peptide (signaling messenger). This means when ghrelin is high, you feel hungry, and when is low, you don’t (source).

If we gonna go a step further, levels of ghrelin change significantly.

This means one time you can feel hungry, but a couple of hours later, you’re just fine. But people freak out because we live in the times where you can throw a rock and you will hit food, so the physical fullness is more often practiced, rather than physical hunger.

That’s one of the reasons why people fall of the wagon.

So the easy way to get used to hunger is simply self-awareness. You must get comfortable with physical hunger. The more frequently you get into a caloric deficit, the more you will feel comfortable. And remember that hunger is not an emergency. It’s just a feeling. It comes and goes.

Related article: Should You Eat The Same Amount Of Calories Every Day?

How Long Should You Stay In A Calorie Deficit?

You should stay in a caloric deficit for anywhere from 12-24 weeks, or more, depending on your current weight and desired weight. To lose 20 pounds, you should stay in a caloric deficit for around 12-16 weeks, were to lose 50 pounds, you should stay 24-30 weeks.

In other words, you can stay as long as you need to. But it doesn’t have to be so strict and rigid. This means you can still enjoy your food, but you just need to eat less of it.

I know you’ve probably heard that before. Eating less food drive caloric deficit. But eating less is very subjective. This means different people have different ways to quantify what does exactly eat less means.

So traditionally, we come up with a bunch of external measures that help us track food. Calorie counting, measuring portions, weighing food, counting points, etc. All of those methods are fine, only if you like the rules.

But for everybody else (most people) those methods add more restrictions, anxiety and stress. So initially you may see results, but later on you’re just sick and tired of counting calories.

The easy way to stay in a caloric deficit, without worrying about calories, is by focusing on how to eat, rather than what or how much food to eat (source).

“How we eat” can drive caloric deficit, without a calculator. One example of how to eat is eating slowly. Slow eating is one of the most simplistic tools you can use to eat less food, regardless of what food you eat. It takes 20-minutes for satiety signals to kick in. So when you eat slowly, you will end up eating half of your regular food, until you feel satisfied.

And when you’re satisfied aka “no longer hungry” is when you should stop eating. Eating slowly can easily help you differentiate when you feel “no longer hungry” versus “full”. Big difference.

Eating slowly, and eating till no longer hungry is by far the most effective practice you can do to get used to the caloric deficit. This means you can stay in a caloric deficit for as long as necessary.

How Long Do You Have To Be In A Calorie Deficit To Lose Weight?

You have to be in a calorie deficit for only one day to start losing weight, however, you won’t be able to see the changes. Caloric deficit works on day one because the moment you reduce your calorie intake, the body immediately adapts by using fat as the primary source of energy.

In other words, it just takes time. Think of your hair or nails as they grow. It’s a process that takes time. And it’s out of your control. So the only thing you can do is to focus on things you are in your control.

Things that are out of your control are time, human physiology, other people’s comments or opinions. But what you can control is your behaviors that lead to sustainable results. Your daily practice, habits, rituals, routines, and action steps. You are in control of how you spend your day, what your read, who you listen to, what you put on your shopping cart, etc.

Some of the best habits that will help you stay on track are daily physical activity, learning new and exciting skills, visiting new places, and helping others. All those activities stimulate dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin that not only reduce stress but help you stay more motivated (source).

How Long Do You Have To Be In A Calorie Deficit To See Results?

You have to be in a calorie deficit for at least 4 weeks to start seeing the results because it takes time for changes to add up. A sustainable daily caloric deficit of 500-800 calories leads to 1-2 pounds of weight loss in a week, therefore, visible results can be seen after the first 4 weeks.

One of the best ways to stay on track is measure your progress because it gives you the evidence that something is working. You can measure your progress in multiple ways.

Body measurements (taking pictures before and after, measuring tape, skinfold calipers) health biomarkers (blood pressure, blood glucose, BMI, body fat percentage, lean body weight) or simply just taking pictures before and after.

For the full list on how to get more comfortable with a caloric deficit, step-by-step, check out my one meal a day for beginners article.

Related article: One Meal A Day For Beginners

Is Calorie Deficit The Only Way To Lose Weight?

A caloric deficit is the only way to naturally lose weight, without surgeries. A caloric deficit is a safe and effective strategy for long-term weight loss. It works by reducing calorie intake and creating a negative energy balance, during where the body uses body fat for energy.

And there may be some different Frankenstein methods, like surgical interventions or pharmaceutical therapy (source). But this blog is not about any of that. And I assume that if you’re reading this blog, you’re not looking for anything unnatural either.

In Conclusion

Caloric deficit and weight loss goes hand in hand and the easiest way to make it happen is just to concentrate on the process, get comfortable with hunger and don’t get distracted by any shiny objects.

Trust in the process, follow what makes sense, when something doesn’t work, it’s ok. Change your approach based on the evidence that you gathered, dust yourself off and start again.

Related Questions

How Long Does It Take For Your Metabolism To Adjust To A Calorie Deficit?

It doesn’t take long for your metabolism to adjust to a calorie deficit because your metabolism switches instantly from using food as a main source of energy into stored body fat the moment you’re in a negative energy balance. This ability is called metabolic flexibility.

Can I Lose Fat With Calorie Deficit?

You can lose fat with calorie deficit because in the absence of food, during low energy intake, the body starts to prioritize fatty acids oxidation as a main source of energy, therefore, you lose fat. Caloric deficit creates a negative energy balance that is responsible for weight reduction.

Can You Lose Weight With A Calorie Deficit?

You can lose weight with a calorie deficit. In fact, a calorie deficit is the only way to drive weight loss because during caloric deficit body switches from utilizing energy from food to utilizing energy from stored fat. The longer you stay in a caloric deficit, the more weight you will lose.

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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