In this short article I am going to cover what to eat on a calorie deficit.
I am also going to cover what not to eat on a calorie deficit.
You may have heard that to lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit (and if you don’t know that, don’t worry we will cover it here!).
Yet just knowing this is often times not quite enough.
We need more context on what your days worth of eating should actually look like in order to make progress.
Yet the only way you are going to leave this article fully understanding what to eat on a calorie deficit is if you read it in it’s entirety.
Top to bottom. Side to side.
Slow scrolling my friend. Take in every word.
This way you can be sure you know exactly what to do from here on out.
Got it?! Yea yea Eric we get it, let’s get on with it!
Alright alright, before I have cabbage thrown at me, let’s get started.
What To Eat On A Calorie Deficit
Wait, What Is A Calorie Deficit?
Before we dive into exactly what to eat on a calorie deficit, let’s briefly refresh ourselves on what a calorie deficit is.
A calorie deficit is not a “diet”.
It is not like keto, or fasting, or some diet where you only eat 800 calories a day (not going to name which one but wow that is dumb).
A calorie deficit is simply just an energy balance equation.
Our bodies use and burn energy to stay alive.
Energy for us humans comes in the form of calories.
The old adage “food is fuel!” is kind of right. Food is much more just than fuel, but yes scientifically speaking, food is your bodies energy source.
Your overall calorie intake plays a role in your body composition changes, whether losing fat, building muscle, or maintaining weight.
Therefore when it comes to a calorie deficit, a calorie deficit is simply just eating less calories than your body burns.
You are in a negative energy balance equation. Your body does not have enough energy coming in (calories) to maintain its current weight, so therefore it is going to use its stored energy (body fat).
This is how you lose body fat.
This is the only way to lose body fat.
I don’t care what “diet” you do, I don’t care what Instagram influencer tries to sell you on their diet product.
I don’t care what time of day you eat or how many carbs a day you eat.
The only way to lose weight is through this calorie deficit. Period. End of story.
If you need some extra help on calculating your calorie deficit, you can head HERE to my 100% totally free calorie calculator.
What To Eat On A Calorie Deficit : Can I Eat Whatever I Want Then?!
Now that we know as long you are in a calorie deficit you will lose weight I know this question is going to pop up so let’s cover it.
The question is “Well, since calories are all that matter, can I just eat whatever I want and lose weight?!”.
The answer is going to be technically, yes, you could.
You could 1500 calories of big macs and twizzlers (man those things are good) and lose weight.
Now, this can be used in a good or a bad way.
Let’s first talk about the good!
Knowing this can be a very empowering thing because this automatically eliminates the fear most people have when starting a “diet” to lose weight.
Having to only eat “clean” foods or cutting out all of your favorite foods to lose weight.
Now that you know you can literally eat any food you want and as long as you are in a calorie deficit you will lose weight, that can be a weight lifted off your shoulders.
You now know there are “good” and “bad” foods. This creates a much healthier relationship with food, reduces a lot of binging tendencies , and makes it so you don’t have to fear or cut out any one food.
Because no one food or food group makes you fat (keto people do you hear me?). The only way you would gain body fat is by eating too many calories over an extended period of time.
So great! This is a huge positive that comes from knowing this!
Yet, be aware.
This Doesn’t Mean You SHOULD Eat Whatever You Want
Just because you technically could eat 1500 calories of big macs and twizzlers, doesn’t mean you should.
Let’s be honest, you know that. You have enough common sense to know that.
Yet I have to say it and I have to explain why.
Let’s say you ate 1500 calories of said food above.
First off, that is not going to be that much actual food volume. If a big mac is damn near 600 calories, and a king size pack of twizzlers is 525 calories.
Well hell, with those two foods just in one setting is going to be 1125 calories.
What are you going to eat the rest of the day? Air?
You are getting a ton of calories for not a ton of food. This makes it harder to fill up, be satisfied, and keep your hunger at bay .
This then makes it harder to stick to your calorie deficit, which if you can’t stick to your deficit, you won’t lose weight.
Second, you are going to have massive health complications.
Food boils down to total calories yes, but within that food there are other things like vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, etc.
If you are eating nothing but processed, sugar, junk foods 24/7 365, even if you do lose weight, man is your health going to take a toll.
Which if your physical health isn’t there, you can lose weight but another issue is going to come up!
When it comes to what to eat on a calorie deficit, let me put it to you like this.
A Calorie Is Always A Calorie.. But
When it boils down to it, a calorie is just a unit of measurement of energy.
1 calorie is always going to be 1 calorie.
Therefore 100 calories from a big mac is the same as 100 calories from spinach.
They both have 100 units of measurement of energy.
There is no denying that. This is once again why there are no “good” and “bad” foods or foods that inherently make you fat.
It all comes down to total calories.
Yet think of it like this.
The calories can be equal, but the composition can be different.
Let me explain with two scenarios.
Think about 1lb of bricks versus 1 lb of feathers.
Both of those two things are 1lb, correct?
Yet the composition is massively different. You are going to have literally millions of feathers piled up to get to a lb of feathers.
While maybe less than 1 brick is going to weigh 1lb.
They are both a lb though, the composition is just different.
Here is another one.
Let’s say you ran a mile on the pavement, swam a mile in the ocean, and biked a mile in the forest.
At the end of the day, you still went a mile.
The composition was different. The pavement, the ocean, and the forest.
Yet a mile is always a mile. Just like a lb is always a lb. Just like a calorie is always a calorie.
The Composition Is Different
A calorie is always a calorie, the composition can be different.
For example 100 calories from a big mac and 100 calories from spinach are the same calories, but massively different composition.
You might get one or two bites of a big mac to reach 100 calories, while you could have literally 6 bowls full of spinach to get 100 calories.
The spinach will give you so much more food volume for the same amount of calories.
The big mac is not going to provide as much nutrition like vitamins, minerals, etc as the spinach would either.
Therefore as you see, while all calories are created equal, the composition of those calories can be massively different.
When it comes to what to eat on a calorie deficit, you have to take this concept into consideration.
This is why I use something with my online coaching clients called the 80/20 rule.
What To Eat On A Calorie Deficit : 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule has been a massive game changer in my clients sustainable * success over the years.
Notice how I said sustainable.
Remember, this is all about losing weight in a manner that is going to allow you to actually keep the weight off.
If you are reading this right now you probably have lost weight before. You probably have lost it doing very unsustainable things.
Cutting out all sugar, cutting out carbs (why? Just why.), only eating 1000 calories a day, only eating “clean” foods.
You may have lost weight but I can almost assure you you gained it all back.
How do I know?
Because whatever you do to lose the weight is the same thing you will have to do to keep the weight off.
Therefore is what you are doing to lose the weight is unsustainable, ie what I said above, then your results will be unsustainable as well.
Therefore this is why I am not going to sit here and tell you to only eat clean foods, never eat foods you enjoy, never have a big mac or twizzlers.
I am simply going to tell you to follow the 80-20 rule.
What is the 80-20 rule exactly? Let’s go over it.
80 / 20 Rule
The 80/20 rule goes as such.
80% of your calories from the day should be coming from nutrient dense whole foods.
These are foods like
- All vegetables
- Greek yogurt
These foods are basically one ingredient foods.
Think of oatmeal, that is ONE ingredient. A banana, that is ONE ingredient. Chicken breasts, that is ONE ingredient.
Now you could mix these foods, you could put a banana in your oatmeal. You could have chicken breast with potatoes.
But the point being they are minimally processed, nutrient dense, whole foods.
I tell my clients to think of it like this as well.
- swam in the ocean
- Roamed the earth
- Flew in the sky
- Grew from the ground
That falls under the 80% category.
If it was made up in a lab, that does not fall under this category.
Now, 20% of foods can come from foods you enjoy!
Whether it is
- Big Macs
- Ice cream
Whatever it is that you enjoy.
Remember the goal of any sustainable dietary plan is to include foods you enjoy in moderation while still losing weight.
Not to completely restrict yourself and cut them out all together.
That is going to backfire every single time and normally lead to a restricting – binging cycle that is all around not fun.
Let’s say your calorie goal that you got from my calculator was 1800 calories a day.
Following this 80/20 rule, 1450 calories would be coming from nutrient dense whole foods.
360 calories would be coming from treats and things you enjoy.
If you are skeptical about if you can still eat foods you enjoy or treats in general, take it from one of my online coaching clients Mary.
Mary ate a dessert every single night on her journey to lose 80+lbs. She saw these results because guess what, she did it while being in a calorie deficit!
That would be one prime example of still incorporating foods you enjoy in moderation while still losing body fat, improving your health, and reaching your goals.
Protein Is Kind Of Important
When talking about what to eat on a calorie deficit I would be doing you a disservice if I did not talk about protein.
Listen protein is massively important when it comes to being in a calorie deficit.
I did a whole video on why protein actually helps you burn fat, you can check that out HERE if you want .
But in short it helps you
- stay full
- Increase metabolism
- Build / retain lean muscle mass which is going to increase metabolism even more
Therefore making sure you hit your protein goal each day, on top of this 80/20 rule, is going to have you optimize your calorie deficit that much more.
If you want to know how much protein to eat in a day, there are a few calculations you can use, but one of my favorites is simply
Take your goal body weight (in lbs) x .8-1.2
Anywhere in between that range. I would try to get closer to the goal body weight in lbs x 1, but anywhere in that range above is going to massively help you with your calorie deficit and weight loss.
Now I know protein can be a struggle to get, that is why I can help!
I am going to link two resources here for you. The first is going to be a video on how to eat more protein, the second is going to be another article I wrote here on my website to help get more protein.
Foods To Avoid
I hope I made this clear enough but if not let me touch on it now.
There are no inherently “bad” foods. No one food automatically stores fat. There are no foods you should inherently “avoid” when looking to be in a calorie deficit.
Because remember, total calories in the driver. As long as you hit your calories, you are golden.
Here is what I will say.
Whenever someone asks me this question this is my response.
The foods you should avoid are the foods that
- make you feel like sh*t
- Are foods you know you cannot control yourself with
Those are the two biggest things and those will be different for everyone.
For example, there used to be this oatmeal squares cereal I got from the grocery store.
Man, was that puppy some kind of good. Tasted amazing. Loved it.
Yet I stated to notice about 2 hours after eating it every time I was going to the bathroom, and not going #1.
I took it out for a few days and noticed that the bathroom visits stopped.
I added it back in, the bathroom visits came right back.
So for me? That is a food I am going to avoid.
I threw it out and am not going to have it ever again because I know it makes me feel like shit!
If you have a food that you know you just cannot control yourself with for the time being, like peanut butter for example.
Okay well it may be in your best interest to avoid that food for right now as you work to get your health and fitness in check.
Not to say you can’t ever have it again, but maybe keep it out of the house for right now.
Those are the foods you should be avoiding in your calorie deficit, not carbs or specific foods that random blogs or fitness influencers tell you is “bad” for right like white rice or whole eggs.
Optimize Your Calorie Deficit
I mentioned this in the paragraph above but wanted to touch a bit more in depth on it.
We know that to lose weight you have to be in a calorie deficit. When it comes to what to eat on a calorie deficit, you want to think about what is going to optimize that calorie deficit as efficiently as possible.
Not saying you can’t ever have foods you enjoy or you can’t ever eat a bit more calories under your “treats” section because listen, we are all humans.
Yet your goal with your foods should be to optimize what you are doing.
Eating high protein foods to keep you full.
You should be eating high volume, low calorie foods like spinach, watermelon, or strawberries.
Your calorie deficit can be optimized by maintaining good health through eating nutrient dense whole foods.
Losing weight is hard enough as it is, I think we can both agree on that.
So why put yourself behind the 8 ball anymore?
Use these strategies above to help yourself win as much as humanly possible.
What To Eat On A Calorie Deficit : Final Word
Well there you have it. You got the entire low down on what to eat on a calorie deficit.
Remember that it all comes back to total calories. As long as you are in a calorie deficit you will lose weight, you just want to be sure you are doing what you can to optimize that calorie deficit.
Because why make things harder than they have to be?
Hope you enjoyed the article.
If you are interested in having me help you through your journey, feel free to head HERE to see if we may be a good fit for coaching.
Talk soon 🙂