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Thriving In A Calorie Deficit: Survival Tips

If you have weight loss goals, you need to be in a calorie deficit. You must consume less energy than you are putting out. This is science, period. End of story. Easy, right? On paper, yes. In practice, it’s not easy at all. In fact, it’s really fucking hard. You’re probably going to deal with some hunger, which is part of the process. But there are ways to make it easier!

Prioritize Protein

I’m going to start with protein because in my opinion hitting your protein target is one of the most important habits to have on a fat-loss journey. Make sure you are eating enough protein and include some with each meal and snack! How much do you need? Well, that depends on your goals and current situation.  A good starting point is 0.75-1 gram per pound of goal body weight. So, if your goal weight is 150 lbs., you would aim for 113-150 grams of protein per day. Most people undereat protein. Protein helps prevent hunger because it sticks around a little longer than fat and carbs. It also helps regulate your blood sugar, preventing extreme spikes and crashes (which can trigger us to want to eat more). Bonus- protein also takes more energy to digest than fat and carbs, so you burn more calories just to process it! 

Fill up on fiber

Next thing is to make sure you are eating enough fiber! Most people are not getting enough. The goal for men is about 38 grams a day and 25 grams a day for women. Fiber also helps keep you feeling full for longer. It slows digestion and adds bulk to your meals. Fruits and veggies are great sources. I love adding veggies to things to add volume, fiber, and micronutrients. Cauliflower rice and bagged coleslaw mix are my personal favs because they are super versatile. Legumes are excellent as well, and they also pack in some protein, which is a great combo for staving off hunger. Add some chickpeas or beans to your salads, soups, or have as side dishes. Oatmeal, popcorn, whole grain rice, bread, and pasta are also good sources.

Don’t be extreme

Make sure your deficit is manageable. While it’s normal to feel a little hungry while in a calorie deficit if you’re starving all the time, you might be in too great of a deficit. If you want to get real sciencey with it, you can try weighing yourself every day and carefully tracking your calories. Do this for at least 2-4 weeks and calculate your weekly average for both calories and weight. Try to find the spot where your weight is staying the same, and this would be your maintenance calories. If you don’t want to go through this, you can have a coach (wink, wink) help you calculate your deficit. To calculate your own, use a TDEE calculator, like this one https://tdeecalculator.net/. This will tell you approximately how many calories your body uses a day. To start, subtract 300 calories from this number and try to stay within 100 calories in either direction every day. It’s good to weigh in a little more frequently at the beginning of a deficit phase and take a weekly average. The scale can fluctuate quite a bit so weighing in 3-7 days a week and comparing the average week to week can be helpful to see how the deficit is going. If you’re being consistent and not losing weight or gaining weight after 2 weeks, go down another 100 calories. If you’re losing more than 2 lbs. a week, add 100 calories back. Sure, you could start with eating less and losing more lbs. per week, but you will feel like shit, have no energy, and likely fall off hard and gain these pounds back quickly. Who wants that? Find the sweet spot where you are losing about 0.5-1.5 lbs. a week. Note you may not lose weight every single week, and that’s OK!  But if it’s been 2 weeks stagnant or you’re gaining, it’s safe to say you’re not in a deficit. If you’re not losing or losing 0.5-1.5 lbs. a week and still starving, see tips 1 and 2! Focus on eating quality whole foods first. In my experience it’s best to take your time with this, the longer it takes to lose the easier it is to keep off!

Mind your liquids

Limit drinking tons of calories. Liquids go right through you, can spike the blood sugar, and allow you to down a large number of calories without even chewing. Juice, regular pop, sweetened coffee drinks, alcohol, and most smoothies do little to satisfy hunger and don’t offer much nutritional value. Try sparkling water, diet soda, and sugar free sweeteners for your coffee. Fake sugar is perfectly fine in moderation. As for alcohol, of course this can be included, just make sure you are accounting for it. But note that it can affect your choices, including nutrition. Alcohol also offers very little in terms of nutritional value, so if you’re drinking 500 calories of beer on the weekends, you’re going to be starving because you don’t have the calories left for actual food, or you’re going 500 calories over your deficit, and this can affect your progress. Think about your goals when making your beverage choices!

Yet drink up

Speaking of beverages, make sure you are hydrated! Dehydration masks itself as hunger. The best way to know is to look at your pee. It should be a nice pale shade of yellow, like lemonade. Aim to drink about half your body weight in ounces of water or other calorie free beverages per day (more if you’re sweating). So, if you weigh 150 lbs., try and get in at least 75 ounces per day. If you’re feeling hungry and have eaten fairly recently, you might be on the dehydrated side. Try drinking a glass of water and see how you feel in 15 minutes.

Sleep!!!

For the love of all things, get your sleep! Quick little science lesson so you know why this is so important. Leptin is a hormone that suppresses appetite. Ghrelin is a hormone that promotes appetite. When you are sleeping, leptin goes up. Even just one poor night of sleep can cause ghrelin to increase. Not sleeping for long enough, or not sleeping well enough can mess with these hormones and prevent the leptin from increasing, leading to ghrelin increasing even more. In addition to this hormone debacle, when you’re not sleeping well you have less energy both mentally and physically. You make poorer decisions. And this can affect our food choices and ability to be active throughout the day. Try and get 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night! This is hard for many, but trying to lose weight without adequate sleep is like trying to paddle a canoe upriver, which is hard, and I know because of the ill-fated family canoe trip of 2018. Don’t ask, IFYKYK.

Sometimes you just have to say no

You don’t have to totally avoid the foods you love, but when you have fat loss goals, sacrifices must be made. If you love foods that aren’t going to help you on your weight loss journey, you might have to eat them less often and maybe in smaller portions. If you lack the ability to practice moderation early in your journey and know you can’t control yourself around certain trigger foods, it’s ok to avoid those while you work on the habits of portion control and listening to hunger cues. I love ice cream, and over time I learned to enjoy it occasionally and in moderation. I still avoid buying pints of Ben and Jerry’s because I know I can’t stop once I start. But I will venture to my favorite local ice cream store, shout out to Gilly’s in Troy MI, and enjoy a small scoop on occasion. There is a big difference between telling yourself, or proclaiming out loud that you are NEVER going to eat ice cream again because it’s BAD, and saying you’re going to pass on ice cream for now because you have fat loss goals.

You’re going to feel hungry on a deficit

Don’t freak out if you’re a little hungry, it probably means the deficit is working. Our bodies want us to stay right where we are. In an effort to keep the status quo, when you are burning more calories than you are taking in (calorie deficit), your body is going to say “oh shit, I need more energy, I’d better hit up all that stored fat…but that sounds like a lot work, let me shoot off the hunger signals first and see if I can just get more food…”. Should you be starving? Definitely not. If you are, see the third point and adjust. But a little hunger here and there is fine. If I’ve hit my macro goals for the day and I start feeling hungry, I usually just brush my teeth and go to bed. Your body doesn’t need a whole lot of energy to sleep so it’s fine to go to bed a little hungry.

Hopefully these tips will help you on your weight loss journey! It’s not easy to be in a deficit, but it’s not forever. Consistency is key, as well as working on healthy habits so you don’t have to track forever. Learn to assess and follow your hunger cues, eat slowly without distraction, and stop eating when you’re satisfied, but before you’re stuffed. Don’t use food to deal with stress. All of this takes time and practice, so be patient with yourself, and when you fall off, get right back up.  

Takeaways:

  • Eat enough protein 
  • Eat enough fiber 
  • Make sure your deficit is doable to stay consistent 
  • Avoid drinking calories 
  • Stay hydrated 
  • SLEEP get enough quality sleep 
  • Avoid foods you know you can’t control yourself around (for now) 
  • You’re going to be a little hungry in a deficit at times, it’s OK!

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