Can You Lose Fat Without a Calorie Deficit

There are three certain things in life – death, taxes, and the fact you need to burn more calories than you eat to lose weight.

But is that old truth still applicable today? While some may tell you otherwise, it is. Although your calorie intake is not the only thing that stands between you from losing or gaining weight, the fact is that you won’t lose weight without being in a calorie deficit.

That answers the primary question. However, as you probably suspect, the issue of losing weight through lowering your calorie intake isn’t that straightforward. And you’re right.

In many instances, cutting down on calories might not be enough to reach your weight loss goals. It’s an excellent place to start, though.

However, before we get into details, let’s explain what a calorie deficit actually is.

What Is a Calorie Deficit?

On paper, a calorie deficit is a very simple concept. Whenever you consume a given number of calories, your body needs to burn more to create a deficit.

For instance, suppose you eat a chocolate bar worth 300 calories. To avoid gaining weight, you need to burn 300 calories. Burning more, let’s say 350, will create a deficit of 50 calories. It’s simple math.

However, how you burn or metabolize calories isn’t that straightforward and depends on several critical factors, including:

  • Muscle-to-fat ratio. The ratio is determined by one’s BMI (body mass index), where people with higher muscle mass burn calories faster. Consequently, if your body fat percentage exceeds muscle mass, you will burn calories slower.
  • Basal Metabolic Rate. Better known under the abbreviation BMR, Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy your body needs to function correctly. BMR is calculated using your height, weight, gender, and age. It accounts for 50 to 80 percent of your daily calorie expenditure.
  • Activity level. The more you exercise, and the more intense your activities are, the more calories your body burns.
  • Hormone function. Hormonal weight gain is a common problem for people with diabetes, stress, and menopause. It’s also common for pregnant or breastfeeding women who require more calories and energy to ensure their children grow at a healthy rate.
  • Medications. Specific medications, such as steroids, can support weight gain regardless of your activity level or dietary habits.

Considering all that, calculating how much of a calorie deficit you need to lose fat might be problematic. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here.

Calorie Deficit and Fat Loss

Okay, but why is calorie deficit so crucial for weight loss? Simply put, being in a calorie deficit means your energy balance is negative. This forces your body to search for alternative energy sources to fuel your body functions.

Essentially, instead of using energy from an external source (food), your body will switch to an internal source – your stored body fat. In other words, a calorie deficit triggers your body to burn excess body fat for energy, supporting fat loss and eventually leading to weight loss.

How Long Does It Take to Get Used to a Calorie Deficit?

While maintaining a calorie deficit seems like the most straightforward way to lose weight, it can be challenging for numerous reasons. For instance, what most people find troubling is adjusting their dietary habits to the new caloric intake. Put simply, hunger.

We don’t need to tell you that experiencing physical hunger can get uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it’s not avoidable when lowering your daily caloric intake. As for how long it usually takes to get your body used to a calorie deficit, it should take around 1-2 weeks.

The key here is to understand the signals your body sends you. A common belief is that hunger builds along with the day, meaning that the longer the breaks between meals, the more hungry you get. That’s not true.

In reality, physical hunger comes and goes. It doesn’t build up. The issue here is that many people treat it as an emergency, believing they must resolve it immediately. That only leads to eating more than you should. Instead, the next time you feel hungry when cutting down on calories, wait it out. The key here is to get comfortable with physical hunger.

And as you practice getting into a calorie deficit more frequently, your body will start getting used to it, lowering your cravings.

How Long Should You Stay In a Calorie Deficit to Start Losing Weight?

How long you stay in a caloric deficit will depend on your weight loss goals. On average, you should stay in your deficit for around 12-16 weeks to lose approximately 20 pounds. The more weight you want to lose, the longer you should stay in your caloric deficit.

However, even one day of the caloric deficit will trigger your fat loss. Of course, you won’t see any visible results, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind to stay motivated.

As for how long it will take to see results, it should take more or less 4 weeks. That’s the average period for changes to start adding up if you’re in a sustainable calorie deficit of around 500-800 calories. Such a deficit should result in a 1-2 pound weight loss a week.

How Many Calories to Cut?

As covered, a person’s caloric deficit depends on numerous factors, including age, height, weight, metabolism, activity levels, BMI, etc. Therefore, calculating how many calories you need to cut to start losing fat and weight can be challenging. But, of course, not impossible.

The best way to start is by learning what your daily caloric expenditure is. You can do that using an online app or a calculator. Then, count how many calories you consume on average during the week. For this purpose, create a journal and write down the nutritional information of each food you eat.

You also need to count how many calories you burn a day through activities. Again, there are tons of apps and online tools you can use for that.

Once you have all that information, you can start implementing changes to your caloric intake. Our recommendation would be to start slowly, especially if you work out, as cutting too many calories can cause muscle mass loss.

That said, start with a caloric deficit of around 200-300 calories a week. If you don’t exercise that much or don’t care about your muscle loss, you can increase that level to 400-500 calories. Such a deficit should help you lose around 1-2 pounds weekly.

Is Staying in a Calorie Deficit Enough to Lose Weight?

Yes, staying in a caloric deficit should be enough to start losing weight. You could even eat McDonald’s every day (which we don’t recommend) and lose weight, as long as you burn more calories than you consume.

However, if you want to maximize your efforts, you should also consider making changes to your diet and exercise activity. It’s not just about eating less, but also eating smart. Some foods will have a much better impact on your overall well-being, which can further boost your fat loss efforts.

Make Changes to Your Diet

There’s no one-size-fits-all diet for weight loss, as we all have different metabolisms. Also, remember that your body doesn’t treat all food calories equally. Some types of food can keep you more energized or full for longer, providing you with the aid you need to stay on track.

As said, cutting on calories can be challenging, because physical hunger can quickly take advantage and ruin your weight loss efforts. To stay full for longer while decreasing your caloric intake, choose the following products:

  • whole grain foods
  • vegetables & fruits
  • fish
  • nuts
  • low-fat dairy products

Change Your Eating Habits

It’s not only about what you eat but how you eat. Your eating habits play a vital role in weight loss. For instance, even if you eat healthy but excessively, you will still gain weight as you consume more calories than you can burn.

If you want to lose fat and weight, you need to learn how to eat responsibly. One thing you can do is practice mindful eating. It’s an eating strategy to help you distinguish between emotional and physical hunger.

How to eat mindfully? Pay attention to what you eat and how much you eat, avoid distractions during meals (e.g., watching TV), and chew slowly. It’s a simple yet effective solution to prevent yourself from overeating.


In theory, you don’t have to exercise to lose weight as your body keeps burning calories to maintain your body’s essential functions, such as breathing or digestion. You will then, however, need to adjust your dietary habits accordingly, which typically means eating much less than you’d like.

On the other hand, regular exercise will help you burn more calories while cutting fewer calories from foods. A daily workout, even moderate, can significantly boost your fat loss efforts and help you build muscle mass.

Increasing your activity levels also means you might not be forced to cut on your favorite foods, as you will burn more calories nonetheless. Working out will also boost your overall well-being, both physical and mental, ensuring you live your best life.

Key Takeaways

Staying in a calorie deficit is necessary to lose fat and weight. By consuming fewer calories than your body requires, you will trigger it to seek internal energy sources to maintain body functions – namely, your body fat.

However, as you can see, it’s not just about eating less. It’s also about learning what and how you eat. It’s about listening to your body signals and conquering your physical hunger. 

That is why staying in a caloric deficit takes time. With the proper eating and workout regime, though, you should be able to lose fat and achieve all your weight goals. 

About the Author

, Celebrity Personal Trainer and Fitness & Nutrition Expert headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ. He specializes in helping men and women achieve weight loss, muscle building, toning and other customized fitness & nutrition programs to create a Healthy Lifestyle. James offers private luxury personal training, 12-week custom workout plans, and personalized nutrition meal plans. Follow on Google+.

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