How to Stay in a Calorie Deficit Without Going Nuts (+13 tips)

So you’re trying to lose weight, and when you search online, the advice you get ten out ten times is to exercise more, eat fewer calories, or combine both to get into a calorie deficit. 

Many wished they could buy a calorie deficit over the counter, which is why people fall for slim teas, fat-burning pills, and Abflexes. 

Unfortunately, fat loss doesn’t work that way.

Still, here at Jacked Vegans, we will give you tips on how to stay in a calorie deficit, and we’ll even show you how you can make it easier to stick to these tips and apply them daily so you can finally burn off those stubborn fats.

Sound good? Let’s go.

What is a calorie deficit? 

The simplest explanation of a calorie deficit is burning more calories than you consume. But how does this translate into weight loss? 

  1. Consume fewer calories – We get calories daily from the food and drinks we consume. Our body is continuously using energy, aka burning calories, throughout the day to perform essential body functions like breathing, digesting food, pumping blood, etc. We also burn calories for our activities like cleaning the house, eating, walking, taking a bath, etc. 

When you consume fewer calories, you have less energy to fuel the body’s activities. It needs to get the energy from somewhere else (fats) to continue functioning, hence the fat loss. 

Some people lose fat/weight even though they don’t increase their physical activities simply by eating fewer calories.

  1. Burning more calories – As long as you don’t overeat, increasing your physical activities will force your body to use more fuel and reach for stored energy in fats. 
Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash
  1. Combine eating fewer calories and burning more calories – this is the most recommended way to lose fat as doing both multiply the fat burning effect compared to doing one method only. 

How much of a calorie deficit is needed to lose weight? 

Most trainers agree that the best way to weight loss is the slow, steady, and sustainable approach. That means losing one to two lbs of fat weekly.

For example, a 200 lb man wants to lose weight. He needs to identify his daily calorie requirement to maintain weight (Here’s the Jacked Vegans Calorie Calculator to help you find yours). Let’s say his daily calorie requirement is 2000 calories. Here’s what the calculation looks like:

1 lb of fat = 3500 calories

To lose 1 lb of fat in one week: 3500 calories / 7 days

= 500 calories per day

This person has to eat 500 calories under his maintenance level, or 1500 calories daily, to lose 1 lb of fat a week. If you could feel full and satisfied and lose weight by eating 1500 calories, you’ll be able to stick to it longer compared to consuming 600 calories daily.

Crash dieting leaves you prone to overeating. 

Your body is built for survival. Suppose you eat an unreasonably low amount of calories. In that case, your body will release every hormone possible to influence you to eat more and prevent you from losing fat (which sounds like the total opposite of what you want to happen). 

Do the intelligent thing and eat as much as you can while losing fat at the same time.

Why is it so hard to maintain a calorie deficit?

Imagine having an itch you need to scratch on your back. 

You can distract yourself by watching tv, going out for a walk, or eating something. You might be able to ignore it for a while. Eventually, your mind goes back to that itchy spot because it’s stressing you out, and no amount of distraction will work until you deal with it. 

A calorie deficit is a stressor like that itch you need to scratch for a body that has evolved to store fat in anticipation of periods without food. When your body detects that you’ve been losing weight because of a calorie deficit, it will do what it can to get you to consume more calories by increasing your ghrelin hormones and decreasing your leptin hormones. 

In addition, some studies show a calorie deficit can reduce your metabolism, thereby burning fewer calories daily and making it harder to reach a calorie deficit.

How long can you stay in a calorie deficit?

I want to say 12 weeks, but since we’re all different and have different goals, the answer would depend on where you are currently and where you want to go.

I assume that you’re here because you want to alter your body’s composition and get rid of that unwanted weight by getting rid of fat. If that’s the case, people who have a higher amount of fat to lose can benefit by staying in a calorie deficit longer.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Some people who are in good shape but want to lose the last few lbs of fat would need to be in a calorie deficit in a shorter period or risk losing muscle mass the more prolonged the deficit goes. 

A more detailed explanation from Legion Athletics of the ideal length of a calorie deficit can be found here

How to maintain a calorie deficit

1. The reason vegans lose weight quickly 

Vegans lose weight quickly because a vegan diet consists of plenty of whole food low in calories but high in volume. This means you can eat more food without consuming too many calories.

And assuming you don’t turn into a junk food vegan, your diet will revolve around plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. 

Here are some examples of high volume, low-calorie vegan foods:

Oats: 40 g, 154 calories, 5 g protein, 4 g fiber

Blueberries: 150 g, 86 calories, 3.6 g fiber

Popcorn: 8 g, 31 calories, 1.2 g fiber

Potato: Medium size, 161 calories, 4g protein, 4 g fiber

Lentils: 198 g, 230 calories, 18 g protein, 15.6 g fiber

Watermelon: 152 g, 46 calories

Strawberries: 100 g, 32 calories

Brown rice: ⅓ cup, 82 calories, 1.83 g protein, 1.1 g fiber  

Broccoli: 91 g, 31 calories, 2.5 g protein, 2.4 g fiber 

Sources of vegan protein: 

Tofu: 100 g, 144 calories, 17 g protein, 2 g fiber

Black beans: ½ cup, 114 calories, 8 g protein, 7 g fiber

Tempeh: 84 g, 162 calories, 15 protein

2. Eat this with every meal

In connection to vegan protein, it’s good to have protein in every meal because protein is very filling, but it also takes longer to digest; therefore, it helps keep you full longer.

It’s also nice that protein helps you maintain muscle mass. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so it helps you burn more calories when you’re at rest.

3. Know when to drink your caffeine

Caffeine can help suppress hunger for a bit. Popular drinks such as black coffee and tea are excellent sources of caffeine because they have zero calories.

If you feel a bit of hunger, you can take a sip from a cup of coffee or tea instead of eating right away. If the hunger goes away, congratulations, you just avoided consuming calories.

Just try not to consume too much caffeine too late in the day, as it will interfere with your sleep habits. 

4. Try intermittent fasting

Some people are not huge on breakfast and would prefer to eat later in the day. If that’s you, then you might want to try intermittent fasting. 

The most popular method is the 16:8 IF, where you fast for 16 hours and consume food within 8 hours. I want to remind you that fasting doesn’t give you the license to eat whatever you want in your feeding window.

Intermittent fasting can help people consume fewer calories because the meals are grouped closely, and you won’t be so hungry when the next meal comes. But the caveat is that you shouldn’t eat too many calories when you are allowed to eat.

5. Pay attention to what bodybuilders do

Bodybuilders go through a “cutting” phase by going on a calorie deficit to burn excess fat and reveal all the muscle they built in the gym.

This phase is usually around two to three months long. Afterward, they give the body a break because going on a diet is physically and mentally taxing. 

This brings me to the reward.

After a cutting phase, bodybuilders need to increase their calorie intake and “re-feed” their bodies by consuming them at a maintenance level. 

Eating more helps ensure that your hormones function optimally and helps your motivation. It’s easier to motivate yourself to go on a diet if you can see the finish line and there’s something to look forward to. 

6. Do more of this while eating

Chewing your food longer helps your digestion, but it helps you consume fewer calories by using more time to eat.

It takes a few minutes for your stomach to send signals to your brain that you’re already full, so take your time, savor every bite and taste, and chew your way to fewer calories.

7. Avoid the sneaky way to consume calories

We’ve talked about consuming fruits and caffeine. Now, be wary of the drinks they come in.

Some “fruit drinks” are packaged as healthy but loaded with sugar and calories. Fancy coffee drinks loaded with sugar, cream, and chocolate or caramel sauce contain plenty of calories. 

Photo by Siddharth Salve on Unsplash

And if you like soda, the bad news is you’ll have to give that up. But if you can’t, try this one instead.

8. An excellent substitute for soda

You were probably hoping it was diet soda, but no.

I was thinking of sparkling water with lemon or lime. 

Sparkling water gives you the same sensation as drinking soda without the calories and helps keep you hydrated. Sometimes, the hunger we feel is just our body telling us to drink more. 

But if you think plain sparkling water is boring and prefer something with a bit of flavor, you can add lemon or lime, and you get an “almost” Mountain Dew flavor. Almost. 

9. A great way to consume zero calories

You can’t eat while sleeping, so sleep early to get more quality sleep. And if you’re only eating donuts in your dreams, the calories don’t count.

Another way sleeping helps you consume fewer calories is its effect on your hormones. Sleeping helps keep ghrelin, or hunger hormones, at a lower level while increasing your leptin or fullness hormone. 

On the other hand, lack of sleep can cause you to consume more calories to keep you awake and fuel your body.

10. Avoid temptation

You know that ice cream is there.

If keeping junk food in the fridge or other trigger foods in the cupboard increases your likelihood of consuming more calories, you might as well get rid of them and buy them on your cheat day. 

You want to try and avoid junk food as much as possible to get into a calorie deficit. But sometimes you have to…

11. Give in to temptation

Sometimes, you have to give in to temptation if you’re craving some Skittles or Oreos. I meant to take a few bites instead of feasting on it when I say give in.

Going into a calorie deficit will take some willpower. Resisting your craving when you only want a taste will rapidly deplete your limited supply, and you might not have enough willpower to use for other things, so go ahead and give in.

You might want to keep this next tip in mind when giving in to your cravings.

12. Track/measure what you eat

Speaking of Oreos, take five pieces only instead of the whole pack. If you’re craving some ice cream, take note of how much you eat. 

If you think sparkling water is not enough and still want some soda, drink only a small can.

Make a note of everything that goes into your mouth because a few Oreos here, a can of soda there, a lick of ice cream there can add up to the calories you consume.

Also, you can use the “plate method” to measure how much you eat without counting calories. Fill ⅓ of your plate with protein, ⅓ with starchy carbs, and ⅓ with fibrous carbs to measure what you eat. You can take it further and use a smaller plate to consume fewer calories.

13. Do more of this daily activity

And finally, increase the calories you burn by more of this thing you’re already doing daily: walking.

Don’t underestimate how many calories you burn by taking your dog for a walk longer, walking to the nearby grocery instead of driving, or parking a bit further from the building entrance. 

Look for more opportunities to increase your daily steps. 

Hack your habits

We’ve given you plenty of things to help you get into a calorie deficit but wait, there’s more! What if you could use less willpower, take less time deciding what to do, automate your response and make getting into a calorie deficit easier? 

That’s right; I’m talking about turning these things into a habit. How exactly? Let me introduce you to Charles Duhigg’s habit loop.

Source: The Power of Habit

We’re all adults. When we feel we control our decisions, we are more motivated to do something. So, after giving you all these tips, I’ll make decision-making simpler for you.

Pick one of the possible responses in the list so you know beforehand how you will respond to certain situations you’ll face in the future. Keep drilling the response to particular cues until it’s nearly automatic. You might not get it right all the time, but by making these into a habit, you might stick to it 88% of the time, which is still better than nothing.

Learning a new habit is like learning how to ride a bike. Remember to be patient. You’ll be shaky in the beginning. It will take time and practice. You’ll fall sometimes. And most importantly, if you quit, you’ll never learn how to ride a bike, and you’ll never enjoy its benefits.

Once you get the hang of things, you’ll get better and start thinking less.

I know there’s one that I have missed but feel free to add to the list if there’s anything else that you think will help you get into a calorie deficit.

Consistency is the key

You know now how to get into a calorie deficit, and you have a plan to turn these into habits that will help you remain consistent.

Experiment with these tips and see which ones work for you. 

It could be a combination of one or more. Whatever you choose to do, be patient, and try the tips for a few weeks to test if they work for you. It could take two weeks; it could take up to 66 days to form a new behavior but stick with it. 

We’re looking forward to seeing you lose weight!