How To Lose Fat – The TRUTH About Fat Loss

There’s a million reasons why people fail to lose fat, but somewhere at the top of that list is just a fundamental lack of understanding of the scientifically proven principlesย of how to lose fat.

To show you exactly what I mean, let’s start this off with a list of things that DON’T cause fat loss.

Things That DO NOT Cause Fat Loss:

  • Eating healthy.
  • Eating “clean.”
  • Eating less carbs.
  • Eating less fat.
  • Eating less junk food.
  • Eating less sugar.
  • Eating 6 smaller meals per day/every 3 hours.
  • Eating “good” foods instead of “bad” foods.
  • Not eating after 7pm.
  • Cardio.
  • Weight training.
  • Building muscle and/or getting stronger.
  • And MUCH more.

These are all things that can definitely HELP a person lose fat and can definitely assist in the overall fat loss process. But, in and of themselves, not a single thing on that list actually causes fat to be lost.

They never have, and they never will. In fact, not a single one of these things actually needs to be done. You can do the complete opposite of every item on that list and still lose fat just fine so long as one specific thing IS being done.

So, what is this “thing?” What actually causes fat loss? Let’s find out…

How To Lose Fat: The One Absolute Requirement

Simply put… a caloric deficit. That is the scientifically proven “secret” to losing fat. It literally can’t happen any other way.

So just what is a caloric deficit? It’s what happens when you burn more calories than you consume (or consume less calories than you burn… just another way of saying the same thing).

Basically, every single person has a unique calorie maintenance level. This is the amount of calories that your body requires each day to burn for energy to perform all of the tasks it needs to perform. From intense exercise like cardio and weight training, to simple daily tasks like brushing your teeth and getting dressed, to the various physiological functions needed to keep you alive (like digesting and breathing).

Calories are what our bodies use for energy to do all of these things, and we provide these calories via the foods we eat. As a result, 3 things can happen…

The 3 Calorie Intake Scenarios

  1. If we consume the SAME number of calories that our bodies need to burn each day, we will be at our maintenance level. Our weight will be maintained because all of the calories we needed were provided. No more, no less.
  2. If we exceed this amount and therefore consume MORE calories than our bodies need, all of the left over calories that weren’t burned will then be stored on our body in some form for later use. And guess what form it’s most often stored in? Yup… body fat! This is known as a caloric surplus, and it is the one and only cause of fat gain.
  3. But what we’re interested in is the opposite of this… a caloric deficit. This is what happens when we consume LESS than our maintenance level amount. What happens then is that our bodies are forced to find some other source of energy to burn instead. And guess what that source most often is? Yup… your own stored body fat! And this is the one and only cause of fat loss.

So if you maintain your current weight eating 2500 calories per day (just an example), you will gain weight (mostly in the form of body fat) if you consumed 3000 calories per day. However, you would lose weight (mostly in the form of body fat) if you consumed 2000 calories per day.

This all remains true regardless of what the source of those calories are (carbs, fat, protein, healthy, unhealthy, clean, dirty, processed, unprocessed… whatever) or when/how they were consumed (after 7pm, in 3 large meals, in 6 small meals, every 2 hours, every 5 hours, whatever).

Exercise Can Play A Role, Too

See how it works? These are the proven fundamentals of how to lose fat, and that was a simple example of how to create the required caloric deficit via your diet alone (by eating less calories). I mention this because that same deficit could have also been created via exercise (by burning more calories).

Meaning, you could have still eaten 2500 calories for the day in the previous example, but then burned an additional 500 through exercise thus creating the same caloric deficit. Both scenarios would effectively cause fat loss, as would a third scenario where you did a combination of both (diet AND exercise).

But no matter which way you choose to do it, one absolute requirement ALWAYS stands. In order to lose fat, you MUST create a caloric deficit. Nothing else works.

But Then How Do Other Fat Loss Diets Work?

This is the point when various stubborn, misinformed or just annoyingly stupid people like to mention that other diets cause people to lose fat all the time, and those diets have nothing to do with creating a caloric deficit.

I mean, people lose fat on low carb diets, low fat diets, paleo diets, vegan diets, raw food diets, diets that involve eating “clean” instead of “dirty” or not eating after a certain time at night, and countless other types of diets that involve every gimmick, fad and method you can think of except the specific task of creating a caloric deficit. But yet, they have all caused people to successfully lose fat.

What the hell? How can that be? If the only requirement for fat loss is a caloric deficit, and all of these diets have nothing to do with a caloric deficit, then how do they work? Obviously I must be wrong about all this calorie stuff, right?


You see, all of these diets and methods just indirectly cause you to create that caloric deficit.

What I mean is, any diet that actually causes you to lose fat did so because it caused you to create a caloric deficit. That’s a fact. There is literally NOTHING else that could possibly make it happen. This is the most basic proven science of the human body. Calories in vs calories out (aka the law of thermodynamics) is ALWAYS the basis for fat loss (or gain).

These diets and methods might never come right out and admit that or say you just need to eat less calories (partly because it doesn’t fit with their gimmick, partly because people don’t want to hear that they have to [GASP!] count calories or [GASP!] eat less of them, and partly because it’s hard to make money off of something that is simple, obvious and free.)

BUT every successful fat loss diet makes you do it anyway. How? By getting you to do things that just so happen to restrict or reduce your calorie intake. For example…

  • Eating less carbs means you’re eating less calories.
  • Eating less fat means you’re eating less calories.
  • Eating less “dirty” junk food means you’re eating less calories.
  • Eating less processed foods means you’re eating less calories.
  • Eating less grains means you’re eating less calories.
  • Not eating after 7pm causes you to eat less calories.
  • A raw food diet, vegan diet, paleo diet or any remotely similar diet eliminates many of the foods you were regularly eating, which means you’re now eating less calories.

Noticing a trend? In every single case, less calories end up being eaten. And like magic, it causes you to lose fat. But what some people incorrectly think is that it was the reduction in carbs, or fat, or grains, or sugar, or junk food, or processed food, or not eating after 7pm or whatever else that made it happen.

It wasn’t.

It was the reduction in calories that indirectly came as a result of all of these other things. Sure, these “things” are what caused the deficit to be created, but the deficit itself is what actually caused you to lose fat.

And that’s how various fat loss diets/methods work despite not directly making you eat less calories. They just get you to do things that make you eat less calories anyway.

There’s A Ton Of Ways To Create Your Deficit… Pick Your Favorite

Now, if you want to create your caloric deficit by using any of these diets and methods, that is perfectly fine by me. If any of these or other manners of eating appeal to you for whatever reason, then I’m all for you using it to reach your fat loss goals.

But if you’d rather just directly create your ideal caloric deficit and then get the calories you do consume from a nice balance of protein, fat and carbs comprised solely of foods you actually enjoy eating in a format that is actually convenient and preferable for you, then that’s fine by me too.

In fact, it’s what I personally do and most often recommend. I explain exactly how to do it (for FREE) right here: The Best Diet Plan

The point I’m making however is that in every single case with every other diet or method, the reason it works is simply because a caloric deficit was present. And if it didn’t work, then it’s simply because a caloric deficit wasn’t present.

There is no other magic or voodoo involved in the actual cause (or lack thereof) of fat loss. It always comes down to calories in vs calories out.

But wait, what’s that? You think I’m lying? You think I’m making this all up? You think this is just my opinion or gimmick?

If for whatever reason you still aren’t convinced that what I’m saying is true and accurate (likely as a result of years of nutritional brainwashing), then allow me to present some additional proof.

Still Don’t Believe Me? Here’s Some Proof…

There is such an overwhelming (and seemingly infinite) amount of legitimate evidence showing that everything I’ve explained thus far is 100% true and accurate that I honestly don’t even know where to begin.

So, here now is just a SUPER TINY sample of some of the MANY examples that come to mind…

  • Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss.
    This study took 2 groups of women and put them on similar hypocaloric diets (meaning below maintenance level so that a caloric deficit was present). The only difference between the diets of the two groups is that 43% of one group’s daily calorie intake came from sucrose (aka table sugar), while just 4% of the other group’s daily calorie intake came from sucrose. Guess what happened? Despite one group eating a VERY high sugar diet and the other group eating a VERY low sugar diet, they both lost equal amounts of weight and body fat. Why? Because it’s NOT the source of your calories that causes fat loss, it’s the presence of a caloric deficit.
  • Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss […]
    This study took 16 overweight men and women and split them into 2 groups. They then had each person in each group create the same sized caloric deficit and then consume that same calorie intake every day for 8 weeks. HOWEVER, they had one group eat 3 meals a day, and the other group eat 6 meals a day. Guess what happened? They all lost the same amount of weight. In fact, the study showed that there was no difference at all in fat loss, appetite control, or anything similar. Why? Because meal frequency doesn’t affect your ability to lose fat or gain fat. Calories do.
  • Comparison of isocaloric very low carbohydrate/high saturated fat and high carbohydrate […]
    This study took 83 subjects, estimated the daily calorie requirements of each person (aka their maintenance levels), and then created a caloric deficit of 30%. They then divided them up into 3 groups. The first had only 4% of their total daily calorie intake coming from carbs. The second had 50% of their total calorie intake coming from carbs. The third had 70% of their total calorie intake coming from carbs. Guess what happened? Even though some people were eating a VERY LOW carb diet and others were eating a VERY HIGH carb diet… they all lost the same amount of weight and body fat. Why? Because low carb or high carb isn’t what makes us gain or lose fat. Calories are, regardless of how many of them come from carbs.
  • Similar weight loss with low-energy food combining or balanced diets.
    This study divided 54 obese patients up into 2 groups, both of which were put on low calorie diets (meaning a caloric deficit was present) and fed similar percentages of protein, fat and carbs. HOWEVER, one group was given a more balanced diet comprised of meals that contained protein, fat and carbs, while the second group had their carb and fat calories separated so they were not eaten together in the same meal. Guess what happened? They all lost the same amount of weight and body fat. Why? Because the manner in which you combine foods, organize your meals and consume your daily calories isn’t what causes fat loss. A caloric deficit is.
  • Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss.
    This study divided its subjects up into 2 groups, and had them both create the same sized caloric deficit. HOWEVER, the difference between them was the manner in which this deficit was created. One group did it by eating less total calories (diet alone), but the other group did it by eating less total calories AND burning more calories by doing cardio (a combination of diet AND exercise). But again, the total weekly caloric deficit was the same for both groups. Guess what happened? They all lost the same amount of weight and body fat. Why? Because a deficit of X calories is a deficit of X calories regardless of whether you burned those calories off via cardio or just didn’t eat them in the first place. Fat loss isn’t about how you create the deficit, it’s just about the deficit itself.
  • The Twinkie Diet
    You know what? This one is so F-ing fantastic that a quick bullet point just doesn’t do it justice. So…

The Twinkie Diet

And finally, here’s the holy grail of proof for anyone that’s still even remotely skeptical that this whole calorie thing (and by “thing” I mean scientifically proven fact) truly is the singular answer to the almighty “how to lose fat” question.

In 2010, Mark Haub (who is a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University) wanted to prove the very same thing I’ve been explaining: that fat loss and fat gain always happen as a result of calories in vs calories out, and that a caloric deficit will ALWAYS cause a person to lose fat no matter what food sources those calories come from.

To do this, Mark took things to a very extreme point-making level that I would never actually recommend, but absolutely love for the purpose of proving that calories are what matter most.

Specifically, Mark went on a 10-week diet comprised primarily of snack foods. Twinkies, Little Debbie cakes, Doritos, Oreos, sugary cereals like Corn Pops and other equally crappy foods that are all highly processed, lacking in nutritional value, loaded with sugar and “bad” carbs, high in “bad” fat, contain trans fat, and possess other similar traits that are common among typical “junk food.”

But, he also created a caloric deficit.

He went from eating 2600 calories per day (his estimated maintenance level) to eating about 1800 calories per day instead. He just so happened to get the majority of those 1800 daily calories from the most junky foods you can think of.

The purpose? To prove that despite his daily diet being loaded with sugar-filled garbage and junk food, he’d still lose fat just fine because a caloric deficit was present.

The result? He lost 27lbs in 2 months and reduced his body fat percentage from 33.4% to 24.9%.

The conclusion? A caloric deficit is the sole cause of fat loss. Even if those calories come from the shittiest sources known to mankind, fat will STILL be lost. It’s not the source or the quality of those foods and the calories they provide… it’s the total quantity of it all.

The Opposite Is True, Too

And even though Mark didn’t do a reverse version of this “experiment,” the opposite would be true, too. Meaning, creating a caloric surplus, regardless of the content of those calories, will ALWAYS cause those excess calories to be stored on your body in some form (most often as body fat).

This is equally true whether those calories come from only the healthiest, “cleanest,” most natural and nutritious foods on the planet, or the same type of junky garbage eaten in Mark’s experiment. What matters is the caloric surplus itself, not the form or manner in which that surplus was provided.

Or, to put it another way, eating too many “healthy” and “clean” foods will make you fat just the same as eating too many “unhealthy” and “dirty” foods will. It’s always the “eating too much” part that causes this to happen, not the specific foods that were or were not eaten.

The Example Is Extreme, But Understand Its Point

Yes, what Mark did is a CRAZY extreme example, and NO, I’d never recommend anyone try to actually eat like that. I’m all about getting a sufficient amount of protein, fat and carbs primarily from higher quality, natural, nutrient-dense foods you enjoy, and keeping the typical junkier foods to a sane yet enjoyable and sustainable minimum.

What I want you to do however is look at this example for what it is… clear undeniable proof that fat loss occurs strictly as a result of eating less total calories.

It doesn’t happen as a result of what you eat, when you eat or how you eat. It happens solely as a result of HOW MUCH you eat. And if a dude losing fat while practically eating nothing but Twinkies and Oreos still doesn’t prove this to you… then you are a lost cause.

Feel free to get together with the others who are just like you (of which there are unfortunately and pathetically plenty), and continue to dispense your horrendously bad diet and exercise advice together while quoting various inaccurate sources of information.

Summing Up Fat Loss

So, for anyone who wanted to know how to lose fat… here’s how. Create a caloric deficit. That is ALL that EVER works.

Yes, there are a million other factors and components of your diet and workout that play important roles in successfully, permanently and efficiently getting you to lose fat (while also maintaining lean muscle mass and being healthy), and a million ways to go about creating that deficit in a way that is as easy, enjoyable and sustainable for you as possible.

Once again, I fully explain how to do all of that right here: The Best Diet Plan

However, the big point I’m getting at is that ALL OF IT is completely irrelevant and useless to your goal of losing fat in the absence of that required caloric deficit.

Anyone who disagrees or claims otherwise is often either wrong or just trying to sell you something that is definitely NOT worth buying. In other words, they should be ignored completely 100% of the time.

Oh… and mocked, too.

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  1. Ann Reyes says

    Hi. I love this article. I actually came across the “Twinkie Diet” article a few weeks ago… and THAT was when I realized why the Atkins, Paleo and all the other numerous diets that I tried didn’t work for me. I suffered through eating food that I didn’t like or wouldn’t normally eat. but STILL didn’t pay attention to my calories. I tend to get surplus calories from liquids..flavored coffee creamers, sodas, frappachinos. The truth was that I wasn’t really overeating per say, I was over drinking my calories. I was always hungry and used to reason that as long as I am only drinking liquids and not putting food in my mouth that I would lose. Oh how I realize now how wrong I was. I scrapped all of the old diets.

    I found my BMR, and subtacted the desired deficit of calories from that amount and that is how I am currently losing weight. I lost 6 pounds in 2 weeks. And I can still enjoy my Chester Hot Popcorn, Matador Beef Stick and Japanese peanuts whenever I felt a craving coming on. Nothing is off limits. You are so right about everything you wrote. Thank you!!! Best isnt a diet at all. Just be conscious of your calories and you can maintain or manipulate your weight how you want :)

  2. Amy says

    Hi, I am looking to lose body fat. I weigh 133 lbs. I am 5’6 and i am 24 years old. I am carrying body fat that makes me look bigger than i am. I’m trying to figure out exactly what my calorie deficit is. Do i calculate my BMR and subtract 500 from that to find my deficit? My BMR says 1430. So if i subtract 500 from 1430 i am afraid my calories will be too low. Do you have any suggestions on what i should do? And also if i excersice (cardio and weight train) do i eat the calories burned back?

  3. Amy says

    I have a quick question. All i seem to be doing is losing muscle cause im getting weaker and lost 10 pounds im 132 pounds now i was 143. But i haven’t lost any body fat or inches. Do you think i should stop my deficit? I dont know what i’m doing wrong.

    • says

      There’s pretty much no way you lost 10lbs of 100% muscle and 0% fat. More likely you lost some water weight and/or just aren’t weighing yourself/tracking things accurately.

  4. Amy says

    Okay. I was curious cause my body measurements are still the same. Do i have to drink a ton of water? Would that help?

  5. Jim says

    A professor of human nutrition with a body fat percentage of 33? Kind of like a doctor who smokes I guess…

  6. Salman says

    First of all wonderful article and is really helpful let me tell you my story

    I am 25 years old and I work as well I want to maintain a diet that would help me reduce weight and get the body in shape. The only problem I am facing now is adjusting my diet with Job timings I work from 2pm- 11pm afternnon shift.

    My height is 180.34cm and weight is 187.393 pounds.

    Can you please help me out in making a diet plan and what time should I eat and hit the gym.

    waiting for your reply


    • says

      As long as your total calorie, protein, fat and carb intake is what it needs to be for the day, it makes no difference what time you eat any of it. Do whatever best fits your schedule.

  7. Bowo says

    This is so true. Lots of crap out there, I’ve tried many of them, yet I found the old school diet and exercise, calorie in vs. calorie out as the ultimate truth.
    Once I know how my body works, it’s really simple. No more wondering why I never eat past 6pm, only eat whole grain and lots of healthy stuff yet still adding weight. I was frustrated because of that.
    Adding more dietary fiber helps to reduce calorie though, since they make me full earlier consuming less calories in total.

  8. Mohamed says

    Will the calorie deficit cause muscle loss or it will just lower the body fat percentage? (In both cases working out or not)

  9. Bryan says

    Couldn’t agree more with this article from first hand experience. The fitness industry is sooo full of misinformation intentional or not that something this basic has got lost on us. I’ve lost 50 lbs by finally watching the calories. I have done no cardio at all, but do weight lifting/resistance training several times a week to maintain muscle. I’ve even fasted a few days to break a few short plateaus for 24-30 hours. I’m a few short weeks from the ever elusive 6 pack abs (personal challenge), and was never even close when i tried other methods of weight loss. My two cents, cut from BMR, use no activity factor multipliers. If you have fat on your body, 1000 calories is not too low. As you get leaner, start slowly adding back in the calories to BMR maintenance so you dont regain. Eat WHATEVER you want but at the end of the day, make sure you are in a deficit. (Literally even the junk food if you need to. Just remember, the junk foods are high in calories and the healthier ones are more nutrient based. From a fat loss perspective your body doesnt care if its grilled chicken or pizza. But if you do eat low nutrient food, take a multivitamin.) Use any online BMR calculator and cut from there. Measure, measure measure your body to track progress. Starvation mode? Holy cow, what a joke! When’s the last time you saw a obese person die of starvation? Ask for their studies. They dont have them. You dont need to worry about starvation mode until youre in single digit body fat, and if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t. You wont lose muscle either if youre doing enough weight training to maintain. 30 minutes. Forget cardio, it will only make you more hungry and less mobile the rest of the day. Cutting is not fun, but its temporary. Good luck to everyone! Thank you for writing this article.

    • says

      Agreed on a lot of those points, but I disagree with your calorie intake suggestions. An unnecessarily low calorie intake just makes things unnecessarily hard (not to mention, also increases the potential risk of muscle loss and disordered eating).

      • Dave Denbow says

        I preach the same stuff on nutrition and weight training. Thanks for keeping it real. I am currently dieting at 2000 calories per day. Full body three times a week is slamming me hard. I do about 12 exercises per workout. What would be the best split to start with. I am still getting stronger every workout like crazy. I am not a beginner. My sleep is starting to suffer. I feel over trained. My workouts typically take about 1.5 hours per workout three times a week.

  10. Rob says

    Will your body tell you when its exhausted of your caloric deficit? I have lost fat at the rate I am happy with, but recently I started to feel faint, dizzy, and experienced headaches while working out. Each set I completed I am winded, and feel that I will faint at any second. I still want to lose fat but I feel that if I maintain a 20% caloric deficit I will surely start fainting.

    I just took a two day break from my diet, and my intake was maintenance to tiny surplus both of those days. I started on the deficit again, and although I do not feel nearly as faint and weak as I did before, it is still present. I gained nearly 2 pounds from those two days, and before those two days I lost 10.

    Do I simply just not have the fat/energy to continue on a fat loss diet? Will my body just shut down when it exhausts its energy resources (yes I am eating a ton of protein, and I am working out with as much intensity as possible to signal my body to maintain the muscle)?

    I would still like to lose 5-7 more pounds, but is there a point at which your body will say no we cannot operate like this or we will shut down?

  11. Matt says

    Hi, I was researching low carb diets a while ago, and I found this:
    The one that concerned me after reading this was the lancet. According to the website, 3 groups of people had 3 different diets, each diet only containing 1000 calories. One was 90% of calories from carbs, one 90% of calories from fat, and one 90% of calories from protein. In the end, the group that ate 90% fat lost the most average weight, and the group that ate 90% carbs ended up gaining weight on average. How does this make sense if they all had the same calorie intake?

    • says

      Read the second paragraph. “Kekwick and Pawan noted irregularities in their study (patients not fully complying with the parameters of the study). The validity of their conclusions has been questioned, and follow-up studies over a longer duration concluded that these temporary differences were due chiefly to changes in water balance[25]”

      There’s your answer.

  12. Rich says

    I’m very stuck. I’m not sure how to calculate cals for weight loss. I try to hit the gym for an hr 3x a week. some times I’m not able to due to family issues. I am roughly 180 lbs, 36
    …5 ft 8 in. I’m sitting around 28% bf I want to be at the very most 14% or less. please help
    thanks in advance

  13. Johnny says

    Can you burn off trans fat or is that the type of fat that stays in your body forever?

  14. April says

    Great site, is there any way to lose fat healthily by creating a calorie deficit when I have a BMI of 19.5? (110 pounds – 5′ 3″) My body fat percentage is 24% according to a website’s calculations. So I’m pretty much skinny fat. How do I get it to 20%?

  15. Jason says

    Okay, you have helped me before in a few of your other posts, I just want to get an overall feel on my deficit/output/goals if you don’t mind. 6’1″, +/- 19% bf, total weight is around 187. I’m losing almost 1# exactly per week, so I think I have my deficit dialed in – I’m eating about 2,650. I’m assuming that to be (give or take) 15% under my maintenance (I’m weightlifting 60 minutes a day, five days a week and maintaining 2,650 on the weekends too).

    I am still making “strength” gains (maybe not specifically muscle, more on that later), but feel I am losing some LBM – not the end of the world I suppose. BUT, based on my current weight loss, it seems I am still about four months (give or take) away from hitting my “desired” bulking starting point of somewhere around14%. I was going to shoot even lower, but I think another five months of deficit will just be too much, given the type of training I do (squats, presses, deadlifts, etc.) and that I might start to suffer being in a deficit for so long (joints, maybe stalls in progress, who knows). So, I guess my main question is, if you were me, what would you do? Increase the deficit at the expense of muscle now, or keep on with my current deficit and drag this out at my current pace?

    I also read in one of your other posts that an average “gain” is 50/50 muscle/fat. For a “bulk” period, if I start at 13%, what BF% should I use as an upper limit before I go back into a cut?

    Lastly, as I indicated, all my lifts are going up, but my weight (and even LBM, assuming my scale is even remotely accurate) so is it fair to say that strength gains are not directly related to muscle gains? Is this the “beginner” phase that you speak of frequently? The scale would indicate that muscle is going down….. But my presses, squats, deadlifts are all up.

    • says

      If your goal is to get leaner and not lose muscle in the process, then I’d recommend sticking to slow consistent fat loss and not try to rush it (that will just impact strength even more, which increases the potential for muscle loss). Keep doing what you’re doing, and take 1-2 week diet breaks when needed (go back up to maintenance or possibly a very slight surplus).

      As for the starting/ending point of a bulk, a guy should ideally be in the 10-12% range to start, and end somewhere in the 15%-17% range.

      And if your strength is going up, I think it’s a good bet that you’re not losing much muscle at all (or not losing any muscle at all). If you’re basing this on a typical bathroom scale that measures body fat… that’s super useless and inaccurate. Go by the mirror, pictures, measurements and what your strength is like in the gym.

      • Jason says

        Thanks, that’s a good plan, I’ll just take diet breaks as needed. I am in a deload week right now, so I will eat maintenance this week and keep on shooting for the low teens before I bulk. If I deload every fourth week, maybe it would be best to just eat at maintenance every time I deload (in theory, I should be doing that anyway to preserve lean mass, right?).

        As far as the measurement, yeah, those scales are garbage – but since it spits the data out, I figure I might as well right it down. I did a caliper test when I started and it gave me pretty similar results, but who knows. I am taking photos every week for my main source of tracking. I can see the progress there – and can definitely tell I have a lot of cutting yet to do! I’ll keep on pushing, I don’t know if I can hit 10%, but I will try for 12%.

        As always, thanks for the input,

        • says

          Sounds good, except for the part about deloading every 4th week. That’s something to consider doing when you’re going super hard and heavy with higher volume and pushing for progress every workout in a surplus.

          If your in a deficit with the goal being to lose fat, you’re shooting for maintenance with lower volume and shouldn’t need to deload much, if at all.

          • Jason says

            Okay, I am a bit confused now, can you explain further? I was all on board with some of your other posts, mainly where you indicate that the best workout to maintain strength in a deficit is through strength training; you indicated that it may not be the most efficient at burning fat, but that it will certainly maintain the absolute most amount of muscle, while letting a caloric deficit to take care of fat loss (this is exactly what I have been focusing on, it seemed quite logical). In regards to hard strength training, focusing on low-moderate reps, I am still finding myself tired, worn out, fatigued, etc. at the same rate as my previous training cycles – in which I was deloading every 4th week – in other words, “working my ass off” as you state in your other post. So, maybe a little more explanation is needed here to clarify for me. Isn’t a deload every 4th (maybe 6th) week suggested even if your strength training focus is down in the 4-8 rep range? I would think that the need for a deload is associated more with the effort you expend in the gym, not what you eat outside of the gym – or even the progress in the gym. Further (with absolutely no consideration for science or anything else – so I could be way off) it even seems to me, that when your body is in a deficit and you are focusing on strength training, maybe the need for a deload would be more apparent (from a symptom standpoint, joint health, fatigue, etc.). No? Thoughts?

            • says

              A deload is needed more when volume is higher and you’re pushing for progress every workout. When fat loss is the goal, volume should purposely be reduced a little and you’re shooting more for maintenance (maybe with the occassional progress) rather than constant progress. Now if you’re going to be in a deficit for a while, sure… I can see taking a diet break when needed and possibly using that time to deload as well if it felt needed.

              But deloading every 4th week in a deficit? That seems excessive.

              • Jason says

                Yeah, it might be a bit much – but it’s just what I’ve always done and I think part of it might be from habit – plus, as I stated, I am still able to make progress – slow, but some progress anyways. I will try and stretch out my deload spacing to maybe 6 or 8 weeks. Part of the problem is that this winter (I live in Chicago) has been long and cold – which isn’t fun when working out in a garage at 5 a.m. – I think that all by itself might be causing part of the sore/dragging/worn-out feeling (which I usually associate with a need to deload). Maybe my body will rebound here in the spring and I can space my deloads out more. Thanks.

                One quick unrelated question – both of my AC joints are garbage (probably too many years of benching “bodybuilder” style). I have had some luck now sticking with dumbbell presses and staying away from the barbell – but overhead presses still kill me no matter what (dumbbell, barbell, Arnolds, etc.). Any thoughts on an alternate? I know I have read on here that you are no stranger to shoulder pain yourself…….


                • says

                  Lateral raises + various chest pressing (especially incline) = plenty for shoulder development despite no overhead press being done. So if the best thing you can do is avoid overhead pressing forever, you’ll still do just fine.

                  If you’re not happy with that, a landmine press is another option to try.

                  • Jason says

                    Sounds good, I appreciate the guidance. I do like incline presses and work them in on my second day of upper body each week; I also can do the lateral raises with no pain, so I will stick with those exercises.

  16. Precious says

    I’m looking for the answer to this question and this place seems like the right place to ask!

    If I create a caloric deficit today, when will my weight on the scale reflect that?

    I’ve been trying my hand at this concept lately (without making any calculations, just winging it) and my weight fluctuates randomly. One day I know i will have a caloric deficit (slightly hungry during my day & a rigorous workout) and the next day I’ve gained a pound and change. Could it be from the caloric surplus i made two days before?

    I hope I make sense. Thanks in advance!

  17. Lynn says

    I am into day 2 of my 6th week of my calorie deficit. For weeks 1 through 3 I wasn’t exercising beyond my daily dog walks. I adjusted my BMR and calorie deficit to reflect the 6lbs I lost. Week 4 I started working out 3x’s a week – moderate weight lifting and moderate cardio. At beginning of week 5 had lost a total of 10 lbs, but wanted to wait until this weekend to make my adjustments based on whatever I lost in week 5. Well, I got on the scale, and the damn thing told me I gained a pound.
    I keep my sodium intake around 2000mg a day – so I don’t know if it’s water weight or muscle weight. I honestly can’t believe that it would be muscle after lifting for only a few days in the last 2 weeks.
    My weekly calorie deficits were:
    Week 1, 4666
    Week 2, 3679
    Week 3,2738
    Week 4 2659
    Week 5 2582
    Also, those numbers don’t factor in calories burned by my workouts.
    I decreased my deficit in the last 3 weeks because I was feeling a little hungry, figuring that I would still see some sort of weight loss, but this part of a calorie deficit “diet” has me baffled. The steady loss is what really motivates me, and if I can understand why this happens, it will help me stay on the right path.

    • says

      Two things.

      First, there is no need to adjust from one week to the next like this. All you need to do really is set a moderate deficit and stick with it until progress stalls. At that point, adjust.

      Second, weight is a weird thing that can go up or down for a dozen different reasons, many of which have nothing to do with fat or muscle being lost or gained. This is part of why I recommend weighing yourself daily and only paying attention to the weekly average (full detail here), not adjusting your calories based on what you see after 1 week (I suggest waiting 2-3 weeks before making changes to confirm that changes actually need to be made), and tracking your progress using more than just your weight on the scale (body fat percentage, measurements, pictures, mirror).

      • Lynn says

        thanks for that smack of reality. you explain everything so clearly. I’ll go back to getting on the scale everyday.

        on a side note – i work part time at a gym, and to see the guys get on the scale before and after their workouts is crazy – but even better are the guys who come in to pump iron before going out to the club. hilarious!

        • says

          Ha, yeah… the people weighing themselves before/after their workout to see the “instant progress” is hilarious. I imagine they do the same thing at home before/after they pee.

  18. Miriam says

    This is a very good article! I have to say that i bought the “don’t eat less, eat clean” really well so i start a “clean” diet (that is good for my health) and workout like crazy and i’m not getting the results that i want. And now i know why! i start to eat clean but never worry about my calories, i just assume that i can eat whatever i want as long that is healthy and natural :p . Of course i eat like a pig, i drink two big smoothies a day, have a big big breakfast…. And i was wondering why???? why i can’t lose weight?!?!?
    Now i’m gonna read “The best diet plan” and make a plan that works for me and help me to lose weight and don’t feel disappointed :)
    Thank you for putting things clear like water to me! :)

  19. Sharon says

    Sooo basically, I can just do a calorie deficit and not have to do any cardio. Great! My one question is that if it would be fine to strength train while being on a calorie deficit? Would that help KEEP my strength ? Like, just to be extra sure that I don’t lose any of my muscle ?

  20. BBrickk says

    So I just came across this after reading another article on this site. It was about how muscles burn fat. Anyways, I like what I read because that’s exactly how I’ve been doing. Simple and easy. No complicated theories. However, the one theory that always haunts me is the “starvation mode” theory. I’m sure you’ve come across it. So, is it true that if I create a huge calorie deficit, my body will simply go into starvation mode and and use what it needs and store the rest thinking it will “starve”? Please correct me if I’m wrong with regards to the theory. I could have got it wrong all this time lol.

  21. Kathy says

    Hey its me again; im addicted to ur site! You make everything clear & u have so much for us to read! (I get sidetracked & lost lol). So pls help me this way. Im totally in love with the “eat whatever you want just less of it” method. My doc basically told me the same thing as a child. “Instead of a big whopper, eat a whopper jr.” I’ve already cut down on my dp; i only had 16 oz yesterday! Yay! But now im stuck. Remember? Im a little person. (29 yrs old, 4’4″). Soooo from another source on the subject (& common sense) i should be eating HALF of what avg height ppl eat, right? Like if theirs is 2000, mine should be 1000, right? And then on top of that, a cal def, sooo 980?? Idk. Im not giving up my evening walks or other exercises (which i’ve just included beginners pilates.) (We’re talkin im starting from the ground up. . . From the ground lying-face-down up lol).

    So i dont have ins & cant go to doc right now so im begging u not to tell me to “see my doc”; i’ll give u all the info u want right here. Point blank: at 4’4″, mother of a toddler & 29 yrs old w/ hypothyroidism, how many cals do u suggest? Im not gonna “drink my cals” like my health nut cousin says; good point, why waste those precious few on dp? Water for me, thank u! And im not giving up exercising just cuz i “can & still lose weight” based on cal def. (Quotes not meant in derogatory tone by any means.)
    I dont just “wanna be skinny”; i want a strong heart!
    Thx again in advance & have a great day! Keep the articles coming, pls :)

    • says

      I wouldn’t say you should automatically be eating half of what an average height person would eat. You’re shorter, but not half as short. You’re only like 1 foot shorter than a typical female. I’d figure out your calorie needs the same way I’d tell anyone else to do it. Details are here.

      Really all that matters is that you consistently eat the same amount of calories, watch what happens over the next 2-3 weeks and if needed, adjust.

      Although, exactly how your hypothyroidism factors into things is something to discuss with your doctor.

        • Kathy says

          Hey Jay,
          I didnt have time earlier to go over that link u sent me but i just now got thru with it. That’s EXACTLY what i been tryin to figure out! Thank u thank u thank u! (And thx esp 4 no tricks, payment or gimmicks.)

          (I put myself down as lightly active since im a recovering couch potato haha. I walk abt 20 mins almost every evening & “actually” exercise in my house in addition to my housework. And im so excited, i have to tell the world! I’m up to two pushups! Lol :p from zero to two is pretty crazy :p and im very encouraged by what my body is already showing me it IS actually capable of doing haha :p

          Thank you again 4 helping avg joe’s like us to put it all together :)

  22. Peter says


    First of all, just want to say thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise to me and many other people who benefit tremendously from it. I’ve been working out following your recommended routine in your book since a year ago, and switched to follow your suggested fat loss diet/workout routine 9 weeks ago. All I can say is although I did have self-doubt or frustration for very short periods during the process, I trust and stick with your routine and am amazed with the progress I’ve made. Thank you!

    If not bothersome I’d like to ask you a specific question that I don’t believe I’ve seen on your website. I know the sole factor of fat loss is calorie deficit and am happy with the weight loss I’ve achieved in the past 9 weeks. I will attend a friend’s wedding for a week next week and don’t imagine I will be able to maintain my current diet. I’ve read from other sources discussing how you should “SLOWLY” increase your calorie consumption to avoid your body storing fat. I will certainly not eat 4,000 calories during my trip but my question will be if it’s OK for me to jump back to “maintenance level” calorie consumption or you would recommend me doing “15% Deficit on Day 1, 10% Deficit on Day 2…etc.”?



    • says

      Glad to hear it dude!

      As for your question, I wouldn’t even worry about it. That week will serve as a diet break week where you’ll be back at maintenance or in a small (hopefully ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) surplus at most. Have fun, don’t go too insane with calorie intake, and return back to your usual deficit the following week.

  23. yini says

    Thanks for your answer on an earlier question of mine. I’m wondering about how many calories I should increase for strength training days. Currently, I take in 130 calories more through a protein powder. I’m not sure if I have a medical problem or if I’m having too much protein or overestimating how many calories I need for lifting, because I’m not finding physical results in fat loss. I measure my waist every two weeks (and weigh myself to recalculate caloric intake value), and I doubt I’m building enough abs to counteract the inches of fat lost. I have a kitchen scale and measuring instruments for my foods. Based on that, I believe I’m eating less calories than I need for my weight and decreasing them by a little every few weeks. It might just be my bone structure and I can’t lose any more inches. My goal isn’t to lose weight and I’m not even sure if I should try to lose fat any more.

    So, my issue is understanding the calories I need for lifting. I know there are a lot of variables involved and things I’m probably overlooking.. is there a formula for a rough estimate for my question? And is there a method you trust for determining overall caloric intake? I try to use ones with multiple variables and average out the recommended amounts.

  24. yini says

    Hey, could you skim through this article? I found it after reading your article on protein intake. Is it pushing the readers’ perspective by not addressing some things or is 1 gram/pound actually unnecessary?

  25. Kevin says

    I truly believe in it’s all about calories in calories out to lose fat , but what’s up with guys like Vince Del Monte saying its not all about calories in calories out and saying hormones is what dictates fat loss. And then there are people claiming spiking your insulin on a calore deficit causes you to not lose fat even though your on a calorie deficit. Explain to me your reasoning on how this information is false on what these people are claiming.

    • says

      Del Monte is widely regarded as a fucking idiot, and there’s not a single person I know whose opinions I respect that doesn’t laugh hysterically at all of the garbage he puts out. You’d be best served to ignore him and everyone like him.

  26. Jonnnnu says

    So I used the calorie calculator and it says my maintience is 3640, I’m 6’1 330 pounds. My is how much do I need to be in a deficit to lose fat.? Should I do 1000 or 500.

  27. Cynthia says

    I am 62, female, icky 217 pounds, 5 foot 6, on 130 mcg of levothyroxine for hypothyroid, and no other health issues. I have weighed between 117 and 125 all of my life until 10 years ago when the hypo began and was not recognized by me. I gained all of the weight as my thyroid slowed down. My doctor said I was close to a heart attack from metabolism slow-down. Wondered what was up! I run an internet business from a chair (ugh) but have always been someone who was physical. I play tennis several times a week for several hours each time. I do strength training every other day and have strong arms and legs. I walk and jog. I have been doing P90X three times a week for several months – alternating with strength training. I also stretch, do yoga. My heart is in excellent condition, per the doctor. And you can see muscles when I flex my arms. :-) But — aggggg — I now have a belly and want it gone, gone, gone.

    I eat healthy. That’s not an issue. However, I tracked my food without regard to “diet” and discovered that I eat between 2000 and 2100 calories a day naturally.

    But when I tried to stick to a diet of 1200 calories daily — 2 pounds a week — I do not have the energy to play a hard game of tennis for two hours, do P90X for 30 minutes, work hard (shovel, etc) in my 800 sq. foot veg. garden. And inevitably, I break down and return to normal eating at 2000.

    When I let things go and slipped right back to my unconscious 2000 – 2100 calories a day, my tennis game was great and I get through the day with tons of energy. I do know that if those calories are from too many refined carbs, forget that energy. They make me sleepy.

    I also noted that when eating my 2000-2100 calories a day, the P90X and netfit program — both strenuous — resulted in inches lost but not one single pound. Yeah.. I know.. muscle.

    So for me, is it simply a matter of losing weight at 1 pounds week in order to maintain energy, exercise and lose weight? Or do you think there are food combinations that would work best?

    I would like to build lean muscle due to aging, keep my fun exercise going as I love being physical, but damn, I so want to be back to my 117-125 weight, which sticks like glue to me.

    Frustrated. So frustrated. So very, very frustrated.

    • says

      I think you pretty much answered your own question. If 2000 calories causes you to maintain your current weight and 1200 calories causes you to lose weight but it just feels like too extreme of a deficit, the answer is to find the sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

      I typically recommend no more than a deficit of 20% below maintenance which for you would be about 1600 calories.

      • Cynthia says

        Thanks for the speedy reply. This is so humiliating as I was one of those prideful folks who could not understand why other people are overweight as I never had to diet. I guess this is my lesson in humility and patience with others.

        20% below the 2000 =1600, as you said, and 400 deficit daily, which is not even one pound a week (2800 deficit versus 3500). Boy. Sloooow burn.

        I keep wondering if there’s a way to maintain energy needed for rigorous exercise while sticking to calorie count that gets at least 1 to 1.5 pound weekly. Isn’t that food type??

        And how does your math work as your weight goes down, which reduces that maintenance figure?

        • says

          One of the many things that suck about being in a caloric deficit is that it is literally an energy deficit, so physical performance is not quite at its best. The best thing you can do in that regard is just keep the deficit to small/moderate levels, as the bigger it gets the worse everything else will be.

          And yes, your maintenance level will VERY gradually decrease as you gradually lose weight, but there is no need to care about it until you reach a point where weight loss stalls for a few weeks in a row. At that point, adjust.

  28. Buck says

    Very well said, love the article… I’ve tried to explain this to people before but a lot of them seem to get offensive about it. They usually come back, with a very sarcastic tone, with something like “So you’re saying I can eat cake all day and lose weight”. I tell them, “if you consume less calories then you burn, yes”, that’s when they usually say “whatever” and stop listening to me.

    I myself try to eat balanced meal because for the most part I understand that protein, carbs, and even fat have essential benefits to the body that have nothing to do with losing weight. Do you agree? Plus, I like to eat throughout the day, if you just ate crap then you would hit your daily limit faster and have to stop eating to stay in your deficit.

    This is what I do, maybe it will help other readers. I of course try to plan my meals to an extent to keep it as balanced as I can but I also carry a little notebook around with me. Every day I write my total calorie intake limit at the top of the page and every time I intake calorie, no matter what it is, I subtract it from the total I have available. When I reach zero I stop eating for the day. Most days, if I stick to my planned meals I make it thru the entire day but sometimes I eat a little more then I should or I’m really craving something and I run out early and have to skip my late evening snack or even dinner.

    This is what has worked for me so far… I’ve lost 40 pounds in the past 6 months (put 10 back on when I tried to quit smoking but I’ll get that back off). It’s kind of like budgeting your checkbook (old school), you only have so much money to spend every day and when your account is empty you can’t spend anymore.

    Hope that helps someone… And thank you Jay for explaining it better then I’ve ever been able to, I’m just going to send people here who think I’m full of shit!

    • says

      Protein and fat are definitely essential to sustaining life and function. Carbs technically aren’t (protein can be converted to glucose if needed), but the body sure as hell runs a shitload better with carbs.

      And what you described is pretty much the right way to do it. Although there are plenty of diet tracking apps available that will make things even easier than the old school paper/pen method.

      • Buck says

        Thanks for the reply…

        I’ve tried using those apps and I get lost, I end up adding a bunch of them to my phone trying to find the best one and never end up using any of them. Do you recommend a particular one?

  29. marja says

    I just purchased your SMG Guide and started reading it. My question is: How do I determine my body fat percentage?

    • says

      Keep reading. There is a whole section about this in the body fat chapter.

      And also, in the future, please email me with SMG questions rather than posting them in comments.

  30. Freya B says

    I am 6’1″ and 240lbs. As part of a psychology experiment for my graduate studies I will be implementing a daily 10km exercise regime with a reduced calorie diet from my usual 2000 calorie diet to a 1500 calorie diet (I do not count drinks since I cut out all juices, sodas and any liquids other than green tea and water two months ago) Your articles have actually really been helping me design the experiment which I will be completing with my two roommates who are both over 5’10” and over 200lbs. The experiment will last for 13 weeks and during that time we will be making journals and charting our moods, energy levels, irritability and physical weight loss/inches lost. We do however have medical supervision through the school to keep track of our blood sugar levels and blood pressure, heart beats etc.
    Thank you for your informative articles and I look forward to reading more during and after the completion of the experiment!

  31. Dr. M says

    Whereas I cannot completely disagree with the calorie deficit argument, I do have to point out that the source of the calories does matter… a lot. It has to do with a player that you have completely neglected to mention: insulin. I’d like to see if you can wrap your mind around the role of insulin in fat loss/gain…

    Put simply: insulin drives sugars into adipose tissue to be converted to fat. Spikes in insulin makes this happen quicker, hence why the source of calories matters.

    Can you finish the story or should I?

    • says

      Better question, why does explaining the factual importance of calories in vs calories out cause people such as yourself to hear “the source of the your calories doesn’t matter”?

      Because that’s not only NOT what I’m saying, but also not something I’d ever say because it’s just not true.

  32. Gary says

    Good post and you shed light on some “hidden meaning” points (eat low carb diet suddenly you stop eating excess bread). However, I have a question/statement. If I were to eat a calorie deficient diet, but one mainly of raw broccoli and miscellaneous other foods. Explain to me how it “doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you are calorie deficient” if the large amounts of goitrogenic acids in raw broccoli inhibit my ability to convert thyroxine into T3 therefore actually gain fat? And, explain to me someone with a very “stressful” life whom produces high amounts of cortisol eats calorie restrictive loses muscle and not fat?

    Very curious is all hope it didn’t come off bad!

    • says

      The problem with your question is that you’re referring to a statement I never made nor would ever make, and are creating an example based around it that is way to silly and irrelevant to even attempt to answer (for starters, you’d be dead due to the lack of protein).

  33. Zaiber says

    This article has been revealed to me, just at the right time i.e, before I wasted my time on senseless crap. P. S a suggestion would be to add a paragraph where you highlight the importance of eating healthy. For example a bowl of salad has the same amount of calories as a cheeseburger, yet you get to eat more of the salad, fullfill your dietary requirements to stay healthy. Its just the fact that for a moment I thought ‘Hey i can eat all the shit i want (in controlled amounts) yet get lean’. But doing so might lead to heart problem, diabetes and stuff like that. So a strategically placed paragraph about healthy eating might just add more usefulness to this awesome article. Beside, why do we want to lose fat. To ultimately stay healthy right?? Eitherway, its still a very, very useful article for newbies like myself. Thanks for that :)

    • says

      That paragraph is already there…

      Yes, what Mark did is a CRAZY extreme example, and NO, Iโ€™d never recommend anyone try to actually eat like that. Iโ€™m all about getting a sufficient amount of protein, fat and carbs primarily from higher quality, natural, nutrient-dense foods you enjoy, and keeping the typical junkier foods to a sane yet enjoyable and sustainable minimum.