The ultimate guide to the best food for calorie deficit

As a nutrition coach who helps clients with sustainable weight loss, I’m often asked what is the best food for calorie deficit?

Real talk. There are no magic weight loss foods that will help you lose weight faster. That’s not how the human body works. BUT to be consistent in a caloric deficit, it helps not to be hungry all the time.

With that, I’m going to share a simple strategy for choosing the best foods to incorporate into your meals to reduce hunger and promote health. This approach will also make weight loss more sustainable and less obsessive.

What does it take to start losing weight? 

To lose weight, you need one thing: to be in a caloric deficit. 

This sounds simple, but it’s actually more complicated when you consider:

  • Metabolic adaptations from eating less food and being in a calorie deficit. You can’t avoid this. However, if you eat maintenance and take planned diet breaks, your metabolism to recover!
  • Individual variations in how many calories you burn. Two people can be the same size, eat the same things, do the same workouts and still burn a different amount of calories in a day.
  • Hormones. For example, people with PCOS may burn significantly fewer calories than people without PCOS. As someone with PCOS, I can tell you is real and a total pain in the ass.
  • Issues with food tracking. It’s actually hard to accurately track your food. Frankly, you’re better off if you aren’t *too* good at this. It often lends itself to disordered eating.
  • Caloric restriction and dieting have psychological ramifications. This can be a long and varied list including food obsession, binging and restricting, and emotional eating.

More about how metabolism works here.

What are your options for creating a caloric deficit to trigger weight loss?

1) Eat fewer calories, but not so few calories that you feel like death warmed over

2) Increase your NEAT (low grade activity), which means you want to walk more or increase your step count.

3) Take planned diet breaks where you eat at maintenance, so your metabolism can recover / up regulate after being in the deficit and your body burns more calories again. 

*Medical interventions may help, but I’m not covering that in this post.

TLDR: Despite what you might have heard there are no supplements, metabolism hacks, or fat burning foods. HOWEVER, there are foods that will help you feel full longer. This can make eating fewer calories feel easier. 

In the next section of this post, I’m going to break down what this means. I will also cover how to incorporate these foods into your diet.

What should I eat for caloric deficit?

There’s no best food for calorie deficit, but I suggest eating a combination of foods that help you stay satiated and full longer. I’d recommend eating these foods alongside “fun” foods, even though they’re less nutrient dense. 

This is because it’s important to maintain a healthy relationship with food. This supports your mental health and helps sustain weight loss, because it reduces the risk of binging and emotional eating.

What are the best foods to help you stay longer when you’re in a calorie deficit?

When choosing foods for satiation and fullness, it helps to know what helps us feel full.

There are 2 types of fullness:

1) Mechanical fullness, which is the feeling of food taking up space in your stomach.

The foods that create mechanical fullness are nutrient dense and high volume foods. This means they are high nutrients and low in calorie relative to the serving size. This includes fruits, vegetables, and high fiber foods.

2) Biochemical fullness, which happens when you eat foods that signal your gut that you have the nutrients you need. 

The foods that trigger biomechanical fullness are protein and fat.

This is to say that you want to include BOTH in most major meals.

Learn more about hunger and fullness cues here.

Finally, certain foods have been found to create a greater sense of satiation relative to the portion size and number of calories. These foods have been scored on something called the satiety index and rank foods from whether they leave you extremely hungry, hungry, semi-hungry, no feeling, semi-satisfied, satisfied, or extremely satisfied.

These foods don’t fall into any one category. For example, potatoes (starchy carbs) and egg whites (protein) both rank high on the satiety index. So with that knowledge, you may find it helpful to look at this list and incorporate foods from it that you like into your meals to reduce hunger when you’re in a deficit.

Click here for a comprehensive list of foods on the satiety index.

Note: The higher the percentage for each food on this list, the more satiating this is found to be. However, this doesn’t make less satiating food bad. It just means that if you eat a lot of less satiating foods, then you are more likely to be hungry. 

With that, you could consider these the best food for calorie deficit to include in each meal.

1) Fruits, vegetables, and other high fiber foods that are higher volume and lower calorie to signal to your stomach more quickly that you are full + slow your digestion. 

2) Protein and fat, which signal your gut and tell your brain that you are full + help you stay full longer + reduce cravings.

3) Whole grains and starchy carbs, which also have fiber and give you energy, so you don’t feel like death and your meal is enjoyable.

4) Foods that are high on the satiety index, which may fall into any of the categories of proteins, carbs, or fats. 

5) Foods that you like that may be as nutrious, but increase the enjoyment factor, so you don’t feel deprived and can maintain a healthier relationship with food.

Need some meal ideas? Check out this post with healthy, easy lunch ideas or learn more about why you feel hungry right after eating.

Are there calorie deficit foods to avoid?

Not really. You could create a calorie deficit eating any food! Obviously, if you eat nothing but hyper palatable, high sugar foods, you’re going to be really hungry making it harder to stay in a calorie deficit. However, were you to maintain a deficit on those foods, you would still lose weight. Plenty of studies and people have demonstrated this with the more memorable one being the nutrition professor who lost weight eating only Twinkies. 

This is obviously not something that most adults are doing though and it wouldn’t be a great idea even if you weren’t trying to lose weight, because it’s not good for health and you’d feel like crap.

Parting thoughts on the best food for calorie deficit

There are certain foods that will help you stay full longer, while also being health promoting. These foods are the ones that for the most part we already know are “good for us.”

However, life is more than eating as healthy as possible. You should like the food that you’re eating and only eating “healthy” food often contributes to disordered eating, yo-yo dieting, and a cycle of binging and restricting, which is not healthy.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat healthier or lost weight, but if you want to sustain your weight loss and minimize obsessive behavior around food, your best option is to establish a regular pattern of eating for weight maintenance that makes sense for your life first. 

From there, you can create a small deficit that still matches that pattern of eating, so you don’t feel like you’re on the dieting merry-go-round from hell. This is the “boring” and yet best way to be in a calorie deficit.

Want help with sustainable weight loss?

That is what I help my nutrition coaching clients with. LEARN MORE HERE and book a free discovery call.