In a few conversations and posts I’ve seen in Ray Peat Groups this week, people are advising others not to calorie restrict or go into a calorie deficit. Supposedly it’s no good for their health.
Is this true though? What exactly does everyone mean by calorie deficit or calorie restriction?
Before I go into it, I just wanted to say that I understand why people are now reluctant to go anywhere near what they think is calorie restriction. Years of torturing ourselves with 1,200 calorie diets, thinking it was the answer to all our problems.
When now we find out that not only was it NOT the way, but our bodies were fighting us trying to get us to stop it. In fact it was the cause of ill health for many. Anyone who did have super human willpower ended up with the worst of hypothyroid disease, or chronic fatigue, or autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s.
As a classic overeater, I understand
So I get it. I was a classic overeater in my overweight prime. I would love nothing more than there be a solution where you can eat the house down and be healthy and trim. Go back for seconds and thirds, because it tastes so darn good. Unfortunately though, that solution doesn’t exist.
What we do have though in a Ray Peat style diet is more sensible calories. I keep mentioning 1,800 calories for women because that is the standard mark. So we are already eating more than our 1,200 calorie restrictive days. 600 calories more. It’s a whole meal.
So why now are people still pushing that boundary and trying to make it unlimited? Eating more even when they are not hungry, and then wondering why they can’t lose weight?
When thinking about this topic, Ray Peat’s advice about CONTEXT always jumps out at me. These concepts about calorie restriction are so broad and vague. It could mean anything.
So let’s run through a few scenarios and I will let you know if I think it is restricting calories or if it’s something else.
(Note some of these were options in a survey we recently did in our private group Slimbirdy—ZEN Beach Diet—Eating Peaty, if you would like to join this group please click here.)
A/ I’m supposed to be eating 1,800 calories but I’m eating 1,200 calories to try and lose weight and I’m starving all the time.
This is definitely calorie restriction. Do this consistently or long term and your metabolism will lower and health issues will develop.
B/ Eating 1,500 calories for a while and doing really well for a while, but tired and hungry too often
This is definitely calorie restriction too. It’s not enough calories for an adult woman to thrive on and the body is giving multiple signs that it is not doing well. Continue this for too long and again ill health will develop.
C/ Eating your appropriate calories for the day and not hungry, but you want ice cream but you don’t have it
This one is NOT calorie restriction. You’ve already had your appropriate food for the day. Your body is giving no signals that it needs any more, and to have it would be eating excess to your needs. This is where weight starts to come on. It’s more like using food as an activity or pass time rather than being tuned in to your body properly. Have ice cream the next day in any of your meals within your calorie limits. In fact, make a whole meal ice cream if you want.
There was a guy who did an ice cream diet just to prove that you could lose weight with any food as long as it was only certain calories. He did lose weight but was so sick of ice cream by the end of it. I recommend this method for anyone who can’t stop eating any particular food. Sometimes your body craves it so much due to the nutrients it needs. Then once you over indulge, it has enough of that nutrient and kind of sets you free.
D/ You’ve eaten your appropriate calories for the day and you’re mildly hungry but you don’t eat anything.
This one again I would NOT call calorie restriction. There is a chart called a Hunger Scale and I’ve posted it in the private group before (use the search function in the group to find it) and I’ve also put it in the 3 Day Summer RESTART book because it’s an important concept when it comes to weight loss.
There are levels of hunger and levels of fullness and once you have eaten enough calories for the day – which is basically the key part – then your body has enough to work with at this point. Mild hunger then shouldn’t trigger more eating because now you’re going into excess calories and either keeping weight on or you will be putting it on.
The only exception to this is if this is mild hunger before sleeping and you know if you don’t eat anything then it will interrupt your sleep and wake you up. Then definitely a small snack of something solid like custard or ice cream would be good—like a 1/4 cup only—to ensure good sleep. I only mention solid food because I know if I drink anything before sleep, without doubt it would wake me up needing to go to the toilet.
E/ You’re feeling light and satisfied after a meal, but you keep eating because you like the taste and to stop would be restricting calories.
You should stop eating. This is definitely NOT restricting calories. You should stop when you are light and satisfied (again this is a level in the Hunger Scale) because real fullness actually takes another 20 minutes to kick in and when it does, you will be over full or sick full. This is too full and works against your health and weight loss goals.
F/ Eating a specific caloric intake but spacing it out throughout the day so you aren’t starving all the time.
This scenario wasn’t detailed enough because it depends what the specific calorie intake actually was. If it’s less than you are supposed to be eating, then yes it’s calorie restriction. The fact that they mention ‘starving all the time’ probably means it was lower calories than recommended.
When you are at the daily calorie level you are supposed to be, a meal should sustain you for at least at good 3 hours where you are not hungry but light and satisfied throughout. The next hour you might be mildly hungry until you start to get really hungry, at which point you eat. So under an ideal scenario, you shouldn’t be starving for most of the day—that’s not comfortable, healthy or sustainable.
G/ Eating until you are super full or almost sick full is required, otherwise you are restricting calories.
This is definitely NOT calorie restriction, no one should be eating this much on a regular basis. It in fact has now gone completely too far the other way. Luckily no one in our survey thought that eating like this was being restrictive in any way.
So with these examples, I hope you can see now the true definition of calorie restriction and when it is likely to be working against your health goals. Always consider both factors – your ideal caloric amount and hunger levels.
Early Ray Peat Groups
The terrible advice, in the Ray Peat groups early days, to overeat to increase metabolism had women not only moving from their 1,200 cal restrictive diets to 1,800 calories where they should be, but shooting way past it to 2,400 calories. Then 90% of people who did this put on stacks of weight and were miserable.
So let’s not get too carried away. There may be a scenario 4-5 years down the track on this diet where your metabolism may be revved up enough to eat that much and stay lean. But for the average person, this will never be the case. So we need to figure out a way to get comfortable within 200 calories of the 1,800 calorie mark on a regular basis.
- Use the ZEN Beach Diet easy food measuring system so it’s easy to guesstimate, and doesn’t drive you crazy.
- Understand your body hunger and fullness cues and use them to your advantage.
- Figure out your optimal food timing that suits your lifestyle best.
- Figure out your optimal calorie level where you are light and satisfied and not putting on more weight.
- If you do overeat for a meal don’t beat yourself up about it or try and go super low calories (or exercise like crazy) the next day to compensate. Just get back to your standard 1,800 calorie sensible mark as soon as you can and just keep going.
Don’t be afraid of being mildly hungry sometimes or eating a little less of one meal on one day. This is normal and won’t negatively affect your metabolism or health. When we eat the correct way most of the time, we have good glycogen storage and the body can easily cope with these short periods without a bit of food.
It’s just when we eat only 1,000 calories for months on end and starve most of the time, that the problems start.
I just wanted to detail all this because I feel that too many people have swung too far the other way now. They are overeating too often believing it’s better or required, which is making their weight loss and health goals more difficult.
It’s about consistency and balance
An optimal diet is about balancing your food specifically to YOUR body’s needs. When we do this, excess weight tends to reduce naturally. When we talk about a calorie deficit to lose weight, at best it should mean something like reducing by only 100 calories per day . This is one cup of orange juice. So minor that you barely notice. But sometimes it isn’t even necessary. Sometimes just switching fat calories to protein calories will do the trick. It’s all about getting the start point right.
The best idea is tiny moves only . This over the long term yields the best, long lasting results and keeps your health intact.
To get the complete run down of a Ray Peat style diet and 1,800 calorie meal plan and recipes, grab a copy of the ZEN Beach Diet book. Under AU$10 and available for immediate download worldwide. Buy here.