The Deficit – How We Lose Fat

subtraction 3-1=2
Explaining the basics of a deficit

One positive thing that has come out of discussions on topics like “metabolic damage” and “starvation mode” is people are learning (even though they are often misguided) that eating for your energy needs is necessary for an optimal metabolic rate.

On the flip side, people are now under the impression that going into a deficit is a bad idea. Boy how fast does that pendulum swing, eh? I am frequently asked questions like…

“I should keep my deficit really small so I don’t crash my metabolism, right?”

“I was told by (enter guru) that I should never be in a deficit to lose fat.”

“I heard deficits make you store fat, not lose it!”

The deficit is becoming the Big Bad (Whedon reference) especially for those who have had any experience with disordered eating. People in these situations are often told that “diets are bad” and “deficits are triggers or gateways.” While there can be severe cases where diet monitoring should be under the aid of a professional, it doesn’t exclude the fact that a deficit is our only means to fat loss.

If you learn how to control the deficit and what it means, you can take back the power and understand its mystery.

How Energy Works

I’ve talked at length about energy expenditure and how it works. I will recap here by keeping this simple.

Every day you need to expend a certain amount of energy through the following means:

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – Amount of energy for essential body functions

Thermic Effect Of Food (TEF) – Amount of energy to digest food

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – Mostly subconscious activity expenditure (fidgeting, pacing)

Non-Exercise Physical Activity (NEPA) – Mostly conscious activity expenditure (low-grade walking, shopping)

Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA) – Formal or structured exercise

Every day you land in one of the following categories:

Deficit – Less intake of energy than required

Maintenance – Matched intake of energy required

Surplus – Excess intake of energy required

We see that everything from training to subconscious decisions determine our daily energy needs.

To that point, what we take in determines our daily energy status.

Meet the Adipose Cell (Aka: The Fat Storage Center)

For a long time, the adipose cell was thought to be this simplistic storage center offering up little more than extra storage space. This is similar to spaces you’d rent to hold your excessive collection of Christmas decorations. You know who you are.

But over the past several decades we have found out how fascinating and involved these storage facilities are.

Bare bone facts:


Types of Fat Tissue – White and brown. White is most common, therefore these stats will be in reference to white fat cells.

Creation – Most fat cells are created before adulthood. After that, the majority of people fill or empty their cells. Very rarely does an adult overfeed or gain fat in excess enough to create new cells.

The Cell – The cell is connective tissue (cells, fibers, fluid) with adipocytes containing things like nuclei, receptors, and those lovely lipid droplets of fat.

Size – A normal fat cell is 0.1mm but can fill or shrink depending on water and fat levels.

Lipid State – At body temperature, it is a thick liquid state.

Functions – Energy storage, insulation/warmth, endocrine functions, receptors, and more.

To sum up…

You have containers in your body filled with little cells. They have tissue, liquid/water, cytoplasm, nuclei, lipid droplets, and lots of receptors and signal senders that report on your health, body fat levels, and well being. That is an amazing little system and operation for being only 0.1mm.

Image src: Indiana University –

Adding and Subtracting Energy Stores

Before you can take something from storage, let’s briefly understand how it got there. Intake of food will lead to the distribution and storage of energy depending on the macronutrient and your current energy needs.

Macronutrient Circulation and Storage in Fat

Fat – Has little circulation (or oxidation) value. Stored easily as fat.

Carbohydrates – Is used best in circulation (oxidation). Converted to glycogen and, if in large excess of need, then converted to fat storage. Still difficult to store as fat even with excess consumption.

Protein – Used well in circulation (oxidation). Hard to store period in any capacity though there are some exceptions with higher levels of training, but still small. Protein is nearly impossible to convert to fat.

Storage can still take place regardless of a surplus being present. In a day you can store and use simultaneously. Long-term storage will only take place in the event of a surplus and will stay that way until a deficit is achieved. Because macronutrient intake is rarely (if ever in free-living) based on one solo macronutrient feed, it is important to take all macronutrient intake into account. While transferring carbohydrates or protein into fat is difficult, if fat is present in circulation it will be stored versus being utilized for energy.

Pulling from Stored Energy (AKA: How Fat Loss Works)

Let’s say you are training and you’ve used all the circulating energy in your body. When this happens your body is going to turn to its stored energy sources. Depending on your training intensity, it is going to choose mainly from two sources—glycogen (stored glucose) or fat (stored fat). You can access stored protein, but it is much harder to do than people think. Protein makes up a small portion of stored energy usage unless you are experiencing true starvation issues.

If we are calling on energy usage and we have none circulating, we pull that energy from stores. If we do that enough, we start to pull more from storage than what is going in. You might think this is an “outdated” concept, but no matter what diet system you are using, this is how it works. This is the ONLY WAY A FAT CELL EMPTIES.

The Claw Machine

I love the claw machine. You know the machine with the stuffed animals in it and the “grab” claw that is supposed to grab the stuffed animals, but never does? Yeah, that machine. I have become the master of the claw machine. You want to know why? I am not greedy. I go for what I can get instead of the best toy in the case. By doing that, I end up getting the best toys in the case. That’s my claw machine tip. Enjoy.

Let’s say the claw machine and the toys represents fat cell storage. The animals are your lipids, your stored fat. The machine is your container or cell. If the machine overflows and can’t close, the stuffed animals will have to go to another machine. If the machine is filled to its capacity but stable, it’s ready to produce an animal when you put in your dollar.

Ready to lose fat? You have to remove those little stuffed animals (lipids) one-by-one to empty out that cell. Once all of the stuffed animals are gone, you now have an empty fat cell.

As a side note: It sure would be a shame to empty out all those animals only to fill them back up again (if your goal is fat loss). Keep that in mind when you are having too many “fun” days in a row. As an exercise, visit a local arcade and waste a couple of bucks on the claw machine to get some perspective.

But Doesn’t a Deficit Destroy My Metabolism?

Deficits are perfectly fine and when used properly can elicit the body fat removal you need to achieve your aesthetics, health, or weight class goals.

The issue isn’t the deficit. The issue is the time and severity of the deficit. Even with extreme deficits there are safe ways to handle them, especially with the aid of professionals. When people talk about “crash dieting” and “ruining the metabolism” it is only part of the story. I will get into that in another article.

While adaptive thermogenesis and metabolic adaptations are real things, they are also reversible (depending on how much fat loss has taken place).

There are many reasons to dislike deficits. The best reason is that they don’t feel good. You are purposefully robbing yourself of nutrition to achieve a goal. That goal may be vanity or health, but your body doesn’t care. Like a greedy bank, it wants what you stored to stay there. Granted, the more “endowed” your fortune is, the easier it will (usually) let it go. But make no mistake, it is in survival mode. It doesn’t want you doing what you are doing. You aren’t crazy to think otherwise.

But it doesn’t “destroy” your metabolism.

But Diet Is Only One Part, Right? I Can Get the Same Results Training?

No. It’s every part. It’s everything. Look back at what I said about energy expenditure. It doesn’t matter what column the energy comes from: BMR, TEF, NEAT—it all goes into the pot. The adipocyte or fat cell is not going to give up its lustrous beads of energy just because you are having a really good workout and “stoking your metabolic fire.” It’s only going to release its reserves (because that is exactly what they are) when you are out of circulating energy.

Without that deficit you will never achieve the result of lower body fat. Now, how you choose to go about that deficit is open for a lot more personalization. Adding training to support metabolic activity or alter body composition are fantastic things. But that deficit, yep, it still has to be there.

Update: Due to the popularity of this article, I have received a few questions specifically about muscle loss, alcohol, and special diet populations. I am working on these additions and will add them sometime in the next week. Thanks for your interest.

Update #2: You can see the answers to these questions below.

Questions – What about alcohol? Is alcohol stored as fat?

Alcohol is a toxin (technically). It can’t be stored, so it is only oxidized. The body tries to metabolize it quickly to eliminate it. It also has a high TEF (15-20% of 100 calories consumed). You can’t get fat on alcohol because it can’t be stored or converted. It’d be like trying to get fat off of the filling used in stuffed animals. Your body is going to reject it and metabolize it out of you.

What that doesn’t mean is that you can drink all you want and not get fat or ill. First, most people don’t drink pure alcohol, they drink beer, wine, or mixed drinks. The other ingredients in those items can have other macronutrients. Keep that in mind.

Second, unless you want to drink only alcohol and die from poisoning and dehydration, you are ingesting other macronutrients in your meals. Alcohol will be metabolized before most things and essentially any fat or carbs that can, will be stored/converted to fat. Therefore, energy balance still matters.

What about special high fat diets (ketogenic)?

This article assumes a balanced macronutrient diet and general training recommendations. Still, no matter what diet you are taking part of, and no matter how it alters TEF or the other aspects of energy usage, fat is still pulled and used from cells in the same manner.

It should be noted that carbohydrates or insulin specifically are not needed to store fat. So yes, on a high fat diet you can still store fat. There is nothing wrong with a high fat diet, but it doesn’t really change much in the game other than fat is oxidized or used more for energy. Excess fat intake above your need for daily calories will still be stored as fat.

It seems like this article is suggesting muscle loss doesn’t take place in a deficit. Is it?

I noted it took place, I just didn’t note it was high on the scale of energy usage—that is a correct statement. Atrophy or muscle wasting is a very complex subject and an even harder one to measure. You may see a lot of anecdotal or even research claims about large amounts of muscle lost during dieting episodes, but these claims are often misleading. Water and glycogen make up lean mass measurements and muscle size. In a deficit, we lose or dehydrate in various spots and in muscle as well. Most lean mass lost in a deficit is short-term (i.e. not permanent). If lean mass and strength return within a very short span of time, that is nothing more than rehydration—not muscle regeneration.

Actual muscle is a poor choice for energy usage, and while the body will take some during a deficit, it is small especially if the individual is partaking in even modest protein intake and doing general lifestyle activity. If the individual is taking in moderate to high protein along with resistance training, then muscle losses in a deficit are small relative to the loss of water, glycogen, and fat storage.


  1. Mike Chapman
    September 20, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Thanks for the article, Leigh. I agree that the recent wave of “metabolic damage” information that’s been passed around has gotten us off the path. While it’s great that people are learning about the energy balance and metabolic adaptations that can slow fat loss efforts to a seemingly screeching halt, I think we’ve gotten a little too soft. You need to eat less and/or move more to create a deficit to lose fat. Most (like 80% or more) people are overweight because they are too undisciplined to track their intake and/or raise their expenditure. I’ll concede that for your audience it’s a smaller percentage (like maybe 33-50%). If it were easy then we wouldn’t have such a weight problem.

    • Leigh
      September 20, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      Right as always, Mike. It’s hard to not to be caught in the skewed vision of the type of people we see on a regular basis have to deal with recovery issues. Discipline (or lack thereof) is a serious issue as well as a “deserving” behavior in our society. Right now I feel like I deserve some rugelach!

      • Christine
        September 21, 2013 at 3:33 pm

        I totally get the deficit and tracking every calorie, workout, macro etc. But I am here to tell you that even as I do that I cannot get the fat to budge, it certainly has increased along with my scale but it will not come off. So, I have to ask if I am not eating enough and creating too high of a deficit? I average between 1200-1400 cals per day and do 3 circuit weight training workouts with 3 cardio days each week. I’m 43 yrs old, female, 5’5 and 157 lbs at a 30% BF which is making me insane. So help if you can – I am not overweight because I eat crap or don’t track exactly what I’m eating. I typically do a 40-30-30 ratio of macros.

        • Kristen
          September 27, 2013 at 11:15 pm

          I would like to know the answer to this as well…

        • Kate
          September 28, 2013 at 12:16 am

          Hi Christine
          I am not a trainer or anything I just wanted to reply because I felt for you with that story. It must feel frustrating/discouraging. I admire your persistence in keeping on trying. I have had periods of my life where I leaned up quickly and periods where it was a struggle and felt like a real stalemate was going on. We are also the same age. My ‘stalemate’ occurred along with peri-menopausal symptoms, so not sure if that was related. A few things popped into my mind – I would suggest a consult with a trainer and sports dietician to really make sure your calories are enough – if you have been on that for a long time it might be time for a rest to recharge. And a check up at the GP to make sure all is well hormone and metabolism-wise. I also read John Beradi’s The Metabolism Advantage and changed the way I was eating protein and carbs and it did kick start things again for me. Hope you get there and sort out what is behind it. Kate

        • Will
          December 24, 2013 at 9:33 am

          Those cals seem low overall esp. if you’re active. If you read the article carefully you will see that carbs don’t easily turn to fat. It’s called de novo lipogenesis and is 30% inefficient. Fat is easily stored. Excess carbs are often burned off as heat. Protein requirements are very low and used to maintain the body and for building muscle (a pretty slow process and muscle is mostly water, so most protein requirements are way too high). So your macro ratios of 30% fat mean you keep feeding the fat stores and your body uses the carbs for energy. So to quote Dr. McDougall – “The fat you eat is the fat you wear.”

          Cut the fat down to about 5-10%. Don’t worry the body only has a sliver of essential fat requirements (omega 3s) and the brain/body runs on glucose contrary to popular opinion.

          My wife is 5′ 5″, 50 years old and weighs 112 lbs and eats as much as I do – mashed potatoes and no fat gravy, tacos, lentil shepherd’s pie, chili, etc ie high starch diets. People eat high fat diets but don’t think the ingested fat is stored, and yet they avoid carbs because they think they will turn to fat. How insane is that! Insulin is spiked from high fat diets because the insulin can’t get into the cells due to being blocked by fat. It’s not the sugar. Hope that helps!

        • Matt Cotton
          January 6, 2015 at 1:04 pm

          Your BMR is about 1400. You did not mention your lifestyle. (ie) desk job/on your feet most of the day/physical. This could affect your metabolism enough to affect your fat loss. If you are not seeing results doing what you are doing then I would suggest replacing your cardio with some higher intensity interval training 3 times per week. Try it for 1 month. If the fat still won’t budge ( but I bet it will) lower your caloric intake by 100-150 and monitor your results.

  2. Shane
    September 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Ah I love this.
    Love the greedy bank bit – what a perfect (ahaha albeit perhaps a little pessimistic) analogy.

    What is in that main image? Are those … blimps? Turkeys? Whales?

    • Leigh
      September 20, 2013 at 7:44 pm

      Shane it is a type of dirigible.

      Bet you’re gonna google.

      You’re doing it right now aren’t you…

  3. Karima Suarez
    September 20, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    I’m confused about something. I’ve heard that if you don’t exercise while under a deficit your body loses lean body mass (muscle) as well as fat and water. Is that the same as accessing stored protein? Which according to this article rarely happens.

    • Leigh
      September 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm

      Karima, as we age we decrease (theory) in our ability to regenerate muscle tissue as easy as our youth. There are a multitude of reasons why we can lose muscle tissue at any given time in our lives regardless of training and nutrition. With that being said, training does stimulate regrowth of those cells and even in the absence of maintenance intake (we allocate recovery where needed most). We produce a certain amount of protein naturally and then we intake (or should) protein. If an individual is completely void of protein, bed ridden, and in a deficit, then yes the breakdown of muscle tissue is a higher due to no muscle stimulation and no protein intake. To me that would be an individual who is sick/ill and this is a general population article and assuming said individuals are eating at least minimal health requirements of their macronutrients.

      What most people believe is muscle atrophy is often glycogen/water depletion. The muscle “flattens” and individuals are often weakened in energy production. A few days of refeeding and “pump” from the gym brings you back to a full look and use. That isn’t muscle growth in a short period of time – it’s replenishment.

      This isn’t to say there can’t be small amounts of muscle lost overtime with a deficit and the amount of muscle being held is going to play a role, but atrophy with training and even moderate protein intake is very small.

      In short, you don’t need training to lose fat. You do need training to stay strong and alter body composition. While it is intelligent to utilize them both together in a reasoned manner, technically you can have one without the other.

  4. Jess
    September 20, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Great post Leigh! Just what I needed today b/c I was getting a little bit impatient /hopeless with whether or not I can really lose more body fat. I’ve recently started to pay more attention to diet as opposed to being so focused on training. It’s only been the first week and I’m giving myself 12 weeks to stick to the program (fingers crossed I won’t get too impatient and deviate b/c I’m always one of those ppl that does that!) I guess I really just need to be more patient with everything, be compliant, and take it one day at a time.

    Agreed with the “deserving” behavior mentioned above

  5. Roberta Saum
    September 20, 2013 at 10:16 pm


    I love this article. I just joined your mailing list and I have to admit I was as skeptical as I am about most fitness newsletters. This solidifies what I believed. I will be referring to this article often and pointing others to it.

    Thank you,

    • Cody Johnson
      October 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      Hey Roberta,
      Good to see another Adonis/Venus Index person enjoying Leigh’s articles!

  6. Emma
    September 21, 2013 at 1:24 am

    I just had a couple of questions about what you said about fat:

    ‘Fat – Has little circulation (or oxidation) value. Is stored easily as fat.’

    What about ketogenic diets? Isn’t insulin involved with determining fat storage?

    • Leigh
      September 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Emma – I am going to address this issue in the update. Thanks for your question.

  7. Jay Scott
    September 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Great article Leigh. When I was 218 pounds of roly poly (with a 44 inch waist), it was NOT because of lack of exercise. I worked out regularly – but the amount of exercise I was performing could not contend with my dinners of Hungry Man XXL’s and cookie dough ice cream.

    Nutrition is key – and the deficit cannot be trifled with. Either you have it or you don’t – and most of that is diet related unless you are training like Michael Phelps!


  8. Stevie Jay
    September 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Fantastic article, Leigh! Straight-forward, no muss, no fuss. Thank you! I love your snappy graphic layout, too–easy on the eyes AND the brain–making it possible for ANYONE to comprehend! You’re truly providing a great service, and doing so in a most enjoyable way. Big cheers and ROCK ON! ; – ) Stevie Jay

  9. Steve @ Leaner By Design
    September 23, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Nice article Leigh. I coach people for nutrition and exercise, and it’s amazing how many people come to me saying “I’ll get the exercise dialed in and THEN look at my diet!!”

    There is still such a lack of knowledge out there from media, government, etc giving conflicting opinions, and also from the fitness press.

    Intake matters, whether we like the notional ‘calorie’ as the unit, or something else, it doesn’t matter.

    That said, there are definitely eating protocols, when to eat carbs etc, that can tweak things for that final push to a lean body, but when you are 40% BF, any deficit will do IMHO

    Thanks for your good work

  10. […] causing fullness over a longer period of time; which makes it extremely valuable while in a caloric deficit (which is a fundamental requirement if one desires body fat […]

  11. Nay
    September 25, 2013 at 11:10 am

    so to be in a deficit i should eat less than my bmr? and when i want to maintain i eat at my bmr?

    • Leigh
      September 25, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Hey Nay,

      Take a look again at what makes are energy up in a day. BMR is just one factor. Your daily burn BMR + those other factors. Generally people use activity factors plus BMR to determine caloric needs. You can find formulas for that online. I like the Harris Benedict (updated) version for maintenance and Mifflin St. Jeor for deficits.

  12. Janna
    September 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Solid science and excellent discussion here. I love the analogy you make with the ” claw machine” but I’m troubled by the image of the human body as a “greedy bank”. It seems to moralize fat loss, which is a problem many dieters struggle with. The idea that our body is out to sabatoge our efforts… Is it an effective way to frame a lean lifestyle for a lifetime? Would love to read your thoughts on a healthy psychology of weight maintenance after fat loss.

  13. Lauren
    September 27, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Great article Leigh! When I ran 6 miles a day and ate a SAD, I was heavy, now I eat to deficit and weight train/walk…losing weight. Calories really do matter.

  14. […] The Deficit – How We Lose Fat via Leigh Peele […]

  15. Bob Dannegger
    September 27, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Lee, you said: Carbohydrates – Is used best in circulation (oxidation). Converted to glycogen and, if in large excess of need, then converted for fat storage. It is moderately difficult to store as fat.

    That is similar but different from Lyle McDonald’s take on the subject:

    Carbohydrates are rarely converted to fat (a process called de novo lipogenesis) under normal dietary conditions. There are exceptions when this occurs. One is with massive chronic overfeeding of carbs. I’m talking 700-900 grams of carbs per day for multiple days. Under those conditions, carbs max out glycogen stores, are in excess of total daily energy requirements and you see the conversion of carbohydrate to fat for storage. But this is not a normal dietary situation for most people.

    A few very stupid studies have shown that glucose INFUSION at levels of 1.5 total daily energy expenditure can cause DNL to occur but this is equally non-physiological. There is also some evidence that DNL may be increased in individuals with hyperinsulinemia (often secondary to obesity). There’s one final exception that I’ll use to finish this piece.

    But when you eat more carbs, you burn more carbs and burn less fat. And that’s why even if carbs aren’t directly converted to fat and stored as such, excess carbs can STILL MAKE YOU FAT. Basically, by inhibiting fat oxidation, excess carbs cause you to store all the fat you’re eating without burning any of it off. Did you get that? Let me repeat it again.

    I’ve read similar info at other sites. Do you agree with Lyle or stick to your more moderate position and if so, what is the research?


    • Leigh
      September 27, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      Hey Bob,

      I should have created better clarity with my usage of the term. I should speak at the highest level of technical responsibility. I will edit the post to reflect that clarity and make a a statement more clear about storage during times of excess consumption.

      In this instance, I was speaking of ease relative to each other (protein, carbs, fat, and even alcohol). If we look at it relative towards each other, carbohydrates fall into line of being converted easier than protein and alcohol can’t be at all. It is also more possible form a dietary intake situation to overeat in carbohydrates easier than in protein. Because of those things, I put it as “more possible” than protein. But, I don’t want to imply it is “likely” as I see it as too different things.

      Lyle is completely correct in what he is saying. My opinion does not differ, but my word usage was more loose.

      • Greg
        October 4, 2013 at 11:24 am


        I’d like too some clarification about the carbs because over the recent years, carbs are more pointed out to be the reason of people getting fat than fat itself.
        But reading your article, I understand that fat is what makes you fat.
        I thought eating good fats could help make you lean.

        Am I wrong ?

        Alan Argon prioritize protein and fat consumption over carbs too. He says that the amount of carbs you eat is what you have left to fulfill your daily calorie intake once you’ve eaten protein and fat.

        • Leigh
          October 7, 2013 at 9:39 pm

          I get what you are saying. It isn’t that “fat makes you fat” so much as it is that fat is what is primary stored as fat.

          How about this anecdote….

          Let’s say Greg eats roughly 3000 calories a day but he only needs roughly 2500 calories to achieve maintenance. That means 500 calories of his caloric consumption is “extra.” Let’s assume to that this already accounts for the extra TEF and metabolic increases achieved from more food. Remember, the more we eat, the more we burn. But, 500 is what we have left. Let’s say in that day, Greg took in 60g of fat, 200g protein, and 400g carbohydrates.

          Of that macronutrient intake, likely all of his fat storage is going to come from the 60g of fat. Depending on his previous feeding situations, he is not likely in a position to transfer any of the carbohydrates to fat, especially when there is adequete fat intake to store fat with.

          From that, you might say to yourself – Ha, well great I will just never eat fat and then I won’t get fat! It’s a poor theory. For one, it’s hard to completely avoid fat intake. Two, in that situation you would start working better and transferring carbohydrate conversion because to hit caloric intake need you would have to consume a much higher amount of simple carbohydrate intake. Hitting 600-700g on a repeated basis would make that road much easier to store a few grams here or there. Plus you would likely decrease input naturally, or find a way to move into a deficit or just get sick. Lastly, fats are essential and it would be hard on your health just as it would be to just drink alcohol for energy.

          That is just some logic as to why removing fat is a poor idea. But, carbohydrates do not “make you fat.” Fat doesn’t “male you fat.” Excess need of calories is just a poor idea all the way around and ultimately is what contributes to fat gain.

        • Will
          December 24, 2013 at 9:39 am

          Fat is stored easily as fat on the body. Carbs don’t easily turn to fat. The people saying carbs make you fat are totally wrong (Lustig, etc). Notice Lustig, Sally Fallon, William Davis (Wheat Belly), Barry Sears (The Zone), etc are all overweight? These are the low carbers. Our bodies run on carbs. It’s easy to eat low fat. How can fat make you not fat? Theoretically if you met your caloric requirements with high fat you wouldn’t gain fat but fat is so calorie dense people tend to overeat and exceed their requirements. Eating lower calorie dense foods (fruits/vegetables) means you can eat a ton and not excess your caloric requirements while eating low fat. It’s super easy.

  16. Ashley Morgan
    September 27, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    This was a great read. Thanks Leigh.

  17. […] The Deficit: How We Lose Fat – Leigh Peele […]

  18. Roger
    October 3, 2013 at 9:52 am

    You said, “Protein is nearly impossible to convert to fat.”

    Will protein be stored as fat if it’s the sole nutrient consumed and you go into calorie surplus territory? I imagine that’s hard to do, but theoretically I assume that calories still matter and if you eat enough protein to enter a surplus, storage will still occur.

    This leads into a question about alcohol. Doesn’t alcohol have 7 calories per gram? I get that it’s toxic, but are you saying that the body rejects all calories consumed from alcohol?

    Thanks for the interesting article!

    • Leigh
      October 3, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      Will protein be stored as fat if it’s the sole nutrient consumed and you go into calorie surplus territory? I imagine that’s hard to do, but theoretically I assume that calories still matter and if you eat enough protein to enter a surplus, storage will still occur.

      Heh, you’d imagine right. Between TEF and energy wasting, and satiation, it would take a lot to go into “excess” caloric consumption of just protein and again you would have to eat only protein which even meat is tied to some fat. But the mechanism does exist to convert it.

      This leads into a question about alcohol. Doesn’t alcohol have 7 calories per gram? I get that it’s toxic, but are you saying that the body rejects all calories consumed from alcohol?

      The body doesn’t reject the energy from alcohol, it just doesn’t store it. Two different things. You will use the energy provided from alcohol and if over in caloric consumption, you will store fat and what little the body could convert from other macronutrients.

  19. […] The Deficit–How We Lose Fat                 “The deficit is becoming the big bad (Whedon reference) especially in those who have had any experience with disordered eating. People in those situations are often times told that “diets are bad” and “deficits are triggers or gateways.” While there can be severe cases where diet monitoring should be under the aid of a professional, it doesn’t exclude the fact that a deficit is our only means to fat loss. […]

  20. Jeff
    October 9, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Just came across your site and wanted to say this is now one of my new favorite sites. You rock. I’ve only read a couple of your articles but I can see you have some common sense about these topics, which is hard to find in the fitness industry. I’m a trainer as well and there’s only a few sites out there that actually get it right and you my friend are right up there! I look forward to reading the rest of your articles so just wanted to say good job and keep it up…


  21. […] The first example I’d like to share with you does that incredibly well.  In “The Deficit”, Leigh Peele discusses How We Lose Fat.  It’s a concise explanation of metabolic factors, and a sensible explanation about what you can do to manage and maintain your fat loss.  Read it HERE. […]

  22. […] 3. Sticking with fat – here is a look at creating a safe “deficit” to lose a reali… […]

  23. […] Sports Psychology Simple Squat Fix: “Owning” Your Rib Position Life lessons through box jumps The Deficit – How We Lose Fat Niacin, the Fountain of […]

  24. sandy
    October 14, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Leigh,

    Thanks for the interesting read.

    From the article, i get it that when we want to reduce our fat cells, we have to ‘withdraw’ from them more than what we ‘deposit’ (using your bank analogy). But we can only w/draw from the stores if we’ve depeleted our circulating energy.

    Can you clarify what you mean by “if we’ve used up our circulating energy in the body…” – what comprises circulating energy? And how do i know i’ve depleted them already and getting from my fat stores?


  25. 78 Things Worth Reading
    October 18, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    […] The Deficit – How We Lose Fat […]

  26. Jake Long
    October 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Very interesting and thorough article. It’s kind of funny how people freak out about the damage of a deficit. It’s amazing how things are quickly taken to the extreme. A small deficit over time will take care of things, but I think that we get too hung up on the quick fix ideas. If people would just replace most of the junk that they eat with whole foods, and allow a small deficit, the results would appear. Especially if they add working out.

  27. Will
    December 24, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Awesome article. I don’t think most people reading this have clued into what you are actually saying. To paraphrase the article says things like “Fat we eat has low oxidative value and is easily stored in fat cells. Carbs don’t easily to turn fat unless eaten in far excess of daily needs for long periods of time. If fat is present in circulation it will be stored versus being utilized for energy. Fat is continually broken down and stored simultaneously from the fat we eat.” Read that over and over. Also read the comment by someone eating 30% fat and is puzzled by why they can’t lose fat even at a low daily calorie intake. The fat you eat is the fat you wear.

    Right now we’re on a low carb, gluten free, paleo craze and previous low fat diets were not really low fat and came with all sorts of refined ‘low fat’ products.

  28. […] an article on how the body uses fat.  Fat has a low oxidative value (for energy), and is easily stored. Our body will store the fat we […]

  29. Jessica
    December 27, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I think I just want to know at my height and weight (5’2″ and 160 lbs) do T25 5 days a week… How many calories should I be consuming to lose 30 lbs? And I’m IR and pretty much follow a low carb diet bc I feel better that way but I eat a lot if veggies, fat and protein. I did insanity for 60 days and while I did tone I didn’t lose a pound or drop sizes. Yes my clothes fit better but I want smaller clothes. I have read sooo many things and I just want to know how much of what to eat when to take this weight off???! Im 39 have pcos and have two kids. Sigh. So frustrated. And I read Matt Stone’s book and I’m not interested in gaining a pound. Like a pound. I’d appreciate help thanks! Great blog- Jessica

  30. […] You’ll hear from people who say that creating a caloric deficit does not matter and that the only thing that matters is the hormonal response your body has to the food you are eating.  While I agree with those people that food choices matter, they could not be more dead wrong when they say that cutting calories doesn’t matter.  Leigh Peele does a nice job of breaking down the science behind slashing calories. […]

  31. […] The Deficit- How We Lose Fat- Leigh Peele […]

  32. C. Musselman
    January 12, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Great article. I am just wondering about your take on carbohydrates being difficult to turn to fat. My husband is a biology major and has learned that fructose will be converted to fat almost immediately unless there is no other sources of sugar/glucose for the body to access. Thus, the faulty use of high fructose corn syrup in all the processed foods. I do not eat highly processed foods except on rare occasions, but wanted to read your thoughts on this. And, fruit is basically half fructose….

    I am currently recovering from my ultra-low carb metabolic disaster through your “Starve Mode” guidance, and I am seriously considering joining your members only site. I am nervous, but I know that I need to stop being afraid of carbs. ( I found out I had Barrett’s Esophagus, and my all-raw diet helped with the symptoms but I was so sick- probably from such a low protein diet with the accompanying blood sugar roller coaster ride- I went paleo/low carb. I did it so well, I was under 50-80 grams of carbs per day for 2 1/2 years and suddenly blew up like a balloon (15 lbs) when my Barrett’s stressed by body so bad I had to drop out of school and have surgery. I’m doing much better now, I just need to recover and get rid of the water weight.) Anyway, that’s a bit of my history…. I’m venting, I guess.

    Also, fat cannot be stored as fat until it has been converted into the store-able form of fat: triglycerides. So, I’m just wondering how it works in the body, it must be on an as-needed basis for fat storage? Fats are needed for so many non-energy consuming functions of the body (cell membranes, myelin sheath on nerves, in the brain, etc.) Is this taken into account when calculating dietary fat needs, or is it all just clumped together in a caloric-need based formula? Thanks!

  33. […] The Deficit: How We Lose Fat – Leigh Peele […]

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