Can You Lose Weight by Eating Less – Myth or Fact?

Written by Nathan | Updated on 12 November 2021

It’s a fact that you can lose weight by eating less, but is it really that simple and do you have to exercise too?

To be fair, it’s not always as simple as calories in and calories out since there’s an array of other factors. 

Before starving yourself trying to shave off a couple of pounds, you should understand what factors contribute to weight loss, how much less you have to eat, and if anything else needs to be done on top of eating less.

Let’s dig right in. 

If I Eat Less, Do I Have to Move More to Lose Weight Fast?

Several things affect the number you see on the scale. Factors you cannot control include your genes, age, ethnicity, sex, and metabolism. [1] However, some factors you can control are the amount you eat and the amount of physical activity. [2]

Some studies say that eating fewer calories has a larger effect than exercise when it comes to weight loss. [3] Still, exercise helps encourage healthy weight loss because it helps you burn excess calories and maintain a healthy weight. [4]

You’ll want to avoid losing weight too fast, though. Healthy weight loss is achieved gradually, and you should expect to lose 1-2 pounds a week. [5] Regardless, if you’re looking for successful weight loss, you should definitely include more movement in your daily routine, even if that’s just walking more.

It is recommended that people who are looking to lose weight in a healthy way combine a caloric reduction with adequate exercise to achieve the best results. [6]

How to Lose Weight by Eating Less & Adding Exercise

We’ve established that eating less can help you lose weight, but exercising can speed up weight loss. By using both strategies, you are left with fewer calories by either burning more or consuming less. When attempting to lose weight, both increasing your movement and eating less will get you quick results. [6] It may sound overly simple, and yes, there’s much more to it than that, but this is the basis of “how to lose weight”. 

Exercise doesn’t need to be a formal, scheduled event either. Any type of physical activity that allows you to move your body will help you to burn more calories, thereby helping you achieve your weight loss goal sooner.

This includes parking further away, taking the stairs, doing chores around the house, or attending dance classes.

Relationship With Food – Portion Control & Outlook

When it comes to weight loss, eating more nutritious food is definitely important. However, that doesn’t mean you can eat as much “healthy” food as you want, and this is where portion control comes in handy.

Portion control is making sure that you are conscious of the amount of food you are consuming. One good way to do this is by looking at the nutrition facts label and measuring out 1-3 servings to see how much a few servings really look. Doing this will help you to both see and understand how much food is actually in a serving, and you will be better equipped to control your portion sizes. [7]

Here’s a few other ways you can work on your portion control. First, try using a smaller dish for your meal. Doing this helps your mind to think that you are getting enough food when you see a fuller plate. Another recommendation is to serve your food out in the correct serving or portion size the first time. When you measure out your food in the beginning, you won’t have to wonder how much food you’ve eaten at the end of a meal. [7]

You may also use different-sized tupperware for different food types. For example, you can use a large tupperware for veggies, a medium for fruit, and a small for red meats or sweets. Doing this alone can help you eat more healthy options while limiting sub-optimal food choices. 

Controlling how much food you consume and being mindful of what you put into your body is step one to a healthier food relationship. 

Not All Calories Were Created Equally

Eating less or reducing calories is surely the most important, but next we should consider the contents within those calories. Some are more nutritious and provide more of certain macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat). These various macronutrients affect weight loss or weight gain in very different ways, and significantly affect how the body changes with the loss of weight. [8]

The energy you consume but do not use is stored away in the body as fat, so it is important to match the calories consumed with the energy expended to maintain your body weight. If you want to eat calories to build muscle, you will want to consume nutrient and protein-dense calories. If your goal is to lose weight, then eating less calories, sugar, and having a balanced diet of carbs, protein, and fats is shedding away those extra pounds. [9]

It’s also important for you to consume a variety of foods from different food groups to get a good balance. Both a doughnut and an apple contain sugar and calories, but the latter is much more nutritious and will give you sustained energy throughout the day. A doughnut will give you a quick spike of energy but drop soon after, leaving you hungry for more calories to provide you with more energy.

Moving More – Promote Healthy Weight Loss

Exercise, or physical activity, is vital to a healthy lifestyle and keeping fit. Don’t be scared when we say move more because exercise looks different for each individual. 

Some people prefer to walk, hike, rock climb, swim, bicycle, lift weights, snowboarding, bmx, skate, play tennis, basketball or really anything that’s not sitting down. Exercise doesn’t have to be something you dread if you find a modality that’s enjoyable. 

Exercise also contributes to strength and muscle mass which allows your body to and can help prevent things like musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. [9]

Common Weight Loss Myths

When it comes to losing weight, it seems that everyone has their own opinions about what actually works. Many people believe that following the fad diets or what’s advertised on TV will help them lose weight. Here are some common myths you might hear, and explanations for why they are not accurate:

Exercise is Necessary to Lose Weight

As discussed, you don’t need to exercise to lose weight because reaching a caloric deficit can be achieved through healthy food choices alone. 

Exercise does have its place in weight loss and weight maintenance, but it should be noted that exercise takes more effort, and it doesn’t burn as many calories as you might think. It is possible to lose weight through just diet alone because diet has the largest effect on weight loss. [9]

Diet & Fat Free Foods Are Better

Marketers have done too well to advertise diet or fat-free foods as “healthier” options. These food options might have less of a nutrient, like fat, that you’re trying to avoid but end up being less healthy for you overall.

Often when food companies remove a nutrient like fat, they must add something else to make up for the loss. In the end, the food product will often have nearly the same number of calories. Also, because it has less of the nutrient, you may tend to consume more of it than you originally would have. [10] Not to mention it’s surely going to be more processed, which generally means less healthy. 

Even diet soda contains alternative sugar, which has been shown to have negative health implications. 

Snacking Causes Weight Gain

The word “snack” is commonly associated with high-calorie junk food, but a snack is really just food that you consume in between the main meals of the day. This means that you can look for more nutritious options that help you reach your food and nutrient goals each day.

In a study examining the difference between snacking and no snacking in 1 year of weight loss, researchers observed no significant differences, concluding that snacking alone does not cause weight gain nor influence weight loss. [11] Snacking will only cause you to gain more weight if you consume more calories than you need.

For some people, snacking might actually help them curb their appetite and eat less at mealtimes because they won’t feel like they’re famished. If snacking is used in this way, it can be a tool to help you reach your weight loss goals. Ultimately, snacking can help you to lose weight and eat less, but it’s better to choose nuts over potato chips. 

Carbs Are Fattening

Carbs, or carbohydrates, are a major macronutrient provided in various types of food. You need carbohydrates to fuel your body because it is the body’s primary source of energy. Your body breaks down carbs into glucose (sugar) which is then dispersed into your bloodstream to give your body energy. [12]

Yet, it still gets a bad rap. 

Similar to calories, it’s also important to note that not all carbs are created equally. Sugary foods like soda and candy are made up of simple carbohydrates, which give the body energy quickly but then leave you feeling tired soon after. Foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are carbohydrates that also provide starch, fiber, and a number of other valuable nutrients. [12]

Conclusion

Suppose you decide to just eat less in an attempt to lose weight, then congratulations! That’s the first and maybe the only step needed to slim down. 

Suppose you decide to eat less and move more, then kudos for trying a dual approach to speed up results and make it easier to sustain weight. No one approach is perfect for everyone out there. So no matter what you decide, losing weight can be difficult, so it’s important to figure out what works best for you. 

References

[1] Factors Affecting Weight & Health. (2021, November 8). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/adult-overweight-obesity/factors-affecting-weight-health

[2] Institute of Medicine (US) Subcommittee on Military Weight Management. Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 3, Factors That Influence Body Weight. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221834/

[3] Weight loss: Better to cut calories or exercise more? (2020, February 20). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/weight-loss/faq-20058292?reDate=10112021

[4] Weight loss: 6 strategies for success. (2019, December 18). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047752

[5] Healthy Weight Loss. (2020, August 17). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html

[6] Serdula, M. K., Mokdad, A. H., Williamson, D. F., Galuska, D. A., Mendlein, J. M., & Heath, G. W. (1999). Prevalence of attempting weight loss and strategies for controlling weight. JAMA, 282(14), 1353–1358. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.282.14.1353

[7] Portion Size and Weight Loss. (2002, April 12). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/control-portion-size

[8] Antonio, J. (2004). Not all calories are created equal. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 26(4), 62-63.

[9] Carroll, A. E. (2015, June 15). To Lose Weight, Eating Less Is Far More Important Than Exercising More. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com

[10] Low-Fat Diet: Why Fat-Free Isn’t Trouble-Free. (2010, January 4). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/low-fat-diet#1

[11] Bertéus Forslund, H., Klingström, S., Hagberg, H., Löndahl, M., Torgerson, J. S., & Lindroos, A. K. (2008). Should snacks be recommended in obesity treatment? A 1-year randomized clinical trial. European journal of clinical nutrition, 62(11), 1308–1317. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602860

[12] NHS website. (2020, March 3). The truth about carbs. nhs.uk.

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.