Ad Libitum Dieting To Lose Weight

If you want to lose fat like clockwork while eating an ad libitum diet (which means “at one’s pleasure” or “ without quantity restraints”), then there is good news.

In this article, you’ll discover an evidence-based, step-by-step approach that allows you to eat as much as you want while getting lean in the process.

While that may sound too good to be true, it’s also possible. That’s because:

Weight Loss Comes Down to One Thing:

Energy balance.

  • If you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.
  • If you take in fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. (1)(2)(3)

Best of all, from a weight loss perspective, it doesn’t even matter whether you get your calories from protein, carbs, or fat. As long as the calorie deficit is the same, the weight loss results will be identical. (1)(2)(4)(5)

In other words, to lose fat on an ad libitum diet, all you have to do is set it up in such a way that you’ll automatically be in a calorie deficit.

The only question is: how do you do that?

Well, fortunately, the answer is pretty straightforward. To indulge in food to your heart’s content while maintaining a negative energy balance, what you must do is:

Follow a Diet That Scores High on the Satiety Index

You see, your appetite is genetically fixed. You may have a large appetite. You may have a small appetite. Or, you may fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

Now, regarding your appetite, you can view it as if you have to fill 100 units of appetite per day to satisfy it. Each food you eat fills a particular number of appetite units, and some foods do so more effectively than others.

So, by consuming those foods that score high on the satiety index, you’ll reach that target of 100 units of appetite earlier, which helps you lose fat.

But if you primarily consume foods that score low on the satiety index, you’ll have to consume more calories to reach that 100 units of appetite per day, which is why such foods are counterproductive for slimming down.

For example, one study compared the satiety index of 38 different foods, and they found that potatoes were seven times more satiating than croissants. (6)

Source: Holt, S. H., Miller, J. C., Petocz, P., & Farmakalidis, E. (1995). A satiety index of common foods. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 49(9), 675-90.

So, when consuming croissants, you’ll have to take in more calories to feel satiated, which is why croissants are not fat-loss friendly.

But if you were to consume potatoes instead, you’d have to consume fewer calories to reach the same level of satiety, and that’s the reason potatoes are more beneficial for reducing the number on your scale.

In other words:

A High Satiety Diet Helps You Lose Fat by Reducing Cravings and Energy Intake

That’s why, generally speaking, you don’t need to count calories on highly satiating diets, and why research shows these are reliable for inducing fat loss. (7)

A one-year study, for example, found that high satiety index diets are more effective for weight loss than the Standard Care weight loss program of the National Health Service (NHS). (8)

What’s more, one study instructed 33 overweight or obese subjects either to consume two cups of watermelon per day or to take in the same number of calories in the form of cookies. (9)

The result was that the watermelon eaters ended up consuming fewer calories than usual, causing them to lose fat, while the cookie eaters gained fat owing to an increase in calorie intake.

But that’s not all. Another study looked at the difference in satiety among high- and low energy-density diets, and the researchers found similar results.

For five days, 20 subjects could eat as much as they desired on a high energy-density diet. (10)

The meals on this diet contained minimum bulk and large amounts of fat and simple sugars; for example, orange juice with fried eggs, bacon, grits, whole milk, and white toast with margarine.

Then, for another five days, the same participants could indulge in as many foods as they wanted on a low energy-density diet.

On this diet, the meals contained less fat and sugar, but were higher in fiber; for example, a large chef salad with fresh fruit, dressing, rye crisp crackers, and a tiny amount of cheese.

The result?

To experience fullness, the participants had to consume 3,000 calories on the high energy-density diet. But to experience the same satiety, they needed only 1,570 calories on the low energy-density diet!

In other words, calorie requirements were almost twice as high on the high energy-density diet compared to those on the low energy-density one.

Thus, you’ll be much more effective at losing fat when you consume a highly satiating diet.

This leaves us with the question:

What Makes a Diet Satiating?

Well, even though there are quite a few factors that determine the satiety index of a particular food or diet plan, the following four have the most significant influence.

Low Energy-Density Foods

Low energy-density foods − those which contain a small number of calories per 100 grams − are highly satiating for the amount of energy they provide, which is why they’re ‘fat-loss friendly.’

But high energy-density foods such as oils, donuts, and hamburgers are bad from a bodyweight management perspective because they provide a lot of calories and tend to stimulate the overconsumption of energy.

The hunger-curbing effect of low energy-density foods is largely because they take up a lot of space in your stomach.

That’s beneficial because your gut contains stretch sensors. When these sensors note that your stomach is full, your brain receives a signal that it’s time to stop eating.

In fact, this signal is so strong that research shows energy density has a much stronger influence in satiety than the calorie content of food. (11)

This knowledge about the importance of food volume gives you a lot of control over how satiating your diet is because you just focus on consuming the foods that provide the fewest calories per 100 grams.

By doing that, your diet will be more satiating; you’ll consume fewer calories; and this will support your fat loss efforts. (12)(13)(14)

High Protein Content

Protein-dense foods are more satiating than those low in protein.

That’s because protein is the most satiating macronutrient. Consuming it raises various hormones related to satiety, such as cholecystokinin, Peptide YY, and GLP-1. (15)(16)(17)(18)

For that reason, consuming more protein tends to result in an automatic drop in calorie intake, as shown in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (19)

In that study, researchers increased the protein intake of their participants from 15% to 30% of their daily calorie intake. Then, they looked at how that impacted factors such as calorie intake and body weight.

The results were impressive. Just by consuming more protein, the subjects consumed, on average, 441 fewer calories per day, which led to an average weight loss of eleven pounds in twelve weeks.

High Fiber Content

One of the best ways in which you can reduce your calorie intake on an ad libitum diet is by increasing your fiber intake. That’s because fiber reduces hunger and helps you stay full for longer between meals.  

In fact, research shows that for every fourteen grams of fiber you consume, total ad libitum energy intake reduces by around ten percent. (20)

That’s why upping your fiber intake could automatically put your fat loss efforts on autopilot by causing you to get into a calorie deficit.

When it comes to fiber sources, vegetables are the best options. You should get most of your fiber from vegetables, and I would recommend that you take in at least 400 grams of veggies a day to aid satiety and support fat loss.

Fruits such as pears, raspberries, and apples, however, are also good sources of fiber. Plus, these are effective at satiating hunger and at controlling calorie intake, so feel free to add those to your diet as well.

High Viscosity

Generally speaking, the more viscous (thicker) a food is, the better it is at satiating hunger. (21)(22)

For instance, whole apples are more satiating than the same produce processed into a juice or a sauce.

That’s why liquid calories are best avoided if you follow an ad libitum diet. Instead, you’ll be better off consuming the equivalent foods in their whole form.

Based on What We’ve Covered Thus Far, Here’s What I Want You to Do:

  • Base your diet primarily around fruit and vegetables. Combined, you should consume at least 600 grams of these sources, with a preference towards veggies.
  • Avoid high energy-density foods such as hamburgers, fatty cuts of meat, high-fat dairy, nuts, and French fries. Plus, restrict your use of cooking oils.

Avoid added sugars because they have almost no satiating effect. That’s why sugary calories tend to go on top of the ones you already consume, making them bad choices for losing fat. (23)

  • Get at least 38 grams of fiber per day as a male or at least 25 grams as a female.
  • Consume at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to aid satiety and support muscle mass. (That’s 0.7 grams per pound of body weight.)
  • Consume primarily lean protein sources, such as eggs, egg whites, low-fat or fat-free yogurt, tuna, and skinless chicken or turkey.
  • Consume foods in their solid rather than in (a more) liquid form. For example, eat whole apples instead of applesauce and whole oranges instead of orange juice.

If you obey these steps, most people automatically end up on a calorie deficit, leading them to lose weight. So, start by making these adjustments to your diet to kickstart your fat loss results.

Then, in addition, also implement the tips outlined below.

These will further reduce your hunger levels and calorie intake, plus they’ll help you optimize fat loss and muscle retention, so that you can shape a figure that turns heads wherever you go.

Drink More Water, Especially Before a Meal

One easy but effective way to instantly reduce cravings, consume fewer calories, and improve your fat loss results is by increasing your water intake. (24)(25)(26)

Research shows, for instance, that habitually consuming water reduces total calorie intake by around 9%. And that’s largely because it reduces hunger cravings. (27)

So, up your water intake. It’ll make it easier to maintain a calorie deficit while you follow an ad libitum diet, especially when you drink that water before your meals.

One study, for instance, found that drinking 500 ml of water half an hour before breakfast reduced total calorie consumption by 13%. (28)

Get Enough High-Quality Sleep

Sleep is not only crucial for your general health, but also for your fat loss results. That’s especially the case when you follow an ad libitum diet, owing to the effect of sleep on hunger levels.

Research found that when women slept for only four to seven hours per night for four consecutive days, their appetite increased by 20% to 22% compared to when they slept for eight hours per night. (29)

In other words, not getting enough sleep triggers hunger, which means it interferes with weight loss by increasing calorie consumption.

But that’s not all.

One weight loss study found that sleeping just forty minutes less per day from Monday to Friday shifted the muscle- to fat-loss ratio from a mere 20% to a whopping 80% muscle loss! (30)

(That was despite the fact that the sleep reduction group could catch up on as much sleep as they wanted during the weekend.)

And another study found that sleeping 5.5 hours per night instead of 7.5 hours decreased fat loss by 55% and increased muscle loss by 60%. (31)

So, make sure you get enough sleep. It’ll make it easier to control your calorie intake while you diet ad libitum. Plus, it ensures that a more significant share of the weight you’ll lose comes from actual body fat, not muscle mass.

While the optimal amount of sleep varies among individuals, most lifters should aim to get eight or nine hours per night.

Eat from Smaller Plates

While it may sound strange, you can trick your brain into eating less by serving your food on a small plate. This is the result of the Delboeuf illusion and the Ebbinghaus illusion.

Basically, when you eat from a smaller plate, your meal appears to be larger, which results in a decreased total food intake. (32)(33)(34)

Both of the yellow circles are the same, but the right
one looks larger owing to the Ebbinghaus illusion

What’s also beneficial for reducing food intake is to have the color of your plate contrasts with that of your food. For instance, if your plate contains a lot of green vegetables, serve it on a bright red plate. (35)

Important to note, however, is that a smaller plate isn’t always better. In the case that your plate is so small that it can’t hold the desired serving size, you’ll simply serve more food afterward. (36)

So, use a plate that can hold the desired serving size, but make sure that most of the plate is covered. If you can see much of the plate, switch to a smaller one.

Practice Mindful Eating

While most meals nowadays are eaten in front of the television, a computer screen, or amid another distraction, you must avoid such behavior to maximize your fat loss results on an ad libitum diet.


Because such distracted environments cause you to consume, on average, 10% more compared to what you would eat otherwise. (37)

So, eliminate all distractions while you eat. Instead, eat ‘mindfully’ by focusing on the sensations the food provides.  You’ll enjoy your food more. Plus, it’ll do your waistline good.

Reduce Food Variety

When you create your meal plan, try to limit food variety during each meal. That’s beneficial because your appetite is sensory specific. (38)

When you eat, it’s often not that you stop eating because you are full, but rather because you become demotivated to consume particular flavors.

That’s why, even though you feel full after eating your dinner, there’s always room for dessert.

Now, if you reduce the variety of foods in every meal, you’ll feel full earlier; consume fewer calories in total; and thus boost your fat loss results. (39)(40)

Keep High-Calorie Foods Out of Your House

I bet you’ll agree that it’s very tempting to eat that box of donuts once it has wormed its way into your closet. But if that junk food hadn’t entered your house in the first place, you likely wouldn’t have donuts on your mind.

That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with the foods that support your fat loss goals such as fruit and vegetables while keeping high-calorie junk-food without reach.

You can do that by creating a ‘fat-loss-friendly’ grocery list and then only buying the items that are on the list.

The same thing holds true for when you’re on the road or at work. Only take foods and beverages with you that are in alignment with your goals.

Here’s the Bottom Line on Ad Libitum Dieting for Fat Loss

While calorie counting is highly effective for fat loss, it’s not mandatory to make that behavior a habit.

That’s because, as we’ve just explored, you can automatically obtain a calorie deficit by following the evidence-based tips and tricks outlined above.

So, put the new-found information into practice and let’s shed the fat.

Also, do you have any questions about ad libitum dieting? Or do you have some thoughts to share on the topic? Please let us know by commenting below.