Can You Eat Pizza on a Diet?
You’re standing face to face with two problems:
You want to lose weight. Pizza could stand in the way of making that happen.
You want to eat pizza (who doesn’t?). If you have to give it up in order to have a lower percentage of body fat, you’re not sure that’s a lifestyle even worth considering.
For that matter, it isn’t just pizza. What about cookies, ice cream, or your go-to bottle of wine?
It’s not realistic to think you can just give up the enjoyment of food for the rest of your life and survive solely on kale and rice cakes. If that’s what eating healthy means, count me out.
But let’s look at pizza specifically.
By the end of this blog, you’ll have a better idea of how to let pizza remain a part of your life without letting it get in the way of your weight loss goals. (And you’ll find that the strategies can be applied to other foods anyway.)
That Time I Ate Half a Family Sized Pizza
I have to admit, eating half of a family sized pizza isn’t an all that impressive feat for me. I don’t remember the date of the particular occasion I’m thinking of, but we might as well just call it a Tuesday, because there was nothing extraordinary about it.
The only reason this instance stands out at all is because I was in the middle of a long season of weight loss. And while I don’t recommend devouring half a pizza as a conventional weight loss strategy, it didn’t get in the way of my goals.
In fact, even though I did make some other mistakes during that time, I still managed to lose 30 pounds when it was all said and done (you can read about that here).
So, no, you don’t have to cut pizza out of your life to lose weight.
Having said that, I didn’t just magically lose weight despite eating half of a massive pizza. It was all the other things I took into consideration that guaranteed my long-term success.
There are 5 things in particular you’ll need to think about.
1. How Strict You Want to Be
This is a matter of deciding how quickly you want to lose weight in relation to how much you want your life to suck.
The more restrictive (and strict) you are with diet and exercise during weight loss, the more you’re just gonna want to sit on your butt and binge when it’s over. Which means you’ll be more likely to gain back any weight you lost during the process and then some.
If I’m being honest, when I ate half that pizza, I was only planning on having a slice or two at the most. The reason I lost control and ate so much more was because I’d been losing weight for quite a while and hadn’t had any pizza in a really long time.
Had I given myself more flexibility in my diet and allowed my rate of weight loss to be a little slower, my body wouldn’t have created as intense a feeling of needing to indulge.
For the best long-term results, my suggestion is to go as slow as you can tolerate when losing weight.
Practically speaking, it’s difficult to track anything slower than around half a pound per week, but if you have the patience for it, that’s a doable target for pretty much anyone. (Read How Fast Should You Lose Weight for more details on this.)
That’ll give you plenty of room to have pizza every once in a while without messing up your goals.
2. How Lean You Want to Get
If you were a bodybuilder getting ready for a competition, pizza wouldn’t even be an option. But that’s not who you are, and it’s not who we want to be either.
We get much more enjoyment out of our lives from having a semi-regular pizza night than we ever would by having a chiseled six-pack to show off at the beach.
Since most “normal,” everyday people feel the same way we do, pizza can definitely stay on the menu. You just have to decide what level of leanness you’re happy with. The leaner you go, the less realistic it is to think you can have pizza whenever you want.
For me, I have no desire to maintain a clearly defined six-pack, but I do like being able to see my abs just a little bit, even if only under good lighting. I can do that and still destroy some pizza once or twice a month.
Megan, on the other hand, would rather have the freedom to indulge (on pizza or otherwise) a little more frequently (at least once a week) and simply maintain a healthy waistline for her height and build.
Neither approach is right or wrong. It all comes down to personal preference and balancing what’s important to you.
3. The Type of Pizza
The problem with pizza is that it’s not super filling but it tends to be high in calories. In other words, it’s easy to eat way too much of it.
Some pizzas are worse for this than others.
One of my favorite types of pizza is a Chicago style deep dish. One slice is the equivalent of about 3-4 slices of a more traditional pizza. But I’m still gonna eat two slices. Every time.
When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easier to stay on track if you’re intentional about the pizza you choose. You might need to stay clear of the deep dish, stuffed crust, everything-on-it, family size pizza for a while.
But don’t be fooled by “healthy” pizzas either. Even some cauliflower crust pizzas can be pretty high in calories and less filling than a normal pizza.
I won’t give you a specific suggestion on what pizza to buy (or make). That defeats the purpose — you should eat what you like. But if there’s a slightly better option that you’ll still enjoy and it won’t feel like a crappy substitute, go for that.
4. How Much You Eat
It’s entirely possible to have a slice of pizza (probably two at the most) without overdoing it on calories for the day.
It takes the right type of pizza, a firm grasp on how much you need to eat the rest of the day, and a decent amount of willpower.
I’ve done it. We’ve had clients do it. You could do it, too.
It’s just not easy.
It won’t be a very filling meal. (It helps to add a large side of veggies, but even that will only go so far.) Plus it’ll mostly be made up of carbs and fats.
It’s not that carbs and fats are bad, but it’ll be difficult (still not impossible) to also get plenty of protein without going overboard on calories and/or without having some pretty unrealistic meals the rest of the day. (Plain chicken breast for lunch anyone?)
On top of that, for many people (myself included, clearly), 1-2 slices can become 3-4 pretty easily.
Again, it can be done, but if you do it a lot, it’ll quickly make the process of losing weight suck the soul right out of you. Which brings us to the final consideration…
5. How Often You Have It
Far more realistic — and less stressful — than sticking to your weight loss goals on pizza day, is to just let it be a day where you hit “maintenance calories” (you’ll still be intentional about not having more than necessary, but you can eat enough to actually enjoy yourself).
It won’t actively promote weight loss in the short-term, but it does promote keeping your sanity, which will help facilitate better weight loss in the long-term.
And it’s just one day.
Even if you do it weekly, that means you’ll still be losing weight 6 out of every 7 days.
Of course, those other 6 days can become a problem. If you “only” have pizza on Friday nights, but you also “only” have margaritas on Saturdays, and “only” have ice cream on Wednesdays, and so on… weight loss can become 0 out of 7 days real quick.
To allow room for ALL of the foods you enjoy, a full-on pizza night like I’m describing here is probably more realistic as a monthly occurrence. But again, that comes down to personal preference.
If pizza is your one true love and it doesn’t bother you to give up other things like adult beverages or ice cream, you may be able to have it more often. Just remember to take all 5 of these factors into consideration when you decide how often to have it.
(Side note: Even if you do “maintenance calories” perfectly, your scale will reflect an increase in water weight the next day. Don’t let that scare you. Watch for the trends in your weight over the course of weeks, not from day to day.)
Pizza and Beyond
Whether it’s pizza or any other type of food you wouldn’t typically think of as part of a weight loss diet, the strategies I laid out here can all be practically applied:
Give yourself freedom to enjoy the foods you love, even if it does mean a slightly slower rate of weight loss.
If you don’t want to live a life without (insert your favorite food here), embrace that and set your expectations accordingly. You may not get a six-pack (honestly, who cares?), but you can still look and feel amazing!
Losing weight is about making slightly better choices. If you can improve your favorite foods just a little bit without feeling restricted, do it!
If you want to indulge without going over on calories, you’ll need to plan your day accordingly. Just don’t do this too often or your diet won’t be sustainable.
Get a good balance of all the foods you love, even if that means you have a “maintenance” day here and there. As long as you’re consistent about your efforts (including on maintenance days — those aren’t “eat whatever you want” days), you can still be successful.
Keep in mind, the amount of pizza (and food in general) that you can eat when you’re trying to lose weight will be less than once you’ve hit your goal and just want to stay at that healthy weight.
That’s the nature of weight loss.
But the idea that you have to completely give up certain foods on a weight loss diet is a myth.
In fact, it’s 1 of “5 Myths You Have to Stop Believing to Lose Weight.” <—Check out our free guide to see what those other myths are and to find out what to do instead.