What Is a Calorie Deficit, and How Much of One Is Healthy?
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you’ve likely heard that a calorie deficit is required. Yet, you may wonder what exactly it involves or why it’s necessary for weight loss. This will explain everything you need to know about a calorie deficit, including what it is, how it affects weight loss, and how to achieve it in a healthy, sustainable way. Calories are the units of energy you get from foods and beverages, and when you consume fewer calories than you burn, you achieve a calorie deficit. The calories you burn or expend each day — also known as calorie expenditure — include the following three components:
- Resting energy expenditure (REE). REE refers to the calories your body uses at rest for functions that keep you alive, such as breathing and blood circulation.
- Thermic effect of food. This involves the calories your body expends digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing food.
- Activity energy expenditure. This refers to the calories you expend during sports like exercise and non-exercise related activities, including fidgeting and performing household chores.
Calculating calorie needs
For most people, a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day is sufficient for weight loss and unlikely to significantly affect your hunger or energy levels. To create this calorie deficit, you need to know what your maintenance calories are. Maintenance calories are precisely the number of calories your body needs to support energy expenditure. You can use calorie calculators like the Body Weight Planner from the National Institute of Health. Such calculators estimate your maintenance calories based on your weight, sex, age, height, and physical activity level.
Though calorie calculators provide a good idea of your maintenance calorie needs, you can get a more precise number by tracking your calorie intake and weight for 10 days. While maintaining the same level of daily activity, use a calorie tracking app to track your calories and weigh yourself daily. For an accurate result, use the same scale, at the same time of day, and wearing the same clothes (or nothing at all).
Your weight may fluctuate day to day, but if your weight has otherwise remained stable over the 10 days, the average number of calories you consumed per day is a better representation of your maintenance calories. Divide the total number of calories you consumed for 10 days by 10 to find your average daily calorie intake. Then, subtract 500 calories from this number to determine your new daily intake goal for weight loss. For example, if you find your maintenance calories to be 2,000 per day, your new daily calorie goal would be 1,500. As you lose weight, your maintenance calories will decrease over time, and you will need to adjust your calorie intake based on your weight loss goals. Still, to ensure healthy weight loss and adequate nutrient intake, women should not consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day, and men no fewer than 1,500 calories in general.
A few tips to cut Calories:
- Don’t drink your calories
- Limit highly processed foods
- Eat primarily home-cooked meals
- Don’t consume: Sugary Foods & Beverages, Alcohol, and Trans Fats
- Consume a high protein diet and be active