You’ve probably heard that you need to be in a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight? But first, you need to know what a calorie deficit is. In this article, I’m going to answer “what is a calorie deficit?”.
A Calorie Deficit : The Facts
In short, a calorie deficit means that you’re eating fewer calories than you burn. Or you’re putting your body in a state of negative energy balance.
And when you eat fewer calories than you burn. Your body burns body fat (which is essentially stored energy) for fuel.
And that’s why when you’re consistently in a calorie deficit for long enough you lose weight/ fat.
You see, most people eat more calories than they burn every day which causes them to gain weight.
When they actually need to be in a calorie deficit if they want to reduce their body fat levels and improve their health.
Note: If you’ve heard that “calories in vs calories out doesn’t work” then that statement couldn’t be more wrong. And research over the past century. Reveals that beyond a shadow of a doubt that energy balance (calories in vs calories out ) is the determining factor in weight loss and weight gain.
What Is A Calorie Deficit?
Everyone has an amount of calories that they burn every day to maintain their weight.
This is called your maintenance calories or your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
This number consists of:
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) also called your metabolism. Which is the number of calories you burn at rest. If you sat in bed all day and did nothing this is how many calories you’d burn.
The thermic effect of food (TEF) which is the number of calories that are burned processing food. This includes absorption, digestion and storage of food.
The thermic effect of activity (TEA) which is the number of calories you burn during exercise.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, (NEAT) which is the number of calories you burn from walking, working, fidgeting. Basically the calories that you don’t burn from exercise.
How To Put Yourself In A Calorie Deficit (3 Different Options)
1. Eat fewer calories than your maintenace calories (TDEE).
2. Eat At your maintenance calories and increase energy expenditure (through activity) to burn more calories than you’re consuming.
3. Eat fewer calories than your maintenance calories and do cardio/ exercise (this includes lifting weights).
For sustainable fat loss, I think the best option is to do some weight training/ cardio and also put yourself in a calorie deficit through your diet.
It’s Difficult To Put Yourself In A Calorie Deficit Through Exercise Alone
For example, an hour of walking burns between 200-400 calories. And if you’re a smaller person you’ll probably burn closer to 200 calories and a bigger person would burn closer to 400 calories.
Because generally speaking the bigger you are the more calories you burn.
So for a smaller person to lose 1 pound of fat per week they’ll need to walk for 2.5 hours per day (this will burn roughly 500 calories per day).
Because in one pound of fat there are 3500 calories. And if you burn 500 extra calories per day (through cardio or other exercises) you’ll put yourself in a 3500 calorie weekly deficit.
Assuming that you’re eating at your maintenance calories (TDEE).
Walking 2.5 hours per day isn’t feasible for most people to do (if you have a life).
Whereas eating fewer calories than you burn is a much more sustainable approach and easier (because you don’t need to rely on walking 2 or more hours per day just to make progress).
Although if you wanted to cut down on the time you did cardio you could perform moderate-intensity cardio like running which burns on average 600- 800 calories per hour.
Or high intensity interval training (HIIT) which can burn as much as 450 calories in 30 minutes.
Generally speaking, you burn more calories in a shorter space of time with these types of cardio compared to steady-state cardio (walking). As you can see by the different calorie burn values.
How To Find Your TDEE And Sustainable Calorie Deficit
There are 3 methods of doing this.
1. Use my free Fat loss ebook.
2. Track your calories and weight for 1 – 2 weeks.
3. Multiply your weight (in pounds) by 10- 12.
My Free Fat Loss Ebook
You can get your free fat loss ebook here which uses a very accurate formula to work out your calorie needs. And shows you how to put yourself in a calorie deficit.
Track Your Calories And Weight For 1 – 2 Weeks
If your weekly average weigh-in results in your weight staying the same from the previous week (give or take 0.25 of a pound). You’re eating at your maintenance calories.
If you lose weight you’re eating fewer calories than you burn (a calorie deficit).
And if you’re gaining weight (0.5-1 pound or more per week) you’re eating more calories than you burn which is called a calorie surplus.
Multiply Your Weight By 10-12
I currently weigh roughly 170 pounds. So an easy way to work out my sustainable calorie deficit is to multiply 170 by 10-12.
So If I wanted to lose weight I’d do the following calculation:
170 x 12 = 2040 calories.
And from my experience this is enough calories for me to be in a calorie deficit and lose weight.
Because I’m active I use the number 12. If you’re sedentary use 10 and if you’re moderately active use 11.
I define sedentary, moderately active and active as follows:
Sedentary (little or no exercise) = use 10.
Moderately active (light exercise/sports/ lifting weights 1-3 days/week) = use 11.
Active (moderate exercise/sports/ lifting weights 3-5 days/week) = use 12.
Note: If after 1-2 weeks your weight and measurements haven’t decreased decrease your calories by 100.
As a general rule of thumb: if your weight hasn’t decreased by 1-2 pounds per week then reduce your calories.
And asses your weight again for another week and it should have decreased by 1-2 pounds and your measurements should decrease in the next 1-2 weeks as well.
What’s The Best Method To Calculate A Calorie Deficit?
Personally I like to use the katch mcardle formula that’s in my free fat loss ebook.
I’ve used this with myself and my clients and I find it to be very accurate.
How Energy Balance Works
Energy balance is the fancy name for calories in vs calories out. And it’s the first law of thermodynamics.
Any Diet That Results In Weight Loss Puts You In A Calorie Defcit (Knowingly Or Unknowningly)
For example, the keto diet results in you losing weight because it cuts out a whole food group (carbohydrates). This is enough to instantly put most people in a calorie deficit.
The reason behind this is if you take someone who eats a lot of carbs. And then they stop eating carbs. They will instantly be eating fewer calories. This can be enough to get the weight loss needle moving.
You Didn’t Lose Weight On The Keto, Paleo, Atkins, Or (Insert Any Other Diet Here) You Lost Weight On The Calorie Deficit Diet
Take the paleo diet. This diet has you eating lots of meat, fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts. And doesn’t include starchy and processed carbohydrates like bread, pasta etc.
The foods in the paleo diet, are for the most part, very filling especially meat (because protein is the most satiating macronutrient).
Protein is also the most thermogenic macronutrient. This means that the energy required for digestion, absorption, and disposal of protein is the highest.
So you burn more calories just eating protein then you do from carbs and fats.
And because fruits & veggies contain very few calories but provide a high volume of food. They’re much harder to overeat on and they fill you up.
They also contain lots of soluble fiber that can keep you full. This is because soluble fibers mix in water and take up a lot of space in your stomach. Increasing fullness and satiety.
So as you can see these benefits of the paleo diet can result in you eating fewer calories because you aren’t eating any processed carbohydrates.
And you burn more calories from the foods eaten in the paleo diet. Due to the thermic effect of protein. And generally speaking, whole nutritious foods (and the paleo diet includes lots of them) have a higher thermic effect than highly processed foods.
So these benefits can culminate in you eating in a calorie deficit knowingly or unknowingly.
Why Counting Calories Is The Best Way To Put Yourself In Calorie Deficit
If you know roughly how many calories you’re burning daily as I mentioned in the how to find your maintenance calories section of this article. You can easily just eat 500 calories fewer than that. By tracking your calories on the app my fitness pal.
And you’ll lose weight like clockwork. But if you don’t count your calories it’s very difficult to tell if you’re in a calorie deficit or not.
And although you can lose weight not counting your calories. It definitely is harder to lose weight over time. You might lose a few pounds in the first couple of weeks by just making “healthier choices”. But your weight will probably soon stall.
And this is why I track calories myself and advise my clients to do so. I’m also very skeptical about diets that promote losing weight without counting your calories (or at least have some food tracking system).
The Bottom Line On What Is A Calorie Deficit?
- A calorie deficit is just the fancy term for eating fewer calories than you burn. This results in you not eating enough calories for your bodies energy requirements (TDEE). So your body has to use your fat stores as fuel. Resulting in weight/fat loss over time.
- You can put yourself in a calorie deficit through your diet, exercising or a mixture of both. I believe a mixture of both is best.
- There are multiple ways to work out your calorie deficit but I recommend that you start with my free ebook to work out your calorie deficit.
- The best way to put yourself in a calorie deficit is through calorie tracking. And any diet that causes meaningful weight loss has you in a calorie deficit.
Thanks for reading if you need any extra help send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org