A common term you’ll hear when researching weight loss or dieting is “calorie deficit”. A calorie deficit occurs when you eat less calories than you burn in a day. This deficit in calories is what the basis of many diet regimens rely upon for results.
Calorie Deficits and Weight Loss
Calorie deficits and weight loss go hand in hand. When you burn more calories than you consume your body will start to drop weight, in theory (medical issues and metabolism problems can be a factor). As an example, let’s say you eat 1,500 calories a day and burn 2,000 calories. If your body needs the 2000 calories, this means your deficit would be 500 calories. Since you aren’t eating the extra 500 calories as food your body takes it from fat reserves instead. Ideally you will have a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories depending on your weight and activity level. Each person’s situation is different.
Conversely, If your body only needs 1500 calories a day (that being the number of calories you burn) and you eat 2200 calories, your body has to do something with the extra calories. This is what brings on weight gain.
These 2 scenarios are the basics of weight loss and weight gain. When you look up how many calories you should eat on sites like iifym.com or myfitnesspal.com, they are calculating a deficit of calories based on how many calories you need to stay at your current weight. For example, you may need to eat 2500 calories a day to stay at 200 pounds, so a site or app may suggest that you eat 1800 calories per day for a significant daily calorie deficit (factoring in more exercise as well as healthier eating habits).
To figure out your calorie deficit you will need to do some calculations.
Calculating a Calorie Deficit
To figure out your calorie deficit you will first need to determine how many calories you burn on a daily basis. Daily calories burned includes both your exercise regimen as well as resting calories burned.
To find how many calories you burn during workouts, add up the total numbers of hours you burn per week and divide by 7. Multiply how many pounds you weigh by this number. Then multiply this number by the calories you burn per hour of exercise. Your resulting number will be the average calories burned from exercise per day.
Finding your resting calories burned is best done by using a calculator such as this one.
Once you have your resting calories you will need to subtract your exercise hours from the total. Do this by taking your resting calorie number and divide it into 24. Take that number multiply it by hours per day you aren’t exercising.
After all the calculating, add your calories burned at exercise and at rest together. The resulting sum is how many calories you would have to consume to maintain your current weight. To create your deficit you will need to subtract anywhere from 500 to 1,000 calories (or what you’ve been advised) from this sum. The resulting number is how many calories you can consume on a daily basis.
Don’t want to do all of this math? Use this calorie deficit calculator instead.
Common Calorie Deficit Errors
There are a couple common errors people new to calorie deficits make that can negatively impact their health and success.
The most common is improper calculations. If you come up with a number that doesn’t sound right, redo the math. If you struggle with calculating your deficit from scratch you may want to find a calorie deficit calculator to do the work for you, but these calculators and apps are not perfect. It’s key to keep track of what you are eating, how much you exercise and whether you are losing weight. As you lose weight, you’ll need to adjust your calorie intake and exercising to avoid plateaus.
The second most common error is shooting for a super high calorie deficit right off the bat. A high calorie deficit is a great way to spark weight loss but don’t overdo it. Too much a deficit will leave you feeling fatigued, irritable and can even cause illness from a stressed immune system. You will also be more likely to overeat or binge in response to eating dramatically less food. Remember, you can also add to your deficit if you find good results but want more of a change. To many people go from eating 2800 or more calories a day to trying to eat 1200 calories a day not realizing how much food they were eating before they started their weight loss journey and the deficit is too high.
Last but not least, the biggest problem people make with a calorie deficit diet has to do with the quality of food eaten. Just because you’ve created a deficit doesn’t mean you can fill your required calories with junk food. This will only harm your health in the long run to eat like that even though you can still lose weight. Typically if you eat unhealthy foods and still lose weight, you’re actually losing muscle along with the fat, but each person is different. Eat healthy foods that will support the health of your heart, liver, kidneys and other organs.
TIP:Keep a food journal to track everything you eat, either in a notebook or with a diet tracking program/mobile app. Ensure you insert the proper serving sizes as well (i.e. if you eat 2 servings, be sure you write down calories x2).
When Calorie Deficit Isn’t Working
The human body can be very individual from one another. This means that one diet isn’t going to always work for everyone. Calorie deficits aren’t exempt from this. Common issues associated with calorie deficits include:
- Constantly feeling hungry
- Gaining weight
- Losing muscle along with fat
If you are experiencing these problems you need to either recalculate your numbers or consider a different dietary plan. People who are trying to eat a specific diet, such as paleo or vegetarian, may simply be unable to follow the textbook calorie deficit even though they are already achieving great results without a deficit or with one much lower than recommended.
It is important to consult with your doctor or a nutritionist if you feel like you are struggling with losing weight as this can be due to an underlying health issue, issues with your metabolism or hormone imbalance. Remember that the key to losing weight and keeping it off it choosing a way of eating that you will actually stick to. Don’t be afraid to mess around with your calculations a bit to find that calorie deficit sweet spot for your body.