What is a calorie deficit?

Calories are the measure of how much energy food provides. With a deficit of 500 calories a day, you should be able to lose weight without experiencing extreme hunger or fatigue. Avoid sugar and processed foods while getting regular physical activity to help create a deficit that supports healthy weight loss.

You’ve likely heard that calorie deficits are required if you’ve ever tried to lose weight.

However, you may wonder what it involves or why losing weight is necessary.

You need to know several things about calorie deficits, including what they are, how they affect weight loss, and how to achieve them in a healthy, sustainable manner.

What it is and why it’s essential for weight loss

A calorie deficit occurs when you consume fewer calories than you burn from foods and beverages.

The calories you burn each day – also known as calorie expenditure – consist of three components:

  • Resting energy expenditure (REE). You burn calories at rest for breathing and blood circulation, which keep you alive.
  • Thermic effect of food. As your body digests, absorbs, and metabolizes food, it expends calories.
  • Activity energy expenditure. You can burn calories during sports, such as exercise, and non-exercise-related activities, such as fidgeting and performing household chores.

You put your body in a calorie deficit if you provide it with fewer calories than it needs to support these three components. Consistently doing so for extended periods will result in weight loss.

Likewise, you will gain weight if you regularly consume more calories than your body needs to function. This is called a calorie surplus.

Calculating calorie needs

Most people can lose weight with a 500-calorie deficit daily without significantly affecting their hunger or energy levels. 

To create this calorie deficit, you must know how many calories you consume daily. In addition, your body needs maintenance calories to support energy expenditure.

You can use AlphaCoach Evolve – a free diet coaching app that will calculate the total calories you need every day using information like gender, weight, height, activity level, health conditions, and your weight loss goal.

Tracking your calorie intake and weight for ten days can provide a more precise idea of your maintenance calorie needs than calculators.

Use a calorie tracking app to track your calories and weigh yourself daily while maintaining the same daily activity level. The test results will be more accurate if you use the same scale, wear the same clothes, and measure at the same time each day (or not at all).

During the ten days, your weight may fluctuate, but your average number of calories consumed is a better representation of your maintenance calories if your weight has remained stable otherwise.

To find your average daily calorie intake, divide the total calories you consumed for 10 days by 10. Then, to determine your new daily intake goal for weight loss, subtract 500 calories from this number.

In other words, if your maintenance calories are 2,000 per day, your new daily goal would be 1,500.

To lose weight, you must adjust your calorie intake according to your weight loss goals as your maintenance calories decrease over time.

Ways to achieve a calorie deficit

You can create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories or increasing your physical activity.

However, you may need more time, energy, or motivation to exercise daily, so creating a calorie deficit through the diet may be easier and more sustainable. Also, exercising burns fewer calories than many people believe.

Therefore, eating 500 fewer calories a day may be easier than exercising to burn these calories. Despite this, we recommend muscle-strengthening and aerobic exercises to improve your health.

Adults should engage in 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise.

Moderate-intensity exercise includes brisk walking and bicycling, whereas examples of vigorous-intensity exercise are jogging and fast bicycling.

Your body will prioritize fat loss over muscle mass if you engage in muscle-strengthening activities. 

Tips for eating fewer calories

Creating a calorie deficit doesn’t require drastic changes to your diet.

Several strategies can help you lose weight and maintain it without counting calories.

Drinking your calories is not a good idea. 

You may lose several hundred calories if you reduce or eliminate your intake of sugary beverages such as sodas, fruit juices, and specialty coffee drinks.

There are also a significant amount of calories in alcoholic beverages.

These beverages are high in calories, do not provide fullness, and in excess, can lead to weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes.

Limit highly processed foods.

Highly processed foods, such as sugary beverages, fast foods, desserts, and breakfast cereals, are highly palatable and promote excessive consumption due to their sugar, fat, and salt content. 

According to one study, people eating highly processed foods consumed 500 more calories per day than those eating minimally processed foods on an unrestricted diet to eat as much as they wanted.

In addition to lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, minimally processed foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. So when you eat minimally processed foods, you’ll prevent overeating and ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs.

If you are currently eating highly processed foods, slowly replace them with minimally processed ones. For example, consider swapping sugary cereals for oatmeal topped with fruit or replacing chips with salted almonds.

Mostly eat home-cooked meals.

It is easier to control your meals’ ingredients and portion sizes when you prepare them at home.

According to one study, people who cooked dinner 6–7 times per week consumed 137 fewer calories per day than those who cooked dinner at home 0–1 time per week.

Cooking at home improves diet quality, increases fruit and vegetable intake, lowers body fat, and reduces heart disease and diabetes risks.

Furthermore, cooking at home frequently will save you money.

Conclusion

  • Consuming fewer calories than your body expends results in a calorie deficit.

  • Healthy and sustainable weight loss requires a calorie deficit of 500 calories daily.

  • Eating home-cooked meals, avoiding sugary beverages, and mainly consuming minimally processed foods can help you achieve a calorie deficit without counting calories.

Eat better, move more #OnYourOwnTerms

Download AlphaCoach Evolve. This free diet coaching app will help you track your calories, nutrition, and activity levels to help you lose weight without dieting. 

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