Calorie Deficit for Losing Weight

calorie deficit for weight loss

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When you eat fewer calories than you burn you create a calorie deficit, also called an energy deficit. A calorie deficit is sometimes also called an energy deficit because calories are a unit of heat or energy.

Many people believe that you must create a calorie deficit to lose weight. It should be noted, however, that not all nutrition experts or researchers believe that this is the best way to achieve healthy or sustainable weight loss. While some researchers suggest that mindful eating or intuitive eating is more effective for weight loss, others still believe that calorie counting (to reach a calorie deficit is the way to go.

Calories—Basic Facts

A calorie is a unit of energy. It is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. Calories in food provide energy in the form of heat so that our bodies can function even when they are at rest.

The total number of calories you burn each day is called your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE. When TDEE is calculated, it includes:

  • Calories burned through exercise and non-exercise movement
  • Calories burned during digestion (called the thermic effect of food or TEF)
  • Calories you burn to maintain basic bodily functions such as breathing and blood circulation

In order to figure out how many calories your body needs to perform basic functions, you can estimate your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Once you know your RMR you can use a calculator to estimate your total daily energy expenditure. You can also get it tested in a lab setting or health club.

What Is a Calorie Deficit?

Many people consume more calories than they need to maintain their weight each day. When you consistently eat more calories than your body needs, the extra calories are stored as fat.

So how do you get rid of extra fat and lose weight? You create a calorie deficit. This energy deficit happens when you eat less during the day. If your body doesn't get the calories it needs to perform all of its necessary functions, you create a calorie deficit. 

When you create a calorie deficit, your body gets energy or fuel from stored fat. This is the extra weight that has accumulated throughout your body.

Stored fat is stored energy. Your body can use it to keep moving instead of using energy from food. When your body burns fat for energy, you lose weight.

Calorie Deficit to Lose Weight

While it seems simple to create a calorie deficit and lose weight, many people who are trying to lose weight struggle with the process. It's not as easy as it seems. You need to create a specific energy deficit for weight loss to happen. Researchers estimate that you need a calorie deficit of 3500 calories per week to lose one pound of fat.

That seems like a lot of calories, doesn't it? While the total number seems high, the weekly energy deficit can be broken down into daily deficits to make weight loss more manageable. If you create a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, you'll reach a total deficit of 3500 calories per week.

How to Create a Calorie Deficit

So how do you create a deficit of 500 calories per day or 3500 calories per week? You don't have to starve yourself with a trendy diet or juice fast. In fact, there are three healthy ways to create a calorie deficit for weight loss.​

Eat Less Food

If you cut your portion sizes, cut back on snacking and choose lower-calorie foods at mealtime, you'll consume fewer calories each day. If you reduce your caloric intake enough, you'll create a calorie deficit large enough for weight loss.

Get Active

The number of calories your body needs each day depends on your activity level. That includes the exercise you do every day and also your non-exercise physical movement. If you increase the number of calories your body needs, but still consume the same number of calories from food, you'll reach a calorie deficit. 

Combine Diet and Exercise

Most people combine diet and exercise to lose weight. That means that they might eat 250 fewer calories each day and then go for a 60-minute brisk walk to burn an additional 250 calories. The calorie deficit would total 500 calories. If you created a similar plan for each day, you'd reach the 3500 calorie deficit needed for weight loss.

A Word From Verywell

If you've set a goal to slim down, you'll find countless plans on the market that promise to provide results without counting calories or reducing your food intake. But every plan must create a calorie deficit to be effective.

Most of the plans that sidestep calorie counting help you to make lower-calorie food choices, or time your meals so you consume less. In short, they are just creative ways to reach the same outcome. Sometimes they work, but often they don't.

Keep in mind, that you don't need to spend money on expensive programs to slim down. Create your own calorie deficit by setting small goals and making small changes throughout the day. You can also get help from a registered dietitian. These professionals can help you to design an effective plan that meets your personal needs. Over the long term, the plan you create based on your own needs is usually a plan you are most likely to stick to.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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