Calories are the units of energy found in everything we eat and drink, and when you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll need a specific caloric deficit.
We need to consume a certain number of calories each day to ensure we have enough energy to function. However, getting the right number of calories each day is more complex than it seems, especially since counting calories isn’t always that easy.
If you eat too few calories, you could suffer from malnourishment, fatigue, loss of muscle mass, dizziness and even hair loss. On the other hand, eating too many calories on a daily basis will lead to weight gain, which has its own list of negative side-effects, from increased risk of diabetes to heart and respiratory problems.
When you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to calculate a specific caloric deficit. This involves reducing the amount of calories you consume to a point where the calories (energy) you use up each day exceeds the calories you take in.
So how exactly can you use a caloric deficit effectively for weight loss?
What Exactly is a Caloric Deficit?
A caloric deficit happens when you consume fewer calories than you burn. It can also be called an “energy deficit”. As a crucial part of losing weight, caloric deficits force the body to burn more stored energy in the form of excess fat. Your body begins to burn fat for fuel when you don’t consume a surplus of calories that your body could use for fuel.
The number of calories you expend each day (calorie expenditure) is based on the following:
- Resting Energy Expenditure: This term refers to the calories the body burns at rest for functions to keep well, from circulating blood to breathing.
- Thermic Effects Of Food: This refers to the number of calories your body burns digesting, metabolizing, and absorbing food. The act of eating also burns calories.
- Activity Energy Expenditure: Your activity expenditure refers to the number of calories you expend during activities such sports, exercise classes, walking around, performing household chores, and more.
These work together to form your “Total Daily Energy Expenditure”, which you can learn more about here. If you provide your body with fewer calories than it needs to support these components for caloric expenditure, you place yourself in a caloric deficit. Doing this consistently for long periods of time results in weight loss, by forcing your body to use stored energy such as fat for fuel.
A caloric deficit is the opposite to a caloric surplus. A caloric surplus often happens by accident to people who don’t count calories, and inadvertently provide their body with more calories than it needs on a regular basis.
How Do You Create a Caloric Deficit?
Creating a caloric deficit involves calculating your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure), and reducing your caloric intake to a number slightly beneath that amount. The key to a successful caloric deficit is ensuring you can still function properly without the extra calories.
You’ll need to consider everything from your age, weight, height, and physical activity level to calculate your TDEE. You can also track your calorie intake and weight for a period of 10 days to determine your current circumstances.
The exact caloric deficit recommended for your weight loss goals will depend on a number of factors, including how much weight you’re trying to lose, and how effective your body is at burning calories. Genetics can play a significant role in your weight loss goals.
For most people, a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day should be enough to facilitate weight loss, without significantly influencing your energy levels. As you lose weight, your maintenance calorie needs will also decrease over time. A smaller body with less fat requires less energy to run.
On average, most of us need about 2,000 calories per day to maintain our weight, and cutting that down to 1,500 calories per day could eventually cause us to see weight loss results.
Why Do You Need a Caloric Deficit for Weight Loss?
Maintaining a caloric deficit is a critical component of weight loss. Yes, you need to exercise as well, but losing weight is mostly about diet and achieving a successful caloric deficit. Ultimately, you need to burn more energy than you consume if you want to cut through stored fat throughout your body. However, it’s worth remembering that calories aren’t the only factor that influences weight.
You can’t simply cut out calories entirely and expect to achieve a healthy body weight. Experts suggest most women should never consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day, while men need a minimum of 1,500 calories.
This means if you want to accelerate your weight loss, you’ll need to implement other methods of increasing your energy expenditure, rather than just reducing the energy you consume by cutting calories. You’ll need to burn more calories, too. Exercising regularly will help you increase your TDEE, while allowing you to consume the same number of calories to stay healthy.
Most people find it’s much easier (and more sustainable) to lose weight through a combination of a caloric deficit and an exercise routine. While exercise doesn’t always burn as many calories as some people believe, it still helps to build muscle, and improve your potential metabolic function. A better metabolism and active muscles will help you burn more calories overall.
Caloric Deficit: The Bottom Line
Many people find that it’s easy to cut calories. Something as simple as drinking fewer calories by ditching the habitual sodas will help cut many calories from your diet. Counting calories is necessary to achieve a deficit, so if you’re trying to only eat 1,500 calories per day, you’ll need an app such as MyFitnessPal to help you count calories.
If you’re interested to learn what the optimal diet plan for you is, based on your unique DNA, take the CircleDNA test. This at-home DNA test provides you with hundreds of reports about yourself, some of which are genetic diet and nutrition insights.