Why is Calorie Deficit Important for Weight Loss Success?
Weight loss is a common goal that many fitness enthusiasts strive to achieve, especially when it comes to weight management and undergoing a cutting phase to sculpt their physique.
However, weight loss can often feel like trying to solve a puzzle. You move pieces around— exercise, diet plans, lifestyle changes — hoping to complete the picture of your ideal self. Yet, something often feels missing. You've been sweating out at the gym, avoiding your favorite snacks, and eating less, yet the scale barely budges.
Even worse, many people experienced substantial results from exercises and dieting only to regain weight after a few months or years of hard work. For most people, the missing piece is surprisingly simple yet crucial for weight loss success — calorie deficit.
This article will dig deep into why calorie deficit is non-negotiable for your weight loss journey and how you can effectively implement it to optimize weight management.
Calories often get tossed around the fitness community. You might already hear people say, "Watch your calories," "burn those calories," or "count your calories." But what exactly is a calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy. One Calorie refers to the energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celcius.
In practical terms, calories are the fuel your body requires to function, from powering your brain to allowing your muscles to contract when lifting weights. Every process in your body relies on the energy provided by your calories.
The foods and drinks you eat contain calories. The macronutrients such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are your main sources of calories.
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
- Fats: 9 calories per gram
Calorie is the energy your body needs to function.
A calorie deficit occurs when the calories you burn from exercises and performing daily tasks exceed the calories from the food and drinks you consume. This concept is crucial because a calorie deficit directly leads to weight loss.
Weight loss = Calories in < Calories out
Calorie Deficit = Calories consumed < Calories burned
Your body requires a certain amount of calories to function and sustain your daily activities. If you consume more calories than you burn or use, your body will store that unused energy as fats for future use, resulting in weight gain.
Weight gain = Calories in > Calories out
Losing weight is straightforward. You'll have a calorie deficit if you move more and eat less. However, many people still need help achieving this goal.
When you reduce too many calories, your body will not have enough energy and will also use your hard-earned muscles as a fuel source instead of fats. If you reduce too few calories, you'll have difficulty seeing any noticeable change in your weight and physique.
Typical weight loss programs often ignore individual differences such as metabolism, age, lifestyle, and medical conditions. They usually go for drastic routes by offering extreme calorie restriction and excessive exercises, which are highly unsustainable, leading to the "yo-yo effect," where people regain their weight once they stop the program.
Studies have shown that people who have undergone drastic weight loss programs tend to fall back into their bad habits and regain the weight they already lost in the next 6 years.
Furthermore, if you lose your muscles, your body will naturally respond by making you hungrier and increasing your overall appetite as part of its survival mechanism. That's why it is also critical to have a systematic and holistic approach to weight loss.
While it is crucial to find balance in life, a cheat day or cheat meal can often be deceiving for people trying to lose weight. For example, after dedicating an hour or two to rigorous gym workouts, many people overestimate the calories they burn and feel justified in overeating, thinking that they can easily offset them.
It is ok to have a cheat day or cheat meal. Just ensure they don’t negate your weight loss efforts for the day or the week. Your cheat meal shouldn’t exceed the calories you burn.
The key to a consistent calorie deficit and effective weight loss is a holistic approach.
1. Find out your maintenance calories.
Before going into a calorie deficit, you must identify how many calories your body needs to maintain your current weight. This will serve as a baseline to help you create a targeted approach to weight loss and optimizing your health.
Your daily caloric requirements or Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) rely on several factors. Your TDEE is the 100% total energy you use daily, which could differ for each person.
- Basal metabolic rate (BMR): calories your body requires to maintain basic functions such as breathing, thinking, heartbeat, and temperature. (70% of total calories burned)
- Physical activity level (PAL): refers to the amount of physical movement you do each day, such as household chores, running, and lifting. (20% of total calories burned)
- The thermogenic effect of food is the amount of energy your body needs to digest food and absorb nutrients. (10% of total calories burned)
BMR formula: You can use this calculator.
BMR formula = 66 + (6.23 × weight in pounds) + (12.7 × height in inches) − (6.8 × age in years)
BMR formula = 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
Once you get your BMR, multiply it by your physical activity level to get your maintenance calorie:
- Sedentary: BMR x 1.2
- Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate exercise of 3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
- Very active (vigorous exercise of 6-7 days/week): BMR x 1.725
- Super active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job) BMR x 1.9
Reducing 300-500 calories from your daily maintenance calories will guarantee that you will lose about 0.5 to 1 pound per week. This is a sustainable and safe way to lose weight in the long run.
Find your maintenance calories then reduce it by 300-500 calories weekly.
Weight loss is much easier if you let go of processed foods and sugary snacks. They are often riddled with saturated and trans fats that contain tons of calories and pose health risks.
Furthermore, sugary beverages like soda and fruit juices are high in sugar and calories, yet they don't provide fullness and often lead to weight gain.
Eating more protein can help you feel full longer, and it has a higher thermic effect, allowing you to burn more calories by simply digesting foods.
- Chicken Breast
- Greek Yogurt
Opt-in for more fiber-rich foods to enhance satiety and improve your gut health. This will help you consume fewer calories while maintaining balanced nutrition.
- Whole-Grain Bread
Foods with low-calorie density, such as fruits and vegetables, allow you to consume larger portions without significantly affecting your caloric intake, making you feel more satiated.
- Leafy Greens
Choose whole foods over processed food.
Physical activity is about 20% of your energy expenditure. That's why it is critical to stay physically active if you want to lose weight.
A balanced regimen incorporating cardiovascular exercises, strength training, or physical sports can also be an effective strategy. If you want the social aspect of being fit, try group exercises or outdoor workouts. Find out what activities keep you inspired and motivated.
Find a physical activity you genuinely enjoy.
Here’s a fat loss workout program for women you should try:
And for men:
You cannot change what you cannot measure. Keeping tabs on the food quality and the amount of calories you consume will improve your awareness and allow you to adjust your diet accordingly.
It is also essential to note your body weight weekly to see if your weight loss strategy is working and identify possible problems you need to address. This would also minimize other factors such as weight fluctuations.
Record the following:
- Food items
- Weekly body weight and fat percentage
Writing about your emotions and food choices can allow you to reflect and avoid stress eating in the future.
Document your weight loss process and make weekly adjustments.
Losing weight can be a challenging goal for many people. To effectively lose weight, we need to be in a calorie-deficit state and a holistic approach to health and fitness. Combining basic weight management knowledge, diet, and exercise can go a long way.