What is a calorie deficit?Tweet
A calorie deficit is the "magic" making weight loss possible. It forces your body to use fat stores for energy causing weight loss. While a calorie deficit is the only way to lose weight, there are a few ways to create one, though they all involve improving your eating and exercise habits.
What is a calorie deficit?
A calorie deficit is a state in which you burn more calories than you eat. For example, if you burn 2,500 calories per day but only eat 2,000, you have created a deficit of 500 calories per day. A calorie deficit forces your body to use non-food sources of energy (body fat) to make up for the shortfall causing weight loss.
How to Lose Weight
The only requirement to make weight loss possible is to create calorie deficit. The first step is figuring out how many calories your body burns each day. The calorie calculator is a good place to start. It estimates your calorie needs based on your size, gender and physical activity level.
The next step is to track your calorie intake and ensure you are eating 500-1,000 calories less per day than you are burning. For example, if the calculator estimates you are burning 3,000 calories per day, eating 2,000-2,500 calories creates a deficit of 500-1,000 calories per day. MyFitnessPal is a popular, free and easy to use smartphone app for monitoring your calorie intake and body weight.
It is important to remember the calorie calculator only provides an estimate. While the calculator is good at giving the average person an accurate estimate, it is very possible the estimate is not accurate for you. The only way to gauge the accuracy of the estimate is to carefully track both your body weight and calorie intake. Adjust your intake accordingly based on the week to week change in your body weight (eat less if your weight is going up, eat more if it is going down too quickly).
How to Lose Body Fat
Burning body fat and losing weight are two ways to describe the same process. A calorie deficit forces your body to burn fat which causes weight loss. A calorie deficit decreases your body fat percentage and lead to weight loss at the same time.
The body stores fat in response to a calorie surplus (eating more than you burn). Genetics determine where fat is stored. For some, that means the body stores fat predominantly in the arms, and for others, around the midsection.
During a calorie deficient state, the process is reversed. Genetics also determine which areas your body burns fat from. Though you may want to get rid of your flabby arms or large midsection, the process is exactly the same because there is no way to influence where the body burns fat from. Targeting your midsection with sit-ups or your arms with curls does not force your body to burn fat from those areas. Spot reducing is impossible. A calorie deficit is the only way to lose weight and burn fat.
Ways to Create a Calorie Deficit
There are a few ways to create a calorie deficit: eat less, move more or a combined approach. Though it is possible to lose weight with diet or exercise alone, the fastest, healthiest and longest lasting results only happen when you combine a moderate restriction in your calorie intake with an increase in your physical activity level.
Dieting simply requires you eat less. This is a great opportunity to eliminate unhealthy foods such as empty calories from your intake. Empty calories are foods are high in energy (calories) but low in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber): candy, soda, cookies, muffins, potato chips and most junk/fast foods. Instead, eat nutrient dense foods which are low in calories but very high in nutrients: seafood, lean meats, 100% whole wheat products (bread and pasta), brown rice, fruits and vegetables.
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Exercise helps you create a bigger calorie deficit without having to starve yourself. Incorporate cardiovascular exercise into your routine 3-5 times per week lasting 30-60 minutes per session. Though strength training is often overlooked during weight loss, it builds muscle which increases your metabolic rate and create a larger calorie deficit. Incorporate strength training into your routine 3-4 times per week.
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There are an endless amount of shortcuts (i.e. diet pills, weight loss programs, books, exercise routines) claiming you can lose weight with a minimal amount of effort. Remember, the only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit. This requires a considerable amount of work. Any plan that does not require sacrifice leads to failure.
The Bottom Line
Losing weight requires you to make difficult changes to your everyday habits. Avoid making these changes too quickly. Slowly build up a calorie deficit by moderately cutting your intake and increasing your physical activity level. Slow changes are a lot more likely to stick than abrupt ones that happen overnight. Slow change is the key to losing weight and keeping it off.