A calorie deficit is the “magic” that makes weight loss possible. It is the difference between the amount of energy you burn and eat; the shortfall of energy caused by eating less and moving more. If your body burns 2,000 calories per day and you only eat 1,500, that extra 500 calories comes from non-food sources (typically body fat) causing weight loss. Creating a healthy calorie deficit requires exercising more, monitoring your food intake and making smart food choices. Here are a few ways to ruin a calorie deficit and create a failing weight loss strategy.

Step 1: Don’t Count Your Calories

A calorie deficit is simple math. If the amount of calories you burn is greater than the amount of calories you eat, you lose weight. The only pieces of information you need are: 1) how many calories you burn and 2) how many calories you eat.

Figuring out the exact amount of calories you burn is difficult, but there are ways to get a relatively accurate estimate. The easiest way is to use the calorie calculator. This tool estimates how many calories your body burns each day based on your age, size, gender and physical activity level. Once you know how many calories you burn, your next step is to eat less.

It is much easier to accurately count the number of calories you eat than it is to estimate the amount you burn. There are plenty of apps that help you count calories. One of the easiest and most popular health apps is MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal allows you to count calories by scanning a barcode. All you need to do is enter the number of servings you eat and the app does the counting.

Counting calories is a must because people tend to underestimate the number of calories they eat. This leads to slower than expected weight loss. Counting calories ensures you are eating the appropriate amount to sustain a deficit.

Step 2: Physical Inactivity

Losing weight requires a calorie deficit. You can create a calorie deficit in a few ways: eat less, move more or combining both. Combining a moderate restriction in calorie intake with an increase in physical activity is the easiest and most efficient way to create a calorie deficit and lose weight.

Metabolism is the sum of all energy needs in the body. Your metabolism fluctuates based on several factors. The two biggest factors you control are: diet and exercise. When you decrease your calorie intake drastically, your metabolism slows causing your body to burn less calories. What you thought was a deficit of 500 calories turns into a deficit of only 200-300. This slows down or stops weight loss.

Exercising more has the opposite effect on your metabolism. After rigorous exercise, your body enters the recovery phase. The recovery process uses calories to replenish energy stores and fix damage to muscle tissue caused during exercise. Exercising more AND eating less yields the quickest and healthiest weight loss results.

Step 3: Ignore Strength Training

Those looking to lose weight typically ignore strength training. Strength training builds muscle which provides key benefits absent in cardio-only routines. Extra muscle speeds up your metabolism and adds tone and definition to the body.

Muscle creates a larger calorie deficit because it is metabolically active; it burns energy even at rest. Take the following example: person A weighs 200 pounds with a 20% body fat percentage and person B weighs 200 pounds with a 6% body fat percentage.

Even though both people weigh the same, person B burns more energy because a bigger portion of his/her body weight is muscle rather than fat. More muscle burns more energy. It would be much easier for person B to create a calorie deficit than person A due to the extra muscle mass.

Step 4: Eat a lot of Junk Food/Fast Food

Losing weight simply requires a calorie deficit. You do not necessarily have to eat healthy food to create a calorie deficit. Eating the proper amount of fast food or junk food still leads to weight loss. An abundance of junk food in your weight loss strategy is a bad idea.

Junk food is made up of empty calories; foods filled with energy but little in the way of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and most importantly, fiber. Junk food is largely free of fiber; an important nutrient that helps weight loss. Junk food is made up of refined carbs and sugar, two ingredients detrimental to weight loss.

The body digests foods at varying speeds. Some foods are digested quickly while others, slowly. Slow digestion keeps you full, prevents hunger and helps with weight loss. Hunger leads to cravings and cravings are typically for diet-killers; unhealthy foods high in calories. If you are trying to lose weight, it is important to eat foods that are digested slowly.

Fiber slows down the digestion process. Unfortunately, fiber is absent in most junk and fast foods. Fiber is found in foods such as vegetables, fruits, 100% whole wheat products (bread/pasta), brown rice, legumes, nuts and seeds. While fiber slows the digestion process down, refined carbs and sugar result in speedy digestion.

A clean diet makes weight loss easier. Minimize your intake of junk such as sugary foods (cookies, muffins, donuts, candy), soda and refined carbohydrates (white bread/pasta/rice). Build your diet around healthier foods such as 100% whole wheat products (bread/pasta), brown rice, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean proteins (chicken, seafood, turkey) and unsaturated fats.

A healthy diet makes losing weight easier because foods high in fiber, complex carbs and lean proteins take a long time to digest compared to junk food. Slow digestion keeps you full for a much longer time than junk food. Satiety keeps your calorie deficit intact.

The Bottom Line

A calorie deficit makes weight loss possible. The basic rules of creating a calorie deficit include counting calories, exercising and creating a healthy diet. Weight loss is not the same as improving health. A healthy lifestyle (rather than only cutting your calorie intake) results in weight loss at the same time as improving your overall health. A long term healthy lifestyle is always more efficient than a temporary weight loss diet.

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