It Really Is This Simple: Calorie Deficits

It doesn’t take rocket science to understand when you eat fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. This phenomenon is known as creating a calorie deficit. As you can see, every popular (and unpopular) diet actually works due to this key component: eat less + burn more = lose weight.

I covered the basic facts of calories last month, but since I spent yesterday talking about my nutritional goal to hit a calorie deficit in order to lose weight throughout the next few months, I thought it might be helpful to learn what exactly that means.

Calories are the units of energy our bodies use to function. Simple concept, right? So our bodies require calorie intake to provide fuel for that energy, and our bodies also burn calories throughout the day. This total number of calories burnt each day is called the total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE. TDEE can include:

  • Calories burned during exercise

  • Calories burned through basic bodily functions

  • Calories burned during digestion

Consider that your body is always burning calories, even while sleeping, in order to maintain your breathing, heart beating, and blood circulation. Meaning your body requires quite a few calories simply to perform its basic functions. This is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR).

Everyone’s RMR is unique to their body weight, height, age, gender, climate, and genetics. There are a lot of calculators out there (I like this one) which can give you your approximate RMR, or you can find out a more concise RMR through medical lab work.

My RMR, according to the OmniCalculator, is 1,964. My body burns 1,964 calories on a daily basis to simply function properly.

When you eat more calories than your body needs, those extra calories are stored in the body for later use — and usually that storage is in the form of fat. In order to get rid of that extra fat and lose weight, a calorie deficit must be created. If you eat less calories than your body needs to perform, then it has to get that energy from storage instead. Bibbity bobbity, you just figured out how to create a calorie deficit!

The common practice for calorie deficits and weight loss is reaching a deficit of 3,500 calories per week to lose 1 pound of fat. That seems like a lot, but when broken down, the average is 500 calories a day within one week. This is way more manageable!

For me: If my RMR is 1,964 calories and I plan to eat 1400-1500 calories a day, then I will have a 500+ calorie deficit already. If I add in a 30 minute walk every day and burn an additional 150 calories, that’s 650+ calories. I’ll reach 3,500 weekly easily.

Refer back to my opening image of popular diets. I’ve been there, friends, and I know… the testimonies will make you want to starve and/or deprive yourself in order to lose weight and become more fit. But guess what? Every single diet has the same end goal: a calorie deficit. This is the only tried and true, scientifically proven method to lose body fat — and it won’t cost you a single cent more than your usual grocery budget (actually, buying less food will ultimately save you a bit, right? Woot!)

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon for another fad diet, try one of the following ways to create a calorie deficit for your weight loss journey:

  1. Consume less. Watch your portions, limit your snacks, and reduce your caloric intake each day with a goal of eating less than 500 calories than your RMR.

  2. Move more. Not willing or unable to eat less? That is 100% okay as long as you start moving more. Burn those 3,500 calories weekly by exercising or simply moving more at work and in your day-to-day activities.

  3. Do them both! Unsurprisingly, eating less and moving more is going to get you to that calorie deficit fastest. Eat 250 fewer calories and burn 250 calories by walking every day, and you’ll be at your 500 calories.

Caution is needed if you’re eating too few calories and continuing to burn a bunch as well. I’m not going to go into this gray area, but highly recommend you reading Fit Folk’s post on this topic here. I want to lose weight, but I want to do it in the healthiest way possible — and I hope that is your wish for yourself too.

In the end, my main message is this: you don’t need a sparkly, overly-marketed diet plan to slim down. All you need is to create a calorie deficit in order to effectively lose weight. You don’t have to be a calorie tracker to do this, simply eat smaller meals and start moving more.

We’re looking to form better lifestyles to stick to long term, right? In the end, the calorie deficit mindset is the simple recipe for success, friends.

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