Curious about how much of a calorie deficit is too much? Do you struggle with trying to reduce your weight? Many people do. Recent estimates indicate that over 70% of America is overweight, with over 40% obese. Many people attempt to lose weight by focusing on reducing their calorie intake.
Read on to learn what to avoid and the benefits of reducing your daily caloric intake. We will also share strategies to naturally reduce caloric intake seamlessly, without counting calories, and how to do it safely.
What is a Calorie Deficit?
A calorie deficit is when you consume fewer calories than your body burns through daily activities and functions. This creates an energy shortfall that forces your body to burn stored fat for fuel, which can result in weight loss. However, too large of a calorie deficit can be unsustainable and potentially harmful to your health, so it’s important to find a healthy balance that supports your weight loss goals without compromising your overall well-being.
Why Your Body Needs Calories
Our bodies burn calories as an energy source to power our daily activities and bodily functions, much like an automobile uses gas to fuel our travels and maintain a comfortable environment. Similarly, each of us has individual caloric needs based on our body’s unique factors, such as age, gender, height, body weight, basal metabolic rate, and individual activity level. The following examples compare the daily caloric needs of men and women of different age groups:
- An active 20-year-old man requires approximately 3,000 calories per day. However, a sedentary 76-year-old man has fewer caloric needs and requires about 2,000 calories daily.
- An active 20-year-old woman requires approximately 2,400 calories daily, while a sedentary woman in her mid-sixties requires only about 1,600 calories daily.
Our calories are derived from our food, storing excess calories as glycogen and fat. Glycogen provides our body with a ready supply of glucose to burn as a preferred fuel. Fat is burned and serves as an alternative energy supply when glucose is not readily available to meet the metabolic demands of our body. When our body is in a severe caloric deficit, and both glycogen and fat are inadequately available to meet our metabolic needs, our body is starving for energy. It then breaks down our muscles and protein for calories.
Is a Calorie Deficit Enough to Lose Weight?
It is clear that food calories have different effects on our bodies. The foods we eat affect our body’s hormones in response to the meal, which can either promote hunger or alleviate hunger and cravings. Highly processed carbs are generally low in fiber and tend to have a high glycemic index that promotes overeating, cravings, and cyclical eating, resulting in weight gain. At the same time, eating foods high in protein and low in high glycemic carbs tends to cause satiety and fewer cravings. Adding lemon or vinegar to food can lower a meal’s glycemic index, leading to less hunger and cravings and reducing the likelihood of excess caloric intake and weight gain. Ingesting fat does not cause cravings or overeating, per se, but fat is calorically dense. Hence a little goes a long way in terms of taking in excess calories.
The list below shows calories from protein, fat, and carbohydrates:
- One gram of protein provides four calories.
- One gram of carbohydrate yields four calories.
- One gram of fat provides nine calories.
For example, one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil is all fat and has 130 calories.
If our body is in physiologic balance, counting and restricting calories can lead to weight loss. Generally, when consuming 3,500 calories less than you burn, one can expect to lose one pound. Therefore, if you take in 500 calories per day less than you burn for one week, you will end up with a 3,500-calorie deficit for the week and can expect to lose one pound. If you consume 1,000 calories less that you burn per day for a week, you can expect to lose 2 pounds per week from the 7,000 calories per week deficit. The timing of a meal or snack matters as well; it has been shown that eating more calories earlier in the day is associated with more significant weight loss or less weight gain than when the same number of calories are eaten late in the day.
Even if counting calories works to achieve the desired weight loss, it’s nearly impossible to count calories indefinitely, and when stopped, the weight generally comes right back. Each of us must decide what’s the best approach for our individual circumstances to achieve sustained weight loss and what alternatives should be considered to achieve an effective and sustainable lifelong plan or program.
How to Calculate Calorie Needs
Since each of us has specific caloric needs, creating a Caloric Deficit will differ for each of us. It is critical to not lose too much weight too fast without the help of a licensed healthcare practitioner since over-aggressive weight loss has risks. Typically losing 1-2 pounds per week, a caloric deficit of 3,500 to 7,000 calories, can be done safely. More aggressive weight loss can lead to adverse health consequences such as gallstones, kidney stones, and potentially life-threatening issues such as cardiac arrhythmia and severe metabolic problems, to name just a few.
How to Create a Calorie Deficit
Once you have a basic understanding of how calorie deficits work and affect your body, learning how to create a calorie deficit to lose weight is a reasonably straightforward process. Keep reading as we explore ways to reduce calorie intake and increase energy expenditure through diet and exercise.
When it comes to weight loss and maintenance, implementing appropriate dietary and nutritional shifts are essential. In fact, diet is widely recognized as the most important factor, accounting for about 90% of weight loss success.
Doing just about any form of exercise can help with weight loss. Being sedentary can contribute to weight gain, particularly when we eat more of a Western diet which is typically out of nutritional balance. Increasing overall activities like tracking and increasing your daily steps to 10,000 steps per day can contribute to losing up to a pound per week, depending on your weight. Even though a formal exercise program is not necessary for weight loss, it does provide many potential health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, improving insulin functionality, benefiting people with Type-2 Diabetes and Pre-diabetes, and improving overall cardiovascular conditioning.
Risks of Eating Too Few Calories
While creating a calorie deficit is necessary for weight loss, it’s important to avoid eating too few calories each day. Consuming too few calories can lead to nutrient deficiencies, slow metabolism, and even loss of muscle mass. To maintain health while losing weight, finding a healthy balance that supports a gradual and sustainable calorie deficit is important.
Cutting too many calories can increase the risk of various health issues, including:
- Nutrient deficiencies that can interfere with gaining or maintaining bone mass
- Depriving the brain of necessary energy
- Decreasing metabolism
- Increasing the risk of developing gallstones
Not consuming enough calories can also cause several symptoms, such as:
- Frequent sickness
- Inability to lose weight
- Negative changes in mood or behavior
- Difficulty sleeping
Before cutting calories, it’s vital to talk with a doctor or nutritionist, especially for people with specific health conditions such as diabetes who may require specialized diets to manage their condition.
If You Have Created Calorie Deficit but Not Losing Weight
If you have implemented a caloric deficit but are not losing weight, you should likely seek formal medical evaluation since various health conditions may be responsible for this. Some people are found to have subclinical hypothyroidism, i.e., an underactive thyroid gland, which results in slowed metabolism and sluggish weight loss. Many women have undiagnosed PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), often presenting only as a failure to lose weight. On the other hand, men may have low testosterone contributing to sluggish weight loss. Both pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes are associated with challenges in losing weight. Excess stress, adrenal fatigue, inadequate sleep, and insufficient water intake can also interfere with weight loss.
Additionally, the brain can develop new setpoints when chronically overweight. Under these circumstances, weight loss can plateau even when calories are restricted. The brain responds to a false perception that the person is starving and takes action to reduce the body’s energy use.
Finally, some people have weight gain or flat weight loss when calorically restricting their diet when they exercise rigorously, especially when weight training with heavy weights. In these circumstances, body mass index or BMI may be high (i.e., above 25), but fat is burned, and muscle mass is increased. This, if not carried too far, is healthy. A tip-off of this phenomenon is a reduction in waist circumference.
All of these scenarios present unique challenges requiring specific approaches to overcome, which is why it’s crucial to contact a weight loss specialist who can carefully guide you to a healthy weight and life.
Get Started with CardioMender, MD Today!
Creating a calorie deficit is an effective way to lose weight, but it’s important to do it safely and with a customized approach that takes into account your unique health needs and goals. At CardioMender, MD, Weight Loss Specialists, we’re committed to helping you achieve your weight loss goals with our personalized programs that prioritize your health and well-being.
Contact CardioMender, MD, Weight Loss Specialists today to learn more about how we can help you achieve sustainable weight loss and a healthier lifestyle.