Four Steps to Planning an Effective Calorie Deficit

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

In order to lose weight, you will need to enter into an energy deficit. Full. Stop. There is no way around this fundamental fact of human physiology. Energy that is conserved in your body as fat must be broken down into its base components and expelled by your body. Fortunately, you have full control over the size and composition of the energy deficit. You can choose how many calories you take in through food and burn off through physical activity. In order to create an energy deficit that fits your unique health needs, abilities and resources, you can take the following steps:

1. Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

TDEE measures how many calories you need to eat to maintain your weight based on your current weight, height, age, sex, and activity levels. There are many ways to calculate this value, but the easiest way is to use an online calculator. You will need your TDEE order to determine how many calories you can eat in order to lose weight. Instead of following some arbitrary calorie limit, you will be tailoring your calorie limit to your own estimated TDEE and corresponding deficit.

2. Determine Your Deficit and Subtract it from Your TDEE

Your choice of deficit will greatly impact your progress, so do not pick calorie limit out of the air and roll with it. According to Harvard University, most experts agree that it is safest to lose 2 pounds or less a week. To lose 1 pound a week, you will need to eat and/or exercise at 500 calories under your TDEE every day. To lose 2 pounds a week, you will need to eat and/or exercise at a 1,000 calorie deficit every day. You also have the option to pursue an even more conservative deficit of let’s say 250 calories a day to lose a half a pound a week. Over the course of a year, this adds up to a 26 pound loss. Weight loss is not a race! Give yourself permission to start at a smaller deficit and try that on for size before pursuing a more aggressive deficit. Keep in mind that pursuing a deficit that is greater than 25% of your TDEE can cause you to lose lean muscle mass, as well as body fat. Depending on your age, sex and genetics, it might be difficult to build that muscle back up after you’ve hit your weight loss goals. This is another reason why slow weight loss is not only valid, but preferable in terms of long term health and wellness.

3. Design Your Diet and Exercise to Fit Your Deficit

Now that you picked that magical calorie deficit number, you can start planning how to achieve that deficit. Your deficit can be achieved by solely eating less calories, solely exercising more, or a combination of both. You will need to honestly assess how much of a calorie limit you can handle and how active you can be. This may take a bit of trial and error, so please be patient with yourself. Focus on what you can sustain for the long term. Don’t force yourself into a deficit you cannot handle on daily basis! Please, feel free to reduce this deficit or adjust your calorie intake or activities to suit your needs. Remember, a lifestyle you cannot sustain is not worth pursuing!

4. Plan for the Unexpected and the Occasional Indulgence

Life happens! However, this is not an excuse to drop your goals. You need to plan for the unexpected and plan for indulgences along the way. Frankly, life is not worth living without that occasional indulgence. For some of us, this is your nightly whiskey. For others, we might like a bit of ice cream on the weekend. Incorporate your preferred treats into your lifestyle in a responsible way to stay the course. For example, you can cut out snacks or eat a lighter lunch to make room for that treat. I also recommend planning contingencies so that you can maintain your deficit as best you can when the unexpected strikes. Have your back-up meals on standby if you can’t cook. I keep a couple of cauliflower pizzas in the freezer or I get a salad from a fast food place or local restaurant when I need to. That way, I’ve already pre-made my decisions before I am absolutely starving and my willpower is nil. If you can’t hit the gym or have to skip your daily walk, you can bookmark some at home workout videos on YouTube and do them later when you have time. We can’t be perfect every day, but planning helps us to at least improve our odds of long-term success.

Please leave a comment below on how you plan your calorie deficit and how you make room for the unexpected and/or indulgences.

Remember, be kind to yourself and keep moving forward!

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