Question: What’s the simplest and most basic way to lose weight?
Answer: A calorie deficit.
You may have heard of a calorie deficit before, and that it’s necessary for weight loss. But what is a calorie deficit and how do you create one?
What is calorie deficit?
A calorie deficit is essentially a math equation: Daily calories in minus daily calories out equals a calorie deficit. Everything you eat contains calories, and a food’s caloric value is a measure of how much energy your body must use, or burn, to fully consume that food. Calories also measure the energy your body uses, or burns, for activities, which includes everything from breathing to running a marathon.
Therefore, a calorie deficit is when there are fewer calories contained in what you eat and drink than the number of calories your body burns to perform activities. This deficit will cause you to lose weight.
If you eat and drink the same number of calories that your body burns, you will maintain your weight. However, if you eat and drink more calories than your body burns, you will gain weight.
How can I create a calorie deficit?
There are three methods to create your calorie deficit:
Simply eating fewer calories than you burn per day will create a calorie deficit because you will need to burn off less calories through activities. You can make this process more efficient by eating less food that are high in calories, like fast food, junk food, and desserts. Instead, eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, reduce the amount of bad fats, and drink more water. Also pay attention to the portion sizes of the food you eat because smaller portions along with carefully planned meals will help reduce the calories you consume.
You will burn more calories by increasing your physical activity. You can do this by adding movement and exercise to your lifestyle. For example, ride your bike instead of driving your care or take the stair rather than the elevator. Also, adding exercise into your day, like running, swimming, or weight training, will increase the number of calories you burn even faster. Exercise also has the added benefit of protecting other aspects your health, such as your heart and bones.
The most effective way to create a calorie deficit is through a combination of both eating fewer calories by being careful about what you eat and burning more calories by adding exercise. Studies have shown that this combination increases weight loss more than just one of the two methods above because it produces a compounding effect. It can also help keep your lifestyle in better balance by preventing you from to starving yourself by eating too little or wearing yourself out by exercising excessively.
No matter which of the above methods you choose to pursue, one of the most important aspects of calorie deficit is consistency. Maintaining consistency will result in your daily calorie deficits adding up over time and you will have consistent weight loss results.
How do I calculate my calorie needs?
While you may be enthusiastic to lose weight, it’s important to establish a calorie deficit goal that does not result in you losing weight too quickly, which can jeopardize your health. A good rule of thumb is a deficit of 500 calories per day. For most people, this amount is sufficient to lose about 1 pound of weight per week but should not significantly increase your hunger cravings or reduce your energy levels.
To create this calorie deficit, you need to determine your maintenance calories, or how many calories you burn each day. Maintenance calories vary depending on a person’s sex, age, height, weight, body composition, and activity levels. Many online calculators, such as the Body Weight Planner from the National Institute of Health, can be used to get a good estimate of your maintenance calories.
Once your maintenance calories have been determined, subtract the target deficit of 500 calories from that amount to determine how many calories you should eat per day and plan your meals accordingly to hit that target.
For example, a 48-year-old male who has a high daily activity level would be estimated to need 2,800 maintenance calories per day. To lose 1 pound of weight per day, that person would need to consume 2,800 – 500 = 2,300 calories per day.
Note that to ensure healthy weight loss and adequate nutrient intake, women should consume at least 1,200 calories per day, while men should consume at least 1,500 calories per day. Consuming less could mean you are not getting enough nutrients, depriving your brain of necessary energy, and increasing your risk of other health issues, like gallstones.