Calorie Deficit Diet

Are you considering trying a calorie-deficit diet but are still determining if it will be effective? If you’ve already tried numerous diets without seeing any results, as a dietitian, I suggest following a calorie-deficit diet as it is the only way to achieve weight loss.

This blog post will provide insights into what a calorie-deficit diet entails, its role in weight loss, how to calculate your calorie deficit and the advantages and disadvantages of this diet.

Let’s jump in! 

What is a calorie-deficit diet, and how does it work? 

Every individual requires a certain number of calories daily to perform basic bodily functions like breathing, circulating blood, regulating body temperature, and more. This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). 

On top of this, the body burns calories through physical activity. The total calories your body uses for these functions is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). 

When you consume fewer calories than your TDEE, you create a calorie deficit which leads to weight loss. (1)

Can a calorie-deficit diet help you lose weight?

Studies have shown that consuming fewer calories than you burn is important to lose weight. While there are different diet approaches, such as keto, low-carb, and low-fat options, they may not significantly impact weight loss. Stating:

“Reducing daily calorie intake is the most important factor for weight loss.”

Consuming fewer calories than your body needs for daily functions will use stored energy, including fat and muscle tissue. Over time and consistently maintaining a calorie deficit, the reliance on stored energy for fuel will contribute to weight loss. (1)

Once you have your calorie deficit you will need to know what your macronutrients targets should be. Read the Macros for Cutting resource.

How many calories should I eat a day in a deficit?

Several factors must be considered to calculate the number of calories you should consume in a deficit, including age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. These variables will help determine your maintenance level of calories, from which you can choose your calorie deficit. (2

For example:

Age: 30-year-old
Gender: Female
Height: 5 foot 5 inches (165 cm)
Weight: 167 (76 kg) 
Activity level: workout – three times per week

Maintenance calories:

Maintenance calories
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): 1438 calories
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE): 2039 calories

What Should Your Calorie Deficit Be?

Generally speaking, a calorie deficit of 500 calories over a week will equal 3500 calories, the same amount of energy in one pound of fat tissue. Therefore resulting in a loss of one pound per week. (3

While 500-calorie deficits are a common go-to strategy for weight loss, these are general recommendations and do not consider athletics, body composition, or medical conditions.

I help my clients identify their calorie deficit by using a nutrition intake. Using their activity level, current body shape, and goals, I allow clients to target a calorie deficit that is right for them. A great resource for this is the NIDDK Body Weight Planner.

For example:

Age: 30-year-old
Gender: Female
Height: 5 foot 5 inches (165 cm)
Weight: 167 (76 kg) 
Activity level: workout – three times per week

Maintenance calories:

Maintenance calories
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): 1438 calories
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE): 2039 calories

Calorie deficit calories:

Calorie Deficit Diet
Goal: Weight loss (-32 pounds)
Calorie deficit: 500 calories
Calorie deficit diet: ~1550 total daily calories (2039 calories – 500 calories) 

How much of a calorie deficit is too much?

A calorie deficit of 500 or less is considered safe and effective for weight loss. However, exceeding 500 calories daily can make it tough to meet the minimum nutritional requirements for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. (3)

Although Low-Calorie Diets (1000-1500 calorie deficits) and Very Low-Calorie Diets (>880 calories per day) exist, it is strongly advised to seek guidance from a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or dietitian.

For effective weight loss, I suggest adopting a minimal calorie deficit approach, which I refer to as “squeezing all the juice out of a lemon.” Your focus should be on improving your nutrition, engaging in physical activity, and monitoring your calorie intake rather than on restricting yourself.

What’s a good way to cut excess calories from your diet?

Limit processed, high-calorie foods: Chips, candy, and pastries, are all high in calories, fat, and added sugar while low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. (4)

Choose reduced-fat and low-fat dairy products: Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are often high in dietary fats. Opting for low-fat or reduced-fat options can help you reduce excess calories. (5

Replace sugary beverages: Sugary drinks such as soda pop and juices are high in calories and added sugar yet low in essential nutrients. Consider swapping them for water or sparkling water with a hint of lemon, lime, or orange juice. (7

Keep track of your food intake: Tracking your food intake helps you understand what and how much you’re consuming. This knowledge allows you to make necessary changes. (8

Practice portion sizing: Being mindful of how much food you eat in one sitting can help prevent overeating and help with weight loss. (9

What’s the healthiest way to do a calorie deficit diet?

For a healthy calorie-deficit diet, it’s best to eat nutritious foods that are low in calories and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Aiming for a moderate calorie reduction that gives you the necessary nutrients would be best.

I recommend consuming appropriate low-fat dairy, lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Studies have shown that keeping track of calorie and macronutrient intake can also be beneficial.

Resource: MyPlate

Exercise and the calorie deficit diet

Adjusting your calorie deficit to account for increased maintenance calories from exercise is important. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a 30-year-old female will use between 1800 calories (sedentary) to 2400 calories (active). 

Sedentary Moderate ActivityHigh Activity
1800 calories2000 calories 2400 calories

For a 30-year-old sedentary female, there is a 600-calorie difference compared to an active female. It is crucial to consider your daily physical activity level when calculating a calorie-deficit diet. 

Can I lose weight just by calorie deficit?

Losing weight is possible by consuming fewer calories than you burn, even if you are inactive. Your daily calorie expenditure will be lower than someone more active. Considering your sedentary lifestyle, the total calorie intake on a calorie-deficit diet would be on the lower end of total daily calories. 

While it is possible to lose weight on a caloric deficit without exercising, I encourage all my clients to find and implement a physical activity routine that best suits their lifestyle. 

What kind of food can you eat?

The foods that should be incorporated into a calorie-deficit diet are lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. By eating from these five food groups, you are ensuring you get a well-balanced profile of nutrients.

Researchers found that participants that increased their intake of “fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy, as part of a calorie-controlled diet, help achieve and maintain weight loss.”
They went on to say, 

“All of these dietary components contribute to a reduction of total daily kcal intake. Fruits and vegetables, an important component of healthy weight loss programs, provide few calories but considerable fiber, vitamins, and minerals.” (10

What foods should I avoid during a calorie-deficit diet?

When on a calorie-deficit diet, it’s best to avoid highly processed foods low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals while packing high amounts of calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.

Look at the nutrition facts label, and if it is high in (More than 20% DV) saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar, you would be better off avoiding that food. 

Saturated Fat >20% DV
Sodium>20% DV
Fiber<5% DV
Added sugar>20% DV

What are the risks of cutting too many calories from your diet?

While a moderate calorie deficit can lead to safe and sustainable weight loss, severe calorie restriction can lead to malnutrition, a slowed metabolism, loss of muscle mass, decreased energy levels, irritability, and an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies.

What are the benefits of a calorie-deficit diet?

The primary benefit of a calorie-deficit diet is indeed weight loss. However, this weight loss can also trigger a cascade of other health benefits.

Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease: Losing just 5% of your body weight can significantly decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke, as it often leads to lower blood pressure and improved heart health.

Improved blood sugar levels: Weight loss from a calorie-deficit diet can lead to better control over blood sugar levels, which is particularly beneficial for those with or at risk of type 2 diabetes.

Lower cholesterol levels: A calorie deficit often results in decreased levels of total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Better mental health: Many people report improved mood, self-esteem, and well-being after losing weight.

Enhanced physical fitness and mobility: Weight loss can increase energy levels, making it easier to move around and engage in physical activities. This can further promote a healthier lifestyle.

Improved sleep: Weight loss, especially with regular exercise, can help alleviate sleep apnea and lead to more restful sleep.

Calorie deficit diet plan

Calorie deficit diet plan

For example:

Age: 30-year-old
Gender: Female
Height: 5 foot 5 inches (165 cm)
Weight: 167 (76 kg) 
Activity level: workout – three times per week

Maintenance calories:

Maintenance calories
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): 1438 calories
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE): 2039 calories

Calorie deficit calories:

Calorie Deficit Diet
Goal: Weight loss (-32 pounds)
Calorie deficit: 500 calories
Calorie deficit diet: ~1550 total daily calories (2039 calories – 500 calories) 

Calorie deficit diet plan:

Breakfast: Veggie Omelette with Toast
2 eggs (100g)
1/2 cup egg whites (125g)
1/2 cup diced bell pepper (75g)
1/2 cup diced onion (97g)
1 oz cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese (28g)
1 slice of whole wheat toast (80g)

Directions: Whisk eggs, cook in a non-stick pan with vegetables, and top with cheese. Serve with whole wheat toast on the side.

Snack:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (113g)
1 cup blueberries (150g)

Lunch: Grilled Chicken Salad with Sourdough Bread
4 oz skinless chicken breast (112g)
2 cups mixed salad greens (60g)
1/4 avocado (34g)
1/4 cup chickpeas (41g)
1 tbsp sunflower seeds (9g)
1 slice sourdough bread (43g)

Directions: Grill chicken and slice. Toss with salad greens, avocado, chickpeas, and sunflower seeds. Serve with/on top of sourdough bread.

Snack:
One medium apple (180g)

Dinner: Baked Salmon with Quinoa and Vegetables
4 oz salmon (113g)
1/2 cup quinoa (90g)
1 cup steamed vegetables (broccoli, carrots, and zucchini) (200g)
1 tbsp olive oil (14g)

Directions: Bake salmon at 375°F (190°C) for 15-20 minutes. Cook quinoa according to package instructions. Steam vegetables and toss with olive oil. Serve together.

Summary of Daily Calorie and Macronutrients:
Calories: 1547
Protein: 120g (28%)
Carbohydrates: 160g (49%)
Fats: 52g (34%)
Fiber: 33g

I used Cronometer Food Tracking application to build this meal plan. Using this link, signup to Cronometer.com and save 10% on gold subscriptions.

Other calorie deficit diet plans

Calorie deficit meal plans: 1300 calorie meal plan, 1400 calorie meal plan, 1500 calorie meal plan, 1600 calorie meal plan, 1700 calorie meal plan, 1800 calorie meal plan, 1900 calorie meal plan, 2000 calorie meal plan, 2100 calorie meal plan, 2200 calorie meal plan, No-cook meal plan, and 2300 calorie meal plan.

In conclusion

In conclusion, a calorie-deficit diet is an effective method for weight loss when done correctly. To maximize results, opt for nutrient-rich foods that are low in calories and practice portion control with more nutrient-dense options. 

If you are looking for help creating a calorie deficit diet, schedule a call today.

Disclaimer

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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