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calorie deficit

The Ultimate Guide To Calorie Deficit For Weight Loss

Are you struggling to lose weight even after performing loads of exercise? Are you trying all possible workout programs and still not losing weight? If yes, then it’s time to take a step back and learn about calorie deficit and how it is the magic that will help you lose weight.

I was like this a couple of years ago. I used to think losing weight is all about working out hard in the gym. Like many beginners, I was not aware that exercise is only part of the equation of weight loss. It is the calorie deficit that is the most crucial factor to see results. Over the years, thanks to knowledgeable people on the Internet, I was able to learn more and apply it to myself. I managed to drop around 20 pounds of weight in a healthy manner thanks to my new found knowledge about calories. I am confident that this information will change the way you think about weight loss and get the results that you are after.

What is a calorie?

A calorie is a unit of energy. It is the energy we obtain from the foods and drinks that we consume and the energy that we use up when we perform any physical activity. Every food and drink usually have a certain number of calories(there are certain foods with zero or negligible calories). For example, a medium-sized apple has around 80 calories. Or a piece of chocolate cake can have around 235 calories.

What are empty calories?

Empty calories are the foods that are high in calories but provide little to no nutritional value. These foods have added fats and sugars that enhance the taste of the food but can be considered as junk. Examples of empty calories foods are cakes, cookies, candy, ice cream, etc. These foods have fats like butter, cream, etc. added to them and they also contain loads of sugar.

How can I know how many calories a certain food contains?

This is easy to do with most foods today as the manufacturers use scientific methods and add the calorie information on the packaging in most countries. Below is an example of how you can read the calorie content of a packaged food item. For foods that do not come in a package such as fruits and vegetables or foods that you may eat at home or a restaurant, while you won’t get an exact measure of the number of calories in them, you can get an approximate value by using a tool such as MyFitnessPal. I will show you how to use this tool later in this post.

What are calories in and calories out?

Calories in is the number of calories that you consume on a daily basis. Calories out are the number of calories that you expend on a daily basis.

Based on this, we can have the below table that shows the effects of calories in vs calories out.

Calorie Situation


Calories In = Calories Out

Maintenance (No fat and/or Muscle Gain/Loss)

Calories In > Calories Out

Calorie Surplus (Fat and/or Muscle Gain)

Calories In < Calories Out

Calorie Deficit (Fat and/or Muscle Loss)

What are maintenance calories?

Maintenance calories are those that your body requires to perform its basic level of functions like breathing, moving, digesting, pumping blood, etc.

From the above table, we can see that when your calories in = calories out, then you have achieved your maintenance calories. What this means is that the number of calories that you spend in a day is the same as the number of calories that you consume in a day.

When you eat maintenance calories, it means that you do not have excess calories that your body can store as fat or muscle. At the same time, you are not consuming fewer calories than what your body requires, so you will not lose fat or muscle either.

How can I calculate my maintenance calories?

The first step to achieving weight loss is to calculate how many calories your body requires for maintenance. You can get an estimate of this by using a calorie counter as shown below.

Just enter your age, weight, height, gender and activity level to get an estimate of the maintenance calories that your body requires daily.

Now this is by no means a perfect way to get your maintenance calories. Once you have an estimated maintenance calories value from the calorie calculator, you need to start tracking your calories using a tool like MyFitnessPal.

Once you track your calories for 1-2 weeks, you will know whether your maintenance calories are as expected or not. If you are gaining weight then you need to reduce your calories a bit further than the estimated maintenance calories. If you are losing weight too rapidly then you need to increase your calories a bit further than the estimated maintenance calories.

You then need to continue consuming this newly calculated maintenance calories for another 1-2 weeks. If you stop gaining or losing weight then you know exactly what your maintenance calories are based on the calorie consumption you track in MyFitnessPal.

What is a calorie deficit?

As you can see from the above table, when your calories in < calories out then your body is in a calorie deficit. In other words, the number of calories you consume is less than the number of calories that your body burns.

When you put your body in such a calorie deficit, it still needs to find the energy required to be able to perform these activities. And then it tries to get this energy by burning the fat and/or muscle that is already available in your body. And voila! you lose weight. A calorie deficit is the only way your body can achieve weight loss in a healthy fashion.

What are the ways to create a calorie deficit?

There are three ways to create a calorie deficit: diet, exercise or a combination of the two.

By consuming a diet with calories less than maintenance, you will reach a calorie deficit and lose weight. The simplest way of starting this is by reducing the consumption of the empty calories that may be a part of your eating habits.

By exercising regularly, your body can burn more calories without sacrificing food and reach a calorie deficit to lose weight.

It has been proven that the best method to lose weight is a combination of diet and exercise that keeps the body healthy and fit while losing weight at the same time.

How large should your calorie deficit be?

The basic goal of a calorie deficit is to maximize fat loss, minimize muscle loss and be able to achieve this with a long-term sustainable view.

Now you can achieve a small calorie deficit where the reduction in calories is minimal. You will lose weight in a slow, gradual process without restricting your diet too much and also without losing any muscle. However, this might not be suitable for all people and also the results are quite slow which is not what most people who are looking to lose weight as fast as possible want.

Another way is to achieve an extremely large calorie deficit where the reduction in calories is maximum. This will make you lose weight rapidly in a very short period of time. However, the drawback of this method is that it is not sustainable long-term as it will play havoc with your hunger, mood, and psychology. Also, there is a high possibility that you will lose muscle in the process and you don’t want to do that. This kind of calorie deficit can be used in certain special situations but it’s not advisable for regular people.

The best way to achieve a calorie deficit for most people most of the time and that has worked great for me as well is a moderate calorie deficit. This gives the best of both worlds as you will see a significant weight loss in a relatively short period of time without putting your body under too much stress when it comes to hunger, mood, and psychology. And there is a minimal chance of losing muscle in the process. Also, this kind of calorie deficit has the potential to be a long-term sustainable process so you can lose weight and be able to sustain the weight loss for a long period of time.

What is a moderate calorie deficit that is best for you?

A calorie deficit of 20% below your daily maintenance calories is the best for most people. Once you have figured out your daily maintenance calories, just calculate 20% of that and reduce it from the maintenance calories to get an ideal calorie deficit for you.

For example, if your maintenance calories are 2500 calories per day then,

Your Ideal Calorie Deficit = 2500 – (2500 * 20/100) = 2500 – 500 = 2000 calories per day

If you keep track of the calories that you consume and keep it around your ideal calorie deficit then you will lose weight in the ideal range of 0.5 to 2 lbs per week. This is the ideal range because you will lose fat without losing muscle and in a long-term sustainable manner.

How much weight you lose will depend on the amount of fat that your body already has. If you have a high body fat, then it’s easy to lose around 2 lbs or even more per week. As your body fat will decrease, it will become a lot harder to lose the weight and it will gradually reduce to 1 lb per week, 0.5 lb per week and so on.

Once you reach a level where you don’t drop any weight, that will be your new maintenance level. Then you need to recalculate your ideal calorie deficit from that particular maintenance level and follow the same process as I mentioned above. It’s as simple as that.

How can I track my daily calorie intake?

Now you know what maintenance calories are. You also know how to a calorie deficit. And I am sure you have used the calorie calculator above and already calculated your maintenance calories as well as the calories you required to create a calorie deficit.

Once you have this information, it is time to track the calories that you consume on a daily basis. As I have already mentioned, you will find a tool like MyFitnessPal really useful for this purpose. It is completely free and contains a database of most foods that you will find in the grocery store, restaurants and those that you cook at home.

Below is a screenshot of how the tool looks like.


As you can see, you will be able to track all the calories that you consume every day based on the foods that you eat.

So keep tracking your calories for around 1 to 2 weeks ensuring that you are eating calories that equal your calorie deficit. Also, every day after you wake up, weigh yourself and make a note of the weight in a journal. At the end of the week, take an average of the weight. For example,

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
135 lbs 135 lbs 134.5 lbs 134.5 lbs 134.2 lbs 134 lbs 134 lbs

This will help you track whether your calorie deficit is working for you or not. It is important to weigh yourself consistently for the best results. I find the best time to weigh myself is when I wake up in the morning and have visited the bathroom.

If at the end of 2 weeks, you are gaining weight or maintaining weight, then it means that you need to reduce your calories even further. You can try dropping another 250-300 calories and track your weight for another 1-2 weeks.

If at the end of 2 weeks, you are losing weight rapidly, then it means that you need to increase your calories a little bit as you don’t want to end up with a huge calorie deficit. You can try adding another 250-300 calories to your diet and track your weight for another 1-2 weeks.

Once you know your ideal calorie deficit and are losing weight on a consistent basis, then continue tracking your calories and weight week after week till you reach your goals. If you stop losing weight or are gaining weight, then rinse and repeat the things I mentioned above.


I hope you found this guide to calorie deficit for weight loss useful. Please make use of the knowledge that I have shared with you and I can guarantee that you will lose weight and reach your weight loss goals.

If you have any questions or feedback about the above information or anything related to weight loss, do let me know so I can try and help you in any way that is possible. You can reach out to me on any social media platform or just comment on this post and I will reply to you

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