Your Quick & Easy Guide to Creating a Calorie Deficit

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Your Quick & Easy Guide to Creating a Calorie Deficit

Calories in minus calories out: That’s the simple, age-old equation for creating a calorie deficit. Burn more calories than you consume and you’ll lose weight, right? If only it were that easy! They key to creating a calorie deficit is to burn a little more (or eat a little less) than your body requires for weight maintenance. The calories burned through exercise + non-exercise activity + basal metabolic rate need to be more than the calories consumed through food to produce weight loss. But how much of a calorie deficit should you create through your calorie burn and reduced intake? In general, you’ll need to create a deficit of 250-500 calories per day to lose 1/2 to 1 pound per week.

OK, so now you know the what and why of calorie deficits; let’s talk about how to actually achieve it.

Figure Out How Many Calories You’re Burning

Know Your BMR: Start By Understanding Your Metabolism
The best place to start is at the beginning. Since your basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn at rest) accounts for 60–70% of the calories burned throughout the day, it’s important to calculate that as a starting point if you’re wanting to create a deficit. How much your body burns at rest depends on many variables such as genetics, age, hormones and muscle mass.

Wear a Fitness Watch
Are you burning as many calories as you think? Workout intensity, efficiency, muscle mass, duration — there are many factors that influence how many calories you burn during exercise, and the elliptical machine is likely not giving you an accurate measure of your total burn. Wearable fitness watches provide more reliable data for you to to add to your basal metabolic rate when creating your calorie deficit.


Walk It Out
You may be surprised, but the simple act of walking can be enough to lose weight and get in shape. Walking can help you build fitness and lose weight by helping you create a calorie deficit. Even if you’re a regular exerciser, upping your daily step count through walking increases non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which has been a big area of research of late because it may be an answer to how body weight is maintained, gained or lost.

Up Your Nutrition Game

Track Your Intake! A Calorie Isn’t Just a Calorie
What you put into your body makes a difference in your health and your weight. That slice of banana bread at the bakery looks divine. But choosing it over a banana adds more than just extra calories — you’ll be piling on more unhealthy fats and added sugar. As you track your intake, you get the bigger picture of what your food contains: carbs, fats, proteins, fiber, vitamins and minerals. To get the biggest nutritional bang for your calorie buck (and create a bigger calorie deficit), consume the majority of your calories from unprocessed whole foods.

Learn to Count Calories Without Making Yourself Crazy
Don’t get lost in the numbers, which can be overwhelming. While it’s important to be as accurate as you can with food tracking when trying to create a calorie deficit, don’t lose your mind in the process. It definitely gets easier with practice. Stick with it: Logging your food consistently (even if it’s not perfect) is one of the most effective ways to lose weight.


Your Secret Weapon: Mindful Eating
This isn’t as touchy-feely as it might sound. “Mindful eating” simply means being aware of the taste, texture, aroma and presentation of what you eat, as well as your body’s signs that you’re full. Ask yourself: Do you really want that last bite of food because you’re still hungry? Discover your cues for eating so that you can be empowered to stop when you’re satisfied, even if there’s still food on your plate.

Consult an Expert!
If you hate math or are confused about how many calories you should be eating to create a deficit, go to a pro. A nutrition consultation with a registered dietitian (Full disclosure: like me) provides a personalized approach and game plan based on your medical and diet history and fitness goals.

Put Some Simple Strategies Into Practice

Spring Clean Your Pantry
If you’re trying to set yourself up for success, the leftover holiday candy and cookies aren’t going to do you any favors. Give your pantry and fridge a little makeover to stay on track with your goals.

Learn What Midnight Snacking Is Doing to You
Late-night noshes are usually high-calorie, large portions or snacky foods (Read: cookies, ice cream, chips and candy) eaten mindlessly out of enjoyment to unwind from the stress of the day. It’s a recipe for weight gain and disaster.

Be Smarter at Restaurants — But Still Enjoy Yourself
Eating out can rack up the calories, so knowing how to make healthy menu swaps is key. Whether you’re dining at your favorite taqueria, steakhouse, Italian trattoria or ordering Chinese takeout, this guide gets you on the right track toward making the healthiest selection.

Arm Yourself with “Hacks” to Save Calories
Whether it’s swapping hummus for mayo or noshing on zucchini noodles in lieu of traditional spaghetti, the calories you save really add up when you’re trying to create a calorie deficit. Here are 10 simple tricks that’ll help.

And If You Slip Up…

What to Do When You Blow Your Daily Calorie Budget
We get it, we all fall off the wagon sometimes. It’s OK — what’s more important is understanding why you blew it and getting back on track. Try, fail and adjust … it’s a journey.

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  • TN Tanner

    Consulting your doctor should be the first step in doing something like this not listed at the bottom as an after thought. This is a much more complex issue than this article leads us to believe.

    • Theresa

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    • Holly Sherman

      I don’t know. Is it really that complicated and complex ?
      A visit to the doctor and a 60$ co payment to say…uh yes , great I agree, and leave the room and charge you a moderate level office visit! CHa Ching
      Now on the other hand if the individual actually loses weight than I agree they definitely need to follow up promptly, since often medications can be titrated down..

  • abc

    how to be consistent at his calorie deficit??

  • Ann Nonymous

    My doctor recommended no soy, dairy, gluten, or sugar and NO FRIED FOOD. I will have to do a 180 degree turnaround in order to accomplish that. I blew it bad this weekend. I tried to be good today, but I found out the pecans on my salad contain sugar. Ugh! I have to get serious starting Monday.

    • jalapenopepper

      I think there is a delicate balance. Doctors love to say “no” to so many things. If you think you will be able to totally avoid soy, dairy, gluten, sugar, and fried foods for the rest of your life, you will set yourself for what will certainly be an unattainable goal. Try reducing those things first. I started with sugar and fried foods. I looked at where I added sugar, like my morning coffee, and I focused on reducing it. Over time, I reduced it until I was only adding a splash of cream and a dash of cinnamon. Now, I can’t hardly stand any kind of coffee with sugar in it. It takes time. It won’t happen overnight. Just a few words of advice that helped me.

      • Ann Nonymous

        I have really good intentions, but when I get stressed, hungry and short on time, I just get whatever. I really try to eat salads, eggs (protein) and cut out bread. But then the restaurant will throw Hollandaise sauce on stuff where I wouldn’t expect it. Next thing you know, you’re blowing your day. The coffee with just cream has been a habit for a while now. No sugar. It’s the sugar craving I get in the evening that’s hard to beat! I need to bring healthier snacks (like fruit and veggies) into the house, but my husband has an aversion to the produce aisle.

    • robinbishop34

      This advice is fundamentally at odds with what the article states. Of course you’ll want to back off fried foods and sugar but you can certainly have them… as long as you stay within your calorie deficit limit.

      In other words, once your TDEE is figured out, and you’ve decided on a reasonable decrease in calories based on that amount, your job is to then limit yourself to that number. Regardless of what you eat… be it ice cream and twinkies, or baked fish and broccoli, you will lose if you stay below that limit.

      That said, you probably don’t want to do that. It is advised that your total calories be broken down by macros (protein, healthy fats, low-glycemic carbs). If you are simply overweight and looking to lose fat, then a 30/30/40 breakdown should be good. Keep in mind that a higher protein and lower carb intake is even better.

    • Mark Evans

      Ann, unless you’re lactose and gluten intolerant there should be no reason to cut out dairy and gluten. Dairy is fantastic for essential proteins. Most ‘gluten-free’ grain based foods are devoid of any real nutrition. Remember it’s the big picture. Too much calories of anything can create a calorie increase. Demonizing spec food groups is what makes people not be able to maintain there goals. I would amend the recommendation to cancel fried foods, sodas and refined foods & sugars. Also restaurant food is very difficult to track since most do not provide their macro and calorie counts not to mention the massive portions. So salad is the only thing on the menu with a side of dressing when eating out for me. Also, natural foods and fruits/nuts do not spike your blood sugar the same way cookies and cake do. So it’s okay to have modest amounts of natural sugars. Again, it’s all about your TOTAL caloric intake. Good luck and enjoy life.

      • Ann Nonymous

        Actually, yes, I am gluten and lactose intolerant. Thanks for your helpful comment. Even hummingbirds need sugar! LOL

        • Susan Elizabeth

          Hummingbirds need lots of sugar!

    • Dana

      If the worst thing you did today was to eat pecans in your salad, you are successful! We blow it, we try to be good, we will blow it again. Just aim for eating less of the bad stuff than you did last week. Next week do the same. Before long you will be eating better without thinking. It takes time to change those habits.

      • Ann Nonymous

        I did really well when I had a serious health wake up call. I only ate dark, leafy green salads with grilled chicken. I fell off the wagon now though!

  • Molly

    “Don’t get lost in the numbers”

    “Logging your food consistently is one of the most effective ways to lose weight”

    I dont understand how a dietitian could make an article and include these two conflicting points. Keeping in mind the audience of women and men alike some young, some old;not knowing the trap they are about to fall into with confusing information given by hundreds of ‘dietitians’ who must ‘know it all’.
    Humans weren’t built with a calorie counter attatched to them when we were once at our fittest so i dont see how thats going to get us there now.

  • Felicia Lyles

    How do you track your BMR?