So you’ve been hitting the gym consistently, running miles of cardio, and pumping iron; but you’re still not seeing the results you want in the mirror, or on the scale. Why not? Exercise is only half of the equation. When it comes to losing weight, it comes down to the simple formula of calories in, calories out. A calorie deficit is simply burning more calories than you eat. Of course, that’s not to say what’s in the calories doesn’t matter, but eating more calories than you’re burning may be the reason why you’re not losing weight.
Finding Daily Calories Burned
The basis of a calorie deficit is a plan, and step 1 is figuring out how many calories you’re burning throughout the day, using the below equations (Note that the equations are approximate, and on the conservative side). No time for calculations? The average person burns approximately 1600 calories a day, without exercise.
- While Sleeping: Persons generally burn about .42 calories for every pound, per every one hour of sleep [(.42 x weight) x (hours slept)].
- While Sitting: Persons generally burn about .6 calories for every pound, per every one hour of sitting [(.6 x weight) x (hours sitting].
- While Standing: Persons generally burn about .9 calories for every pound, per every one hour of standing [(.9 x weight) x (hours sitting].
- While Walking: This varies by speed and incline, so use this calculator. In more general terms, at a moderate pace and flat incline, 1.5 calories are burned for every pound, every one hour of walking [(1.5 x weight) x (hours walking].
- While Exercising: This is where is gets a bit more complicated, as not all forms of exercise are created equal. I’ll cover the most common ones.
- Cardiovascular activities: since it varies so much, refer to the cardio machines’ calculation (just make sure you input your weight for accuracy).
- Vigorous weight lifting: 2.88 per pound, for every hour [(.2.88 x weight) x (hours weight lifting].
- Moderate weight lifting: 1.44 per pound, for every hour [(.1.44 x weight) x (hours weight lifting].
- Stretching: 1.92 per pound, for every hour [(1.92 x weight) x (hours stretching].
- For a very complete list, check out this study by Harvard Medical School.
Finding the Right Imbalance
Now that you’ve figured out how many calories you’re burning, its time to figure out your actual deficit. For every pound lost, 3,500 calories must be burned: So to lose a pound a week, this translates to a 500 calorie deficit per day. Depending on what you’re used to, this can be a bit intense, so going for a 250 calorie daily deficit (1 pound lost every 2 weeks) may be more sustainable.
Something to keep in mind: This is a long-term game. Even with a 500 calorie daily deficit, it would still take two and a half months to lose 10 pounds. This isn’t meant to be discouraging, but to emphasize that you should pick a calorie deficit goal that you can maintain. Going for a 1,000 calorie deficit daily goal isn’t going to work if you end up engaging in “cheat meals” and binge eat. I suggest starting small, and working your way up, once you’ve proven you can continue your deficit goal. I also reccomend using an application on your phone to track calories: most foods can be looked up, and considering your phone is generally always with you, you can track them instantly.
Another very important note is that there is a point of diminishing returns. Women should not go under 1200 calories a day, and men should not go under 1800 (without medical supervision). Going below this amount causes your body to go into starvation mode, which leads to a slower metabolism to conserve energy, and more calories stored as fat. More importantly, it may lead to gallstones, gout, malnutrition, muscle loss and/or osteoporosis. The negative effects of an even more so excessively low-calorie diet can be demonstrated in anorexia: irregular heart beats, loss of bone mass, kidney damage, liver damage, infertility, depression, cardiac arrest, and in some cases, death. Losing weight quickly is never worth these long-term effects. Don’t sacrifice your health for short-term results.
Finding the Right Calories to Eat
Now that we’ve figured out how much a deficit is right for you, its time to talk about what’s going into your body. This is just as important as cutting calories. Sure, that Coke Zero is no calories, but in all honesty, it’s probably worse for you than regular soda. Don’t just look for low-calorie foods, look for foods that have nutritional value. For example, food high in protein is important not just for satiety, but to retain muscle. In fact, if you’re looking to save your gym gains you’ve worked hard for and burn mainly fat (over muscle), its advised to eat 0.8-1.3g of protein per pound of your current body weight.
For me, maintaining a calorie deficit is all about cutting out empty calories in snacks and desserts, as well as finding ways to make my three full days a meal more filling and nutritional. That’s not to say you can’t have snacks or desserts, but to aim for lower calorie, healthier options. For example, switch out potato chips for trail mix (keep an eye on salt and sugar content); and swap cake for chocolate covered fruit. When I go for the more nutritional alternative, I also find myself needing to eat less of it to feel full.
As far as full-on meals, the little details count, whether its eating plain yogurt instead of flavored, adding protein to the salad instead of cheese and croutons, or putting more vegetables on the plate instead of rice. You can still eat “unhealthy” meals, but look at making small changes to the recipe and eating a smaller serving. Going out to eat every once in a while is fine, but remember that you may not be able to get caloric information, or control what’s going into it.
Are Cheat Meals Okay?
This leads me to a frequently asked question: Is it okay to break my deficit every once in a while and binge? The answer depends on the meaning of the word “okay”. No, having a cheat meal will not reverse all of your progress. We all have our weak moments, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up for indulging every once in a while. However, I do have an issue with the entire concept of a cheat meal. This leads to untracked calories, way too many calories consumed in one sitting that may undo a few days of progress, and resentment of other meals. I’m more of a fan of a flexible diet, where it’s entirely okay to treat yourself without “cheating”every once in a while, as long as it fits in with your calorie deficit and macro goals. This is why its important to form a calorie deficit that allows you to lose weight, but at the same time, doesn’t restrict you too much. In my opinion, a deficit that is overly restrictive inherently leads to cheating, and/or giving up. By finding that caloric deficit sweet spot, if you know a calorie-dense event is coming your way, you can simply plan for it and fit it into your diet. Going out for dinner and drinks? Just eat a smaller meal for breakfast and lunch, or potentially combine it into one meal. That way, a bigger meal at dinner time is no big deal!
Foods that Increase Metabolism
Beyond exercising and eating fewer calories, there are a few foods that can be consumed that will help increase the distance between calories burned and calories consumed. These foods have been scientifically proven to increase metabolism (i.e., increase calories burned). This definitely isn’t a shortcut to weight loss, but provides a way to effortlessly add foods into your meals that will help speed up the process. A few weeks ago, we went more in-depth with it with our smoothie recipe post, if you’re looking for breakfast inspo.
The top metabolism increasing foods are as followed:
- Cruciferous Vegetables
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Pure, Unrefined, Raw Coconut Oil (the unrefined nature of coconut oil, such as ours, provides the highest level of MCT’s: Ours tested at 60% MCT’s. You can buy it with free shipping here. )
I hope this guide has helped with developing your calorie deficit and your weight loss journey. If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments below!