How To Calculate A Calorie Deficit For Weight Loss

calorie deficit

Calorie Deficit To Lose Weight

Do you want to learn how to create a calorie deficit for faster and more consistent weight loss?

So did I!

At the beginning of my weight loss journey, I was really confused about what I should be eating to lose weight.

I eventually found some really healthy and delicious recipes online.

However, even though I ate healthier, the scale would not budge–SUPER FRUSTRATING!

This really made me want to give up, but I hung in there and kept searching for a solution.

After a ton of research, I learned so much about weight loss, one of which was about calories in vs. calories out.

I learned that it wasn’t enough to just eat healthy; I needed to make sure I was in a deficit.

And let me tell you, once I started eating in a calorie deficit, the weight started coming off almost effortlessly!

So, if you, too, are struggling to lose weight, need some help figuring out where to start, or how to fine-tune your weight loss program, keep reading.

In this post, I share what a calorie deficit is, how to calculate yours, and how to use that information to accelerate your weight loss.

What Is A Calorie Deficit?

calorie deficit diet for fat loss

Before we define a calorie deficit, let’s get some basics out of the way. What is a calorie?

calorie is a unit of energy that describes the energy we get from our foods and their nutritional value. A calorie deficit happens when you eat fewer calories than you burn. 

The basic weight loss equation states that you create a calorie deficit when you burn more calories than you consume. 

And when that deficit equals 3500, you burn a pound of fat because one pound of fat is equal to roughly 3500 calories.

So every time this happens, you will lose a pound of fat. Eating healthy alone is not enough. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you take in.

So, how do I figure out my calorie deficit? To figure this out, you need to first calculate your BMR.

What Is BMR?

calorie deficit calculator

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories (energy) required for normal functioning at rest.

It is the number of calories your body burns to perform the most basic functions.

Because even when you are doing absolutely nothing, your body is still burning calories.

So, how does this work? 

We all require a specific number of calories daily for our bodies to function correctly and maintain life even at rest. 

Energy is still needed for vital organs to function or, more specifically, for homeostasis.

What is homeostasis?

Homeostasis is the process living organisms use to maintain stable internal conditions necessary for survival.

Simply put, homeostasis ensures that, internally, everything is running as it should to keep us alive.

Some of these vital functions include

  • Breathing
  • Heartbeat 
  • Blood circulation
  • Digestion
  • Cell production
  • Maintaining normal body temperature

So, even if we never move from our beds, our bodies will still need a certain amount of calories to survive.

The first step in determining the calorie deficit required for weight loss is determining your BMR.

Calculating your BMR

How do I figure out my calorie deficit - woman calculating her BMR

**Please note that the following equation is in kilograms and centimeters, so you need to convert them.

You can start by converting your weight into kilograms and height into centimeters.

For your height: First, convert feet to inches by multiplying your height in feet by 12. Then, add any additional inches. For example, if you are 5ft 3 inches, you would multiply 5 (ft.) X 12 + 3 (inches) = 63 inches.

To convert inches into centimeters, multiply by 2.54. 

Using the above example,

63 (inches) x 2.54 = 160.02 (centimeters)

For your weight: To convert your weight in pounds to kg, you can divide your weight by 2.204622622 or multiply your weight by 0.45359237.

NEXT: There are 2 equations below, one for women and the other for men. Enter your weight, height, and age in the formula below to calculate your BMR.

For women: (10 × weight in kilograms) + (6.25 × height in centimeters) – (5 × age in years) – 161

Let’s look at this example, say you are a 38-year-old 5ft 3, 120-pound woman; your BMR would be (10 x 54.4311) + (6.25 x 160.02) – (5 x 38) – 161 = 1193 cal.

For men: (10 × weight in kilograms) + (6.25 × height in centimeters) – (5 × age in years) + 5

So, now that you have your BMR calculated, the next step is to calculate your TDEE.

Calculating Your TDEE

Woman walking

TDEE is short for Total Daily Energy Expenditure. It is the number of calories you burn each day on top of your BMR.

It takes into consideration your activity level. 

Remember, your BMR reflects only the calories you need for basic survival, like breathing, digestion, and other functions required to stay alive. 

These are the minimum calories you need just for basic survival.

It does not consider your activity level or the additional calories you need to do everyday things, like walking to your car, brushing your teeth, etc.

This is where TDEE comes in because it considers all of that.

Let’s get to the equation.

TDEE BMR x Activity level

Figuring out your activity level

2 women and a man walking on treadmills

Use the numbers below to figure out your activity level.

1.2 – sedentary (little to no exercise)

1.375 – light exercise (1-3 days per week)

1.55 – moderate exercise (3-5 days per week)

1.725- strenuous exercise (6-7 days per week)

Please note that exercise can include what you do for a living.

If you have a very physically demanding job, that too can count as exercise.

Multiply your BMR with one of the above numbers for your activity level to get your daily calorie needs to maintain your current weight.

For example, if you are a woman with a BMR of 1400 who exercises two days per week (light), you would multiply 1400 by 1.375 to get 1925.

In this example, your daily caloric needs to maintain your current weight based on your activity level would be 1925.

This is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE for short, which is the total amount of calories burned each day when we consider exercise.

FINALLY: Now that you have this number, you can start calculating your deficit and create a calorie deficit diet for fat loss.

To lose weight, start with a deficit between 10 and 20%; anything more may lead to muscle loss. 

Three ways to create a calorie deficit

  1. Consume fewer calories
  2. Burn more calories via exercise
  3. A combination of both

How To Use Your TDEE To Create A Deficit To Lose Weight

Start by Multiplying your daily energy expenditure (TDEE) by your desired percentage. For example, say you want to reduce your daily calorie intake by 15%, and your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure) is 1700.

You would multiply the total daily expenditure, in this case, 1700, by 0.15 and subtract that amount from your daily calorie expenditure.

In this case, the equation would be 1700 – (1700 x .15) = 1445. So, to lose weight with a 15% calorie deficit, your goal would be to eat 1445 calories per day.

You can increase your percentage if you want to lose weight more rapidly.

But keep the percentage under 30%, as experts only recommend reducing your calorie consumption by 30% long-term.

Also, reducing your calorie consumption too drastically can affect your metabolism negatively.

Creating A Calorie Deficit–The Simple Way

how many calories to burn to lose weight

Okay, so I know the above calculations may seem a bit tedious for some. But I promise they’re not as complicated as they look!

Nevertheless, if the above calculations seem like too much.

You can always take the simpler and more generic approach and reduce your calorie intake by 500.

Cutting 500 calories per day leads to a total of 3500 for the week, and as mentioned, a pound of fat equals about 3500 calories.

You can do this by reducing all 500 calories from your diet alone.

But with this approach, you still need to know how many calories you consume to determine what you are cutting from. 

One way to do this is to write down everything you eat in a food journal for 3-5 days.

Then, take an average of the calories you consumed during that time as your calorie requirement for maintenance, provided you did not gain or lose weight during that time. 

If you notice weight gain or loss, the amount of calories you consume may not be your maintenance calories.

Your maintenance calories are the number of calories you can eat to maintain your current weight.

So, if you are gaining weight, you are probably eating above maintenance.

If you are losing weight, you are probably eating below maintenance. 

In either of these cases, more testing is needed.

You may have to track for longer than a few days to get a good idea of how many calories are needed to maintain your current weight.

Once you figure this out, you can proceed to cut 500 calories either through diet, exercise, or both to create a calorie deficit.

You don’t have to cut 500 calories from your diet to create a deficit

I think it’s important to note that cutting 500 calories is a pretty large deficit.

So don’t feel like you have to cut 500 calories to lose weight.

You can cut 400 or even 250. A deficit is still a deficit; sometimes, starting with a deficit of 250 may be best.

You want something you can stick to and easily maintain.

You want to make this a lifestyle so that when you lose the weight, you won’t regain it.

For some, slower weight loss increases the chances they will stick it out long enough to see results and, more importantly, keep the weight off.

Give apps like my FitnessPal a try

Writing in a food journal is great, but an easier way to record what you eat for those 3-5 days may be using an app like MyFitness Pal.

I found it easier to record my food in this app than in a journal. But use whatever works best for you.

Remember, when it comes to creating a deficit, you can also achieve one with a combination of diet and exercise.

For example, if aiming for a 500-calorie deficit, you would reduce your daily calorie intake by 250 and try to burn an additional 250 calories daily through exercise.

I find combining both a better option, mainly because I don’t have to reduce my calorie intake by such a large amount. 

Also, you don’t have to do this by hand. You can always use a calorie deficit calculator to figure this out.

There are plenty of them available online. I calculate mine by hand, but I have also used this macro calculator in the past.

It calculates your daily calorie needs for weight loss based on your BMR and activity level.

Standard recommendations: calorie deficit for women and men

It is often not recommended for women to eat less than 1200 calories and men less than 1500 calories.

Please note that if you do not have much to lose and are more petite, your TDEE may already be close to 1200, which means slower weight loss.

This is because your body needs fewer calories/energy to survive, and therefore, fewer calories you can safely cut from.

If you do your calculations and come up with a number less than 1200 due to your current weight and size, use 1200 if you are a woman and 1500 if you are a man.

Yes, the weight will come off slower, but you can increase your activity level, and with consistency, it will come off.

Final Thoughts

Losing weight can be challenging, but ensuring you are in a calorie deficit can make it much easier.

Knowing how to calculate this for yourself takes the guesswork out of how much to eat, making this whole process easier.

And remember that you can create a deficit not just by eating less but also by exercising.

If you are new to exercise, check out this post on how to get started with exercise as a complete beginner.

And if you are looking for some low-calorie, high-protein options to include in your meal plan, I share 45 recipes here.

Other Posts You May Like:

45 Low Calorie High Protein Meals – You’ll Love #32

How To Exercise For Beginners: A Complete Guide

7 Amazing Tips To Increase Exercise Motivation That Work

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