AT A GLANCE

Should you cut calories? Many people employ the caloric deficit strategy when they are looking to lose weight and burn fat. Is it for you? 


What does caloric deficit mean?

Calories are the unit of energy that is used to describe how much energy a particular food and/or beverage will provide. Calories come from all the fat, protein and carbs in foods and drink. Almost all foods and drinks have calories. It is important to be aware of how many calories the foods and drink you consume contain to experiment with a caloric deficit. If the food or beverage being consumed does not have a nutrition label where calories are present, take some time to research how many calories are in the foods and/or drinks you choose. Find more information on how to read a supplement label here or ingredient list here. What’s the calorie difference between protein, fats and carbs (macronutrients)? Click here. 

A caloric deficit is a common topic of conversation when discussing diet, nutrition and health. Specifically, individuals tend to reference caloric deficits when talking about weight loss. A caloric deficit is defined as eating and/or drinking less calories than the body burns. What does this mean? This means that food consumed needs to be less than the body burns to stay alive (your basal metabolic rate, or BMR), combined with any physical activity that you may do that burns energy. To simplify, you need to burn more calories than you eat and/or drink. 

Why do people choose to cut calories?

People will cut calories (comply with a caloric deficit) to lose weight. In order to determine how many calories you need to cut to reach your goal, it is helpful to know your BMR. Once the BMR is determined (by using an equation or by asking your local trainer/dietitian), you can understand how many calories you should be consuming in a day to ensure you maintain the deficit. How do you know? You have to pay attention to the nutritional profiles of the foods you eat. The nutritional profile of food is the total calories, fat, carbs, protein, sugar and fiber that a food and/or drink provides. This profile can be found on the back of a product or researched online. While this is a tedious process, it may be necessary to ensure that you are truly in a deficit. There are apps and other resources to add up macronutrients in the foods that you eat to make this easier. 

A caloric deficit is defined as eating and/or drinking less than the body burns
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Is a caloric deficit necessary for weight loss?

A caloric deficit is important if you have a weight loss goal for a specific timeframe. It is also important to actually see/accomplish your weight loss goal. There are varied thought processes on whether or not calorie count matters as much as the composition (or nutritional profiles) of the food you eat, however over the long run, being in a caloric deficit will produce weight loss for most individuals.

Is this for me?

If you are someone who has struggled to lose weight and hasn’t taken the time to evaluate the nutritional profile (calories, fat, carbs, and protein) of the foods you are eating, experimenting with a caloric deficit may aid in your goals. If you don’t want to consider nutritional profiles and haven’t tried incorporating physical activity, start up an exercise routine to burn some extra calories, potentially pushing you into a caloric deficit. 

Once the BMR is determined (you can do so using an equation or by asking your local trainer/dietitian), it is fairly easy to count macronutrients consumed throughout the day to ensure that one is in a deficit
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If you’d like to learn more about a nutrition plan that supports weight loss and maintaining muscle, see our guide to Eating for Weight Loss.

What's the downside?

A caloric deficit is not recommended for those who have been long term dieters, with certain medical conditions or other contraindications indicated by a healthcare professional. In order to safely and effectively obtain a caloric deficit, contacting your local health/fitness professional would be highly recommended. 

Overall, caloric deficits can be helpful if you are looking to make body composition changes. This deficit can be achieved through diet, exercise or a combination of the two. 

Caloric deficits can be achieved through diet, exercise or a combination of the two
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Caloric deficits can vary drastically in the number of calories cut and the recommended timeframe of the deficit. Personalization is important and recommended for all individuals interested in experimenting with caloric deficits and should be done so with the help of a health/fitness professional. 

 

Registered Dietitian
Jordan Stachel is a Registered Dietitian passionate about nutrition, health and longevity. Jordan graduated from the University of Southern California, where she completed a Master’s degree in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity. Jordan graduated from Chapman University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. Jordan is ene... Continue