What Does it Mean to Eat in a Calorie Deficit?

"This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links."

At some point in our lives, all of us have tried to lose weight or get healthier. Different people have their own goals in mind when it comes to the type of body they’re looking to get, and there are many ways for us to achieve this. When it comes to losing weight, there is a strong chance that you have heard of a calorie deficit. As the name suggests, you are consuming calories but in a deficit.

To the untrained eye, this might seem a bit peculiar. What does it mean to have a calorie deficit? How does it work? What do you do in it? Does it even work? It makes sense that these sorts of questions arise, but this article will answer your questions so you’re able to make well-informed decisions.

Calorie Deficit – Explained.

Before we get into what a calorie deficit is, we must first understand what calories are.


A calorie is, by definition, a unit of energy that you get when you eat or drink something. Our bodies need energy to run, and we get this energy in the form of calories from the food we consume. To keep yourself healthy, you need to consume a certain amount of calories each day. 

Calorie Usage

There are three main areas where our body uses the calories that we consume.

Resting Energy Expenditure

This refers to the calories used to keep us alive. This involves blood flow and breathing, among other things.

Thermic Effect of Food

This refers to the calories used by the body to carry out functions such as digestion, absorption, and storing energy.

Activity Energy Expenditure

These are the calories our bodies use when we are doing intensive tasks such as sports or exercise. This also applies to other non-physical activities such as chores around the house.

Caloric Needs

The amount of calories that our body needs can vary from one person to the next. Different factors are taken into consideration in order to determine what the right amount is. These factors include height, weight, sex, age, and physical activity level. For example, a 6 foot 3 inch athlete who is incredibly active is going to have a very different caloric intake compared to someone who works a desk job.

Depending on what your body is like, it is generally advised that a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day is ideal for weight loss. At this level, it is unlikely that you are going to feel hungry or low on energy.

Calculating Your Calories

To begin this process, you must first know what your body’s maintenance calories are. These are the exact number of calories that your body will require to facilitate the energy usage mentioned above. In order to do this, you can go online and search for ‘calorie deficit calculator’ and you will find many different resources that will allow you to find this out. They will ask for information such as your height, weight, age, sex, and physical activity and then give you an answer based on these parameters.

If you wish to get a more real-time reading, you can start by using a calorie tracking app. These applications have come a long way and  there are now very accurate calorie readings that they offer. You can start by logging your daily meals and exercise and it will begin to show you your progress.

For the most accurate results, make sure you always maintain the same conditions when recording data e.g. weigh yourself at the same time of day in the same clothes. Barring any major fluctuations, you will begin to see a steady change in your weight if you remain committed to the process.

After doing this process for 8-10 days, take the total number of calories you consumed over these days and then divide it by the number of days that you did it. For instance, if you consume 20000 calories in 10 days, you would divide 20000 by 10 to get an average of 2000 calories per day.

Whatever this average amount is, subtract 500 calories from it and there you have it, your new intake goal. So in this case, 2000 maintenance calories minus the 500 calories would come up to 1500 calories that you need to consume. It is worth noting that these numbers are only to explain how this works.

In the real world, each person has a different requirement and intake and you should make sure you take all things into consideration before proceeding. It is also worth noting that there is a minimum requirement that needs to be consumed. For women, this is 1200 calories a day and for me, it is 1500 calories a day. This is the bare minimum that your body needs to simply operate. Anything lower than this and you will begin to feel weak and even fall sick.

Achieving a Calorie Deficit

Contrary to what it might seem like, achieving a calorie deficit is rather simple. At the end of the day, it is literally consuming less calories than required. In doing so, your body will then use its own reserves to make up for the deficit, which will burn the fat in your body, resulting in weight loss.

On its own, a calorie deficit is enough for a steady and safe weight loss. However, if you elect to exercise alongside it, this will only make it better for you. You can achieve a calorie deficit without exercising but if you choose to exercise with it, you will make the process easier for you. Along with this, you will also build strength and endurance along with stronger joints and an overall improved mental and physical condition for yourself.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the Department of Health and Human Services, adults are recommended to do anywhere between 150-350 minutes of light-to moderate exercise throughout the week. If you are doing more intense exercise, 75-200 minutes a week should be more than enough.

How to Do It

If you wish to adopt a calorie deficit, you do not need to make any drastic changes to your life. All you need to do is make some core adjustments that will, over time, have very encouraging results to show.

Liquid Calories

Perhaps the single biggest threat to our health is the existence of liquid calories. Liquid calories are all sorts of sugary drinks such as packaged fruit juices, sodas, coffee drinks, and anything of the sort. These drinks are essentially sugar in a bottle with no nutritional value at all. They are also several hundred calories worth of liquid that your body simply does not need. They are also responsible for many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and excessive weight gain along with damage to your teeth and liver.

By eliminating liquid calories from your diet, you are removing hundreds of harmful calories. This is not only good for your body but it is also good for your calorie deficit. Before anything, liquid calories need to go.

Processed Foods

After liquid calories, the next thing that needs to go is all sorts of processed foods. This includes all sorts of fast food, desserts, breakfast cereal, and processed meats. These foods are advertised as nutritious and healthy but they are full of unhealthy ingredients and chemicals that have damaging effects on your body. Understandably, it is impossible to completely eliminate this food from your diet because in some form or the other, you will come into contact with it. Let’s say you’re at your best friend’s birthday party, chances are that there will be cake. You will probably have a bit of cake so as to not offend your friend.

A remedy for this would to use minimally processed foods instead. These include, but are not limited to, items such as precut vegetables, roasted nuts, canned fruits and vegetables, or canned tuna. These foods are also processed but only as much as they need to be. No one is going to be able to go fishing for tuna, bring the large fish home, fillet it, and then prep it for use. Instead, you can buy canned tuna which has all of that done already so you can simply add it to your diet without too much worry for weight gain. Opting for minimally processed foods means is a good idea because they are steady sources of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and fiber. These foods can be used to build an entire meal or simply something to snack on throughout the day.

If you wish to achieve a calorie deficit, it is imperative that you remove processed foods from your diet because they are taking up too much space at too great a cost. If you have been eating sugary cereals for breakfast, replace it with something like oatmeal with fruits or a bowl of almonds.

Home-Cooked Meals

At the end of it all, there is nothing that compares to a proper home cooked meal. They allow you to control what goes into your food, the portions sizes and most importantly, the calorie intake. One of the most effective ways to begin and maintain a calorie deficit is by cooking your own food at home.

After doing all your research i.e. your daily required calories, what foods you can eat to achieve it, and how many calories you can deficit, you can add another layer of control by making the food exactly as you want. You can also do trial and error in order to find that sweet spot. Proper home cooked meals will allow you to have a better quality diet, lower body fat, and also curb the rise of diabetes and heart disease.

As a bonus, home cooked meals also cost you less money which means more saving, something few people will find complaints with.

Final Thoughts

A calorie deficit is when you consume less than your body’s required calorie intake. In turn, your body will burn fat from your body to make up for the deficit which will result in weight loss and an overall healthier lifestyle. An ideal deficit amount is 500 less than your maintenance calories.

Calorie deficit - what does it mean