How Do You Know If You’re in a Calorie Deficit?
Written by: Joseph Muñoz
This is probably one of those questions that I get asked most often. Being a nutrition science communicator, everyone wants to know about weight loss.
What is caloric deficit?
By definition a calorie deficit is defined as eating less calories than your body expends. In a calorie deficit our body must use some of it’s stored energy sources (glycogen, fat, and lean mass) for energy, thus, resulting in weight loss.
Being in a calorie deficit is the ONLY WAY to lose weight. By definition, if you lose weight you are in a calorie deficit and if you are not losing weight, you are not in a calorie deficit.
Some people argue that they are in a calorie deficit because they are not eating much yet they struggle to lose weight…..
The truth is that just because you are starving yourself, it doesn’t mean that you’re in a calorie deficit. Again, if you’re not losing weight you ARE NOT in a calorie deficit.
Follow the equation... eat and burn.
The reason why some people struggle to lose weight on relatively low calories is because their energy expenditure is also very low. Remember, how much you eat is just half of the equation, how much you burn is equally as important.
Low energy expenditure can happen due to a number of factors including your genetics, medical conditions, level of physical activity, and muscle mass. Therefore, for some people, I actually recommend increasing their energy expenditure through exercise and resistance training rather than decreasing their food intake.
Ok, so how do you figure out what your caloric intake should be?
There are a bunch of online calculators that will give you a rough estimate of your caloric requirements. They do so by taking variables such as your age, bodyweight, bodyfat%, and physical activity levels.
However, these are JUST ESTIMATES!
They are a good starting point but will never be exact since there is so much individual variability in energy expenditure.
After you have your rough estimate from one of these online calculators, track your calories and try to consume the amount of recommended calories to maintain your bodyweight.
At the same time track your bodyweight first thing in the morning before eating anything for about 1-2 weeks. If you’re bodyweight is relatively stable, then the number of calories you are consuming is considered your maintenance.
From there, you want to decrease the number of calories you consume if your goal is to lose weight. The exact amount you decrease is going to depend on how quickly you want to lose weight, but for most people, I think 300-500 kcal below maintenance is a pretty good starting place.
Consume this new caloric intake for several weeks and continue to track your bodyweight. If your bodyweight starts to decrease, which it should, congrats, you are in a calorie deficit!
The only true way to know whether you’re in a calorie deficit is if you are slowly losing weight over a period of time (several weeks to several months). There legit is no other way!