What is a Calorie Deficit?
A calorie deficit can best be described as consuming fewer calories than one is burning. This allows the body to enter a state where it begins to burn excess fat for energy, leading to the weight loss that’s made this “diet” popular.
However, being in a calorie deficit is not the same as restricting one’s eating, although this is one of the ways this fat-burning state can be achieved. For example, opting for burning more calories through exercise can help prevent the pesky cravings or disordered eating patterns that come with most diets.
However, the number of calories you should attempt to reduce to see results depends mainly on several other biological factors. Calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)—the minimum calories your body needs to function based on sex, age, weight, and height—is an excellent place to start to see where you can cut excess calories. According to most experts, this may look like reducing energy consumption by 500 calories per day to see significant changes in the body, resulting in roughly a pound of weight loss per week.1
Many people have most likely experienced what it’s like to be in a calorie deficit, whether it was a conscious effort or not. Athletes, or those who live an active lifestyle, are likely used to expending more energy than they put in their bodies.
It’s worth noting that the impacts of being in this fat-burning state are vast, in addition to helping to promote weight loss. Calorie deficits have been shown to lead to metabolic adaptation that slows the decline in physiological function caused by aging, for example.2 But don't let these facts fool you; committing to a calorie deficit can be a very slippery slope.
The phrase “weight loss” makes most people's ears perk up, even if they don't need to lose weight, simply because of themes around beauty and thinness prevalent in our society. “Take this pill,” “Use this supplement,” and “Try this procedure” are common phrases many of us have encountered.
Due to this, like with any diet, it will be crucial to approach any sudden change thoughtfully and mindfully. Calorie deficits may be attractive because, one) it’s affordable and two) anyone can do it. However, it’s worth noting that this diet isn’t a one-size-fits-all.
Existing health conditions will play a large part in dictating how effective this diet will be for you. Naturally, reducing calories while working out heavily will make you fatigued. Alongside tiredness, you may begin losing a lot of weight, which, although welcome and hoped for in many cases, is also worth observing.
In extreme cases, one may become addicted to the feeling of losing weight even if this is detrimental biologically or mentally (especially if you have a history of disordered eating, for example). On the other end of the spectrum, even if the weight loss is minimal or incremental, you could lose muscle mass or become deficient in many vital vitamins your body needs.
It's good to be weary of these risks to avoid a path to unhealthiness.
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As a child, when my mom told me “everything in moderation,” I thought that was a ridiculous statement; I always thought “more is more.” Now that I'm older, I see how insightful her comment was and find that now, it applies to many different aspects of my life, including dieting. It can be very easy to get carried away with how much or little you eat, exercise, work…the list goes on!
A healthy balance of food and exercise is the key to maintaining a happy and healthy weight. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t starve yourself. And start practicing “everything in moderation.”