What is a Calorie Deficit and How to Create one [Simple Guide]

what is calorie deficit

In this article, we are talking about what is a calorie deficit and how to utilize it for weight loss. So we’re going to start with the basics and we’re going to go and build up from there.

What is a calorie deficit? What is a calorie?

A calorie is simply a unit of energy, that’s it.

A calorie deficit is just kind of a description of the balance of energy that’s in your body. So a calorie deficit means that you consume less energy than you utilize or burn throughout the day.

What is a calorie deficit? What is a calorie?

There are two other descriptions of how energy can be balanced in your body. The other one is an equal energy balance or that would be calorie maintenance. So your calories consumed versus calorie burned are going to be exactly the same or relatively the same.

And a Calorie surplus means that you’re consuming more calories than your body is utilizing for energy throughout the day.

So those are the three different energy balances that you can have. Calorie deficit is just one of them.

So a calorie deficit is how you lose weight. That energy balance is required for weight loss. It is the only way that weight loss is going to occur aside from something like liposuction where the fat is like physically being removed from your body. A calorie deficit is a non-negotiable for weight loss.

There’s no right way to be in a calorie deficit. There’s no perfect diet or strategy that’s going to work for everyone. A calorie deficit itself is not a type of diet and I see people confusing that a lot when i talk about calorie deficits.

How To Create A Calorie Deficit

How To Create A Calorie Deficit

To achieve a calorie deficit you can consume fewer calories, exercise more, or a combination of both. Usually a combination of more activity and consuming fewer calories works best.

But the main variable to look into for most people is calorie intake. It may take one hour of intense running to burn roughly 500 calories.

But you can consume those 500 calories back in a matter of 10 minutes and assuming you already train multiple times per week there’s only so much more exercise you can do without running into recovery issues.

So having tight control of your calorie intake is where most of the gain is when it comes to creating a calorie deficit for fat loss

If controlling your calorie intake is that important how do know how many calories you should consume?

How many calories you should consume?

How many calories you should consume?

There are multiple ways you can go about this but I will show you one simple method that you can start with.

You may have seen calorie calculators online with complex formulas even those with the most detailed equations are not 100% accurate. So I suggest starting with a more simple calorie goal.

If you take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 10 to 12 most people will be in a moderate calorie deficit. So if we take a 175-pound person as an example this person can consume between 1750 to 2,100 calories per day.

You can be logical with this guideline if 10 calories per pound sound very low aim for 12 calories per pound and 12 calories per pound sounds high you can aim for the lower end of the range.

Track your progress for about 3 weeks

Track your progress for about 3 weeks

Give the 10 to 12 calories per pound target a try for at least 3 weeks. If you do this and you lose roughly 1 percent of your body weight per week that is great. You are in a calorie deficit and well on your way to achieve your fat loss goals.

If for 3 weeks in a row your bodyweight stays stagnant and you notice your clothes don’t fit any different you may need to change your calorie intake.

Decreasing your calorie intake by roughly 10 percent is a good idea if you notice that you are not progressing after 3 weeks.

It is also possible that in the first few months of your fat loss phase you are making good progress but then it eventually slows down or even stops. This is normal if we consider that the human body is adaptive the human body cares about survival unfortunately not about looking good on Instagram.

So if you maintain a calorie deficit for a long time your body starts expending less energy, for instance, your spontaneous activity tends to decrease as you lose more fat causing you to burn fewer calories in a day.

I mentioned this to point out that the calorie intake you need to make progress now may be different from the calorie intake you need in 3 months to continue making fat loss progress but this is what progress tracking comes into play.

fat loss by calorie deficit

If you notice that your fat loss is slowing down substantially you can increase your calorie deficit by either decreasing your calorie intake or increasing activity.

There are obviously more nutrition variables relevant to fat loss but we haven’t discussed them in this article. For instance, the foods you eat are relevant because some foods are more filling than others and make it easier to maintain a calorie deficit.

Also, your protein intake plays an important role because it helps with muscle maintenance and perhaps satiety as well. But the reason I focus on calories in this article is that it’s the single variable that is responsible for the majority of the progress you make in a fat loss phase.

You can eat very clean foods but if your calorie intake does not put you in a calorie deficit your body won’t burn off fat. So before thinking about anything in your fat loss journey make sure your calorie intake is controlled.

Now that we have covered calorie intake let’s look into exercise.

Cardio Exercise for fat loss

Cardio Exercise for fat loss

For some reason, cardio is seen as a key factor for fat loss. Even though cardio can help I think it’s important to emphasize that cardio is useful when combined with a diet that already puts you in the calorie deficit.

Research shows that doing more cardio without a change in your diet does very little for fat loss. This is because doing a few cardio sessions in a week by itself is not enough to create a significant calorie deficit.

If 2 to 3 cardio sessions in a week are done on top of an effective nutrition approach that’s when cardio is beneficial. But for those trying to look leaner and have more muscle definition perhaps more important than cardio is lifting weights.

Multiple studies show that strength training promotes muscle maintenance more effectively than cardio while in the calorie deficit. So if the goal is to look leaner be sure to maintain a good amount of strength training in your routine.

The importance of lifting weights versus cardio is something I will discuss in the future article.


Now to sum up – you use body fat stores as fuel when you consume fewer calories than your body expands in a day also known as a calorie deficit.

To achieve a good starting point for your calorie deficit multiply your body weight in pounds by 10 to 12.

Track your progress for about 3 weeks while maintaining this calorie number and adjust the calories if needed based on your progress.

lastly cardio is a useful tool to enhance fat loss but it’s most beneficial if you already have created a calorie deficit via your nutrition and that’s all for this article.

I hope that it’s now clear why calories are crucial for fat loss and how you can create a calorie deficit as always if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Fenil Kalal is a talented web content writer that specialises in health and fitness, fishing, travel, cryptography, and gardening. His skills and expertise in the field are the result of years of research and study. His passion in science, along with a bachelor's degree in information technology, gives him an edge and adds value to his work. Because he is fascinated by science and technology, writing high-quality content has become a virtue for him.

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