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  • Clem Duranseaud

What's a calorie deficit - understand how to lose weight

Updated: Nov 19, 2023


A calorie deficit means that you consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight. In simpler terms, it's the foundation of weight loss: burning more calories than you consume.

In this article, you will learn:

Part 1: what is a calorie deficit


A calorie deficit means that you consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight. In simpler terms, it's the foundation of weight loss: burning more calories than you consume.


When you create a calorie deficit, your body uses its energy reserves (stored as fat) to meet its energy demands. This process results in weight loss over time.


Understanding the concept of a calorie deficit is fundamental to achieving any fitness goal, whether it's losing weight, building muscle, or improving overall health.

How to create a calorie deficit

First, determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Your Daily Energy Expenditure is the total number of calories your body needs in a day to maintain your current weight. It is based on several factors, including:

  • Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): RMR is the amount of calories your body needs to maintain basic physiological functions such as breathing, circulating blood, and regulating body temperature while at rest. It accounts for the majority of your daily energy expenditure, approximately 60-75% of your TDEE. Basically it's how much calorie you burn if you would sleep for a whole day.

  • Physical Activity Level (PAL): PAL considers the calories burned during physical activities, including exercise, work-related activities, and leisure activities. This component of TDEE can vary greatly depending on your lifestyle and exercise habits. We will chat about different workout types later in this article.

  • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): TEF represents the calories burned during the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of food. Different macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) require varying amounts of energy to be processed by the body. TEF typically contributes to about 10% of your TDEE.

  • Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): NEAT encompasses the calories burned during activities other than formal exercise, such as walking, fidgeting, and maintaining posture. NEAT can significantly impact your overall energy expenditure, for example if you chose a standing desk vs a sitting desk, you'll burn more calories throughout the day.


Calculating TDEE

The easiest way to calculate your TDEE is to use an online calorie calculator. These take into account your age, gender, weight, height, activity level, and exercise routine.


Once you have your TDEE, you can establish a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than this calculated value.


For example, if your TDEE is 2,000 calories per day and you aim for a calorie deficit of 250 calories, your daily calorie goal for weight loss would be 1,750 calories.


By consistently maintaining this calorie deficit, your body will tap into its fat stores for energy, leading to gradual and sustainable weight loss. Keep in mind that those calorie calculators give you a fairly generic number so you might need a few weeks to play around with how much calories you actually need.


Understanding your TDEE provides you with a personalized target for calorie intake, ensuring that you are consuming an appropriate amount of calories to achieve your fitness goals.


Keep in mind that extreme calorie deficits can be detrimental to your health, so it's important to create a reasonable and sustainable deficit that allows for gradual and healthy weight loss.

Part 2: Understanding Energy Balance


Calories come into your body via what you eat, and are used up when your body requires energy (TDEE). The energy balance is the relationship between the that inflow and outflow of energy.


It's the key factor that determines changes in your body weight.


There are three states of energy balance:

  • Caloric Surplus: This occurs when you consume more calories than your body needs. The excess calories are stored as fat, leading to weight gain.

  • Caloric Maintenance: This state is when the calories you consume equal the calories your body uses. Your weight remains stable in this condition.

  • Caloric Deficit: As mentioned earlier, a calorie deficit happens when you consume fewer calories than your body requires. This state forces your body to use stored fat for energy, leading to weight loss


Understanding your TDEE and manipulating your energy balance is crucial in achieving your fitness goals.



Calories come into your body via what you eat, and are used up when your body requires energy (TDEE). The energy balance is the relationship between the that inflow and outflow of energy.
Image from Resources https://www.activehealth.sg/eat-better/resources/energy-balance


Part 3: Modifying Energy Balance: Eating Less and Exercising More


There are two primary ways to create a calorie deficit: eating fewer calories and increasing physical activity.

  • Eating Less: To reduce calorie intake, focus on portion control and making healthy food choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods high in sugars and fats. You can also track the amount of calories you eat to make sure you stay below a certain amount. Although I don't recommend doing this on the long term, doing it for a couple weeks can be eye opening in some regards.

  • Exercising More: Regular physical activity not only burns calories but also boosts your metabolism, making it easier to maintain a calorie deficit. Incorporate a mix of cardiovascular exercises (such as running, swimming, or cycling) and strength training (like weightlifting or bodyweight exercises). I personally recommend a 50-50 mix of cardio and strength workouts although at the end of the day, what matters most is that you enjoy the workouts you do because it will be easier to stay consistent with workout you enjoy.

Finding a balance between diet and exercise that works for your lifestyle is essential.


Remember that consistency is key; small, sustainable changes are more effective in the long run than drastic, short-term measures.


Part 4: What is the best caloric deficit to lose weight?


You need to be in a calorie deficit over a good period of time to see some weight loss. I usually recommend a minimum of one month in a calorie deficit.


Not only will this allow your body to use it's fat stores as fuel, it will teach you to be sustainable with your weight loss approach.


Everyone will have a different best calorie deficit to lose weight, but a good place to start is around 250 calories a day. This is small enough that you won't feel hungry all the time, but substantial enough that your body will dig into it's fat reserves.


4.1 Adjust according to the results

It's important to monitor your progress to see how you are going. Doing a weekly check in with yourself is a great place to start.


Each week, ask yourself how your weight loss journey is going. How was your energy? Did you lose 0.5-1 lbs this past week? Does your clothes fit differently?


According to your answers, you can make small changes to your approach. Remember that a caloric deficit can be reached by either eating less or moving more. So if you need to increase your deficit to 350, you could try to walk an extra 500 steps each day.


The possibilities to increase your calorie deficit are almost endless, take the time to find ways that work for you.


4.2 Do you need to count calories?

I strongly recommend being familiar with the caloric information of the foods you eat on a daily basis. These are the foods that influence your body composition the most, so knowing how many calories are in them and in your portion sizes is crucial.


You don't need to count calories every day for the rest of your life. Spend one to two weeks recording how many calories you eat each day and you will control your calorie input more accurately.


Once you have good idea of your daily caloric intake, and you notice that your are losing weight, you can stop counting your calories and go back to a more intuitive way of eating.


Doing a calorie audit of your diet once or twice a year where you count your calories for one week is a good habit to have for the long term.


Part 5: Foods to Prioritize for a Calorie Deficit


When creating a calorie deficit, the quality of calories you consume matters just as much as the quantity. Opt for foods that are not only low in calories but also rich in nutrients. Here are some food categories to prioritize:

  • Vegetables and Fruits: These foods are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals while being low in calories. They provide volume to your meals, making you feel full and satisfied.

  • Lean Proteins: Protein is essential for preserving lean muscle mass while losing weight. Include sources like chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, legumes, and low-fat dairy products in your diet.

  • Whole Grains: Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, and oats are rich in fiber and provide sustained energy. They keep you feeling full for longer periods, reducing overall calorie intake.

  • Healthy Fats: While fats are calorie-dense, choosing the right fats is crucial. Include sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats support overall health and keep you satiated.

  • Liquids: Drinking water is often overlooked but is vital for maintaining a healthy metabolism. Sometimes, feelings of hunger can actually be a sign of dehydration. Avoiding liquid calories is also a great way to reduce over all caloric intake. We usually don't realize how many calories we ingest with sodas, juices and alcohol.

When selecting your food, you can ask yourself these three questions:

  • - Can I dig it up from the ground?

  • - Can I pick it from a tree or plant?

  • - Can I hunt it?


If the answer is yes to any of these questions, that food is most likely a whole and unprocessed. For example you dig up vegetables, pick fruits from trees and plants and hunt a lot of protein.


If the answer is no to all of the above, odds are that this food has been processed and can be considered a fun food, to have in moderations according to your goals.


Part 6: What workouts should you do?

The most important aspect of a workout is that you enjoy doing them. That will help you be consistent with your exercise routine and stick to it long term.


There are three broad workout categories that I do with my clients and on my youtube channel that you can choose from.


1. HIIT Workouts:

Definition: HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise that alternates between short bursts of intense, high-energy activity and brief periods of low-intensity recovery or rest.

Characteristics:

  • Intensity: HIIT workouts are highly intense, pushing your heart rate close to its maximum during the high-intensity intervals.

  • Duration: HIIT workouts are usually shorter in duration compared to traditional cardio workouts, typically lasting between 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Benefits: HIIT is known for its efficiency in burning calories and fat, improving cardiovascular endurance, and boosting metabolism. It can also be tailored to various fitness levels and can be done with or without equipment.

2. Strength Workouts:

Definition: Strength workouts, also known as resistance or weight training, focus on building muscular strength, endurance, and hypertrophy (muscle growth) by using resistance, such as weights, resistance bands, or body weight.

Characteristics:

  • Intensity: Strength workouts involve lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions (typically 6-12 repetitions per set) to promote muscle growth and strength.

  • Duration: The duration of strength workouts can vary, but they usually last between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the workout routine and intensity.

  • Structure: Strength workouts target specific muscle groups and include exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and bicep curls. Workouts are often structured in sets and repetitions with rest intervals between sets.

  • Benefits: Strength training helps increase lean muscle mass, improve overall strength, enhance metabolism, and support joint health. It also contributes to better body composition and can aid in injury prevention.

3. Cardio Workouts:

Definition: Cardiovascular workouts, commonly known as cardio or aerobic exercises, are activities that elevate your heart rate and keep it elevated for an extended period. These exercises improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system.

Characteristics:

  • Intensity: Cardio workouts can range from low to high intensity, depending on the activity. Activities like jogging, cycling, swimming, and dancing fall under this category.

  • Duration: Cardio workouts typically last between 30 to 60 minutes or more, depending on the chosen activity and fitness level.

  • Structure: Cardio workouts can be continuous, like jogging for 30 minutes, or interval-based, where you alternate between periods of high and low intensity.

  • Benefits: Cardio exercises enhance cardiovascular health, increase lung capacity, burn calories, and improve endurance.

In summary, HIIT workouts focus on short bursts of high-intensity exercises and recovery periods, strength workouts emphasize resistance training to build muscle and strength, and cardio workouts elevate the heart rate for extended periods, enhancing cardiovascular health and endurance.


Integrating a combination of these workouts into your fitness routine can provide a well-rounded approach to overall health and fitness.


Part 7: Free workouts to build muscle and burn fat


You have the choice of choosing from a limitless selection of free workouts on the internet, remember, find the ones you enjoy doing!


Here are 2 of my most popular ones on my youtube channel.


Beginner/intermediate workout: 20 min full body dumbbell workout, no repeats calorie burner



You are going to have a lot of fun with all the combo moves. Each move is designed to make the muscles burn and get your heart pumping.


This workout works on your strength, builds your muscles and burns calories. You can do this workout at home or at the gym.


When possible, the modified version of the exercises will show up in the top left corner of the screen.


Target muscles

You are targeting every major muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, glutes, chest, back, shoulders, abs, obliques, lower abs, biceps and triceps.


Equipment

You will need a pair of dumbbells. For reference I am using 30 pounds.


Format

Each exercise is different, they are all 40 seconds long with 20 seconds break between them.


How to get stronger

In order to build muscle, get stronger and fitter you need to gradually make your workouts harder. Each time your do this one, try to do more reps, or use heavier weights.


Make sure you always keep proper form and technique as you make your workouts tougher. By doing this, you will make your body understand that it needs to adapt to the new exercise load.


Exercises

Dumbbell thruster

Chest press with leg raises

Single leg deadlift

Mountain climber abs

Dumbbell deadlift to row

Star jumps

Plank row to jump squat

Hand walk outs

Kneeling curl and press

Dumbbell lunges

Broad jumps

Breakdancers

Over head march

Arnold press

Dumbbell fly

Burpees

Plank crawl

Burpees over dumbbell


Intermediate/advanced workout: 45 Min Full Body Strength + HIIT Workout | Build Muscle and Burn Fat at Home



This 45 min dumbbell workout is a little on the wild side. We combine the best of both worlds: muscle building strength training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn fat.


You can do this one from home or at the gym, just make sure you have a water bottle close by.


Who Is This For?

This workout is perfect for anyone looking to build strength, improve cardiovascular health, and shed excess fat.


There are modifications for all moves so whether you're a beginner or a seasoned athlete, these exercises are tailored to challenge you at your own pace.


This is a full body dumbbell workout which will work all of your major muscle groups.


Workout Benefits:

✅ Increased Endurance: Boost your stamina and endurance for a healthier, more active lifestyle.

✅ Muscle Definition: build and strengthen your muscles for a strong physique.

✅ Fat Loss: Burn fat and promote lean muscle mass.

✅ Mental Clarity: Experience the mental benefits of exercise, including reduced stress and enhanced focus.


Part 1 Full body strength training

Eccentric push ups

Dumbbell chest press

Dumbbell fly

Eccentric dumbbell squats

Curtsy lunges

Power lunges

Dumbbell rows

Reverse flys

Single arm rows

Dumbbell deadlifts

Single leg hip raises

Hamstring walk outs


Part 2 Full body HIIT

Squat press

Jump squats

Jump lunges

Renegade rows

Push ups

Mountain climbers

Dumbbell snatches

Skatters

Bicycles

Sit ups

Leg raises

Bear crawls

Elbow push ups

Dumbbell squats

Burpees

Breakdancers

Plank


Part 3

Back to the strength workout

Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding and implementing a calorie deficit is a powerful tool in achieving your fitness goals. By maintaining an energy balance through a combination of mindful eating and regular exercise, you can work towards a healthier, fitter you. Remember, it's not just about the quantity of calories but also the quality of the foods you consume. Making informed choices and staying consistent with your efforts will pave the way for long-term success on your fitness journey.

You have the option of choosing from a variety of workout styles that will help you burn more calories and increase the calorie expenditure side of the energy balance. You can chose from an infinite selection of workout on the internet, simply find the ones that spark joy, and get stronger at them.


Happy training,


Clem

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