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What Is a Calorie Deficit, and How Much of One Is Healthy?

A calorie deficit is when you burn calories. but How healthy is that?

A calorie deficit occurs when you burn more calories than you ingest. According to research, a 500-calorie deficit may help with weight loss. However, this number is determined by a variety of circumstances and is unique to each individual.

Calories are units of energy obtained from food and beverages. Calorie expenditure is the amount of energy you expend or burn every day. It has three components.

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  • Resting Energy Expenditure (REE):

Refers to the calories your body consumes at rest for tasks that keep you alive, such as breathing and blood circulation.

  • Thermic Effect of Food:

Which involves the calories your body burns when digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing food.

  • Activity Energy Expenditure (AEE):

Refers to the calories you expend during movements such as exercise, fidgeting, and performing domestic tasks.

A calorie deficit occurs when you consume fewer calories than you expend. Over time, this could result in weight loss. In contrast, a calorie surplus, or eating more calories than you need, might cause you to gain weight.

Other factors that may cause weight swings include:

  • Physical Activity and Hormones
  • Lifestyle habits
  • Stress and underlying health conditions
  • Taking specific drugs
  • Genetics
  • Sleeping patterns

Continue reading to learn more about how to calculate your calorie deficit and achieve it in a healthy way.

How should I calculate my calorie deficit?

For most people, a calorie deficit of 300-500 is enough to shed 0.5 kg (1.1 pounds) per week. However, this should be re-evaluated on a regular basis, especially as you lose weight.

To determine your calorie shortfall, first calculate your maintenance calories. This is the number of calories your body need to sustain energy expenditure.

You can calculate your maintenance calories in a number of ways:

Calorie Calculators

You can use a calorie calculator, such as the NIH’s Body Weight Planner Trusted Source. It calculates your maintenance calories using your weight, gender, age, height, and physical activity level.

Base metabolic rate (BMR)

Your BMR is the minimum number of calories your body requires to accomplish fundamental tasks like breathing. Combining your BMR and activity levels might help you calculate your maintenance calories.

Below are two formulas to estimate your BMR based on the sex assigned at birth:

  • BMR for males:  66 + (13.75 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in years)
  • BMR for females:  655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.85 x size in cm) – (4.7 x age in years).

Once you’ve determined your BMR, use the Harris-Benedict Formula to calculate your maintenance calories:

          Group   Days active per week           Formula
sedentary little or none BMR x 1.2
lightly active 1–3 days BMR x 1.375
moderately active 3–5 days BMR x 1.55
very active 6–7 days BMR x 1.725
extra active 6–7 days and physical job BMR x 1.9


10-Day Tracking

Track your calorie consumption and weight for 10 days Trusted Source while keeping the same level of daily activity. You can use a calorie-tracking software to keep track of your calories and weigh yourself every day. To get an accurate result:

  • Use the same scale.
  • Weigh yourself throughout the same time of day.
  • Wear the same clothes (or none at all).

It is crucial to know that your weight may fluctuate by a few pounds each day owing to water weight.

Divide the total number of calories ingested over ten days by ten to calculate your average daily calorie consumption. Then, remove 500 calories from this total to get your new daily calorie goal for weight loss.

For example, if your maintenance calories are 2,000 per day, your new daily calorie goal will be 1,500.

As you lose weight, your maintenance calories will drop gradually. You’ll need to modify your calorie intake to meet your weight loss goals.

It’s also worth noting that a sustained calorie restriction can have an impact on your metabolism. It may adjust and slow down to accommodate your new calorie intake. This may make weight loss more challenging in the end.

You can achieve a calorie deficit by either eating fewer calories or increasing your physical activity – or both.

Creating a calorie deficit while physically exercising may be a more lasting, safe, and effective weight loss strategy.


A well-balanced diet is essential for reaching and maintaining a healthy caloric deficit.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025.According to Trusted Source, a balanced eating pattern is essential for meeting your calorie requirements and lowering your risk of certain health issues, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

A well-balanced and nutritious diet could include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Protein-rich foods include lean meats, poultry, and shellfish.
  • Low or nonfat dairy
  • Nuts

Here are some ideas that may help you reduce your caloric consumption without counting calories:

Avoid Drinking Calories

Alcoholic and sugary beverages such as soda, fruit juices, and specialty coffee drinks can be high in calories. However, the calories in these beverages do not provide fullness. In excess, they might cause weight gain.

Limit Highly Processed Foods

The sugar, fat, and salt in highly processed foods make them extremely appealing and encourage excessive consumption Trusted Source. A 2019 study Trusted Source discovered that persons who ate as much or as little as they wished consumed 500 more calories per day on a diet high in processed foods than on a diet low in processed foods.

Try these Healthy Food Swaps

Many healthy alternatives to common foods and beverages may help you lower your calorie consumption. You may prepare coffee creamer, granola bars, and chips instead of buying store-bought products that may be heavy in unsaturated fats, sugar, and salt.

Consume Home-Cooked Meals

Eating home-cooked meals has been linked to improved diet quality, greater fruit and vegetable intake, lower body fat levels, and lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.


Weight loss is only one of the several advantages of engaging in regular physical activity.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (Trusted Source) propose that people engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate level exercise or 75-150 minutes of strenuous intensity activity per week.

Moderate intensity exercise can include brisk walking, moderate bicycling, and yoga, whereas intense intensity exercise can include jogging and fast bicycling.

The guidelines also urge that people engage in muscle-strengthening activities involving their major muscle groups, which include the back, shoulders, chest, arms, and legs, at least twice a week.

Muscle-strengthening activities can also help your body favor fat loss over muscle mass.

Frequently asked Questions

How many calories should you be consuming in deficit?

A calorie deficit of 300-500 calories per day is effective for healthy and long-term weight loss.

How can I tell whether I’m eating in a calorie deficit?

If you’re in a healthy calorie deficit, you shouldn’t feel hungry, starved, or have low energy. However, if you are in an excessive calorie deficit, you may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Low energy levels
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Hair loss
  • Mood swings
  • Starvation and constipation.
  • Feeling chilly.

If you encounter any of these calorie deficit-related symptoms, you should consult a healthcare practitioner. They can assist you in developing a strategy for increasing your calorie intake.


A calorie deficit happens when you eat less calories than your body uses. A calorie deficit of up to 500 calories per day is useful for healthy and long-term weight loss.

Eating a well-balanced whole-food diet and engaging in 150-300 minutes of physical activity per week are excellent approaches to sustain a calorie deficit.

However, if you’re not sure how many calories you should consume, consult a healthcare specialist. They can design a weight loss regimen specifically for you.

Also Read this: How to keep Skin and Hair Healthy in Ramadan?

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