Achieving a Caloric Deficit: The Basic Element of Fat Loss

by Glenn Larson

Various fitness trends and fads that promised to get their target market in tip-top shape have come and gone. However, there are basic principles in nutrition and fitness that stand the test of time when it comes to fat loss.

Caloric deficit

The foundation of fat loss is a caloric deficit. A calorie is a unit of energy our bodies need to consume through food to sustain our daily activities. To be in a caloric deficit, calories consumed should be lesser than calories burned. In other words, calories in should be lesser than calories out.

To know how many calories you need to take to be in a deficit, you must first know your maintenance calories or the number of calories that sustain your current weight and support your current daily energy expenditure. You can do this manually by tracking your usual food intake for a week, then get your daily average calorie intake. Subtract 500 calories from your calculated daily average calorie intake and that could be the calories you need to be in a deficit.

For a more accurate computation that is based on several factors like your weight, height, and age, you may search for calorie calculators online.

Good versus bad food

Achieving a Caloric Deficit: The Basic Element of Fat Loss

It is conventional wisdom that eating junk food will make you gain fat, but similarly, eating too many “clean” or “healthy” foods beyond your calorie requirement will also lead to fat gain. This means that eating certain foods alone will not immediately lead to fat gain, but eating too much beyond the daily calorie requirement will. Hence, you can still occasionally enjoy your favorite food or follow a particular diet of your choice for as long as you are still in a caloric deficit.

However, it is not advisable to consume one’s daily calorie requirement in calorie-dense foods. Doing so is not sustainable because more calories are consumed from only a low volume of food. In effect, this will make you feel hungry and worse, lead to binge-eating, defeating the goal of fat loss. Hence, it is still recommended to have a balanced diet consisting mostly of whole, nutrient-dense food and from time to time have palatable and calorie-dense foods.

For example, a medium serving of French fries from a fast-food restaurant is approximately 320 calories, almost the same amount of calories that can be provided by one serving of instant oats with a tablespoon of honey, a third cup of unsweetened almond milk, and a medium banana on the side. The latter meal will make you feel fuller for a longer time. More than curbing your appetite, these foods also provide more nutrients to your body.

Listed below are some foods that are recommended to keep you in a successful caloric deficit.

  • Chicken breast. Chicken breast is an excellent choice for dieting since it is rich in protein and low in fat. A 100-gram raw chicken breast is just around 110 calories and provides around 30 grams of protein. Eating protein-rich foods like chicken breast is recommended when in a caloric deficit as they are more satiating. More than that, an adequate protein intake helps retain muscle and prevent muscle loss which can happen when in a calorie deficit.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are known to be nutrient-dense foods. Aside from all the nutritional values, these foods have to offer, fruits and vegetables, in general, have low calories. That means eating a lot of these will not only provide you nutrients but will also keep you fuller for a longer time for only a small amount of calories. For example, a cup of broccoli and a cup of strawberries are both packed with Vitamin C and are only around 30 and 50 calories, respectively. These will give you enough nutrients and satisfy your hunger without providing too many calories.
  • Oats. Oats are a popular breakfast choice since it is a good source of energy to fuel your morning and the rest of your day. For just 120 calories, 40 grams of instant oats is packed with 5 grams of protein and contains a soluble fiber called beta-glucan that also helps suppress appetite.
  • Water. Liquid calories, when mindlessly consumed, can add up to your calories. A can of soda in your meal may seem harmless but it can easily contribute to around 140 calories to your diet. To quench your thirst, it is best to drink water as it has no calories plus it is necessary to keep your body hydrated. To fulfill your craving for a sweet, bubbly beverage, opt for zero-calorie sodas sweetened by sugar substitutes or just sparkling water if you are avoiding artificial substances.
  • Coffee. Another zero-calorie beverage is pure black coffee. Aside from not having calories, coffee has caffeine which helps in training performance and focus, that’s why some people who work out drink coffee or take caffeine supplements before training. Just be sure to only get black coffee especially when ordering in coffee shops. Most coffee drinks sold in cafés contain additional ingredients like sugar, milk, whipped cream, and syrups that add up calories to coffee.
Achieving a Caloric Deficit: The Basic Element of Fat Loss

Strength training

While being in a caloric deficit is the first step to lose fat, physical activities will make fat loss faster as it burns calories consumed from eating. An effective physical activity to lose fat and gain muscle is strength training. This type of training burns calories not only during but even after your workout session. It builds and strengthens muscles and in effect increases metabolism that leads to further fat loss.

Strength training can also be coupled with cardiovascular activities like running or high-intensity training to make losing fat even faster.

Final thoughts

A calorie deficit is needed to lose fat. To have a sustainable diet in a deficit, choose foods that are low in calories but are satiating and dense in nutrients to keep you fueled throughout the day. Pairing your diet with physical activities like strength training will also boost fat loss.

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