I will not emphasize enough that the ONLY way to lose fat is by being in a consistent calorie deficit. You can argue with me, fight me on this, and tell me calories don’t matter. Regardless of what type of diet you choose to eat, paleo, low carb, plant based, atkins, juice cleanses, tree bark, etc. Unless you are creating a calorie deficit with these ways and styles of eating, you won’t lose anything. Period.
What is a calorie deficit? Simply put it’s eating less calories than your body needs to maintain it’s current weight. As long as you are CONSISTENTLY doing this, you will lose fat. I know this doesn’t sound very sexy and it doesn’t sound like much of a secret, but this is the simplicity of it and it’s what works regardless of what you’ve heard.
Creating a deficit is easy believe it or not, but how much of a deficit is where the question lies. Not just creating a deficit, but a sustainable deficit (this is where a good trainer/coach comes in).
There are a few ways you can look at this. First, you need to find your maintenance calories (the amount of calories needed to maintain your current weight). I’m going to give you general guidelines, but like I stated, finding a coach to help you would be ideally beneficial because every person will be different, and calorie needs will depend on various individual factors.
That being said let’s get started.
Finding Maintenance Calories
Taking your bodyweight x 14-15 should give you a rough estimate of your maintenance calories. Once again, this is a VERY rough estimate and all factors need to be looked at, but for simplicity sake this is my general recommendation. So, let’s use Bill as an example. Bill weighs 170 lbs.
We’ve determined that Bill’s maintenance calories is roughly 2550 . Now Bill must decide on how big of a deficit he wants to create in order to lose bodyfat. He has the choice of creating a small, medium, and large size deficit. There are pros and cons to each which I will go through with you now.
Large calorie deficit=>25% below maintenance or greater. For example sake, we’ll say Bill wants to create a 30% deficit from his maintenance. 2500*.30=765. Bill would then subtract 765 from his maintenance to get the number of calories he would consume to be in a 30% deficit. 2500-765=1735.
Moderate calorie deficit= 20%-25% below maintenance. If Bill wants to create a moderate deficit, his calories would look like this: 2500*.20=500. 2500-500=2000 calories required for a moderate deficit.
Small calorie deficit=10-15% below maintenance. 2500*.10=250; 2500-250=2250 calories for a small deficit.
So now that you see how good at math I am, let’s dissect these three methods and decide how much of a deficit you should be creating. Let me discuss the pros/cons to each method.
Pros: Obviously fat loss rate will be increased and the diet will end quicker than if you were to choose the other 2 options. Another pro is that very large individuals will see a large drop on the scale at first which can encourage positive reinforcement and improve with compliance later on.
Cons: With this amount of a deficit, you are basically creating it all through diet and food. A person is just not able to burn the large amount of calories with exercise or have the time to spend hours per day to burn the amount of calories needed for such an extreme deficit. Also, there isn’t a ton of room for flexibility in food choices. Getting your brotein(protein) in at a large deficit doesn’t leave you much for other choices because of calories. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m 5’0 currently 113 lbs. If I wanted to create a large deficit for myself my daily calories would =about 1200. I will never adhere to that long term, my workouts would suffer, and I’d be tired and bitchy all the time due to lack of food.
A large deficit may seem like a good choice because you can reach your goals a little faster, but if you aren’t going to adhere to it and it will just give you issues, there won’t be any progress.
Pros: This is probably the most widely used approach (including mine) when wanting to lose fat. Using a combination of food and exercise to create the deficit makes it much more manageable. You don’t have to be doing endless amounts of exercise as well as restricting yourself in the food category with a moderate deficit. This type of deficit doesn’t seem to affect training or gym workouts too much.
Cons: The only con I really see with this is that it does still feel dietish (yeah it’s a word) in the sense that you are still feeling a bit restricted from a calorie standpoint, unless you want to entirely create your deficit through activity and exercise. Other than that, I don’t see many cons with this approach and it tends to have the greatest adherence factor.
Pros: The deficit is so small that it can be accomplished pretty easily. You can literally make super small changes in your current dietary habits and make this work. Another con with this one is that long term adherence is much better than that of taking extreme approaches. A person doing a small deficit has a much lower chance of losing all control and screwing it up.
Cons: The #1 issue with this approach is that fat loss is super slow. I’d say go with this approach if you are already pretty lean and really don’t have much fat to lose. If you have a ton of fat to lose, this slow fat loss rate will be extremely frustrating and causing most people to throw in the towel because of the mere frustration of only losing 1-2 pounds per week.
What should you choose?
Well, personally, I think a combo of all 3 is ideal. By this I mean having some days set at a large, medium, and small deficit to create an average for the week. Here’s what I personally do when trying to lose. I establish that I want to put myself at a moderate deficit.
Example: A moderate deficit for me personally is around 1400 calories per day based on my height, weight, states, and other factors. So as long as at the end of the week I have an average of 1400 then I’m golden. So here’s what a typical week may look like for me:
Monday: Large deficit 1100
Tuesday: Mod deficit 1400
Wed: Mod deficit 1400
Thurs: Small def. 1600
Friday: Large def. 1100
Saturday Mod def 1400
Sunday Small def 1600
Average weekly calories: 1400 (roughly)
See what I did there? Of course you have to find out what works best for you, which is where a good coach comes in. Don’t make it too complicated and stick to guidelines vs. exact numbers. Pick a calorie RANGE (i.e. 1100-1200; 1400-1500, etc.). You won’t drive yourself crazy that way.
At the end of the day, there is no one approach that is superior over the other. Everyone wants to lose fat the quickest way possible. Instead of doing that, focus on what approach is going to be sustainable and maintainable long term, because if you can’t continue to maintain what you’re doing, there is really no point right?