The science of weight loss: caloric deficit

The science of weight loss: caloric deficit

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The most helpful advice I received when I decided I wanted to lose weight was “do the math”. Despite all the diets and exercise methods out there, weight management comes down to the calories you take in versus the calories you burn off, according to the Mayo Clinic. Calorie counting turns weight loss into a mathematical certainty if you stay consistent.

In order to lose weight, your body must be in what’s called a “caloric deficit”, meaning that you are eating less in a day than your body needs to maintain itself. To ensure that your body remains in this deficit, you have to nail down your body’s maintenance calories. Your maintenance level is the exact amount of food you can take in in a single day without gaining or losing any weight.

There are plenty of calorie calculators online that will give you a general estimation of your maintenance numbers based on your age, height, weight, and activity level. These numbers can vary drastically from site to site, but they can be a good starting point. Let’s look at a more concrete example.

Let’s say you input all your personal information into a Healthline Nutrition calorie calculator online and it tells you your maintenance calories are 1800. Now you have a place to begin the trial and error process. On Day 1, record your starting weight. For the next week, keep your daily calories at 1800. At the end of the seven days, weigh yourself again and take note on any weight gain or weight loss. Based on the scale changes, you can then adjust your maintenance calories to fit your body.

Once you know your maintenance numbers, you can then calculate your deficit for ideal weight loss. According to the Mayo Clinic, your body is capable of burning up to 1-2 pounds per week with a caloric deficit of 200-500 calories. If 1800 is your maintenance level, drop down to 1600 or lower depending on what works for you.

We’ve all seen the diet ads, claiming that their method will help you lose 8 pounds in a week or give you a six-pack in a matter of days. When it comes to health and fitness, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These methods utilize severe caloric deficits and dehydration that can put your body into a kind of shock with noticeable side effects.

According to Healthline, not eating enough food can lead to extreme fatigue, hair loss, dizziness, constipation, muscle and bone deterioration, and even mood alterations. Losing weight can be a slow, painstaking process, but resorting to extremes can do more damage than good.

Keeping track of your daily calories is as simple as downloading an app on your phone. These apps have a massive database where you can look up every food you eat, whether it’s at home or at a restaurant. With all your personal information in mind, these apps will analyze your progress and even send you helpful reminders to stay successful. Some of these apps include MyFitnessPal, Fitbit and Loseit, many of which are completely free.

In the end, weight loss can be as easy as an equation. Relying on the math can give you comfort and certainty during your journey, knowing you are giving your body exactly what it needs to make progress. You can even nail down an exact timeline of how long it will take you to reach your goals. So, do the math, put in the work, be patient and watch the scale change.

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