First things first, I want to put a little disclaimer out here: I am not an expert in fitness, nutrition or anything along those lines, and I’m a firm believer in not giving advice on things I’m not qualified in. In that spirit, the following blog post is going to be based solely on my own experience of losing weight using a calorie deficit over the past year or so. I’m not going to tell you how to calculate your personal calorie deficit, but I will direct you to a site that I use, and I will give you some tips on how I adjusted that figure as needed and stayed motivated!
As many people who’ve struggled with weight loss for years find, discovering the humble calorie deficit was a turning point for me. After years of weight loss feeling like a very mystical, complicated and generally unachievable thing, it was freeing to wave goodbye to the sea of contradictory advice and myths about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.
But, at the beginning, figuring out the right number of calories for me seemed daunting. As with anything weight loss orientated, every calculator said something different. Here are a few things I learnt on my journey.
- If in doubt, start higher. Think about it, if you’re just starting a weight loss journey, chances are your body is currently used to eating quite a high number of calories each day. Therefore, if you decide to slash that number in half or even more, your body is going to be very confused, and you are going to be very hungry. The key to my own weight loss success was easing myself into a calorie deficit gradually, so it didn’t feel like deprivation. In fact at the beginning, I simply focused on eating mindfully, before setting myself a starting target of something like 2000 calories. Because I was eating more than this beforehand, I did initially lose weight on this amount. If you drop those calories too fast, your body will feel shocked, you’re more likely to binge and if you stop losing weight, there’s no scope to go lower. I’ve been there, and trust me, setting yourself a target of 1300 calories a day is a surefire recipe for FREQUENT impulsive Domino’s purchases. The key to sustainability (in my opinion) is to steadily lose weight on the highest amount of calories possible.
- Monitor your progress and adjust as needed. It might take a while to find that ‘sweet spot’ figure (and that’s ok!), but once you have, be sure to monitor your progress as you go. During my weight loss, I would (and still do) weigh myself every week on a Monday morning. My goal was to lose 1lb a week, and if I was achieving that I’d keep my calories the same. Once I was no longer losing weight for a few weeks in a row (around 3 weeks of consistently 0 weight loss), I took that as a nudge to drop my calories *slightly*. This mindset was key to me – I had changed my perspective from viewing no progress on the scales as a personal failure, to simply viewing the scales as a tool to help me.
- And keep those adjustments small and gradual. So with each plateau I would adjust my calories and drop my daily target by around 50 calories. If that didn’t get that weight loss restarted, I’d do 50 more (50 was pretty much always enough, though). Again, the key here is to not shock your body; to keep things sustainable you want to barely notice the small calorie difference day to day.
- Don’t rush for quick results. This links to my previous point – any sort of sustainable weight loss is a slow process. For me, 1lb a week was a healthy target, and one I stuck to for almost a year. I certainly didn’t lose weight every week, but the final result was that over the space of that year I lost a total of 35lbs (21% of my bodyweight). I had periods of days and weeks off, I enjoyed Christmas and my birthday without giving calories a second thought, I made PLENTY of use of Eat Out to Help Out – I lived my life to the full. This was 100% the best way to do it, and committing to a long journey will really allow you to 1) enjoy the process and 2) maintain your results.
- Use this calculator for a starting figure. Before I was well-versed on the number of calories that work for my body, I swore by the James Smith macro calculator as a guide. This calculator is a good one because it doesn’t give you a ridiculously low target like many others do, and it’s also less focused on macro split.
Have you lost weight using calorie deficit? What would your first piece of advice be to someone who’s just starting out?