What Is a Calorie Deficit?

If you’ve read a few entries in this blog, you’ll notice that we often talk about a calorie deficit as being a key to successful weight loss. But what are we talking about?

Calories are a unit of energy, and a deficit in this context means the same as it does when used in the context of a budget: you’re spending more than you’re taking in.

What Is a Calorie?

As mentioned above, a calorie is a unit of energy. Specifically, it’s the amount of energy required to raise one gram (about 0.04 ounce) of water one degree Celsius. (about 9/5 degree Fahrenheit). To give you a sense about how much energy that is, there are about 860,000 calories in a kilowatt-hour, the unit of energy you see on your electric bill.

But here’s where things get confusing. The calorie we’ve been talking about here is not the same Calorie you see when you look at the side of your cereal box. The Calories listed for food are actual kilocalories, or 1000 calories. The only difference in notation is the capital “C.”

Understanding Your Energy “Budget”

Since most people understand money examples best, we’ll talk about a calorie deficit as if it were money. Consider the amount of calories you are consuming as your body’s income. The amount of calories your body burns is your body’s spending.

If your body is making more than it spends, the surplus gets put in the body’s saving account: fat.

If your body is spending more than it’s making, the deficit is withdrawn from your savings. That’s how you lose weight.

So, if you want to deplete your body’s rainy day fund, you have two options: you can either reduce your income (diet) or increase your spending (exercise). The best results come from doing both at the same time.

A pound of fat contains about 3500 big-C Calories, so in order to withdraw that much from your savings account, you need to build up that much in deficit. Let’s take some examples of how you can do this. Let’s say you have a regular cola every day with your lunch. That’s about 138 Calories. Replacing that cola with water will lead to a potential weight reduction of about 14 pounds in a year. Of course, if you do this, you may still be gaining weight, but at the end of the year, you’ll still be 14 pounds less than you would be if you’d kept drinking a cola every day with lunch.

If, on the other hand, you started jogging every day for about a half hour, you could burn an additional 286 Calories a day (if you weigh 180 pounds), which can result in a weight reduction of about 30 pounds at the end of a year.

The hard part is finding the right balance of calorie deficit to achieve your specific weight loss goals. That’s where we can help. To get scientific recommendations from a doctor, please contact Med-Fit Medical Weight Loss Clinic in Denver.

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Dr. Angela Tran