Calorie Deficit Diet: How Does It Work, Diet Plan, & Risks

Shed those extra calories quickly and effectively with this diet!

Medically reviewed by Samantha Blanton, RDN
Written by Moksha Gandhi, BPharm, Certified Health & Wellness Coach
Edited by Ravi Teja Tadimalla, BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health
Fact-checked by Himanshi Mahajan, BSc (Life Sciences), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach  • 

Weight management still remains a key concern for those striving for optimum health and fitness. But despite the influx of numerous diet trends and weight loss strategies, the calorie deficit diet still stands as one of the effective weight loss strategies. The diet promotes the intake of fewer calories than your body burns. This results in a calorie deficit that prompts weight loss. But do note that the calorie deficit diet is so much more beyond just regular calorie counting. It involves choosing the right foods and structuring your meals to achieve sustainable weight loss and improve your overall health. In this article, we discuss the principle behind this diet, a sample meal plan, and the diet’s potential risks. Continue reading. 

protip_icon At A Glance: Calorie Deficit Diet
  • Principle: Consumption of fewer calories than your body burns to achieve weight loss
  • Purpose: To burn stored fats and help with sustainable weight loss
  • Who It Is For: People looking for an effective weight loss strategy
  • Duration: Short-term
  • Who Should Avoid: Anyone with eating disorders, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and growing adolescents
  • Cons: May cause nutritional deficiencies and muscle loss

What Is A Calorie Deficit Diet?

A calorie deficit diet promotes the intake of fewer calories than the body burns. This causes a calorie deficit, where your body must use the stored energy and burn fat to make up for the missing calories. For instance, those with a daily caloric requirement of 2000 calories can create a calorie deficit of 500 calories by taking only 1500 calories. Their body will start burning fat to produce energy in an attempt to make up for this deficit. This, eventually, will lead to weight loss (1).

A calorie deficit is created by either consuming fewer calories, exercising more, or both.

Calories In

Embarking on a calorie deficit diet involves careful planning to create a sustainable and healthy approach to weight loss and improved well-being. Take a look at the next section to understand how this diet works.

How To Follow A Calorie Deficit Diet?

Calorie counting is an essential part of the calorie deficit diet
Image: Shutterstock

Following a calorie deficit diet without proper guidance can be difficult. But the following guide can help.

  1. Calculate the Maintenance Calories You Need: Determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditurei  XTotal number of calories burnt in a day that depends on a person’s basal metabolic rate and physical activity level (TDEE), which takes your activity level and basal metabolic ratei  XTotal number of calories needed to perform basic life functions like breathing, nerve function, and circulation (BMR) into consideration. You can use online calculators for this purpose.
  2. Set Your Calorie Deficit: Decide the number of calories you want to cut from your daily intake. A deficit of 300 to 500 calories per day is usually recommended to help lose 1 to 2 pounds per week.
  3. Select Nutrient-Dense Foods: Consume more of fresh fruits, healthy fats, vegetables, nuts, and legumes for sustainable weight loss (2).
  4. Portion Control: Monitor your portion sizes to avoid consuming excess calories. You can even measure and weigh your food to help track your caloric intake.
  5. Monitor Your Intake: Keep a food journal or use a calorie tracking app to help maintain your calorie deficit.
  6. Eat Several Small Meals Throughout The Day: Some research suggests that smaller, more frequent meals can help manage your appetite, keep your energy levels up, and reduce fat mass and body fat percentage (3).
  7. Exercise Regularly: A calorie deficit can also be achieved by engaging in physical exercises. Combine strength training with cardiovascular exercises like walking, running, or swimming to maintain your muscle mass and achieve healthy weight loss (4).
  8. Consult A Doctor: Speak to a licensed dietitian or healthcare professional before beginning a calorie deficit diet. They will provide a customized diet plan to make sure your dietary requirements are met.

Now that we have explored how to create a calorie deficit, scroll down to the next section to learn about the foods that you can eat on this diet.

What Can You Eat On A Calorie Deficit Diet?

Foods you can consume on a calorie deficit diet
Image: Shutterstock

You can enjoy a wide range of nutritious yet delicious foods on a calorie deficit diet. Here is a list of foods that you can eat:

  1. Lean Proteins: Go for poultry, lean cuts of beef or pork, fish, tofu, tempeh, and legumes (beans and lentils), as they provide essential amino acids to support muscle health and help you feel full (5), (6).
  2. Fruits And Vegetables: You can go with all types of fruits and vegetables as they are low in calories but rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and may help you stay full (7).
  3. Whole Grains: Choose quinoa, brown rice, oats, whole wheat pasta, and whole-grain bread as they contain complex carbohydrates and fiber that provide sustained energy and keep you full (8).
  4. Healthy Fats: Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil should be consumed in moderation.
  5. Dairy Or Dairy Alternatives:Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheese are ideal. Those who are lactose intolerant can opt for fortified plant-based milk like almond or soy milk.
  6. Snacks: Select healthy snack options like Greek yogurt, mixed nuts, whole-grain crackers with hummus, or fresh fruit. Avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient, processed snacks made with refined oils.
  7. Hydration: Thirst is often misunderstood as hunger and can often lead to overeating. Stay hydrated with water, herbal teas, and other low-calorie beverages and limit sugary drinks and alcohol to keep your weight in check.

Now that you know about the different foods you can enjoy on a calorie deficit diet, learn about the various healthy and sustainable strategies for cutting down excess calories.

Healthiest Ways To Cut Excess Calories From Your Diet

 The following tips can help you slowly cut excess calories from your diet while enabling you to focus on balanced nutrition:

  1. Practice Mindful Eating: Mindless eating can often lead to overeating. Pay attention to your body’s hunger cues and focus on what and how much you are eating.
  2. Reduce Portion Sizes: Use smaller plates and bowls to help control portion sizes. If you are craving for something high in calories, consume that in a small portion to satisfy your taste buds.
  3. Limit Sugary And Processed Foods: Avoid sugary drinks, soda, snacks, and heavily processed foods as they lack nutritional value.
  4. Prefer Home-Cooked Meals: Cooking your own meals allows you to manage the portion sizes and control calories.
  5. Stay Hydrated: Drink enough water throughout the day, as thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger.
  6. Snack Wisely: Opt for healthy options like fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurt, or nuts. Avoid mindless snacking in front of the TV or computer.
  7. Practice Moderation: Enjoy occasional treats or have cheat days in moderation rather than completely cutting out everything. This can help prevent feelings of deprivation and can keep your cravings in check.
  8. Set Realistic Goals: Aim for gradual, sustainable weight loss rather than rapid changes that are difficult to maintain in the long-term.
protip_icon Quick Tip
Opt for cooking methods such as air-frying, grilling, or steaming to cut down calories.

Once you learn how to cut excess calories from your diet, it is important to create a meal plan that helps you lose weight while ensuring you meet your nutritional needs. Check out one such meal plan in the next section.

Calorie Deficit Diet Sample Meal Plan

Low-calorie foods
Image: Shutterstock

Creating a calorie deficit meal plan involves careful planning that ensures you meet your nutritional needs while reducing your calorie intake. Check out this sample mean below to know more:

MealsFoods
Breakfast
  • Scrambled eggs made with 2 eggs
  • 1 slice of whole-grain toast with 1/4th avocado and 1 cup of cooked spinach
  • 1 cup of black coffee or herbal tea
Mid-Morning Snack
  • ½ cup of Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup of mixed berries
Lunch
  • 1 serving of grilled chicken breast with ½ cup of cooked quinoa and 1 cup of steamed broccoli
  • 1 serving of mixed green salad with 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette and ½ cup of sliced bell peppers
  • 1 glass of water or 1 cup of herbal tea
Afternoon Snack
  • 1 cup of carrot sticks with 2 tablespoons of hummus
Dinner
  • 1 serving of baked salmon with ½ cup of cooked brown rice with 1 cup of steamed asparagus
  • 1 cup of mixed green salad with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and lemon dressing and ½ cup of sliced cucumber
Evening Snack
  • Handful of almonds
  • 1 cup of herbal tea

Now that you understand the principle behind a calorie deficit diet, scroll down to the next section for a 7-day diet plan that you can follow to shed those stubborn pounds effectively.

7-Day Calorie Deficit Diet Plan

Here is a sample 7-day diet plan that can help you cut those extra calories easily:

Day 1

Breakfast: 1 cup of cooked oatmeal with ½ sliced banana

Snack: ½ cup of cottage cheese with ½ cup of pineapple chunks

Lunch: 1 serving of turkey and avocado wrap (1 whole-grain tortilla, ¼ avocado, ½ cup of lettuce and tomato)

Snack: 1 cup of celery sticks with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter

Dinner: 1 serving of grilled tofu with ½ cup of quinoa and 1 cup of steamed asparagus

Day 2

Breakfast: 2 cups of scrambled eggs with 1 cup of spinach

Snack: 1 cup of Greek yogurt with ½ cup of mixed berries

Lunch: 1 serving of grilled chicken breast with ½ cup of quinoa and 1 cup of steamed broccoli

Snack: 1 cup of carrot sticks with 2 tablespoons of hummus

Dinner: 1 serving of baked salmon with ½ cup of cooked brown rice and 1 cup of mixed green salad

Day 3

Breakfast: 2 whole-grain waffles with ½ cup of fresh berries and a tablespoon of Greek yogurt

Snack: 3 cups of air-popped popcorn

Lunch: 1 cup of lentil soup with 1 serving of mixed greens and 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette dressing

Snack: 1 apple (sliced) with a sprinkle of cinnamon

Dinner: 1 serving of grilled shrimp with ½ cup of quinoa and 1 cup of steamed green beans

Day 4

Breakfast: A glass of smoothie made with 1 cup of spinach, 1 banana, 2 to 3 tablespoons of protein powder, and 1 cup of almond milk

Snack: 1 cup of bell pepper with 2 tablespoons of guacamole

Lunch: 1 serving of turkey and vegetable stir-fry with ½ cup of brown rice

Snack: 1 piece of low-fat string cheese

Dinner: 1 serving of baked cod with ½ cup of quinoa and 1 cup of steamed broccoli

Snack: ½ cup of mixed berries with 1 tablespoon of whipped cream

Day 5

Breakfast: ½ cup of Greek yogurt parfait with granola and ½ cup of mixed berries

Snack: 1 sliced apple with a teaspoon of almond butter

Lunch: 1 cup of chickpea salad made with ½ cup of vegetables and 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette dressing

Snack: 3 cups of air-popped popcorn

Dinner: 1 serving of grilled chicken breast with ½ cup of quinoa and 1 cup of roasted Brussels sprouts

Day 6

Breakfast: 4 ounces of scrambled tofu with 1 cup of sautéed spinach and 1 slice of whole-grain toast

Snack: ½ cup of mixed nuts

Lunch: 1 turkey and vegetable wrap made with 1 whole-grain tortilla, 3 ounces of turkey, ½ cup of assorted vegetables, and 1 tablespoon of hummus

Snack: 1 cup of low-fat Greek yogurt

Dinner: 1 serving of baked tilapia with ½ cup of quinoa and 1 cup of steamed asparagus

Day 7

Breakfast: ½ cup of overnight oats topped with sliced banana and a drizzle of honey

Snack: 1 sliced cucumber with 2 tablespoons of tzatziki sauce

Lunch: 1 cup of lentil and vegetable soup with a small portion of mixed greens and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette

Snack: ½ cup of berries with 1 tablespoon of whipped cream

Dinner: 1 serving of grilled shrimp with ½ cup of brown rice and 1 cup of steamed broccoli

protip_icon Quick Tip
Eat in smaller plates to control your appetite as larger plates are associated with larger serving sizes.

This sample diet plan can help you achieve a calorie deficit and meet your weight loss goals effectively. However, you also need to understand the potential risks of this diet before attempting it. Scroll down to the next section to know more.

Risks Of A Calorie Deficit Diet

A calorie deficit diet may cause fatigue and weakness
Image: Shutterstock

While a calorie deficit diet can be an effective tool for weight loss, it can pose the following risks and challenges:

  1. Nutrient Deficiencies: Restricted calorie intake can lead to vitamin C and zinc deficiencies, which may increase the risk of scurvyi  XA disease that develops due to vitamin C deficiency and causes symptoms like bleeding gums and fatigue and immune system dysfunction (9), (10), (11).
  2. Muscle Loss: Inadequate protein intake on a calorie deficit diet may break down muscle tissue for energy. This can lead to muscle loss and a slower metabolism. A study found that a calorie deficit diet for weight loss can decrease lean mass. Hence, one should combine the diet with some physical activity to maintain muscle mass and strength (12).
  3. Fatigue And Weakness: A calorie deficit diet can cause fatigue, weakness, and reduced physical performance. This can make it a challenge to carry out daily activities. Prolonged calorie restriction can also decrease the energy needed for physical activity (13).
  4. Hormonal Imbalances: Long-term calorie deficit can significantly reduce androgeni  XNatural or synthetic steroidal hormones, like testosterone, that regulate the development and maintenance of male characteristics and testosteronei  XA male sex hormone that plays an important role in the development of male reproductive tissues and characteristics . This may increase the risk of infertility (14), (15).
  5. Mental Health Issues: Calorie restriction may cause feelings of deprivation, stress, and anxiety around food. This may potentially increase the risk of binge eating (13).

Conclusion

A calorie deficit diet can aid in weight loss when followed properly. It promotes the intake of fewer calories than your body expends. This results in gradual and sustainable weight loss. However, it is essential to strike a balance between reduced calorie intake and proper nutrition to prevent nutritional deficiencies and fatigue. Consume whole, nutrient-dense, protein-rich foods. Combine that with regular exercise to achieve the desired calorie deficit. Consult a doctor for a customized diet plan to help shed those pounds while also moving towards a healthier and energized you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I deal with hunger while on a calorie deficit diet?

Keep yourself hydrated and consume high-fiber food to keep yourself full. You can also spread your meals throughout the day to reduce your cravings.

How long should I follow a calorie deficit diet?

The duration of a calorie deficit diet depends on your weight loss goals, health, and age. Consult a doctor for a customized diet plan that ensures effective and sustainable weight management.

What are some signs that my calorie deficit is too extreme?

Extreme calorie deficit can cause severe fatigue, constant hunger, dizziness, and an inability to concentrate. Consult a healthcare professional immediately if you experience these symptoms.

What is the difference between a calorie deficit diet and a crash diet?

A calorie deficit diet focuses on decreasing calorie intake sustainably for weight loss. In contrast, a crash diet is an extreme and unsustainable short-term approach that focuses on a drastic reduction of calories with no importance given to essential nutrients.

Can I consume alcohol while on a calorie deficit diet?

Alcohol intake is not recommended during the diet as it is relatively high in calories. Even otherwise, it is better to limit alcohol intake as it contains no substantial nutritional value.

Key Takeaways

  • A calorie-deficit diet promotes the consumption of fewer calories than your body burns in a day.
  • Incorporate proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and other fiber-rich foods and avoid refined, processed, and high-calorie foods.
  • Practicing portion control, eating mindfully, and staying hydrated can help cut down the excess calories from your diet.
  • It is possible that a calorie-deficit diet may cause nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, and muscle loss. Hence, practice caution.

Unlock your weight loss journey with the calorie deficit diet. Check out this video for a list of high-protein foods that can help curb your cravings.

References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Optimal Diet Strategies For Weight Loss And Weight Loss Maintenance
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8017325/
  2. Effect Of A High Nutrient Density Diet On Long-Term Weight Loss: A Retrospective Chart Review
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18517106/
  3. Effects Of Meal Frequency On Weight Loss And Body Composition: A Meta-Analysis
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26024494/
  4. Physical Activity And Weight Loss Maintenance
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK572051/
  5. Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/
  6. Protein weight management and satiety
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916523236643
  7. Influence of Fruit and Vegetable Intake on Satiety and Energy Intake: A Review
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329270548_Influence_of_Fruit_and_Vegetable_Intake_on_Satiety_and_Energy_Intake_A_Review
  8. Influence of whole grain barley whole grain wheat and refined rice-based foods on short-term satiety and energy intake
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223288923_Influence_of_whole_grain_barley_whole_grain_wheat_and_refined_rice-based_foods_on_short-term_satiety_and_energy_intake
  9. Micronutrient deficiency in obese subjects undergoing low calorie diet
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404899/
  10. Vitamin C Deficiency
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493187/
  11. Zinc Deficiency
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493231/
  12. Effects Of Weight Loss On Lean Mass Strength Bone And Aerobic Capacity
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5161655/
  13. Caloric Restriction In Humans: Impact On Physiological Psychological And Behavioral Outcomes
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3014770/
  14. Long-Term Effects Of Calorie Restriction On Serum Sex Hormone Concentrations In Men
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3569090/
  15. How Does Low Testosterone Affect Male Infertility
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356760499_How_Does_Low_Testosterone_Affect_Male_Infertility_-_16122021_The_experts_in_conversation_with_Dr_RITU_SANTWANI_and_Dr_MUSTAFA_ZAKARIA
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