What Is a Calorie Deficit?

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You’ve likely heard you need to eat less and move more to lose weight. The reason for that is to create a calorie deficit. This is taking in fewer calories than you burn in a day.

Keep reading to learn more about calorie deficits and tips for creating one. 

Tracking calories with app

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What Is a Calorie Deficit?

A calorie deficit occurs when you’re consuming fewer calories than you use up in a day. 

Everything you eat and drink brings calories into your body as it’s digested and absorbed. Your body uses the calories to maintain your organs, healthy tissue, breathing, heartbeat, and every movement you make.

Calorie Deficit and Weight Loss

If you’re consuming more calories than you need in a day to maintain your body and move, your body stores that extra energy to be used later. 

Your body pulls this stored energy out if you eat less during the day or during periods of fasting (like when you’re asleep). 

But if you consistently eat more calories than you need, your body continues to store energy without ever really needing to use much of the stored energy. 

Over time, this can lead to a large weight gain. On the other hand, if you stay in a calorie deficit, you begin using the stored energy and lose weight. 

You can cause a calorie deficit by eating less food, burning more calories, or a combination of the two. 

How Do I Figure Out My Calorie Deficit?

The general recommendation is to create a deficit of 500 calories per day. The body stores 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, so a 500 calorie deficit, in theory, creates a pound of weight lost per week. 

It’s estimated that the average sedentary (inactive) adult male needs about 2,200 calories per day to maintain his weight, while physically active people require 2,800 calories per day. 

To experience weight loss, it’s generally recommended that women take in 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day and men take in 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day. 

However, the exact number of calories you need depends on your metabolism, health, muscle mass, and activity level. 

You may be able to figure out how many calories you burn per day by wearing a fitness tracker or having your resting metabolic rate tested at a medical center.

Tips on Eating Fewer Calories

Here are some tips to help you create a calorie deficit.


Moving your body more and working out are excellent ways to increase your calorie deficit. Try to work in more movement and exercises by:

  • Join group fitness classes.
  • Take at least 10,000 steps per day.
  • Do strength and cardio workouts a few times a week.
  • Try different types of workouts to find one you like.
  • Ask a friend to be an accountability partner.
  • Meet friends for a walk rather than a meal.
  • Park farther away from your destination.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator when possible.

Eat More Protein

Eating more protein helps support weight loss. Research shows eating enough protein helps preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss (so the pounds you lose are less likely to be muscle) and keeps you feeling full for longer.

Aim for 10% to 35% of your calories coming from protein. Try to make sure you’re eating protein-rich food with each meal and snack. Aim for a mix of animal and plant-based protein foods, like:

  • Lean meats (beef, poultry, pork)
  • Fish and seafood
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dairy products

Discuss your protein intake with a healthcare provider if you have liver or kidney disease as eating higher levels of protein may not be appropriate for you.

Track Your Calories

Simply bringing awareness to how much you’re eating could help you eat less. Sometimes, people are unaware of how much they’re eating because they are mindlessly reaching for snacks. 

Try keeping a food journal or tracking your calories in an app to help you create a calorie deficit and eat fewer calories. 

Eat More Fiber

Fiber is a part of plant foods that humans can’t fully digest. Instead of breaking down and absorbing fiber it works to:

  • Fuel the healthy bacteria in your gut
  • Slow down digestion to help you feel full longer
  • Promote bowel regularity
  • Lower risk of digestive problems

An adequate intake of fiber is 14 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed daily. Eating more high-fiber foods helps you stay full longer, so you’ll be less likely to need to reach for additional snacks.


A calorie deficit is when you eat fewer calories than you use in a day. If you’re eating more calories than you use, the excess is stored as fat. So, to lose weight you need to bring in fewer calories than you burn.

A calorie deficit of 500 calories per day is usually recommended to create an average weight loss of 1 pound per week. Exercising more and tracking your calories may help you create a calorie deficit. Eating more protein and adding fiber to your diet may help you feel fuller longer, making a calorie deficit easier to achieve.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that it’s better to have slow and sustainable weight loss than using a crash diet to quickly lose weight. So, when deciding on a calorie deficit, aim for a small decrease in calories for sustainable results. If you have any questions about your diet or weight, talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is 1,000 calories too much of a deficit?

    A 1,000 calorie deficit is at the high end of what’s recommended. It’s recommended to aim for 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss per week. A 1,000 calorie deficit per day would bring an average loss of 2 pounds. However, this may feel less sustainable. A deficit of 500 to 750 calories may be more sustainable.

  • Will eating less burn belly fat?

    Eating fewer calories than you burn may help with belly fat. However, you can’t control which pounds you lose while you’re losing weight. So, it may take time before you see your belly fat go down.

  • How can I burn 500 calories a day?

    Examples of exercises in which you may be able to burn 500 calories in 30 minutes include high-intensity interval training, dancing, running, swimming, jumping rope, and weight training.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Koliaki C, Spinos T, Spinou Μ, Brinia ΜE, Mitsopoulou D, Katsilambros N. Defining the optimal dietary approach for safe, effective and sustainable weight loss in overweight and obese adults. Healthcare (Basel). 2018;6(3):73. doi:10.3390/healthcare6030073

  2. Moon J, Koh G. Clinical evidence and mechanisms of high-protein diet-induced weight loss. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2020;29(3):166-173. doi:10.7570/jomes20028

  3. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

  4. Hervik AK, Svihus B. The role of fiber in energy balance. J Nutr Metab. 2019;2019:4983657. doi:10.1155/2019/4983657

  5. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Easy ways to boost fiber in your diet.

By Ashley Braun, MPH, RD
Ashley Braun, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian and public health professional with over 5 years of experience educating people on health-related topics using evidence-based information. Her experience includes educating on a wide range of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, HIV, neurological conditions, and more.