Caloric Deficit Explained

by | May 22, 2023

To lose weight, you simply must take fewer calories than you burn during the day. It’s simple math. Calories in must be less than calories burned.  This is called a caloric deficit

A caloric deficit forces your body to tap into its stored fat reserves leading to weight loss. Your body uses calories to support basic functions such as maintaining temperature, cell growth, and muscle movement. You also burn calories with exercise. You take in calories by eating food. Ingesting fewer calories than burning them is called a caloric deficit.

A safe and sustainable rate of weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week, which requires a daily calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories. This can be achieved by reducing your daily calorie intake and/or increasing the calories burned. This is accomplished predominantly through increasing physical activity levels (although there are other ways such as sauna use and cold exposure, which we will discuss in more detail in an upcoming edition).

The size of the caloric deficit matters. If your caloric deficit is too large (i.e. starving yourself), your body may start to burn muscle tissue along with fat, which can be detrimental to your overall health and weight loss goals. Excessive calorie deficits also increase stress hormones, such as cortisol, which leads to insulin resistance and higher levels of insulin in the bloodstream. Insulin is a strong signal for your body to store calories as fat. This is why crash dieting is often counterproductive long-term. The actions of the hormone insulin are so important to understand when trying to lose weight that we will devote an entire edition to this hormone in an upcoming newsletter.

Rapid weight loss in and of itself is a stressor for the body and can increase insulin levels. This is one of the reasons why the dose of weight loss medication is started low and slowly increased.

The way that the body regulates your weight and fat storage is complicated and involves many different hormones and biochemical pathways. So, it’s important to note that weight loss is not just about calories in and calories out. Factors such as genetics, hormones, sleep, stress, and medication use can also affect your weight loss journey. Additionally, it’s important to ensure that you are still getting all the essential nutrients your body needs while in a caloric deficit. This can be achieved by choosing nutrient-dense foods that provide a lot of nutrients for fewer calories, such as a variety of colors and types of vegetables and healthy protein sources, such as beans, fish, and eggs. Supplementation can also reduce the likelihood of deficiencies that can arise from dieting for weight loss. This can be done with a daily multivitamin, or, for more rapid effects with an IV micronutrient infusion (see our website for details about the options offered by Flow Wellness).

Medical weight loss medication belongs to a class of medications called GLP-1 receptor agonists, which work by mimicking the action of the hormone glucagon-like peptide type 1 in the body. GLP-1 is naturally produced by the abdominal organs and plays a role in regulating appetite, glucose metabolism, and insulin secretion. Medical weight loss works by slowing down the rate at which food leaves the stomach, reducing appetite, and promoting feelings of fullness. The more full you feel, the less you are inclined to eat and, voila, a calorie deficit is achieved. This is similar to the effects of bariatric surgery (i.e. gastric bypass), but thankfully, with medical weight loss you can reap all the benefits without the risks of a major operation.

Clinical studies have shown that medical weight loss can lead to significant weight loss when used in combination with a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity. In a large 68-week study, participants who took medical weight loss lost an average of 15% of their total body weight, compared to 2.4% in the placebo group. It’s important to note that medical weight loss is a tool for weight loss and the best results are achieved by individuals who also make healthy lifestyle changes around diet, sleep, stress reduction, and exercise.

In summary, a caloric deficit is the foundation of weight loss, and medical weight loss can be a useful tool in helping to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. However, it’s important to approach weight loss in a holistic way that considers all factors that can affect your health and wellbeing. Medical weight loss gives you a huge head start by decreasing your appetite – the main source of excess calories. However, calorie tracking will be essential to boost your weight loss and help you to keep it off, particularly once you reach your target weight and wish to stop taking medical weight loss.

We also offer telemedicine consultation to discuss strategies for lifestyle changes that can help boost fat loss whether or not you are using weight loss medication. Again, patients using weight loss medication do best and maintain weight loss much more effectively when used as a restart and source of motivation for more complete changes around healthy habits.

Learn more:

Simple Habits for Weight Loss – Part 1

Simple Habits for Weight Loss – Part 2

Healthy Weight Loss Recipes