It is likely that you have already heard the term ‘calorie deficit’ if you have gone through the journey of weight loss. Not all of us are clear on exactly what it is, why it is necessary and how to go about calorie deficit.
Let’s decode it, courtesy of Chandni Haldurai, nutrition expert at Cult.fit.
A calorie is defined as a measure of food energy. Our body is in constant demand for energy, and it depends on the calories from food to meet the needs. The body uses or burns the calories you get from food to fuel the basal metabolic rate (BMR), digestion and physical activity.
BMR or basic metabolism is the process which your body converts food into energy to do almost everything from blinking to thinking.
What is a calorie deficit?
A calorie deficit occurs when you eat or drink fewer calories than you burn. On the contrary, if you eat or drink more calories than you burn then it indicates a calorie surplus which can be a reason for weight gain. When the number of calories you consume matches the number of calories you burn, your weight will remain stable.
Why is it necessary?
Biologically, for you to lose weight the calorie consumed should be less than the calories burnt. This is because, when you expend more energy than you have consumed, the body utilises the stored fat for further energy needs. Logically this helps in losing or burning that extra fat in your body.
How to go about it?
You can achieve a calorie deficit either focusing on consuming fewer calories or increasing your exercise levels. It is highly effective while following both.
The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on physical activity for adults aged between 18-64 years include 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. The guidelines also recommend adults to do muscle-strengthening activities which can help the body prioritise fat loss than muscle loss.
Are you working out regularly? (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)
While the activity levels are in place, maintaining a calorie deficit in dietary aspects may pose some challenges. Though calorie deficit seems to be the most effective method for weight loss, not all calories we get from foods are the same. Different foods have different impacts on your body with respect to its metabolism, hormonal changes, and even digestion. Hence it is equally important to focus on the nutrient value and quality of the food while you steadily maintain a calorie deficit.
How to maintain both nutrient quality and calorie deficit for a healthy sustainable weight loss?
We get calories from every single food substance. The body needs both nutrients and calories. Ideally, the best way to meet the RDA and maintain a calorie deficit is to follow a balanced diet. We believe in the USDA approved “My Plate” concept which gives a practical breakdown of food groups which can help you balance your nutrient intake while following a calorie deficit.
“Make half your plate vegetables and fruits”
Based on the recommendation of WHO, one should try to consume five servings of fruits and vegetables. Following the plate recommendations, gives space to choose a variety of vegetables and fruits. This helps in calorie deficit since most vegetables and fruits are nutrient-dense and calorie less. This paves way for a diet that is rich in fibre and micronutrients.
“Choose whole grains and complex carbohydrates”
Generally, an Indian diet is high in carbohydrates which gives more calories for an active lifestyle. However, since we have a sedentary lifestyle the calories from carbohydrates can be reduced to ¼ portion of the plate to take care of the basic energy needs. Choosing whole grains compared to refined products can make this quarter portion nutrient dense.
“Choose varied quality proteins”
About 0.8-1g of protein/kg weight is prescribed for tissue repair and for specific dynamic action. This quantity can be given in a daily diet at a meal level following the “My Plate” concept easily. A quarter portion of the plate serves as a good volume for the protein sources that are naturally available. Lean sources of protein can be the best addition to this quarter portion of the plate.
Fat requirement is generally satisfied invisibly through diet via oils and minimum presence in all other foods. It might not be a visible part of the plate but it’s being considered while making healthy food choices overall. However, Dietary fat is the only source of essential fatty acids.
Focusing solely on calories might not give importance to nutrient density. For a healthy weight loss, considering factors like healthy digestion and hormonal health, the “plate” concept can come in handy helping in both calorie deficit as well as nutrient density.
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