calorie deficit
calorie deficit

How To Balance Your Metabolism When In A Calorie Deficit

Posted on April 26, 2024 by Suzanna Mazur
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For anyone who has gone down the path of trying to lose weight, it’s a task that is not without its challenges. And while many people turn to extreme exercise programs or restrictive diets to try and achieve results quickly, they are often unaware of how these practices can impact the body over time.

“Calories are energy that comes from the food and drinks we consume,” says Kenneth Uy, a health coach at Henry Ford Health. “When people are eating too few calories or exercising a lot while trying to lose weight, the body reverts into a state of metabolic adaptation.”

Metabolic adaptation is a survival defense mechanism that our bodies revert to when deprived of food. This evolutionary defense is something that our bodies learned to do in ancient times when hunter/gather communities would need to preserve energy for when it was needed to hunt. When you don’t eat enough, your body reverts to that mentality and holds on to calories we consume to survive.

“Everyone’s body is different, but for most people, eating less than 1,200 calories a day could slow your metabolism enough to make it harder to lose weight,” says Uy.

Some signs you have low metabolism include:

  • Weight loss progress that has slowed down
  • You feel tired or low energy throughout the day
  • Mood or hormonal changes
  • Scale numbers won’t budge

How To Make A Calorie Deficit Work For You

Eating less and working out more aren’t inherently bad for sustainable weight loss. A calorie deficit, when done correctly, is a great option for people that are looking for a healthy approach to weight loss.

“We often recommend a 500-calorie deficit per day as a good for people to set,” says Uy. “That might look different from person to person depending on if you want to achieve that through burning more calories or consuming fewer calories, but it usually equates to about one pound of weight loss per week.”

Uy suggests using an online calculator to determine your resting metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn each day without doing anything). From there, you can adjust your routine as needed.

“Throughout this process, it is important to set clear expectations for yourself,” says Uy. “You aren’t going to see results overnight, so make sure you set realistic goals so that you don’t burn out and slip up on your healthy practices.”

Meet With A Dietitian

A dietitian can help you determine the right calorie deficit for you based on your health and personal wellness goals.
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Here, Uy offers some advice for losing weight in a calorie deficit:

  • Track your calories. Using an app to help you monitor your calories in and calories out can help you understand where you can make changes to your lifestyle to create that deficit.
  • You can’t outwork a bad diet. While prioritizing fitness is important, don’t rely only on exercise to reach that deficit. Eating healthy can help too.
  • Make quality food choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods to eat (like whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats) so that you are less hungry between your meals. Make sure you drink plenty of water as well.
  • Don’t go at it alone. Working with a physical trainer, a dietitian or a certified health coach can help make your weight loss journey less stressful. “Understanding calorie deficits can be complicated,” says Uy. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for how many calories you should be consuming, so it can be helpful to have someone else’s support along the way!”

If you find yourself at a weight loss plateau, it is normal to want to double down on eating less or working out more, but these practices aren’t going to produce the results you want. Instead, take a step back to evaluate your routine and consider trying a different approach.


Reviewed by Kenneth Uy, a health coach and tobacco treatment specialist at Henry Ford Health.

Categories : EatWell
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