Calorie Deficit: How Big Should It Be To Lose 2 Pounds A Week?
So you want to create a calorie deficit to lose 2 pounds a week. Awesome, in this guide I’ll show you exactly what type of deficit you’d need to have to get that type of weight loss.
That said, you may or may not be eligible for a weight loss that is that fast.
I mean that if you care about losing 2 pounds of fat specifically, not fat+water and hopefully not fat+water+muscle, 2 pounds per week may or may not be a healthy weight loss range for you.
But even if that is the case for you, don’t worry because in this article you’ll be able to calculate your own highest weight loss rate and highest calorie deficit so you get to lose weight (fat) safely.
(And please don’t despair; you could actually go higher than 2 pounds per week too. Just keep reading.)
Table of Contents
- What is a calorie deficit?
- But do I need a calorie deficit to lose weight? Can I not lose fat without being on a deficit?
- How to calculate your best calorie deficit.
- Step 1. Figure out your maintenance calories
- Step 2. Figure out the calorie deficit you’d need to lose 2 pounds a week.
- Step 3. How much of a calorie deficit is best for you?
- Step 4. Build better nutrition habits.
- Step 5. Add exercise to the mix, but be careful doing that.
- Final advice before you go on a calorie deficit to lose 2 pounds a week (or more/less depending on what you found out.)
What is a calorie deficit?
A calorie is a unit of energy. A calorie deficit is the difference between the calories you consume and the calories you burn, when that difference is negative. For example, if you consume 2000 calories but burn a total of 2500 calories, then you’re on a 500 caloric deficit.
However, if you consume 2500 calories while you only need 2000 calories, then you’re on a calorie surplus – essentially the opposite of a calorie deficit.
Your body needs calories (energy) in order to be kept alive; that’s how you get to breathe, pump blood, digest food, etc.
You consume calories by eating and burn them by pretty much the very act of living. You also burn calories by moving and exercising.
When you’re on a calorie deficit, your body will be forced to use those fat stores of yours to get the energy it needs. When on a calorie surplus, you’ll be gaining weight.
But do I need a calorie deficit to lose weight? Can I not lose fat without being on a deficit?
Ok now that is one of the most common questions I get. Most people have at least one friend who has lost weight by cutting carbs, sugar, gluten, dairy or some other elimination method.
So from a superficial point of view it looks like you don’t need to be on a calorie deficit to lose fat – you just need to cut something out of your diet – right?
Wrong. The only reason your friends lost weight while cutting carbs, sugar, gluten, dairy or whatever it is they limited was that they also created a calorie deficit.
None of those methods would have worked if your friends were NOT also creating a caloric deficit. Makes sense? Now let’s move on to calculating your best calorie deficit to lose 2 pounds a months (or more, or less, we’ll find out.)
How to calculate your best calorie deficit.
Notice I used the word “best” here in the title. There’s a reason for that. You may want to be on a daily 3500 calorie deficit but that doesn’t mean this is feasible or safe for you.
The best calorie deficit for you is the one that allows you to reach your goal at a rate that’s fitting to your personality and that maximizes your long-term chances for weight maintenance.
Because believe me the last thing you want is to lose a bazillion pounds only to take back the majority of them.
But let’s worry about that later; for now let’s dive in by calculating the calories your bodies need to live!
Step 1. Figure out your maintenance calories
First, here’s how to calculate your BMR (this is your basal metabolic rate).
The Harris-Benedict Equation for calculating BMR is as follows:
665 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years) Therefore a 35 year-old woman who measures 5’4” and 165 pounds would be
665 + (4.35 x 165) + (4.7 x 64) – (4.7 x 35) = 665 + 717.75 + 300.8 – 164.5, equaling 1519 calories.
65 + (6.2 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years) Therefore a 35 year-old man who measures 5’9” and 195 pounds would be
65 + (6.2 x 195) + (12.7 x 69) – (6.8 x 35) = 65 + 1209 + 876.3 – 238, equaling 1912 calories.
Now we must add in the factor of activity level. This is in no way a direct science but is more or less an estimate. Leslie Bonci, the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, came up with the following estimations when determining the effect of activity level on BMR:
- Lightly Active (some exercise and sedentary job): BMR x 1.3-1.4
- Moderately Active (intense exercise and sedentary job): BMR x 1.5-1.6
- Very Active (active job and additional exercise): BMR x 1.7-1.8
Don’t want to do the calculations? I wouldn’t want to do them either. Use this calculator instead. The UI is not great but I like the level of detail that it has.
Put in your data and then scroll down till you see this:
The numbers here show the calories that you need every day to neither lose nor gain weight. Note that it’s a range – noone can tell you exactly how many calories you need every day, this is the closest approximation.
If you’re unsure whether you should use the lower bound or the upper bound then use the average of the two. In the example of the image, that would be at (1126 + 1688)/2 = 1407 daily calories needed for maintenance.
Step 2. Figure out the calorie deficit you’d need to lose 2 pounds a week.
And now that you know your daily calorie requirements, let’s calculate how many calories you’d need to burn to theoretically lose 2 pounds a week.
To burn two pounds of fat you need a calorie deficit of 7000 calories (3500 calories for each pound lost.)
Now this deficit is cumulative, meaning if you’re on a 100 calorie deficit today, a 300 tomorrow, and a 200 the day after tomorrow then you have a total deficit of 100 + 300 + 200 = 600 calories. To lose 2 pounds a week, you’d need another 7000-600 = 6400 calories as a calorie deficit.
Now what should your daily caloric deficit be to lose 2 pounds a week? The answer would come out to 7000/7 = 1000 calories of a deficit every day.
So if you’ve decided you want to be 2 pounds of fat thinner by this time and day next week, then a daily calorie deficit of 1000 it is – right?
Not so fast! Let’s first review what rate of weight loss is safe for you.
Step 3. How much of a calorie deficit is best for you?
Let’s decide if the rate of a daily 1000 calorie deficit is feasible and/or healthy for you specifically.
Let’s say that in step 1 where you calculated how many calories you need for maintenance your number was 1600.
Now if you were to go on a daily 1000 calorie deficit, that would leave you at 1600-1000 = 600 calories. In other words, you’d like daily on 600 calories.
You’d be undernourished, starving yourself, and putting your body in danger.
For you my friend, aiming to lose 2 pounds of fat in one week is unsafe. Period. So what should you aim for if losing 2 pounds a week is unsafe?
In general, losing 0.5% to 1% of your weight per week *should be ok* for most people. So if you’re an 180-pound female, that would come down to a weekly rate of weight loss between 0.9 and 1.8 pounds.
If you were to pick losing 1 pound a week, then your daily calorie deficit would come to 3500/7 = 500 calories.
Now let’s examine a different example. Say you’re a healthy 300-pound male and your number of daily maintenance calories from Step 1 is 3000 calories.
If you were to maintain a daily calorie deficit of 1000 calories, then that would leave you with 2000 calories daily – not too shabby.
In fact, your own 0.5% to 1% of bodyweight is 1.5 to 3 pounds. That means you could technically shoot for losing up to not just 2, but 3 pounds a week (however, that would mean cutting your daily maintenance calories in half, which is excessive. Always consult your doctor before you cut calories.)
Ok, and now that you know the rate of weight loss you could aim for, it’s time to choose your caloric deficit to meet that goal.
- If you go for losing 1 pound a week then you need a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories.
- If you go for losing 2 pounds a week, then that’s a deficit of 1000 calories a day.
- To lose 3 pounds a week, you’d need a deficit of 1500 calories.
Pick your number depending on now just what is safer but also on what you think will be sustainable as far as weight maintenance is concerned.
Step 4. Build better nutrition habits.
Be smart: Before you jump to dieting (which is by the way what most people would do), be smarter and take a moment to review your current eating habits. By improving your nutrition and eating habits:
- You may lose weight just by doing that
- Plus, you’ll set the foundation so that if you need to go on a calorie deficit, it’s gonna be much easier for you to do so.
Chances are you already know what you could do to improve. While there’s nothing wrong with jumping to a calorie deficit right away, here are some ideas to get started with improving habits first:
- Start cooking at home and cut down on eating out
- Create a Meal Prep Sunday ritual
- Increase your veggies consumption by 1 serving a day
- Start reading – and understanding – nutrition labels
- Cut down on items with added sugar (but don’t necessarily go on a no sugar diet)
To make the above happen, you’ll need to update how you think habits are created. This is key as many people think habits are created by repetition alone. If that were true, anyone who made it to the gym for a couple of months would just keep on exercising for the rest of their lives, but do they? Nope.
- How long it takes to make a habit (NOT 21 days!!!)
- How to create habits (motivation alone won’t cut it)
- Why suffering stops the habit-making process
Step 5. Add exercise to the mix, but be careful doing that.
OK, now you’re all quipped to get started with your caloric deficit! For better results, you could also add exercise, however this must be done with great caution!
Even though exercise will help increase the amount of calories you burn and most importantly, will help prevent muscle loss, most people:
- often overestimate how many calories they burned leading them to not lose weight at the pace they expected
- sometimes eat more than they would because they feel they “earned” it, hence negating the effect of exercise, or even eating more calories than they actually burned during their workout
And that’s how you burn 300 calories during your workout but end up eating 400 because you “burned all these calories!”
Class not dismissed.
Exercise is important for so many reasons other than weight loss that I hate it when people view it as something people do just to lose weight.
So by all means exercise. But don’t do it just for the calories. Do it because you enjoy how your body feels when you move; Do it because it’s time you devote to yourself; Do it even if it’s just for 5 minutes; Do it because you want to lose weight by losing fat not muscle.
Some exercise ideas to get you started:
- Beginners yoga workout routine
- HIIT workout at home
- More yoga videos here
- 8-min HIIT cardio at home
- Ab exercises for lazy people
A quick note here: If your caloric deficit is high (say 750 calories) HIIT and generally doing cardio may not be the best options. Long story short, excessive cardio while in a caloric deficit will increase the chance that you will lose muscle while dieting.
So your best bets here are strength-training either with resistance or body-weight (yoga belongs to that group as do pretty much most floor exercises.)
Final advice before you go on a calorie deficit to lose 2 pounds a week (or more/less depending on what you found out.)
I want to share with you three final pieces of advice before I let you go.
First, it’s easy to feel like you need to lose all this weight, yesterday. This will incentivize you to aim for a higher rather than lower deficit. There are pros and cons with both of those choices, and I’m not going to tell you what to do here.
However, what I will say is that especially if you have a lot of weight to lose, know that even a total weight loss of 5 or 10% of your bodyweight WILL bring health benefits.
Second, you don’t have to immediately jump to the caloric deficit you determined above. So say you decided to go on a daily deficit of 500 calories. You don’t have to start with 500 calories right away; you can do 250 in your first week, and then go to 500 in your second week. This will give you some time adjust and that may work better for some people than jumping all the way in right away.
Finally, when losing weight… Be like Cathy.
Sounds good? Now leave a comment below – what are your maintenance calories and what level of calorie deficit do you think will be the best for you?