If you have been looking into ways to lose weight, you have probably seen that a 500-calorie deficit is one of the most recommended weight loss tips for beginners. In this article we shall be further expound on what a 500-calorie deficit is, how a 500-calorie deficit per day leads to weight loss, if this is enough to truly help you shed those extra pounds over time and more.
What Does A 500-Calorie Deficit Mean?
A calorie deficit is what occurs when you consume fewer calories than your body requires to stay at its current weight or rather what occurs when you consume fewer calories than your body expends (14). A 500-calorie deficit means that you consume 500 fewer calories than you normally do on a day-to-day basis to maintain your weight.
To achieve this deficit you have to count your calories either manually or by using a calorie counting app. Using any of these two ways can help you make a 500-calorie deficit meal plan to help you lose weight.
How To Do A 500-Calorie Deficit A Day?
If you would like to try a 500-calorie deficit from your diet, here are some tips and tricks that could help you achieve this goal:
Cut Out At Least 1 High Calorie Snack
Snacking is one of the biggest culprits in weight gain. If you are not willing to change up your meals just yet, but would still like to be on a 500-calorie deficit, check on your snacks and drop the one with the highest calorie count. I.e., one doughnut has about 452 calories and cutting it out could get you that much closer to your goal.
Swap Out Your Snacks For Healthier Versions
Just because you are on a 500-calorie deficit does not mean that you cannot enjoy your snacks and have to go hungry. Instead be craftier with your snacks options. For example anyone who loves potato chips could opt to switch to kale, beet or any other low-calorie veggie chips, candy bars can be substituted with dark chocolate or protein bars, and ice-cream can be substituted for a low-calorie ice-cream version (albeit in moderation) or for a protein shake, greek yogurt, etc.
Pay Attention To What You Drink
One mindless way to up your calorie count for the day is by drinking them, something that many of us do not realize that we do. Drinking calories happens when you drink that fruit smoothie/juice, have a coffee from your favourite coffee chain store, or through sodas and energy drinks. Cutting down on these drinks can help reduce your calories count – especially if you often drink more than one a day.
Wait A While Before Getting That Second Helping
It has been said that it takes about 20 minutes before your brain registers that you are full (12). Granted there are some days when we feel hungrier than others but if you are done with your meal and still don’t feel full, try waiting and having a glass of water before automatically going for seconds, chances are that you might feel satiated after some time. If you are still hungry after the glass of water, try having some salad or fruit instead of another calorie filled helping.
Drop The Alcohol
Going for a couple of drinks with the girls or watching the game with the guys with a couple of drinks in hand? Maybe think again. A couple of drinks can add up to 500 calories (or more) to your diet.
Many popular alcoholic beverages e.g. beer, wine and cocktails often have anywhere between 100 to 570 calories per drink (5) and because alcohol has no nutritional value, all you will be consuming will be empty calories that can be stored in your body and turn into fat. However, if you cannot give up alcohol altogether, opt for champagne or spirits that have fewer calories and are more diet friendly, and limit yourself to one or two (16).
Eat Everything Using A Plate
Having your snacks/meals from a bag or take out box makes it that much easier to eat more than you intend to. Try having all your food and snacks from a plate as it helps you better gauge how much food you are consuming in a sitting.
500-Calorie Deficit Not Losing Weight: What Could Be The Reason?
Say you have been on a 500-calorie deficit meal plan for a while now but you are not seeing results. The scale has not gone down, your body still looks that same, and maybe even your clothes still fit the same. What could be the reason as to why you are on a 500-calorie deficit but not losing weight?
You Are Not Being Patient
In the same way that you did not gain weight overnight, you cannot start a new eating plan and expect the weight to fall off. Weight loss deserves and requires patience.
Instead of stepping in your bathroom weighing scale every morning after using the bathroom and before eating anything, how about you put the scale away for now and take it out in about 3 weeks. Chances are that you will notice some changes in 3 weeks rather than trying to see them every day/week.
Your Expectations Are Too High/Unrealistic
Once we come up with the decision to lose weight, we tend to think that we can manage to lose 1 pound in one day, 10 pounds in two weeks or even worse, 30 pounds in two months or less. This is a very unrealistic and unachievable goal.
No one, not even the strictest dieter or most hardworking person at the gym can lose such a high number of kilograms in such a short time. A healthy, realistic, and achievable weight loss goal – one that is even recommended by the CDC – is that of 1 to 2 pounds a week (15). Anything more is unsustainable and probably due to a fad diet or other questionable weight loss solutions that could land you in a hospital (2).
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You Are Comparing Yourself To Others
When looking to lose weight, many of us always look for a community to help support and celebrate our milestones with use. However, in some cases, you may find yourself comparing yourself to others in your group.
For example, someone in your group may have lost 10 pounds in a month and somehow you have only lost 4 and this can make you think you are stuck in a 500-calorie deficit not losing weight. This is not true, especially if you are comparing yourself to people heavier than you.
Remember that heavier people tend to lose more weight (in the same amount of time) than skinnier people. This mostly comes down to the fact that heavier people tend to burn more calories than others when doing pretty much any activity – it takes more energy to propel them (17). A 185-pound person can burn about 178 calories when walking at 3mph, while a 125-pound person only burns 120 calories doing the same activity at the same rate (4). Your body may change at a different pace than your friend’s, and that is okay. You are still achieving your own goals and improving your health for the long-term.
You Could Be Holding On To Water Weight
Have you ever weighed yourself one night, been pleased with the numbers only to weigh yourself the next morning and realized that you are somehow 3 pounds heavier? If you have noticed such fluctuations on a 500-calorie per day weight loss deficit diet, please know that this does not mean that your diet isn’t working.
Water weight or water retention is caused by consuming high amounts of sodium or carbohydrates, dehydration, lifestyle, hormones, or even certain medication. Some fluctuation in your weight due to fluid shifts and variations is totally normal and nothing to worry about. Reducing the amount of sodium you consume a day, exercising and trying a low-carb diet can help you be rid of any extra ‘bloat weight’ you may be consistently carrying (9).
How Many Pounds A Week Should I Lose With A 500-Calorie Deficit?
According to common belief, a 500-calorie deficit can help you lose about a pound a week; this is because it is estimated that 1 pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories and a deficit of 500 calories for 7 days equals this (6).
However, this amount of weight loss is only said to be manageable in the beginning and over time the 500-calorie deficit may not equal to the loss of a pound per week. Experts have argued that the 500 calorie per day weight loss deficit cannot work long-term as it does not account for changes in diet, body composition, and metabolism.
The fewer calories you consume the slower your metabolism becomes and while you may lose 1 pound a week in the beginning of your weight loss journey, you may find yourself losing fewer pounds every week until, eventually you hit a plateau (7, 8).
In light of this, if you have been wondering ‘how long do you have to be in a 500-calorie deficit to lose a pound,’ about a week would be enough to help you shed a pound.
What Happens If Your Calorie Deficit Is More Than 500?
Chances are that you will lose more weight. After all, if cutting 500 calories from your diet results in losing 1 pound a week, then cutting 1000 calories a week should result in losing about 2 pounds a week.
With that said, it is important not to cut more than 1000 calories a day, or to eat fewer calories than your body needs to function properly. If your calorie deficit is too large it may lead to:
When you don’t eat enough your body directs any nutrients it gets to vital organs such as the heart, brain and other organs, leaving hair growth in the back burner. If you don’t eat enough calories, you may end up finding clumps of hair in your shower drain.
The less you eat the hungrier you feel throughout the day. While a 500-calorie deficit is manageable for many and a 1000-deficit is okay to some, anything over a 1000-calorie deficit will mess with your hormones boosting your hunger hormones which makes you ravenous at all times.
Poor Sleep Quality
According to two studies, one in 1994 and another in 2005, people on restrictive diets tend to find it harder to either fall asleep or have good quality restful sleep once they do because they are either too hungry to sleep or wake up from hunger (10, 3).
Other signs of eating too little include constipation, increased fatigue, anxiety, constantly feeling cold, lowered immunity, fertility issues and even mental health issues such as anxiety and depression (13).
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Is Gaining Muscle On A 500-Calorie Diet Possible?
Yes, you can. Contrary to what some in the fitness world believe, you do not have to choose between either losing weight or gaining weight and can gain muscle even on a calorie deficit. To do this you need to (11):
Remain On Your Calorie Deficit
Gaining muscle does not mean eating everything you come across. If you eat too much, the extra calories will end up being stored in your body as fat and you will end up gaining weight and not muscle.
Start Weight Training
Challenging your muscles by lifting weights breaks up your muscles and taking some time to rest helps them heal and increase muscle mass. If you do not have weights, using your bodyweight works too.
Eat More Protein
Protein is the building block of your muscles. Consuming more protein helps maintain your muscle mass and promotes muscle growth when you do strength training.
Should I Have A 1000 Or A 500-Calorie Deficit When Training For Size And Strength?
While you can gain muscle on a calorie deficit, a 500-calorie deficit may be better than a 1000-calorie deficit. Because you still need enough energy and strength to help with weight lifting during your workout, a greater calorie deficit could interfere with this, making it harder for you to lift weights.
Is A 500-calorie Deficit The Same As A 500-Calorie Diet?
No, it is not. As previously stated, a 500-calorie deficit means cutting 500 calories from your daily meal plan or 3500 calories a week. On the other hand, a 500-calorie diet is a very-low calorie diet that requires eating only 500 calories a day. The 500-calorie diet is a dangerous meal plan that can lead to muscle loss, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic changes and more (1).
The Bottom Line
When done correctly and consistently, a 500 calorie deficit is enough to help you lose weight and even gain muscle overtime. To achieve this, it is recommended that you count your calories, watch your diet, pick healthier food and drink options, reduce your consumption of free (added sugars), and even eliminate alcohol.
If you want to do even more for your body, why don’t you supplement a healthy diet with some exercise? Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 7 Things to Know About the 500-Calorie Diet (2018, healthline.com)
- 7 Things Never to Do to Lose Weight (2014, webmd.com)
- An examination of the association between eating problems, negative mood, weight and sleeping quality in young women and men (2005, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights (2018, health.harvard.edu)
- Calorie count – Alcoholic beverages (2020, medlineplus.gov)
- How many calories are in a pound? 3 facts about calories you may not know (2015, today.com)
- How Many Calories Are in a Pound of Body Fat? (2017, healthline.com)
- How Many Calories Do You Need to Burn to Lose One Pound? (2019, verywellfit.com)
- How to lose water weight naturally (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Restricted energy intake affects nocturnal body temperature and sleep patterns (1994, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Ultimate Guide to Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle (At the Exact Same Time) (2021, nerdfitness.com)
- We Found Out If It Really Takes 20 Minutes To Feel Full (2016, huffingtonpost.com.au)
- What are the signs of not eating enough? (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What Is A Calorie Deficit—And How Do You Calculate One For Weight Loss? (2021, womenshealthmag.com)
- What is healthy weight loss? (2020, cdc.gov)
- Which alcoholic beverages are more diet-friendly? (2018, edition.cnn.com)
- Why Do Overweight People Lose Weight Faster? (n.d., livestrong.com)