How long should you stay in a calorie deficit?
Don’t worry, I am going to break down exactly what you need to know in this article.
There are certain benefits of being in a calorie deficit, like obviously losing body fat.
Yet there are also inherent drawbacks that come with being in a calorie deficit, like slowing down your metabolism.
In this article you are going to know exactly what to do and what not to do when it comes to how you should stay in a calorie deficit.
All that I ask is you be sure to read every section. Don’t skip around though I know you may want to.
I am going to cover a lot here and that is because I want you leaving this article with a solid plan in place for what you will do moving forward.
Do we have a deal?
Perfect, I knew I could count on you. Now let’s get into it.
How Long Should You Stay In A Calorie Deficit?
Well… It Depends
How long you stay in a calorie deficit depends on so many different variables.
This is why this article is going to be jam packed with information because it really is up to your unique individual situation.
I am going to break things down section by section so you know exactly what it depends on.
How Much Weight You Have To Lose
For starters, how long should you stay in a calorie deficit depends on how much weight you have to lose.
Someone who has 50 or 100lbs to lose not only can, but will have to stay in a calorie deficit longer than someone who has 5lbs to lose.
Why is this?
This is because of a few reasons.
Number one it is simply going to take a longer duration of time to lose 50 or 100lbs than it is to lose 5lbs.
(We will talk about how fast or slow you should be losing weight later in this article, so stick around).
On top of that, we briefly touched on in the beginning that a calorie deficit has both positive and negative side effects.
Now let me make this abundantly clear first and foremost, in order to lose body fat a calorie deficit is going to be required.
There is scientifically no other way to lose body fat. No pills, no cleanses, no fat burning drinks, and no special diets.
A calorie deficit.
But with that calorie deficit can come side effects, especially for someone who only has maybe the last 5 or 10 lbs to lose.
This individual is already quite lean. They have gotten really close to have a relatively low body fat percentage.
If this person were to stay in a calorie deficit for too long, they may start to experience some negative side effects.
- slowed down metabolism
- Possible loss of period
- Hair failling out
- Low sex drive
- Decreased workout performance
To name a few.
Why is this? Because when you only have 5 or 10 more lbs to lose, you are going to have to go that much lower in calories.
Your body basically then says “Okay well, we don’t have enough calories coming in in order to do these functions of sex drive, energy for workouts, etc, so we are going to cut those out and just focus on surviving”.
Before you ask, no “starvation mode” is not a real thing.
Yet your body will start to dip off some of it’s “Non essential” functions if you are either in a calorie deficit for too long or too aggressive.
Now, someone who has 100lbs to lose, this individual can be in a calorie deficit for much longer of a time and should to be quite honest with you.
They will not experience these negative side effects nearly as much as someone who has 5lbs to lose.
I will also argue it is much more healthy for that individual to be in a calorie deficit for longer so they can improve they body fat levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.
Therefore when it comes to how long should you stay in a calorie deficit, it would first depend on how much body fat you have to lose.
The leaner you are, the less time you stay in one. The more weight you have to lose, the longer you can stay in one.
We touched briefly about the “aggressiveness” of your calorie deficit.
Let’s dive into that more right now.
How Aggressive Your Calorie Deficit Is
The second thing that impacts how long you should stay in a calorie deficit is how aggressive your calorie deficit is.
When I say aggressive I basically mean how many or how little calories are you eating.
Eating more calories is less aggressive, eating less calories is more aggressive.
To overview things first, generally the more aggressive you go the shorter duration you would stay in a calorie deficit.
This is for a few reasons.
Reason 1 would be if you actually stuck to the more aggressive approach, you would lose weight faster.
Therefore if you lose weight faster, you would not need to be in a calorie deficit for as long of a time because you would reach your desired body weight.
Notice I prefaced that with “if you actually stuck to it”.
This leads me to reason number 2 which is, the reason you stay in a calorie deficit for a shorter period of time when you go more aggressive is simply because you can’t stick to it for a long period of time.
I am sure you are familiar with this. You want to lose weight, someone tells you to eat 1200 calories, so you go ahead and try it out.
You stick to it for a week, two weeks if you are lucky. Then, you are starving, your cravings are through the roof, you have low energy, so you say f*ck this and go binge.
Because the more aggressive you go the less sustainable it is.
This cycle then happens over and over and over, leading you to never actually see any progress. You can’t actually stick to something for a long enough period of time in order to see change.
Therefore in reality, even though you may think “The less calories I eat, the quicker I will lose weight!”.
In theory I understand why you think that makes sense, yet in practicality in the real world it simply doesn’t play out.
This is why with any of my clubhouse members or online coaching clients I tend to take a more moderate approach that is more sustainable.
This way, they can adhere to it for a longer period of time and see better results.
In the long run taking a more moderate approach is actually a quicker process and will allow you to be in a calorie deficit for a shorter period of time.
Instead of taking 6 months to lose 10lbs, then gain 12 back, then lose 15 lbs, but gain 20 back because you were trying to eat 1200 calories.
You will slowly and sure lose say 20lbs over the course of 6 months, but you will actually keep that weight off forever.
If you want to know how many calories you should be eating in order to lose weight, I have an entirely free calorie calculator HERE.
The next thing to take into consideration when talking about how long should you stay in a calorie deficit is your biofeedback. Let’s touch on that now.
Simply put your biofeedback just means how you are feeling.
How your energy, sleep, workout performance, sex drive, mood, all of those things encompass your biofeedback.
We touched earlier about how being in a calorie deficit that is too aggressive or too long can possibly negatively effect these markers. Let’s dive deeper into them now.
First let’s talk about a common one that happens amongst women and that is going to be your monthly cycle.
Ladies, if you are reading this and you have lost your monthly cycle, you either have been in a calorie deficit for too long or you are eating too few calories.
Again, the reason this happens is because your body is not getting enough calories to properly have this hormonally system functioning.
Your body is essentially saying that since you are severely under eating, we are going to shut off this process because it is not essential to keep your alive.
Your body has one job, to keep you alive. It doesn’t care if you lose fat or reproduce, it needs to keep you alive.
Therefore if you are not eating enough calories or you have been under eating for so long, you will lose your period.
This is a huge red flag that you need to take some time to come out of the calorie deficit, eat around maintenance for a little while, and take a break.
If you want to figure out how many calories you should eat for your maintenance, you can check out my free calorie calculator HERE .
Another one is a combination of anyone of the following,
- decreased sleep
- Increased irritability / decreased mood
- Decreased workout performance
- Decreased sex drive
To name a few.
Now, it can be hard to tell sometimes if this is directly related to calories because we all have bad days or even bad weeks.
For example if you had one bad workout or one bad week of workouts, I would not say you are eating too few calories I would say you are human.
But if you are having 2,3,4,5,6 weeks of continuous bad workouts where you don’t feel strong, you aren’t getting stronger, you don’t look forward to going to exercise.
Then I would say you either are eating too few calories or you have been in a calorie deficit for too long.
If you have one bad day where you felt more irritable or in a bad mood, again you are a human.
But if you continuously notice it going on for weeks upon weeks, you are either in too aggressive of a deficit or it has been too long.
Again, here I would look to increase your calories to maintenance for a bit and give yourself a break from the deficit.
If your biofeedback is off then as you read just now I would tell you to increase your calories in order to get your body in a healthy place.
If your body is not healthy, any physical changes you see will be either short lived or non existent.
Your health inside and out have to work in conjunction.
Yet a lot of times I will tell people to increase calories ad they, for lack of better terms, lose their sh*t.
“But Eric, will I gain weight?! Will the scale go up!?! Will I get fat again!”.
Listen, first off take a deep breath. Woosah.
Second, I am going to shoot you straight.
Yes the scale may go up, but it is not because you are gaining fat.
You are gaining some water weight from having extra carbs (which is not a bad thing at all) and you would be having more food in your stomach.
Both of these things would lead to some weight * gain on the scale. Yet remember weight gain and fat gain are two different things.
You are not gaining fat. You are simply just gaining weight on the scale which if you are in this position where your biofeedback has gone down the toilet, you need that at this point in time.
Remember do what is right not what is the easiest.
Then, when you get your body back into a healthy place, you can look at revisiting the deficit from there.
This time with a less aggressive approach, right?
How Long Should You Stay In A Calorie Deficit : Weight Loss
We have talked about a few different things it depends on so far here in this article when it comes to how long should you stay in a calorie deficit.
What I want to touch on now is something I eluded to earlier in the article which is it comes down to how much weight you have to lose.
Someone who has 50lbs to lose is going to be in a calorie deficit longer than someone who has 5lbs to lose for all of the reasons we mentioned above.
Yet also because the duration will just take a longer time!
Therefore how long you should stay in a calorie deficit depends on the amount of weight you have to lose.
Now, how much weight should you be looking to lose per week on average?
A healthy rate of weight loss is losing anywhere from .5-1.5 lb per week on average.
A few things I want to make crystal clear here.
Yes, you read that right .5-1.5lb per week. This is because once you start to get over losing 1.5 lb per week, the things you will have to do in order to lose weight that quickly are going to be wildly restrictive and unsustainable.
Cutting out carbs, not going out to eat, eating very few calories, being starving, etc.
This will lead you down that cycle we talked about earlier of eating 1200 calories for 4 days, then binging for 3. 1200 calories for 4 days, binge for 3, over and over and over.
This will lead you to not actually see any real progress.
On top of that, I said “on average”.
An average means you look at things over a long period of time.
Therefore one week you might lose 2lbs, the next week you might lose none.
Yet, over a 2 week span, you would have lost an average of 1lb per week, which would fall right in that amazing progress range.
This is where I lose my marbles a lot of the time.
No, you not losing weight for 3 days does not mean you are in a weight loss plateau.
You not losing weight for a week is not a weight loss plateau.
You not losing weight for 3 weeks is not a weight loss plateau.
It just means you are a normal human being and it is apart of the process.
If you want to actually know what depicts a true “weight loss plateau”, I wrote an entire article on that HERE if you want to check it out .
Therefore let’s say you have 35lbs to lose.
If we go by the numbers above, let’s say you lose anywhere from the 1lb per week average.
That would be about 35 weeks.
Now, what I tell every single one of my online coaching clients is to add another 4-12 weeks to that.
Why? Because you know, you are a real human being with a real life and sometimes life happens.
One week you might have a birthday party to go to and you might “only” lose .5lbs. Or you might have a weekend away with your spouse and you don’t track calories or actively try to diet because, well why the hell would you?
So that number may get pushed back a bit, which is 100% okay.
Call it 42 weeks instead of 35.
Now, you may look at that number and say whaaaattt Eric.
Let me say this.
Is it possible to lose weight faster? Yes, for sure. Will you maybe accomplish it sooner? Possibly.
But I am huge on having proper expectations.
If you do not have proper expectations, and you think you are going to lose 35lbs in 12 weeks.
When the 7th week rolls around and you have “only” lost 7lbs then you are going to think you are a failure, you are doing everything wrong, and you are going to quit.
When in reality, you were doing everything perfect!
Therefore if you can have your expectations set up right from the beginning, it makes it a lot easier to stay consistent.
If you stay consistent and you don’t quit, well guess what, you will reach your goal.
You will not reach your goal if you quit though, I can assure you of that.
How Long Should You Stay In A Calorie Deficit : Final Word
I hoped this article helped give you some insight and perspective on how long should you stay in a calorie deficit.
As you saw it truly depends on a few different markers. Yet you now are equipped with the tools and knowledge in order to attack your specific journey the best way possible.
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to drop them below.
If you are interested in joining hundreds of people crushing it in The Clubhouse, you can head HERE To check out my diet and training programs.
Hope this helped and talk soon,