Common wisdom is a 500 calorie deficit per day equates to 1 pound of weight loss per week. And generally speaking, this is true.
But what happens when that initial 500 calorie deficit leads to stalled weight loss? Are you supposed to cut another 500 calories if you want to continue losing 1lb/week?
This is the 3rd and final installment of the case study series that’s leading up to open enrollment for 1-on-1 weight loss coaching next week. If you missed Monday’s and Wednesday’s case studies you can read them at the following links:
- [1 of 3] Raise Your Calories and Lose Weight
- [2 of 3] How to Deal With Unexpected Weight Gain (when you’re doing everything right)
And now onto the biggest mistake people make when making calorie adjustments to their program…
Don’t Get Carried Away With Cutting Calories
A very common pitfall is getting too aggressive with your calorie cuts. You don’t want to get carried away slashing calories when you’re not losing weight – especially if it’s only been a few days to a week of no progress.
Getting too aggressive with your cuts tends to backfire on you – leading to hunger, cravings, and negatively impacting your mental well-being. It doesn’t take a big calorie cut to keep your weight loss moving forward.
Let’s taking a look at a coaching client of mine…
As you can see we made a very modest 74 calorie cut to his meal plan and that resulted in a resumption of weight loss. That weight loss continued for at least another 6 weeks.
Had we decided to cut another 500 calories to keep losing weight at 1lb/week we would have ended up at 1777 calories/day.
Would he have lost weight at that level? Probably for a little while if he could maintain that low calorie intake. But what happens when that round of weight loss starts to stall out? Are we going to drop another 500 calories to 1277/day?
Of course not. Expecting a 200lb male to live on 1200 calories/day is insane and wouldn’t last more than a few days before his body fought back and made him eat.
Stalled Weight Loss Does Not Equal Maintenance Calories
The incorrect assumption people make is thinking that just because they aren’t losing weight that they must be at maintenance calories. So they think cutting 500 calories is necessary to keep losing 1lb/week.
But in reality, they aren’t at maintenance calories. I call these lulls consolidation periods, and they can happen for weeks at a time.
Your body is not a computer. You can’t put A in and expect B to happen. There is a bit of finesse involved with weight loss. It’s part science and part art.
I wish weight loss happened in a straight line, where each day you lost a little bit of weight, but that never happens. Instead, you will have periods of quick weight loss and periods of consolidation, but the trend will be down over time if you’re doing things right.
How Many Calories Should You Cut?
When your weight loss slows to below your minimum target pace you only need to make a modest cut to get things going.
With my clients that minimum pace is .5% of your body weight each week. If you aren’t hitting that number for two straight weeks it’s time to cut 50-100 calories from your diet and assess the results.
More times than not that small cut will take you down another 5-10lbs (or more in some cases). And then when that cut plays itself out you cut another 50-100 calories.
If my client follows that advice he will keep his calories effectively high and will have plenty of room to further cut calories when progress slows.
His adherence will stay high because he isn’t constantly starving, so he actually gives himself a fighting chance to lose weight. Had he cut 500 calories at the first signs of a stall he likely wouldn’t have made it 2 weeks before falling off plan and gaining all the weight back.
What Does This Mean For You?
First off, get your starting calories right. You can very easily get caught in the same trap by making your initial calorie deficit too big.
It doesn’t need to be gigantic to get you going. A 15% deficit from maintenance levels is a good start. Bigger deficits might result in faster weight loss to start, but that’s only if you’re able to stick to your plan.
The more likely scenario is you start with too big a deficit and can’t withstand the constant hunger and cravings all day long and resort to old habits.
Remember, a small deficit that lasts months is better than a big deficit that lasts weeks. So start high and come down in small 50-100 calorie increments only when your weight loss pace slows to below your minimum weekly target for two or more weeks.
This marks the end of the 3-part case study series. On Monday I will be opening 1-on-1 coaching to people on the early enrollment list. So if you haven’t done so already, be sure to put your name on the list right here.