200 Calorie Deficit: How much weight can you lose?


I’ve seen impressive body transformations after people went for strict calorie restrictions. But I’ve also seen people gaining weight back, quicker than they thought. In this article, I will show you why a small deficit is a way to go and hopefully answer few questions like how much weight will you lose with a 200 calorie deficit?

Generally, you can lose between 1 and 1.5 pounds per week on a 200 calorie deficit. The amount of weight loss will depend on current weight and physical activity. People who weigh 200 pounds or less may find the 200 calorie deficit efficient, but people who weigh more need to increase their deficit.

Before I will show you exactly how to plan for a 200 calorie deficit, let me set the stage and share with you insights from few studies that are been looking at certain cultures that thrive on a mild calorie deficit.

Is a 200 Calorie Deficit Enough To Lose Weight?

A 200 calorie deficit is enough to lose weight. Some cultures around the world like Okinawans (the world’s longest-lived population) maintain a mild calorie restriction of 10-15% as a part of their tradition and experience robust health benefits, low body weight, and longevity.

Here’s what you need to know. Okinawa’s diet isn’t somehow special, or much different from the regular Mediterranean or DASH diet. As you can imagine, it is rich in unrefined carbohydrates, moderate protein intake, and several vegetables.

So it’s nothing to write home about. But when you compare Okinawans with Americans or Europeans, Okinawans have the longest life expectancy in the world (source).

So if the Okinawan’s foods don’t really differ from the foods we eat, it must be something else.

Calorie restriction

Calorie restriction is the main component of the traditional Ryukyu archipelago diet and is been proven to extend lifespan. Okinawans didn’t count calories, and they didn’t measure their food.

According to the data, the practice that helps them control their calorie intake is a cultural habit known as Hara Hachi bu – eat until you’re 80% full. Eating until 80% full is basically a cue to eat until you’re no longer hungry.

How accurate is eating until you’re no longer hungry? The most excessive meta-analysis that studied Okinawans’ lifestyle between the 1950s to the 1990s noted that they ate around 11% fewer calories than recommended for maintenance of body weight (source).

How do 11% fewer calories translate into the calorie deficit? It will depend on your current body weight and physical activity.

  • A different study from Dr.Susan B. Racette from the Washington University School of Medicine demonstrated 48 healthy, non-obese women who underwent an 11.5% calorie restriction diet for 1 year (source).
  • Another study by Dr.Victoria Pons from Olympic Training Center in Sant Cugat del Vallés, Spain documented 12 healthy male athletes with 33% of calorie restriction for the period of 6 weeks (source).

What all those studies have in common? They all use percentages to estimate calorie deficit, not the actual calorie number. That is because people who weigh vary will have totally different effect from doing the same 200 calorie deficit.

In the table below, using the Harris-Benedict equation for TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) I’ve calculated the calorie amount suitable for the maintenance level based on the body weight and activity level.

From the left side, you have body weight. In the middle, you see the number of calories necessary to maintain this current weight.

On the right side, you have an estimated how many calories you should reduce from your maintenance levels to reach a 10-15% calorie deficit.

The number of maintenance calories will depend on the activity levels you’re doing. In the first table, you can see the equation for sedentary people with minimal exercise.

Sedentary person

Body weightMaintenance kcal 10-15%
150 lbs1,800 – 2,100253 kcal
180 lbs2,160 – 2,520304 kcal
200 lbs2,400 – 2,800338 kcal
220 lbs2,640 – 3,080371 kcal
250 lbs3,000 – 3,500420 kcal
270 lbs3,240 – 3,780456 kcal
300 lbs3,600 – 4,200507 kcal

As you can see, doing a 200 calorie deficit (to mimic Okinawan traditional 10-15% below maintenance intake) can be suitable for people under 200 lbs. People who weigh more will need to reduce their calorie intake more.

The next table shows the numbers for the same body weight but with moderate physical activity (3-4 times/week)

Moderate physical activity

Body weightMaintenance kcal 10-15%
150 lbs2,100 – 2,400292 kcal
180 lbs2,520 – 2,880351 kcal
200 lbs2,800 – 3,200390 kcal
220 lbs3,080 – 3,520429 kcal
250 lbs3,500 – 4,000487 kcal
270 lbs3,780 – 4,320526 kcal
300 lbs4,200 – 4,800585 kcal

Here we can clearly see that the more physcial activity we do, not only we need more maintenance calories, but also it requires us to create more calorie deficit to reach 10-15%.

The last table will present number for very active people (5-7 times/week)

Very active

Body weightMaintenance kcal 10-15%
150 lbs2,400 – 2,700331 kcal
180 lbs2,880 – 3,240397 kcal
200 lbs3,200 – 3,600442 kcal
220 lbs3,520 – 3,960486 kcal
250 lbs4,000 – 4,500552 kcal
270 lbs4,320 – 4,860596 kcal
300 lbs4,800 – 5,400663 kcal

Here are the key findings we can learn from this table:

  • The more weight we have, the more calories we need to maintain the current weight
  • People with a higher current body weight will have a higher 10-15% of calorie deficit, comparing to people with a lower weight.
  • Doing a 200 calorie deficit will be more suitable for people under 200 pounds unless it’s combined with additional physical activity. More on that later

How To Create 200 Calorie Deficit?

As a general rule, to create a 200 calorie deficit you can either reduce your food intake from your maintenance level, increase your purposeful physical activity, increase your non-exercise physical activity, or do the combination of all three together.

Let’s start by creating a 200 calorie deficit by reducing your food intake. This is the easiest way because we are in charge of the food we consume. We are in charge of what we shop and what we store in the pantry.

There are several ways we can go around it. You can start to:

  • Follow the Okinawans method and eat until you’re 80% full
  • Eat more mindfully, slowly, and listen to the body cues
  • Use your food plate as a reference for how much food you eat.
  • Use your hands and palms and a reference and guide to know food potions
  • Count calories and measure food portions
  • Follow the already made meal plan template

The least precise and least accurate is following Okinawa’s diet and intuitive eating. However, those are the easiest to follow and they don’t require you constantly worrying about the numbers.

The most precise is by following the ready-made meal plan template, counting calories, and measuring food portions. However, this requires you meticulously follow the ready-made plans, surgically dissect and weigh your food, sometimes even down to a single bite.

Related article: OMAD: What To Eat To Stay Full For Longer

Intuitive Eating and Okinawa Diet

The main idea behind mindful or intuitive eating is to listen to your body cues. You need to be able to decide when you feel hungry, and when you are satisfied. This method seems very basic, but it’s one of the most powerful tools used in the nutrition coaching space.

Here are some basic principles of intuitive eating:

  • Eat when you’re physically hungry
  • Eat slowly for 20 minutes
  • Eat mindfully without distractions
  • Stop eating when you’re no longer hungry

To learn more about this concept, please go head and head on to my article about doing calorie deficit without being hungry.

TIP: To create a 200 calorie deficit with intuitive eating simply set up the timer for 20-25 minutes and chew your food longer than normal. This will enhance your satiety and lower your total food intake.

Using Plates as a Portion Reference

This method is been around for a while and it works simply by relying on the plate size as your guide. You can divide the plate into 3 or 4 parts, and fill up each one based on your preferences. Something similar to the ChooseMyPlate program.

Source

Here are some basic principles of using plate as a guide:

  • Use the same plates to have the same measure
  • Plates can give us reliable and consistent reference

TIP: To create a 200 calorie deficit using the plate method simply add more proteins and minimize processed carbohydrates. Our body needs more time to digest and absorb proteins which increases energy expenditure and satiety.

Using Hand and Palms as a Portion Reference

This method is similar to using plates, but is more suitable for people who eat in a various locations and don’t have access to the same plate size. Instead, you can choose to use your hands. This method is also good because your hands doesn’t really change much so it give you consistent reference.

Here are some basic principles of using plate as a guide:

  • Use palm thickens for protein
  • Use fist for vegetables
  • Use open cup hand for starchy vegetables
  • Use thumb for healthy fats

Counting Calories and Measure Food Portions

Counting calories and measuring food portions is one of the most tested methods to drive calorie deficit. It is more accurate than plates or hands, however, it is also the most advanced technique and requires you to be constantly measuring and logging everything that you put into your mouth.

Here are some basic principles of using calorie counting:

  • More accurate data for more accurate results
  • Good for people who love numbers
  • Not suitable for people who don’t like to think of food in terms of numbers

Related article: How To Stop Worrying About Calories

Following Meal Plan Template

This process requires following a very specific plan for a very specific outcome. There is no place for any substitutions or changes. This method is often used by bodybuilders or physique competitors to reach a very direct body fat percentage.

Here are some basic principles of using meal plan templete:

  • It’s the most precise way to reduce food intake and reach single digit body fat
  • It comes with high benefits but also comes at a high cost in being disconnected form food you like

Another way to create a 200 calorie deficit is by increasing purposeful physical activity.

200 Calorie Deficit and Exercise

You can create a 200 calorie deficit with exercise by either adding a more purposeful physical activity or increasing your non-exercise activity. Studies show that calorie restriction and exercise are equally effective in reducing excess body weight.

What is purposeful physical activity? Purposeful physical activity is basically the exercise part that you plan ahead and do things like running, cycling, gym training, fitness classes or some other sport-related activities.

The main intention of the purposeful exercise is to either reach body composition goals, better performance, or health. This is the typical workout that you do when you refer to “exercise”

Why is purposeful physical activity important? In general, it is recommended to do any form of physical activity. Regular exercise has a laundry list of health benefits from improved mood, cognition, sleep, and general health markers.

What is non-exercise physical activity? Non-exercise physical activity, also known as NEAT, is everything else that you do during the day that involves movement. This is unintentional moving around, walking the stairs, picking up groceries, gardening, playing with kids, cooking, woodworking, or pretty much anything that involves movement.

Studies show that unplanned or unstructured low-intensity activities during the day are sometimes more effective than purposeful exercise in modern society (source).

TIP: Adding extra steps, regular cleaning, making up the bed, and keep on moving, in general, can significantly add up to burned calories, and with a combination of a 200 calorie deficit from a diet that may be enough to see results.

Related article: Can You Lift Weights On A Calorie Deficit

Conclusion

Doing strict and aggressive calorie restrictions only works in the short term. Losing weight by reducing around 200 calories per day from your food intake may feel slow, but it’s more sustainable, and with additional non-exercise physical activity can create lasting results.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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