500 Calorie Deficit: How to lose weight, tips, and safety


In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about the 500 calorie deficit, how to do it, and is it enough to lose weight.

Does a 500 calorie deficit work?

As a general rule, creating a 500 calorie deficit does work. Eating 500 calories below your total daily energy expenditure will trigger metabolic adaptation where the body switches from using external energy sources (food) to using internal energy sources coming from body fat.

And the good news is that there are many ways to skin the cat.

Will I Lose Weight On a 500 Calorie Deficit?

In general, you will lose weight on a 500 calorie deficit. Reducing your energy intake by 500 calories below your TDEE (total energy expenditure) creates an energy deficit of 3500 calories per week, which is required to lose 1 pound of body weight.

500 calories is a sweet spot.

Because in the long-term you can lose tons of weight.

And maintain the process.

Which is really the most important.

Because everyone can kick ass in the short-term.

Go on the 1500 calorie deficit diet and burn fat.

But for how long?

And what happens after?

You gain all the weight back.

In fact, the majority of dieters regain weight over the long-term.

That happens because excessive dieting influence not just your body weight.

But it triggers the whole range of biological adaptations (source).

  • Hypothalamus
  • Hormonal signals
  • Energy expenditure
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Adipose tissue
  • Appetite signals

This means your response to weight loss will be proportional to how strict you’ve been on yourself.

Bigger deficit.

Bigger rebound.

So going around a 500 calorie deficit diet is not only safe.

But also effective long-term strategy to overcome those physiological changes.

How Much Weight Can You Lose With a 500 Calorie Deficit?

On average, with a 500 calorie deficit diet, you can lose 1 – 1.5 pounds of body weight per week. Physically active people with higher lean body mass will have greater energy expenditure and lose more weight. People who are sedentary and have less lean mass will lose less.

Do you wanna know how to be on the higher end of weight loss, even on 500 calorie deficit a day?

Lift weights.

Being active doesn’t always mean treadmills and ellipticals.

The best ROI for weight loss you get from lifting weights.

Which goes even beyond calories.

  • It increases your lean body mass
  • It increases your energy expenditure at rest
  • It promotes insulin sensitivity
  • It decreases blood sugar
  • It keeps you mobile and pain-free
  • It protects bones

I’m not saying cardio is bad.

It is still worth doing if you want to shred extra pounds.

But studies show that long-term cardio and resistance training increase lean body mass more, compared with cardio alone (source).

Which is what you need on the calorie deficit.

Is a 500 Calorie Deficit Enough To Lose Weight?

As a whole, 500 calorie deficit is enough to lose weight. Consistently reducing food intake by 500 calories below energy expenditure will onset metabolic switch where liver glycogen stores are depleted and fatty acids are mobilized as the main energy source.

You can lose weight on 300 calorie deficit.

Or even on 200.

On 200 calorie deficit, your body will still use stored body fat and use it as energy.

But it will take more time.

500 is better option.

Because not only is more effective.

But is also sustainable.

And it can be as simple as skipping one meal per day.

Or doing intermittent fasting for couple days a week.

And you done.

Remember that 500 calorie deficit doesn’t mean every day.

You can cycle high-calorie days with low-calorie days.

Doesn’t really matter how you cut it.

Also remember that this works in both ways.

500 calories below your energy expenditure, times seven days its 3500 calorie deficit in a week.

So if you go out os Friday night, eat what you want and drink like fish, you will regain all those 3500 calories back.

How To Create 500 Calorie Deficit

Here are the 5 steps to create 500 calorie deficit per day:

Calculate your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure)

You can find online several TDEE calculators. It will require to add your age, weight, height, and physical activity.

The problem with those calculators they don’t take into consideration your lean body mass.

Which is gonna give you an inaccurate number.

There are easier ways to get into calorie deficit, without counting calories.

Subtract 500 calories from your TDEE

Once you know your TDEE number, now subtract 500 calories from the total.

This will give you the range of how much calories you should consume daily.

You can also use BMR as a alternative. To learn more about how to lose weight with your BMR check out my article.

Spread the number across 2-3 meals

Once you know your daily calorie intake, now spread it out across the number of meals that you planning to have.

For instance if your TDEE is 2500 calories, then your daily calorie intake is 2000 calories.

And if you have 3 meals per day that’s around 650 calories per meal.

Get high-protein and high-satiety foods with each meal

If we stick to the number from our 650 calories per meal example, it doesn’t really matter what you will eat.

Eating 650 per meal will create negative energy balance.

But.

If you only eat fast-foods or simple carbs you will feel:

  • hungry
  • tired
  • weak

So by having protein with each of your meals not only will help you have more energy.

But it will keep you full for longer.

And increase your lean body mass (more on that later).

Stay consistent

I know it sucks being in energy deficit for long.

But there is no other way around it.

Consistency will guarantee you results.

To learn more on how to stay in calorie deficit without being hungry, check out my guide.

Is a 500 Calorie Deficit Too Much?

On average, 500 calorie deficit isn’t too much. Eating 500 calories below maintenance level will lead to a weight loss of 1 – 1.5 pounds per week, which is realistic, safe, and sustainable. Long-term adherence to the 500 calorie deficit results in lower body fat weight.

However, everyone is different.

When people are questioning is 500 calorie deficit too much, it means they either:

  • Have a belief that eating less food is somehow bad for the body

There are hundreds of studies done on calorie restriction (source).

And every single one of them highlights the benefits of reducing calories, even below maintenance level.

Not only that.

Every single health benefit from keto diet, intermittent fasting or weight loss in general comes from one fact.

Calorie deficit.

This means every single diet under the sun works, and is proven to have robust effect on cardiovascular system, obesity and hypertension not because of the restriction in specific food items.

But because of eating less.

Experiment.

Do it yourself.

And see how you will feel.

  • Have low hunger tolerance

We live in the times of food abundance, not food deprivation.

You can throw a rock and you hit food.

So being exposed to so much calories, we don’t really exercise how does the hunger feels.

That’s why our hunger tolerance is low.

But how would you feel if your hunger tolerance was higher?

And if you could not panic when you feel just a slight tommy rumblings?

To learn more check out my article on one meal a day.

How Much Of a Calorie Deficit Should I Be In To Lose Weight?

On average, you can be even on a 200 – 300 calorie deficit and lose weight. As long as you eat below your total daily energy expenditure, your liver glycogen stores will deplete. Your body derives fatty acids from adipose tissue to be used for energy.

Really.

There is no difference if you are on 200, 500 or 1000 calorie deficit.

You will lose weight on all of them.

So the question is which one you can sustain for the longest?

Because its a process.

Just like when you grow your hair.

Or plant a tree.

Find out which number you feel:

  • the most comfortable
  • the most realistic
  • the most achievable
  • the most enjoyable

500 Calorie Deficit Per Day But Not Losing Weight

If you’re in a 500 calorie deficit per day but not losing weight it means you either underestimated your daily calorie intake, you are too early in the process, and you’re not seeing the results, or you have unwanted overeating behaviors, that you don’t include in your calculations.

Let’s break this down.

  • Underestimated calorie intake

How do you really know your TDEE (total daily calorie energy expenditure)?

From online calculators?

Big mistake.

Because they don’t take into consideration your lean body mass and your actual physical activity.

You can have two guys with exact the 150 pounds same weight.

One has 50% lean body mass.

Other one has 90% lean body mass.

Who will burn more calories?

Yes.

The other guy.

Your body will need a lot of oxygen to supply those muscles. And for each 1 liter of oxygen, you burn 4.7 calories. So just by having more lean mass, you burn more calories at rest (source).

That’s why those calculations are off.

  • Too early in the process

This means you can be just impatient, or have some ultra-high expectations.

I know it feels like watching the pain dry when you thinking about losing weight all the time.

The best tip I can give you is to focus on the behaviors, not on the outcome.

This means put your time and energy to something that can contribute to end result, without thinking about end result.

Focus on:

  • Being physically active
  • Make sure your kitchen support your goals
  • Plan your grocery shopping
  • Set up weekly or daily goals

Will You Lose Muscle On a 500 Calorie Deficit?

In general, high protein intake will ensure you won’t lose muscle on a 500 calorie deficit. High-protein consumption while being on hypocaloric diets stimulates muscle protein synthesis which can lead to muscle hypertrophy, even on a 500 calorie deficit.

I used to experiment with plant-based foods.

And I totally disregarded the protein intake.

Maybe because I was high on the parasympathetic nervous system from doing yoga twice a day.

It left like a daily deep tissue massage.

Totally relaxed.

Didn’t care about anything.

Until I lost 15 pound of muscle mass.

Because I didn’t eat enough proteins.

How Can You Prevent Muscle Loss In a Caloric Deficit?

You can prevent muscle loss in a calorie deficit by regular resistance training together with a high-protein diet. Resistance training with progressive overload stimulates muscle hypertrophy, and high-protein dense foods increase muscle protein synthesis.

If you lift weights, and you want to cut.

This tip will hit home for you.

There are two ways to NOT lose muscle mass.

  • Eat protein

You need around 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of body weight. And as long as you hit that, rest calories should come from veggies, fruits and starch.

To ensure more protein synthesis, try to have a BCAA with leucine during the workout.

  • Lift weights

Resistance training with progressive overload. You progressively add more weight, reps, or sets over the period of time.

And it works even on the 500 calorie deficit.

Is Exercising 500 Calories a Day Enough?

Exercise 500 calories a day is enough to lose 1 pound of body weight in one week. To lose 1 pound of bodyweight you can either exercise daily and burn 500 calories. Or you can reduce your food intake to create a 500 calorie deficit, below your maintenance intake.

How Much Exercise Does It Take To Burn 500 Calories?

There are several ways you can burn 500 calories during exercise. Here is the list of activities and how much exercise does it take to burn 500 calories.

  • Basketball 1 hour
  • Beach volleyball 1 hour
  • Boxing 45 minutes
  • Cycling 1.5 hour
  • Jogging 1 hour
  • Jump rope 50 minutes
  • Lacrosse 50 minutes
  • Running 45 minutes
  • Snorkeling 1.5 hours
  • Swimming 45 minutes
  • Tennis 1 hour
  • Walking 1.5 hour

Conclusion

Creating a 500 calorie deficit per day doesn’t have to be complicated. You can either count calories and be on your toes with each meal.

Or you can try to find some alternative solutions for ways to lose weight, without counting calories. Either way. Calories deficit is necessary to reduce body fat.

So by going around 500 calories under, you can still see great results, and don’t crack under pressure from cravings.

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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