WHEN DOES A CALORIE DEFICIT BECOME DANGEROUS?
Calorie Deficits... It's no secret that in order to effectively lose body fat, you must create a deficit. This can be done in a number of ways, but more commonly than not, we will reduce our food intake to bring our total down.
This sounds relatively simple right? Wrong.
With the fitness industry rapidly growing on social media, we are over-run with images of the super lean, along with thousands of 'Fitness Professionals' and 'Coaches' trying to secure their place in the ever changing industry. With that comes lot's of different methods and opinions. Some are brilliant, some are down right dangerous. I want to talk about the latter.
I've trained a lot of Women who were previously put on 1,200kcal and less. This has always shocked me, and I will tell you why. Firstly, as a living and breathing human being, we need a certain amount of calories just to function daily. This can be worked out using your Height, Weight, Age and activity levels. Let's say for example, you need a total of 2,200 calories to maintain a healthy body weight. A general rule for fat loss is to deduct 500 kcals from that total to create a sufficient deficit to lose body fat. This would bring your total Calorie intake down to 1,700. Personally, I tend to deduct less to begin with, and only take it down if a plateau is reached, For example, when I diet for a show, I will aim to begin with a deficit of around 200 kcals, gradually over time taking it down to 1,700 or sometimes bringing it back up depending on how I look. I also factor in my workouts as this will alter the calorie deficit each day depending on what I've done. This has always worked for me. It is worth mentioning that there will always be exceptions.
Where do the Problems with Calorie Restriction Begin?
The problems start when you drop your calories too low, too quickly. An extreme calorie deficit can have an adverse effect on losing body fat. Some of you may have been told to "Eat More" for this reason. It's something I often say to my clients. When a calorie defecit is too low, a whole number of things can go wrong. For one, you are at a much larger risk of losing muscle as your body is in need of an energy source. It can also have a detrimental effect on hormone function, lack of concentration, poor skin, hair and nails. Just to name a few. Why? If you are not consuming enough calories, the chances are your are also deficient in essential macro nutrients that your body needs. Fat's, Carbohydrates and Proteins all play a role in keeping us healthy, reduce them to an un sustainable amount and the effects will be felt. This isn't to say that all calorie deficits are dangerous, but to take it down to the wire is often un necessary and counter productive. We seem to have developed a fear of calories and often an obsession with counting them. The most important thing to remember is that your body NEEDS fuel, especially if you are working out or have an active lifestyle.
How long should you be in a Deficit?
This is completely dependant on your goal. You have to take into account the length of time. I diet for a competition over a long period of time (12- 20 Weeks depending on my starting point). I only aim to lose up to 1 pound of body fat each week, and therefore the deficit I create is based on my target. This varies drastically from person to person, therefore it is important to re evaluate and track your progress.
Competition prep is on the extreme end of the dieting scale and not something I would ever recommend for somebody who simply wants to lose body fat for health reasons as the body fat levels achieved are not sustainable. It is also important to listen to your body and respond as you see fit. A pro longed deficit, even a small one can take it's toll. For that reason you may have heard of re feed meals, or 'Cheat Meals'. These are used to bring your body out of a deficit every now and then.
With my clients who come to me with a fat loss goal, ultimately I want them to safely get down to their ideal weight, to then maintain comfortably. As mentioned above, if for examlple a woman needs 2,200 calories to maintain, she does not then have to live on chicken and broccoli for the rest of her life. A maintainable diet can be varied and include everything in moderation. The weight will only be re gained if the client revisits old habits and consumes more calories than required. This is something that very often happens with 'Crash Diets'. Simply put, you do not have to be on a diet forever, but you must take responsibility for your eating habits.
In my eyes there is no such thing as a 'quick fix'. I see so many adverts on social media claiming "Lose 14 pounds in 2 weeks" whilst living off shakes and 500 calorie meals. No thank you. It takes time to lose body fat safely and unfortunately many will always opt for a quicker option with poor consequences. It is these crash diets that usually end up creating vicious cycles of extreme dieting and binge eating, therefore you're never finding the happy medium. It frustrates me to the core that they are still allowed to operate and prey on the vulnerable, but all I can do is my best to give a safer alternative to my clients.
I hope you have found this useful. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you would like further help on the subject.