10 Things To Do Before Starting a Calorie Deficit

How to reduce frustration and set yourself up for success!

Jamie Staley CPT, Pn1

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com
  • #1: Decide if it’s the right time (social events, life stress, medical etc.)

Consider your calendar first. Do you have a social event every week for the next 6 weeks? Probably not a good time to start. Other things to look for: travel, vacations, changes in work obligations, moving, school schedule, and changes in family dynamics/demands. Also consider your current health and if you are experiencing anything where additional stress on the body wouldn’t be ideal. This includes your mental health!

  • #2: Set a start date and an end date

Every dieting phase (or cutting phase) is exactly that: A PHASE! You should not be trying to lose weight 52 weeks out of the year. Decide which day you will start and when it will end. If this is your first time ever putting yourself in a calorie deficit, I would suggest 6-8 weeks. If you have some more experience, you could go 8-12 weeks.

Also decide what you are going to do when this cut is over. Go to maintenance for awhile? Reverse diet? An ending plan is crucial for long-term success. Even if you have a very successful cut, if you don’t have a plan for coming off of it, your success will likely not last.

  • #3: Put audacious strength and performance goals to the back burner (for now)

Trying to stimultanoussly lose 10 pounds and PR your deadlift in the same 12 week timeframe is probably not a good idea. It’s common to lose some muscle mass while in a deficit so have a goal in mind to maintain what you are currently doing with your workouts.

If you are not currently working out when you start your dieting phase, stick with any exercise you enjoy: walking, swimming, yoga, bike riding, etc. Strength training has massive benefits during a cut (to help maintain that muscle mass), but if you are brand new to strength training, doing both at the same time might be a bit overwhelming. Let the main thing be the main thing!

  • #4: Set your weight loss goals accurately

A realistic weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week for the duration of your dieting phase. Keep in mind, you won’t lose weight every week and sustainable progress is often slow. If you have committed to a 6 week cut, that means a realistic weight loss with high compliance is around 6 pounds. If you have a lot of weight to lose, this may be more, but be realistic about this before you start.

It can be helpful to have other goals such as more energy, better eating habits, clothes fitting better, increased hydration, less heavily-processed foods, more vegetables, or increased protein intake.

  • #5: Set your calorie limit

There are many ways to calculate how many calories you need to eat in a deficit, but a general rule of thumb is to eat as much as you can and still reach your (realistic) goals. You don’t win a prize for slashing your calories to 1500 when 1800 would have done the trick just fine.

You can track your calories for a week or two without making any changes to get a general idea of your current calorie intake and then cut from there. Or you can use a multitude of online calculators (beware because some are better than others!).

Another easy way is to take your goal weight and multiply it by 10-12 (depending on activity level). Be sure to give yourself a range and not one strict number you strive to hit every day. Also be open to changing this number later on if you aren’t seeing the progress you want (with 80-100% compliance) or you are starving all the time. Trial and error is ok!

  • #6: Clean out your fridge, freezer, and pantry (not to get rid of bad stuff, but to make room for good stuff)

I’m not asking you to throw away everything besides the broccoli and the chicken breasts! Clean out stuff that is expired or that has gone bad to make room for prepped food. It’s hard to find your freshly made overnight oats if you have to dig through last week’s leftovers first! A well-organized fridge, pantry, and freezer will make your life much easier!

  • #7: Make a list of go-to meals and snacks (including restaurants)

Don’t wait until the day you start to find out that your favorite breakfast is over half half the calories you have allotted for the entire day! Browse through Pinterest and cookbooks to find recipes with calories included. Find out how many calories you have for each meal of the day, depending on how you like to eat.

Example: calorie range of 1700-1800 for someone who doesn’t eat a big breakfast and likes to snack: breakfast- 250 calories, morning snack-100 calories, lunch-500 calories, afternoon snack-150, dinner-600 calories, late night snack-150 calories: 1750 calories total.

Once you have a rough estimate of each meal, you can start to look for snacks and recipes around each amount. This will lessen those times that you reach 4:00pm and only have 200 calories left for the day!

Including restaurants and fast food options in this list of go-to items is essential. Be realistic with yourself that life may throw you at least one curveball while in this deficit and be prepared.

  • #8: Download MyFitnessPal®

This app is not perfect, but it’s free, easy to use, and has a giant database of pretty much any food and most chain restaurants and grocery stores. I do not recommend using their calorie estimator (they go way too low) or logging your exercise. Logging your exercise often will take you out of a deficit because you have already taken activity into account when setting your goal and it can make you feel like you have to “earn your food” because the app will give you more calories for exercise completed.

  • #9: Go grocery shopping

Make a list of meals and snacks and hit the grocery store! Having what you need on hand and ready to go before you start your deficit will get you started on the right foot. Prepare as much as you can so that everything is easy and quick to grab. Wash and cut all your fruit and veggies and store in clear glass containers so they are easy to see and will last longer. Prep a few components of meals for the week to save yourself time.

  • #10: Add non-food incentives

Sticking to a deficit for any period of time is hard work and you deserve a reward for that work! Avoid food-related rewards as this again can make you feel deprived and that you have to earn your favorite foods. If there is something you really want during a deficit, you can make it work. If you are committing to a longer dieting phase, add in a reward at the halfway mark and at the end. Some ideas: new workout gear (equipment or clothing), a pedicure, a new outfit, a day off of work, new home decor, or jewelry. If your budget is tight, put away $5 each week for the duration of your deficit. At the end of six weeks, you would have $30 to spend!

How Can I Help?

If tackling your nutrition on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Level 1 Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, one of the most reputable nutrition companies in the world.

I will coach you through individualized action steps to meet your goals and help you formulate a plan for change that fits your life, instead of trying to make your life fit a plan. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, and guidance to make lasting nutritional change.

Send me an email at jsfncoaching@gmail.com and let’s chat about your goals!

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