If you’re thinking about trying to lose weight with a 200-calorie deficit, it’s important to know ahead of time if doing so is safe, how much weight you can expect to lose, and how fast those pounds will drop.
So, is eating at a 200-calorie deficit healthy and effective? Eating at a 200-calorie deficit is a healthy way to achieve weight loss, and won’t feel too challenging for most people. While a 200-calorie deficit is easy to adhere to, you should expect to lose no more than one pound every 3-4 weeks. If you want to lose 10lbs, this will take 30-40 weeks on a 200-calorie deficit.
As a nutrition coach, I often like to have my clients lose weight slowly and sustainably. Having them eat at a large caloric deficit will speed up their weight loss, but it can be difficult to adhere to and can lead to negative health effects. Conversely, eating at a smaller caloric deficit, such as a 200-calorie deficit, is healthier and more sustainable.
If you aren’t in a hurry to lose weight and would rather have a simple diet to adhere to than lose weight quickly, a 200-calorie deficit is a great strategy.
In this article, I will discuss:
- What does a 200-calorie deficit mean?
- Should you use a 200-calorie deficit?
- What can you expect from a 200-calorie deficit?
- How to achieve a 200-calorie deficit
- Is a 200-calorie deficit worth it?
What Does A 200 Calorie Deficit Mean?
Eating at a 200-calorie deficit means eating 200 fewer calories than your total daily expenditure, or your “maintenance calories.”
The term “maintenance calories” refers to the number of calories you need to eat to maintain your body weight.
The number of calories you consume relative to your maintenance calories affects your body weight. Eating above maintenance puts you in a caloric surplus and causes you to gain weight. Eating below maintenance puts you in a caloric deficit and causes you to lose weight.
We use a number of different variables to calculate maintenance calories. Your age, height, weight, the foods you eat, and how much you move and exercise all play a role in determining your maintenance calories.
Is A 200 Calorie Deficit Healthy?
A 200-calorie deficit is within a healthy range of calorie reduction. While losing weight on a 200-calorie deficit will take time, it should come without any serious side effects or major lifestyle changes.
In their excitement to lose weight quickly, people often attempt a large calorie deficit only to find it is near impossible for them to stick with. The side effects and lifestyle changes that come from decreasing calories so much are simply too difficult to master.
For example, a 1000-calorie deficit will lead to much faster weight loss, but the extremely strict diet and exercise program required to achieve such a large deficit often results in low energy, decreased metabolism, muscle loss, and irritability. Not to mention, an unhealthy relationship with food.
With a 200-calorie deficit, however, such side effects are non-existent as any lifestyle changes required to achieve this deficit are minimal.
Should You Use A 200 Calorie Deficit?
|You Should Use A 200-Calorie Deficit If…||You Should Not Use A 200-Calorie Deficit If…|
|You struggle to adhere to a strict diet||You want to lose weight quickly|
|You are comfortable with slow, steady weight loss||You do not have much time to lose weight|
|You are concerned about the long-term health effects of dieting||You have a lot of weight to lose|
|You do not have a lot of weight to lose|
You Should Use A 200-Calorie Deficit If:
A 200-calorie deficit is not for everyone, but if you fit any of these criteria, it can be a good option for you.
You Struggle To Adhere To A Strict Diet
If you struggle with strict diets that force you to eliminate your favorite foods or drastically limit calories, a 200-calorie deficit diet is a good alternative. You will lose weight at a slower rate, but slow weight loss is incredibly more efficient than bouncing back from one strict diet to the next.
I always tell my clients it’s better to lose weight slowly and end up weighing ten pounds less six months from now than it is to watch the scale bounce up and down with strict diets and setbacks each week.
You Are Comfortable With Slow, Steady Weight Loss
If you are not in a hurry to lose a bunch of weight, a 200-calorie diet is a great option. With a 200-calorie deficit, the weight will come off slowly but your lifestyle changes will be minimal.
The research also suggests that slow weight loss further reduces waist circumference, fat mass, and percentage of body fat compared to more rapid weight loss. Rapid weight loss requires a larger caloric deficit, which often causes the unwanted loss of muscle mass along with it.
When we try to lose weight quickly with a large caloric deficit, we lose both muscle and fat mass. But when we lose weight slowly with a smaller caloric deficit, such as a 200-calorie deficit, we preserve our muscle mass and burn more fat.
You Are Concerned About The Long-term Health Effects Of Dieting
If you are concerned about the long-term health effects of strict or extreme dieting but still want to lose weight, a 200-calorie deficit would be a good choice.
A 200-calorie deficit is large enough to initiate fat loss but not so big as to have the negative health effects that can come from a larger caloric deficit.
You Do Not Have A Lot Of Weight To Lose
If you do not have much weight to lose, three to five pounds, for example, a 200-calorie deficit is a comfortable way to take those extra pounds off at a slow, steady rate without incurring major lifestyle changes.
Taking your time to lose five pounds over the course of three months with a 200-calorie deficit can be done through minor changes to your current diet and lifestyle.
Additionally, I’ve found that my clients who lose weight slowly have a much easier time keeping it off than those who insist on a more aggressive approach.
You Should Not Use A 200-Calorie Deficit If:
Though there are many benefits that come from a 200-calorie deficit, if you find yourself in any of the following situations, it may not be the best option.
You Want To Lose Weight Quickly
If you want to lose weight quickly, a 200-calorie deficit is not for you. To lose weight quickly, you need a more aggressive deficit than 200 calories.
Something like a 500-calorie deficit may be more appropriate if you want to lose weight quickly. However, it’s important to build towards such a large caloric deficit.
If you want to try to build towards a 500-calorie deficit, you should still start your weight loss journey with a 200-calorie deficit. Stick with the smaller deficit for a couple of weeks and monitor for any negative effects such as a lack of energy, loss of motivation, decreased muscle mass, or increased irritability.
If you do not see any negative side effects from a 200-calorie deficit, increase your deficit by 100 calories each week or two and continue to monitor until you’ve reached your desired 500-calorie deficit.
Going above a 500-calorie deficit is not something I ever recommend as the negative side effects are not worth it.
You Do Not Have Much Time To Lose Weight
If you are competing in a weight class event such as wrestling, mixed martial arts, or Olympic weightlifting and do not have much time to reach your required weight, a 200-calorie deficit is not a good option. To ensure you make weight for your event, you need to follow an appropriate weight-cutting program.
My experience wrestling in high school and university gave me a strong appreciation for intelligent weight-cutting practices. A 200-calorie deficit simply won’t cut it for situations where you need to weigh a specific amount at weigh-ins.
You Have A Lot Of Weight To Lose
If you have a lot of weight to lose, if your current body fat percentage is greater than 36%, for example, maintaining a 200-calorie deficit is not your best option. When you have a lot of weight to lose, a larger deficit may be more appropriate.
With that being said, if you have a lot of weight to lose, there are many individual factors at play. So, it’s always best to work with a qualified dietician or nutrition coach. Chat with us to get started.
What Can You Expect Being On A 200 Calorie Deficit?
|Weight loss||Weight loss happens slowly|
|Minimal change to lifestyle and diet|
|No noticeable change in energy levels|
When it comes to deciding on a method to lose weight, there are pros and cons to every option. Eating at a 200-calorie deficit is no different as there are both positives and negatives to doing so.
- Weight loss. If you are in a caloric deficit, even one of just 200 calories, you will lose weight. Weight loss will come slowly, but it will happen.
- Minimal change to lifestyle and diet. A 200-calorie deficit requires little change to your current diet and lifestyle. It can be as simple as swapping out a bag of potato chips for some baby carrots, removing cream and sugar from your coffee, or adding a regular walk at noon.
- No noticeable change in energy levels. While stricter diets can greatly reduce your daily energy levels, a 200-calorie deficit will result in no noticeable change. You should feel just as energized at a 200-calorie deficit as you do eating at your maintenance calorie level.
- Weight loss happens slowly. The only real con to a 200-calorie deficit is that weight loss happens at a slower pace than a more aggressive deficit.
How To Achieve A 200 Calorie Deficit
There are two main options for achieving a 200-calorie deficit. A 200-calorie deficit can be achieved by changing your diet or by adding a short bout of daily exercise.
Option 1: Create A 200-Calorie Deficit Through Diet
If you want to create a 200-calorie deficit by changing your diet, follow these steps.
Step 1: Find Your Maintenance Calories
Before you can achieve a 200-calorie deficit, you first need to know what your maintenance calories are. You do this by determining your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Your TDEE is the sum of your:
- Basal Metabolic Rate: The number of calories you burn through life-sustaining functions like breathing
- Thermic Effect of Food: The number of calories you burn by digesting the different foods you eat
- Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: The number of calories you burn through deliberate exercise
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: The number of calories you burn through non-exercise movement like typing or fidgeting
For a complete guide on how to calculate your maintenance calories, check out How Many Calories Do You Need to Maintain Your Weight?
Step 2: Calculate A 200-Calorie Deficit
The next step is to simply subtract 200 from your maintenance calories. This new number is your 200-calorie deficit target.
For example, a man whose maintenance calories are calculated to be 2,000 calories would subtract 200 from 2,000, setting his 200-calorie deficit target at 1,800 calories each day.
Step 3: Review Your Diet And Food Choices
If you already keep a food journal, your next step is to review it to find the easiest change you can make to reach a 200-calorie deficit. If you don’t keep a food journal, track what you eat for three days, as this will be a good indicator of the foods you eat most, then find the easiest change you can make.
For example, if you find you have a bottle of soda every day, simply swapping that soda out for water, tea, coffee, or a diet soda can be enough to achieve a 200-calorie deficit. Or if you eat four whole eggs every morning (~360 calories), switching to one whole egg and three egg whites (~140 calories) will eliminate just over 200 calories.
When reviewing your food journal, look for things like nut butters, protein bars, cheeses, dressings, and sauces as they can be surprisingly high in calories.
Step 4: Track Your Diet
To ensure you are eating the correct amount of calories and adhering to your 200-calorie deficit, it is imperative that you track your diet. As a 200-calorie deficit is so small, it does not leave much room for error.
Weighing, measuring, and tracking your food is easy when using an app like MacroFactor. It may seem like a hassle, but putting the effort into tracking what you’re eating is the key to seeing results.
Using this link gets you an extra week on your free trial (2 weeks total). Cancel any time before your trial ends without being charged.
Option 2: Create A 200-Calorie Deficit Through Exercise
If you want to create a 200-calorie deficit through exercise, so you can continue to eat at your maintenance calorie level, follow these steps.
Step 1: Determine Your Exercise Options
Burning 200 calories might seem like a big deal, but it can be as simple as adding 20-30 minutes of aerobic activity into your day. This chart, with data from Harvard Health, tells you roughly how long it takes to burn 200 calories through each activity based on your weight.
|Activity||125 Pound Person||155 Pound Person||185 Pound Person|
|Stair Machine||33 minutes||28 minutes||24 minutes|
|Stationary Bike||29 minutes||24 minutes||20 minutes|
|Rowing Machine||29 minutes||24 minutes||20 minutes|
|Elliptical Machine||22 minutes||19 minutes||16 minutes|
If your office gym has any of these machines, you can create a 200-calorie deficit by having a quick workout during your lunch break or before work begins.
If you aren’t so lucky and do not have access to a gym during your work day, don’t be afraid to get outside and walk. You can use a walking calorie burn calculator to help you determine how long it will take to burn 200 calories by walking.
Step 2: Schedule Your Exercise In Your Calendar
The next step is to set time aside in your calendar to ensure you get this exercise in.
Regardless of if you choose to do a quick thirty minutes on the bike in the morning, spend twenty minutes on the elliptical at lunch, or take a brisk walk in the evening, you need to make sure you set time aside to burn those extra 200 calories each day.
Step 3: Track What You Eat
Even if you’ve committed to creating a 200-calorie deficit through exercise, it is still imperative you track what you eat to ensure you are eating at your maintenance calorie level. This added exercise does not give you free rein to eat as much as you want.
Use MacroFactor to help make tracking as easy as possible.
Is A 200 Calorie Deficit Worth It? My Practical Advice
If you only have 5-10 pounds to lose and are not in a hurry to see the scale slide down, maintaining a 200-calorie deficit is certainly worth it. The weight will come off slowly, but it will require minimal changes to your current diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits, making it a sustainable weight loss approach.
There are many ways to create a 200-calorie deficit, so you will not be stuck with a restrictive diet and/or intense workout program. Additionally, research suggests that we end up with a better body composition when we lose weight slowly.
If you’re already eating at your maintenance calorie level, creating a 200-calorie deficit can be as simple as:
- Removing a daily soda (~200 calories)
- Eating less peanut butter (~100 calories/tablespoon)
- Switching to black coffee (~80 calories in 1 tbsp of cream and sugar)
- Adding 20-30 minutes of cycling each day (can burn 200-300 calories)
- Changing to lower-calorie dressings or sauces (~50 calories less per tbsp)
Find your maintenance calories, track the foods you eat, and decide on the best change for you. You can eat less, eat different foods, or add in a little daily exercise. All are fine options. You just need to be patient as weight loss will take a little time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is 200 Calorie Deficit Too Much?
A 200-calorie deficit is not a large deficit and is certainly not too large a deficit for somebody who needs to lose weight. Safe, slow, steady weight loss can be expected through a 200-calorie deficit.
How Much Weight Can You Lose With A 200 Calorie Deficit?
You can expect to lose around one pound every 3-4 weeks while on a 200-calorie deficit.
Is A 200 Calorie Deficit Safe?
A 200-calorie deficit is not a large deficit and is a safe strategy for slow, maintainable weight loss without much interference with your current lifestyle.
Will You Lose Muscle On A 200 Calorie Deficit?
Any time we try to lose fat, there is a risk we will lose muscle as well. However, on a 200-calorie deficit, chances are you will not lose much, if any muscle mass, especially if you eat an appropriate amount of protein and perform regular resistance training.
Can You Stick To A 200 Calorie Deficit Long Term?
A 200-calorie deficit is relatively easy and safe to stick to long-term compared to much more aggressive caloric deficits. However, it is important that you return to eating at your maintenance calorie level once you’ve reached your goal weight.
What To Read Next
- It’s not just important to be in a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight, you also have to consider the macros (protein, carbs, and fats). Check out Do Macros Matter For Weight Loss to learn more.
- If you’ve been eating in a calorie deficit and aren’t losing weight, check out Can You Undereat & Not Lose Weight to find out why.
- If you want meal ideas that are 200 calories, then check out Is 200 Calories A Lot.
About The Author
Riley Nadoroznick is a strength, conditioning, and nutrition coach and the owner of Conviction Fitness.