If your goal is weight loss, then you might be wondering whether a 500 calorie deficit is considered healthy, and whether or not it will allow you to reach your goal.
A deficit of 500 calories is considered a healthy amount to achieve weight loss. Eating at this deficit for a consistent period of time should result in weight loss of about 0.5-1 pounds a week. Cutting 500 calories from your diet may be as simple as removing 1-2 higher calorie foods from your current daily intake.
When it comes to creating a calorie deficit, it is important to note that if the deficit is either too large or too small based on your individual circumstance, this can affect the results that you experience.
If your calorie deficit is too small, you may not achieve your fat loss goal.
However, if your calorie deficit is too large, you run the risk of experiencing the negative side effects of not eating enough such as low energy, constant hunger, sleep issues and constipation.
This is why, in this article, I will discuss:
- What does a 500-calorie deficit mean?
- Is a 500-calorie deficit healthy?
- Should you use a 500-calorie deficit?
- What can you expect from a 500-calorie deficit?
- How to achieve a 500-calorie deficit
- Is a 500-calorie deficit too much?
- Is a 500-calorie deficit worth it? My practical advice
- Frequently asked questions
What Does A 500 Calorie Deficit Mean?
The definition of a 500-calorie deficit is to eat 500 calories less than your maintenance calories in order to achieve weight loss. The way this calorie deficit is achieved can depend on the individual, but will always require the reduction of certain foods, particularly higher calorie foods.
While creating a 500-calorie deficit might seem extremely difficult, in reality it can be done by simply reducing the portion size of certain foods throughout the day.
Since one pound of fat is equal to about 3500 calories, eating in a calorie deficit of 500 calories every day for a week should result in a weight loss of about 1 pound per week.
Can You Achieve a 500 Calorie Deficit Through Exercise?
Keep in mind that there is more than just calorie restriction to achieve a 500 calorie deficit for fat loss, since you can also achieve a calorie deficit through exercise.
Utilizing exercise is a great way to create a calorie deficit, without having to lower your calories drastically to achieve your goal.
While exercise can be an extremely effective tool in a calorie deficit, for the purposes of this article, we are going to stick to creating a calorie deficit through diet, and not factor in any exercise.
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Is a 500 Calorie Deficit Healthy?
A deficit of 500 calories is considered within the healthy range of calorie reduction that should result in weight loss, without the introduction of any serious side effects from not eating enough.
It is important to note that while eating at a 500-calorie deficit can be considered healthy to achieve weight loss for a certain period of time, it is not recommended to eat at a calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time.
Restricting your calories for too long can result in negative outcomes such as losing valuable muscle mass, reduction in metabolism (the body’s ability to burn food for energy), creating deficiencies in certain nutrients, fatigue, and a reduction in immunity.
In order to avoid the negative long term side effects of calorie restriction, it is recommended to not exceed around 12 weeks in a calorie deficit.
However, if you have started to feel some serious side effects from restricting your intake even before the 12-week mark, it is important to listen to your body, and increase your calorie intake if needed.
When stopping your caloric deficit, you don’t want to return to maintenance calories right away.
You would enter into a “reverse diet” phase, which you can learn more about in my article When To Start Reverse Dieting.
Should You Use a 500 Calorie Deficit?
Whether or not you should utilize a 500-calorie deficit will depend on factors such as your current calorie intake, along with your body composition goals.
A 500-calorie deficit would be appropriate for anyone who is currently eating at maintenance or surplus calories, and wishes to enter a fat loss phase in order to change their body composition. It is important to make sure that you are eating enough calories before entering a 500-calorie deficit.
Reasons Not To Use A 500 Calorie Deficit
There are certain individuals who should not utilize a 500-calorie deficit, such as those who are not consuming enough calories in the first place.
Since she is already eating less than her body needs, she might need to focus on building her calories back up before entering a fat loss phase.
Related Article: Can You Lose Fat Eating Maintenance Calories?
What Can You Expect From a 500 Calorie Deficit? (Pros & Cons)
There are both positive and negatives that can be experienced while eating at a 500 calorie deficit.
If your goal is weight loss, overall the pros of eating at a 500 calorie deficit outweigh the cons, especially if you only remain in this deficit for an 8-12 week period, and reverse diet back to maintenance calories immediately following your cut.
500 Calorie Deficit Pros
1. Fat loss
The main reason that an individual will follow a calorie deficit is to achieve fat loss.
If you are diligently adhering to a 500-calorie deficit, then it is very likely that fat loss will occur.
Your results will be even better if you decide to pair your calorie deficit with weight training, which will help you to maintain your lean muscle mass.
2. Reduction in cholesterol
Research shows that calorie deficits aren’t only helpful for fat loss, but they can also have a positive impact on cholesterol levels in the body.
While there are other factors that affect your cholesterol such as the types of fats that you are eating, weight loss also plays a large role.
3. Decrease in inflammation
In addition to reducing cholesterol levels, studies show that calorie deficits also have the ability to reduce chronic inflammation in the body.
The reduction of inflammation in the body also typically indicates an improvement of overall health in the body.
This is due to the fact that high inflammation in the body can contribute to chronic disease within the body.
Related Article: Is It Normal to Lose 3 Pounds Overnight (9 Explanations)
500 Calorie Deficit Cons
1. Muscle loss
While the goal during a calorie deficit is to achieve fat loss, there is also a possibility for you to lose muscle as well. The likelihood of muscle loss during a deficit depends directly on the length and severity of the calorie deficit.
Therefore, it is important to remember that the weight that you lose during your deficit is likely not just fat, and that one of the downsides of a calorie deficit can be a reduction in muscle.
In order to counteract this, ensure that you are eating enough protein (roughly 0.7-1 gram per pound of bodyweight for an active individual) while you are dieting, and pair this with an adequate amount of strength training.
If your goal is fat loss, it is advised to not create more than a 500-calorie deficit if you do not want to lose large amounts of muscle. This is the biggest risk I discussed in my 1000 calorie deficit article.
2. Low energy
It is almost inevitable that during a calorie deficit, you will notice that you have less energy than before.
This is due to the fact that your body is receiving less fuel than what it normally needs in order to function, which then requires it to tap into your own fat stores for energy, which is much more effort for your body to do.
While a dip in energy during a calorie deficit is fairly normal, you should aim to ensure that energy does not dip too low, and if you have been in a calorie deficit for too long, consider increasing your calories back to maintenance through a reverse diet.
3. Increased hunger
Similar to the above symptoms, it is considered fairly natural to experience an increase in hunger levels due to the fact that you are reducing your intake of food during a calorie deficit.
The best way to combat this is to aim to consume foods that are high in volume and fiber throughout the day.
4. Lowered metabolism
An unfortunate side effect of dieting is the adaptation of the metabolism of your body, as your body works to adapt to maintain its weight on the new lower number of calories.
Since this is very difficult to avoid while dieting, it is crucial to have periods of calorie maintenance after a phase of dieting, in order to allow your metabolism to recover from the diet phase.
How to Achieve a 500 Calorie Deficit
The way in which an individual goes about creating a 500-calorie deficit in their diet can vary, and does not have to look the same across the board.
At the end of the day, no matter what foods that you decide to reduce or eliminate, as long as you have created a 500-calorie deficit you should see progress.
Step 1: Determine Your TDEE
In order to achieve a calorie deficit, you must first determine your maintenance calories. In order to do this, you must determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) of calories. You can do this easily by using an online calculator like this one here.
Step 2: Subtract 500 Calories From TDEE
Once you have done this, you can then subtract 500 calories from your maintenance intake in order to come up with your new calorie deficit.
Step 3: Determine The Best Ways To Eliminate 500 Calories
Once you have determined your new calorie intake, the next step is to determine how you are going to subtract 500 calories from your diet. This step will vary depending on what a person normally eats in a day.
The way in which you decide to eliminate calories could have an effect on how full you feel throughout the day.
Ideally, you want to try and reduce calories from food sources that contain less nutrients and fiber first, as these foods are likely not contributing to your level of fullness.
Here are a few easy and practical ways to eliminate calories from your diet:
- Eliminate cream and sugar from your coffee (50-100 calories)
- Eliminate heavy sauces and condiments (e.g. 2 tbsp mayonnaise= 100 calories)
- Avoid drinking your calories (One 16 oz soda= 200 calories)
- Use less oil for cooking (1 tbsp= 120 calories)
Other habits that are helpful to adopt when you are in a calorie deficit are things like drinking lots of water and loading up on high volume and fibrous vegetables.
Step 4: Ensure You’re Tracking Calories Accurately
In order to ensure that you are eating the correct number of calories for your deficit, it will likely be necessary to track your calories and measure out your portions.
I recommend an app called MacroFactor (click to read my review and why I think it’s the best on the market).
Is a 500 Calorie Deficit Worth It? My Practical Advice
If your body composition goal is to lose body fat, then a 500-calorie deficit is worth it.
However, if you decide to enter a calorie restriction phase, then there are a few things I would recommend that you consider:
1. Ensure that you are eating an adequate number of calories prior to your calorie deficit
If you are planning to go into a calorie deficit, it is important to make sure that you have at least been eating at least your maintenance calories for a consistent period of time (a minimum of 8 weeks at maintenance calories before entering a deficit).
This is due to the fact that if you have been chronically dieting for a long period of time and decide to go into a calorie deficit before your body has recovered, you likely not going to get the results that you want.
2. Consume the majority of your calories from whole foods full of fiber and nutrients
Getting the majority of your calories from whole foods that are full of essential vitamins, minerals and fiber is going to help to ensure that you don’t experience any nutrient deficiencies while in a calorie deficit.
Not only that, but focusing on foods that are high in fiber are going to help you stabilize your hunger levels while you are eating less calories than you are used to.
3. Prioritize other lifestyle habits such as optimizing sleep and minimizing stress levels
Going into a calorie deficit can be a source of stress for your body.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that you are prioritizing rest and recovery during your deficit, while also looking to minimize any sources of stress in your life.
You can do this by:
- Creating a serene nighttime routine that helps you to fall asleep
- Focusing on getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night
- Taking time throughout your day to schedule in activities that help to minimize stress (such as going on a nature walk, or reading your favorite book).
4. Listen to your body and reverse out of the deficit if negative symptoms become severe
If you have been following your 500-calorie deficit perfectly, but you are experiencing debilitating side effects of calorie restriction that are affecting the focus on your daily activities, it is important to listen to your body, and reverse out of a deficit if needed.
While a 500-calorie deficit is considered a safe and healthy deficit to follow for weight loss, if it feels too drastic for your body, try reducing your deficit to around 250 calories.
It might take you a bit longer to see the weight loss that you want to see, but it will also help to reduce any negative dieting symptoms you might be feeling.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Weight Can You Lose with a 500 Calorie Deficit?
If you are eating in a 500-calorie deficit for a consistent period of time, you can expect to lose about 0.5-1 pound per week. While the exact amount of weight lost will depend on the individual, losing around 1 pound per week is considered a safe and maintainable amount of weight loss for most people.
Is a 500 Calorie Deficit Safe?
A 500-calorie deficit is considered a safe and healthy amount if you have a weight loss goal. While eating 500 less calories in a day is enough to experience weight loss over time, it is likely not a severe enough deficit to experience any major negative side effects of dieting.
Will You Lose Muscle in a 500 Calorie Deficit?
While there’s no guarantee that you won’t lose muscle while in a 500-calorie deficit, you’re less likely to lose muscle with this calorie deficit in comparison to more severe ones. You can help to preserve muscle mass during your deficit by eating adequate protein and adhering to a consistent weightlifting routine.
Can You Stick to a 500 Calorie Deficit Long Term?
It is not advised to eat a 500-calorie deficit for a long period of time, since calorie deficits are only meant to be followed for a short period to achieve fat loss. In order to reduce the possibility of any negative side effects of calorie restriction, aim to not be in a calorie deficit for longer than 12 weeks.
Is a 500 Calorie Deficit Too Much?
For most people who are already eating a healthy number of calories, a 500-calorie deficit wouldn’t be too much, and would result in healthy weight loss. However, a 500 calorie deficit might be too much for anyone who is already eating below maintenance calories, or someone who has an unusually low calorie requirement.
What To Learn Next
If you have been eating at a 500 calorie deficit for a consistent period of time, and you are now wondering when you should start reverse dieting, I recommend reading the article When To Start Reverse Dieting (5 Signs To Know).
In addition to this, if you are wondering how important it is to be nailing your macros while also accurately tracking your calories during your deficit, you should check out the article Is It Better To Hit Your Macros Or Calories? (What’s Best)
And finally, if you have slashed your calories, perhaps even past the 500 calorie mark, and you still aren’t losing weight, you should definitely check out the article Can You Undereat And Not Lose Weight? (Yes, Here’s Why) for more insight on what to do if you are facing this issue.
Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?
About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.