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What is Calorie Restriction?
Updated on April 13, 2023
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Diet / Weight Loss
What is Calorie Restriction?
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Caloric restriction is when you reduce the number of calories you consume without starving or depriving yourself of essential nutrients. 

The idea is to eat fewer calories than usual without causing malnutrition. You should still feel full and get enough vitamins and minerals from every meal.

Calorie Restriction For Weight Loss 2

For example, if you’ve been eating 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day, a calorie-restricted diet may decrease your daily intake to 1,500 calories.

You will need to eat certain types of food to ensure you’re satiated and nourished while on calorie restriction.

Does Calorie Restriction Help You Lose Weight?

Yes. Calorie restriction is an effective way to lose weight.

In one study, non-obese adults aged 20 to 45 consumed a reduced-calorie diet for six months. It consisted of 25 percent fewer calories than their usual diet.

Participants progressively lost weight over six months. At the end of the study, they lost up to 10 percent of their total body weight.1

The calorie-restricted group also lost up to 27 percent of their body fat.1 This suggests that the body burns fat while in calorie restriction.

How Does Calorie Restriction Lead to Weight Loss?

Each person needs a certain amount of calories to function, stay healthy, and maintain an ideal weight. This is known as your daily calorie limit.

When you eat more calories than you’re supposed to (and you don’t use up the excess energy through physical activity) they are stored by your body as fat.

Calorie-restricted diets cause your body to burn excess fats, which are either used for energy or disposed of. This leads to the loss of fat and overall weight loss. 

How Many Calories Do I Need to Restrict to Lose Weight?

For weight loss, the Dietary Guideline for Americans recommends a limited calorie intake that falls within the following range:3

  • 1,200 to 1,500 calories for adult women
  • 1,600 to 1,800 calories for adult men

A reduced intake of 1,500 calories in women and 2,000 calories in men can lead to weight loss of up to one pound per week.4

You can reduce your calories by up to 50 percent less than your established baseline calorie intake without veering into malnutrition territory.2

The baseline is the number of calories your body needs to maintain your current weight, which is typically 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 calories for men.

Alternatively, you can use the best weight loss apps to determine the number of calories you should consume daily so you can lose weight.

These apps can calculate your daily caloric budget based on your sex, age, body mass index (BMI), and level of physical activity.

However, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional or doctor before starting a calorie-restricted diet.

How to Follow a Calorie-Restricted Diet

A dietitian or nutritionist can help you safely reduce your calories.

But if you can’t see a doctor or healthcare professional and want to start losing weight, here are some safe ways to start calorie restriction:

1. Count Your Calories

One way of restricting calories is to monitor the calories you consume. This is known as calorie counting.

Calorie-counting apps can help you keep track of your calories. You can also use food tracking apps to check the number of calories in food before you eat.

These tools ensure that you’re sticking to the calorie intake suggested for weight loss.

2. Eat More Nutrient-Dense Foods

Foods with a high nutrient density are low on calories but are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are important to your health.

Eating more nutrient-dense foods allows you to easily decrease your calorie intake without counting calories. Some examples of these foods are:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Low-fat and non-fat dairy
  • Fish and seafood
  • Lean meats
  • Skinless poultry

Nutrient-dense foods also contain more water, fiber, proteins, or healthy fats. They can keep you full for longer periods and reduce your overall food intake.

3. Limit Intake of Calorie-Dense Foods

Calorie-dense foods contain more calories, sugars, or saturated fats than nutrients. They’re also less satiating and tend to cause food cravings.

Diets rich in calorie-dense foods can leave you hungry before your next scheduled meal. They can also make you want to eat even if you’re not hungry.

As a result, you’ll end up eating more throughout the day. Limiting calorie-dense foods will help you decrease your calories and overall food intake.

Some examples of calorie-dense foods include:

  • Refined grains (e.g., white bread)
  • Desserts and pastries
  • Sodas and other sweet drinks
  • Highly processed foods
  • Fast food

Keep in mind that not all calorie-dense foods are bad for you. Butter, avocado, and full-fat cheese are a few examples of high-calorie foods that are also healthy. 

The key is to eat these foods in moderation and to replace them with nutrient-dense foods or foods with low calorie density.

4. Portion Your Meals

Many Americans have a distorted view of portion size. The meals served in restaurants and homes have also increased in size over the last decade.

You may be eating two or more times the normal portion size and not even know it. Unfortunately, this can lead to diet-induced weight gain.

Reducing your portions is a simple way to cut your food intake without counting calories. Here are some tips for eating healthier portions:

Start with small reductions

Don’t make large reductions right away, such as cutting portion sizes by half. Begin with small sacrifices like leaving a few bites uneaten.

If you feel less satisfied with your meals, drink more water or replace the foods you took out with low calorie-dense foods like fruits and vegetables. 

That way, you can stay full until your next meal.

Dine on plates

When ordering takeout, do not eat straight from the box or containers they came in. Transfer them to a plate so you know how much food you are actually eating.

After you finish a whole plate, you can save the rest for later.

Eat food on smaller plates

Another trick to reducing your calories is to eat with smaller plates. You can do this with takeout and home-cooked meals.

This automatically limits the amount of food you eat to smaller portions. It’s one of the easiest ways to follow a calorie-restricted diet.

Read food labels

Make sure you understand the serving sizes of the foods you are eating. This is particularly true for packaged food items, like a box of cookies.

For example, if you finish a bag of chips that contains four servings and 100 calories per serving, you’re actually eating 400 calories in one sitting.

You need to be mindful of these serving sizes and control the amount you eat.

Health Benefits of Calorie Restriction

Restricting calories does more than promote weight loss. It also improves your health in other ways. Some possible beneficial effects of calorie restriction are:6

  • Delayed onset of age-related diseases
  • Enhance healthy lifespan

Calorie-restricted diets have also been shown to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, cancer, and many chronic diseases.6

Calorie Restriction vs. Intermittent Fasting

Calorie restriction reduces your caloric intake with a consistent daily pattern of calorie-reduced meals. So if you’re on a 1,200-calorie diet, you have to maintain that until you achieve your ideal weight.

Intermittent fasting limits food intake to certain times or days of the week, depending on your fasting schedule. For example:

  • Someone on a 20:4 fasting schedule can eat anything for 4 hours. But they should drastically limit their food intake for 20 hours.
  • With a 24-hour intermittent fast, you can’t eat for 24 hours at least once or twice a week. On other days of the week, you can eat anything.

Fasting diets can also improve human health and increase your life span. However, calorie restriction is a healthier approach to weight loss. 

Unlike intermittent fasting which allows you to eat anything during eating periods, calorie restriction encourages you to make healthier food choices.

Studies also show that people who follow calorie restriction for 3 to 12 weeks can lose more weight than people who fast in the same period.7

Updated on April 13, 2023
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7 sources cited
Updated on April 13, 2023
  1. Caloric Restriction in Humans: Impact on Physiological, Psychological, and Behavioral Outcomes.” Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  2. 2020-2025 Dietary Guideline for Americans.” Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  3. 2015-2020 Dietary Guideline for Americans.” Home of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

  4. Calorie Restriction (CR) – What is it and what does the research tell us?” Reinsurance Group of America.

  5. Calories.” StatPearls, National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  6. Calorie Restriction and Fasting Diets: What Do We Know?” National Institute on Aging.

  7. Caloric Restriction Has a New Player.” Science.

Ada Sandoval
Ada Sandoval
Content Contributor
Ada Sandoval is a B.S. in Nursing graduate and a registered nurse with a heart for abandoned animals. She works as a content writer who specializes in medical-related articles and pet health.
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