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Calorie Restriction

Updated on April 7, 2022
Written by
Kelly Jamrozy
6 sources cited
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Calorie restriction is one of the many ways you can lose weight. Limiting the number of calories you consume each day creates a calorie deficit. Over time, this deficit helps you lose weight.

There are other ways you can lose weight, including:

Calorie restriction is one of the easiest and most effective methods for weight loss.

What Is Calorie Restriction?

Caloric restriction is when you reduce the calories you consume. The idea is to eat fewer calories than what you normally eat in a day.

For example, if you’ve been eating 2,000 to 2,500 calories each day, calorie restriction means you should eat less than that.

You can stick to a 1,200 to 1,500 calorie diet. Or you also start with a 1,800 calorie diet and gradually taper it down to a smaller amount.

Take note: Eating a calorie-restricted diet doesn’t mean that you have to starve or deprive yourself of essential nutrients. It’s about decreasing your calories without malnutrition.

Restricting calories can do more than help you lose weight. It can improve your health in other ways. While it is still being studied, other possible health benefits include:1

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

Calorie-restricted diets can also reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, cancer, and many chronic diseases.1 

How Does Calorie Restriction Work?

Everyone needs a certain amount of calories per day to function and maintain a healthy weight. The calorie intake suggested will depend on your age, sex, body weight, physical activity, and lifestyle.

Consuming fewer calories leads to weight loss. But restricting too aggressively can also cause problems. 

The key is to find the right amount of calories for your body. Once you’ve found that number, you can stick to eating that many calories each day.

For people with diet-induced weight gain, this means eating fewer empty calories. These foods have little nutritional value so you can cut back without damaging your health.

With calorie restriction, you have to decrease your calories by about 15 to 60% of what you’re currently consuming. Depending on your current diet, a reduction will help with weight loss.2

Intermittent Fasting vs. Calorie Restriction

A similar approach to weight loss is intermittent fasting. This method reduces calories by limiting your meals to certain times of the day, week, or month. 

On a typical fasting day, you might limit your intake to 12 hours and avoid eating for the next 12 hours. Some people also fast on certain days, and would eat normally at other times.

In a way, intermittent fasting is a form of calorie restriction. Many people achieve a caloric deficit with a fasting diet, but this isn’t always the case.

Weight loss experts and health professionals agree that calorie restriction is a healthier approach to weight loss. This is because:

  • Fasting is a time-restricted diet. It doesn’t stop you from eating unhealthy foods, nor does it encourage you to make healthier food choices. So if you eat the wrong foods, it can affect your overall health.
  • Studies also show that calorie restriction promotes better weight loss and fat loss compared to fasting after 3 to 12 weeks of sticking to the diet.3

Fasting diets also improve human health and increase your life span. However, calorie restriction can help you achieve a calorie deficit without affecting your nutrition.

Benefits of Calorie Restriction for Weight Loss

Restricting your caloric intake leads to these beneficial effects:

  • Fat loss
  • Overall weight loss

Not only will you lose weight. You’ll also lose adipose tissue or fat, which is the “right” kind of weight to get rid of.

Studies have shown that reducing daily calorie intake by 14 percent over two years encourages the body to burn stored fat.3 

Short-term calorie restriction is also beneficial. Daily restriction for three to twelve weeks can reduce your body fat by as much as 5 to 8 percent and your overall weight by 10 to 20 percent.4

How to Follow a Calorie-Restricted Diet

Now that you know that calorie restriction can be good for weight loss, here’s how to do it:

1. Know your daily recommended calorie intake

Start by figuring out your daily recommended calorie intake. This is the number of calories you need each day to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.

You can use a body mass index (BMI) calculator to determine your daily calorie limit. Keep in mind that men and women have different caloric needs. However, healthy adults should consume 2,000 calories per day.5

Tip: We recommend using the best weight loss apps. They can calculate your daily calorie budget based on your weight, height, and level of physical activity.

2. Reduce your calorie intake

Once you have an established baseline calorie intake, the next step is to eat fewer calories than you’re supposed to. You can calculate your target calorie intake by reducing your daily requirements to about 100 to 500 calories.

Although you might be tempted to slash your caloric intake by a lot, it’s better to start slowly. That way, you can easily follow it and barely notice the calorie restriction.

The Dietary Guideline for Americans recommends calorie-restricted diets with 1,200 to 1,500 calories for women and 1,600 to 1,800 calories for men who want to lose weight.6

3. Eat nutrient-dense foods

One of the biggest challenges you face when restricting calories is feeling hungry.

Luckily, you can still fill up and reduce your overall caloric intake. You do this by replacing calorie-dense foods with nutrient-dense foods.

Examples of nutrient-dense foods are:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Lean proteins like chicken and fish
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat and non-fat dairy products
  • Herbs and spices

Nutrient-dense foods usually contain fewer calories. So you can eat more of them without having to worry about weight gain.

Since they are rich in nutrients, they can improve immune function. They enhance your immune system by providing your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to produce immune cells.

Foods with high nutrient density also tend to be rich in fiber.

Fiber supports your metabolic system by giving you a healthier gut. A healthy gut flora is associated with a stronger immune response against pathogens that may invade through the gut.

4. Stay away from high calorie-dense foods

Just as you should add nutrient-dense foods to your diet, you must also limit your consumption of calorie-dense foods in your diet. Many of these foods are unhealthy and leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Some calorie-dense foods to avoid include:

  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Sweetened beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Processed or “boxed” foods

The red and yellow foods in the Noom Diet Plan are more examples of high calorie density foods. Noom recommends eating them in limited to moderate amounts.

5. Count calories

Counting calories is a simple way of restricting calories. Basically, you will count calories in the foods you consume and make sure that you don’t go past your daily caloric limit.

Food tracking apps provide information about the number of calories in different foods. They act as food logs and food diaries.

You can use them to record the types of food you eat and how much of them you’ve been eating.

Calorie counting apps can track the number of calories you consume and burn. These apps usually have a food database that you can easily search, as well as an exercise log.

6. Cut down your portions

Replacing calorie-dense foods with nutrient-dense foods is a great way to restrict calories. But if you’re like most people, there may be foods you aren’t willing to give up.

In these cases, cutting down your portions can help satisfy your food cravings without overconsuming calories.

Besides, many Americans have a distorted view of portion size. You may be eating two or more times the normal portion size of foods, and not even know it.

Here are some examples of what normal portions look like:

  • 8 oz. of orange juice (two 4 oz. servings) = 120 calories
  • 6-inch diameter buttermilk pancake (1.5 servings) = 175 calories
  • 2 cups whole grain pasta (4 ½ cup servings) = 414 calories

Below are additional tips to help you reduce your portions:

Start with small portion reductions

Do not start with large reductions, such as cutting your portion sizes by half. Begin with small sacrifices, such as eating one less spoonful or leaving one to two bites on your plate.

If you feel less satisfied from 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 package. Transfer your food to a plate so you know how much food you are actually eating.

Once you’ve finished everything that’s on the plate, do not eat the rest of the food leftover in the package it came with. You can save it for later.

Another trick is to eat on 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 foods you are eating. This is particularly true for packaged food items like a box of cookies.

For example, there might be 100 calories in a serving of food. But if the package contains a total of four servings, you’re actually eating 400 calories if you finish the whole thing.

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Kelly Jamrozy
Kelly Jamrozy
Content Contributor
Kelly has experience working with clients in a variety of industries, including legal, medical, marketing, and travel. Her goal is to share important information that people can use to make decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones. From choosing the best treatment programs to improving dental and vision health to finding the best method for helping anyone who is struggling with health issues, she hopes to share what she learns through informative content.
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