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F4T Help Guides

Calorie Deficit Explained

The most important guide you’ll ever read at F4T

Calories in vs calories out, weight loss or weight gain? With the abundance of information scattered across the internet, it can sometimes seem overwhelming and leave you more confused than when you started - but this ends here.

Understanding the basic principles behind energy balance and how being in a calorie deficit/calorie surplus can go a long way to helping you achieve your desired goal.

It will also provide you with the reassurance and satisfaction you need to understand your goal and progress, regardless of what the scales indicate.

And it can be summarised as simply as:

Calorie deficit = weight loss.
Calorie surplus = weight gain

That’s it!

So what about all these diets and weight-loss companies? Is there a difference?

In a nutshell, the following popular diets and companies can be summarised as:

The ‘No Carb’ Diet = Calorie Deficit

Weight Watchers = Calorie Deficit

Slimming world = Calorie Deficit

Intermittent fasting = Calorie Deficit

Juicing…. I’m sure you get the point

All the above diets and trends have the same outcome in terms of weight loss. That is to put you in a calorie deficit.

However, to truly achieve that lean and toned physique, we can’t stress enough, the importance of having enough protein in your diet.

When losing weight, the goal should be to reduce/lose body fat, not muscle. Therefore, when thinking about weight loss, it is more important to reframe this concept and focus more on fat loss.

Understanding calories in vs calories out

For fat/weight loss:

- When we consume less energy than we require, our body MUST find another energy source to continue living.

- This energy source comes primarily from the existing fat stores our body is carrying.

Tapping in to our exising fat stores and encouraging the body to use what is immediately available is what will allow us to lose body fat and weight.

For fat/weight gain:

- When we consume more energy than we require, we store this energy surplus as body fat (reserve energy). This is how we gain weight.


It is essential to understand that each week, you are losing body fat when in a calorie deficit. This is fundamental science. Sometimes, the scales will fluctuate. Please refer to our “Scales Guide” here for a comprehensive understanding of why this might happen.

The concept of energy balance is based on the fundamental thermodynamic principle that energy cannot be destroyed, and can only be gained, lost, or stored by an organism.

Energy balance is defined as the state achieved when the energy intake equals energy expenditure. When the body is in energy balance, bodyweight is stable. When it isn’t stable bodyweight, will increase or decrease.

Why consistency is key, not perfection

Your meal plan has been created to ensure that you are in a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, which equates to 3500 calories per week.

This guarantees you can expect to lose 1 pound of body fat every week.

Whilst we encourage you to follow the plan with 100% discipline for the best results, we are also aware that life happens and there may be times where things don’t always go to plan. For example:

Example 1
If you’re craving something sweet and have a chocolate bar (300 calories) that isn’t part of your plan, but are consistent the rest of the week, then:

Your 3500-calorie deficit per week is now reduced to a 3200 calorie deficit. What this means is you are still in a calorie deficit so you can still expect to make progress!

Example 2
HOWEVER, if daily you are consistently eating items not factored in to your plan:

- Nibbling at your children’s meal (an extra 100 calories)

- Having 1 x teaspoon of sugar in every cup of tea (an extra 60 calories)

- Using 1 x tablespoon of oil when cooking (an extra 120 calories)

- Mis-weighing food (an extra 100 calories)

- Regularly deviating from the plan, having nuts, crisps etc (an extra 120 calories)

That is an extra 500 calories per day!

So now your 3500-calorie deficit per week now equals 0.

You are no longer in a calorie deficit, and more often is the case, you may actually be in a calorie surplus and the guarantee of losing 1 pound of body fat per week, no longer applies.

So as you can see, a one-off snack or treat that isn’t on your plan isn’t the end of the world. Provided you as still in a deficit, you can expect to continue to see progress.

However, if you are continually adding snacks and treats on a continued basis - then this is where problems can arise and bad habits creep back in.

Therefore, it is important that you aim to follow the plan as consistently as possible, but not be too hard or punish yourself if you have the occasional item off-plan.

Your Meal Plan

Your meal plan and calorie requirements have been uniquely calculated for you based on your height, weight, age, gender, and your activity level to GUARANTEE you are in a calorie deficit (or calorie surplus if your goal is to gain weight).

Therefore, it is essential that you:

- Follow your meal plan as accurately as possible

- Measure food when required

- Be honest and communicate with your coach about any deviation from the plan

- Do not eat less than what is on the meal plan (skipping meals isn’t sustainable!)

- Try to keep your activity level consistenty. If you notice activity level decreases for whatever reason (e.g. a busy period at work where you are unable to exercise), then please make sure you relay this your coach so we can adjust your meal plan to accommodate this.

Hopefully, you are now confidently starting to understand the basic principles behind energy balance. You may even start to see why fad-diets are non-sensical and why no food should ever be demonised.

If you had a McDonald’s every day and you’re in a calorie deficit, you would lose weight.

Energy balance is all that matters.

Any time you begin to question your progress, speak with your coach initially.

But if you have any doubts whatsoever, then just refer to this guide.

Key points:

  • If you are eating less calories than your body requires (calorie deficit) you will lose weight. If you are eating more calories than your body requires (calorie surplus) you will gain weight.
  • All diets are based around the same principle of calorie deficit.
  • Protein along with resistance training will allow more weight to be lost from body fat and will help you to preserve lean muscle tissue.
  • Where required, WEIGH YOUR FOOD. It’s very easy to over/underestimate food amounts.
  • Consuming small mouthfuls of food plan off plan will add up and could potentially take you out of your calorie deficit. Stick to the plan!
  • Consistency over perfection every time!

Want to test your knowledge?

Click here to test your knowledge on energy balance.