Weight loss is never easy, especially for those who have little time for meal prep or use food to deal with stress. If you're serious about getting leaner, consider switching to a 1,500-calorie diet. This way, you can eat nutritious foods and still be able to enjoy an occasional treat.
Your ability to lose weight while on a diet depends on your age, body composition, activity level and other factors. Based on the 3,500-calorie rule, you can expect to lose one pound of fat in four days or so if you create an energy deficit of 1,000 calories per day.
Why Most Diets Fail
Nearly 40 percent of Americans were considered obese in 2015-2016, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 45 million go on a diet each year. Unfortunately, most diets are unsustainable in the long run, depriving the body of essential nutrients.
According to a January 2018 review published in the journal Medical Clinics of North America, most dieters regain about 80 percent of the lost weight within five years. If you're on a diet that's too restrictive, you may gain back the lost weight as soon as you return to normal eating. Additionally, strict dieting may slow your metabolism, causing your body to store calories for fuel.
Read more: 9 Things You DON'T Have to Do to Lose Weight
Over time, energy restriction may affect your metabolic rate and hormone levels, making it harder to lose weight and promoting weight gain. Hypocaloric diets, or those that allow very low calories, have a negative impact on lean mass, which can further affect your metabolism, or energy expenditure, explains a February 2014 research paper featured in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN). They may also increase hunger by disrupting leptin, ghrelin, cortisol and other hormones that influence appetite.
These changes in circulating hormone levels persist long after you return to normal eating, according to the above review. But that's not all. The energy burned during exercise also decreases in response to weight loss.
As the researchers note, the side effects of hypocaloric diets are proportional to the size of the energy deficit. To put it simply, the more calories you cut, the more your metabolism slows and the harder it becomes to lose weight.
The Truth About Calories
Perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider is where your calories come from. A 1,500-calorie diet may or may not work, depending on what you eat.
Contrary to popular belief, not all calories are created equal. For example, 250 calories of turkey breast isn't the same as 250 calories of sausages.
Calorie per calorie, turkey breast is more nutritious and diet-friendly than sausage. It's significantly higher in protein and lower in fat. Plus, it has no carbs. Its content of vitamins and minerals is higher, too.
According to the Medical Clinics of North America review, diet composition plays a key role in weight loss. Calories matter to some extent, but the macronutrients in your diet are more important. These include protein, carbs and fats. Each gram of protein or carbohydrates provides 4 calories, while 1 gram of fat supplies 9 calories, as reported by the USDA.
Therefore, limiting your energy intake to 1,500 calories a day may not be the only factor you need to take into consideration when aiming to get leaner. You also need to watch what you eat and choose whole foods over their processed counterparts.
Take protein, for instance. This nutrient helps maintain lean mass, promotes satiety and keeps your metabolism up while on a diet, state the authors of a research paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition in August 2012.
As the scientists note, low-protein diets may increase the risk of gaining back the lost weight. Ideally, aim for 1 or 2 grams of quality protein per kilogram of body weight per day to improve your body composition, or fat-to-muscle ratio. The more physically active you are, the higher your protein requirements.
Calorie Requirements for Healthy Adults
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and other health organizations recommend 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day for women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day for men. Those with a sedentary lifestyle should aim for the low end of the range. A sedentary woman, for example, needs about 1,800 calories a day to maintain her weight. Active women, on the other hand, may consume up to 2,400 calories each day.
If your goal is to lose weight, it's important to create a calorie deficit. Basically, you need to burn more calories than you take in. However, this doesn't mean should starve yourself or spend long hours in the gym.
Both overtraining and extreme dieting can negatively impact your metabolism and hormone levels, according to the JISSN review. Instead, it's wiser to gradually cut calories and adjust your diet as you progress.
Generally, losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is considered safe and realistic, notes the Mayo Clinic. To achieve this goal, it's necessary to burn about 500 to 1,000 calories more than you take in on a daily basis. Therefore, if you currently eat about 2,000 calories a day and switch to a 1,500-calorie diet, you'll create an energy deficit of 500 calories. Add exercise to the mix to increase your calorie burn and get faster results.
Set Realistic Weight Loss Goals
How much weight you'll lose on a 1,500-calorie diet depends on multiple factors, including your age, weight, activity level, body composition and more. According to the Mayo Clinic, losing 1 pound of fat requires an energy deficit of about 3,500 calories. This is just a rough estimate, but you may use it as a starting point.
As mentioned earlier, your body becomes more efficient at using energy as you lose weight, leading to a slower metabolism. Therefore, you may need to cut more than 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of fat after a few weeks of dieting. In fact, the Medical Clinics of North America review states that the 3,500-calorie rule isn't accurate because it fails to consider the decrease in energy expenditure following weight loss.
A review featured in the International Journal of Obesity in June 2013 reports similar findings. As the researchers point out, this value may reflect modest weight changes in obese and overweight individuals, but it's an overestimate in others.
Based on the rule above, someone who normally consumes 2,500 calories a day and then switches to a 1,500-calorie diet may expect to lose 1 pound in about three to four days. Exercise can speed up the results.
If your daily calorie intake is already low, it will take you longer to lose weight. For example, if you normally eat 1,800 calories per day and then limit your energy intake to 1,500 calories a day, you'll have to wait 11 or 12 days to lose just 1 pound of fat.
Take these estimates with a grain of salt. Weight loss isn't all about calories in, versus calories out.
As discussed, your ability to lose weight depends on several factors, not just your energy intake. Your age, metabolic rate, body composition and exercise habits all play a role. Slender individuals, for example, burn fewer calories during exercise than heavier people, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
1,500-Calorie Diet Tips
Switching to a 1,500-calorie diet doesn't have to be difficult. The key is to keep it simple. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, whole grains, nuts are seeds should come first on your list. You can even indulge in a delicious, healthy dessert once in a while.
Try to create a 1,500-calorie meal plan with normal food, not fancy diet products. The truth is, diet foods are often loaded with hidden sugars or fats that do more harm than good.
Multigrain high-fiber cookies, for example, can have up to 139 calories, 20 grams of carbs, 8 grams of sugar and less than 1 gram of fiber per piece (1 ounce). But you can make high-fiber cookies at home using almond or coconut flour, raw cocoa powder, whey protein powder, vanilla essence oat or wheat bran, eggs and stevia, a natural sweetener. Coconut flour, for example, is significantly lower in carbs and higher in protein than whole wheat flour.
As a rule of thumb, fill up on protein and cut out refined sugar. High-protein diets are clinically proven to increase satiety and prevent metabolic slowdown, reports a November 2014 review published in Nutrition and Metabolism. Furthermore, protein has the highest thermic effect of all nutrients, meaning that it requires more energy to digest and break down than fats and carbohydrates.
This macronutrient also has beneficial effects on your satiety hormones, according to the above review. Harvard Health Publishing notes that taking up to twice the recommended daily amount of protein (10 percent of your calories) isn't just safe, but is also beneficial.
Therefore, a super simple 1,500-calorie meal plan should include protein-rich foods, such as:
- Lean chicken breast (cooked):133 calories and 27.3 grams of protein per serving (3 ounces)
- Lean pork chops (braised):166 calories and 26.4 grams of protein per serving (3 ounces)
- Skirt steak: 228 calories and 24.4 grams of protein per serving (3 ounces)
- Bluefin tuna (cooked): 156 calories and 25.4 grams of protein per serving (3 ounces)
- Tuna canned in water: 109 calories and 20.1 grams of protein per serving (3 ounces)
- Wild Atlantic salmon: 155 calories and 21.6 grams of protein per serving (3 ounces)
- Low-fat cottage cheese: 92 calories and 11.8 grams of protein per serving (4 ounces)
- Black beans (boiled): 227 calories and 15.2 grams of protein per cup (6 ounces)
Fill Up on Fiber
Along with protein, fiber is one of the most satiating nutrients. It not only fills you up quickly but also supports digestive health, keeps you regular and may reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 25 grams of fiber per day for women age 50 and younger and 38 grams for men in the same age range.
This doesn't mean you should spend a fortune on fiber supplements, though. From oatmeal and quinoa to legumes and leafy greens, you can choose from a wide range of high-fiber foods. A single ounce of chia seeds, for example, boasts 9.8 grams of fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa provides more than 5 grams of this nutrient.
If you want to lose weight fast, consider swapping grains and legumes with leafy greens. Spinach, kale, cabbage, iceberg salad, Romaine lettuce and other leafy green vegetables are loaded with fiber and have just a few calories per cup. Plus, they're high in water, which may further help increase satiety. Cooked kale, for instance, is 91 percent water and provides 2.6 grams of fiber and 36 calories per cup.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
Nuts are rich in dietary fiber, too. Although they're quite high in calories, not all of those calories are absorbed by the body, according to the USDA. For example, only 20 percent of the calories in almonds and 21 percent of the calories in walnuts are absorbed by the body.
As you see, there are plenty of delicious foods you can enjoy on a 1,500-calorie diet. Write down what you eat, check the food labels and stick to your calorie goals for the day. Keep your meals simple and eat your carbs before or after hitting the gym so that your body can use them for fuel.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Adult Obesity Facts"
- Boston Medical Center: "Weight Management"
- Medical Clinics of North America: "Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Metabolic Adaptation to Weight Loss: Implications for the Athlete"
- USDA: "Roasted Turkey Breast"
- USDA: "Italian Pork Sausages"
- USDA: "How Many Calories Are in One Gram of Fat, Carbohydrate, or Protein?"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Dietary Protein – Its Role in Satiety, Energetics, Weight Loss and Health"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "How Many Calories Do Adults Need?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Weight Loss: 6 Strategies for Success"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- International Journal of Obesity: "Why Is the 3500 Kcal per Pound Weight Loss Rule Wrong?"
- Harvard Medical School: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- USDA: "Cookie, Multigrain, High Fiber"
- USDA: "Coconut Flour"
- Nutrition and Metabolism: "A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats"
- Harvard Medical School: "How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?"
- USDA: "Lean Chicken Breast"
- USDA: "Lean Pork Chops"
- USDA: "Skirt Steak"
- USDA: "Bluefin Tuna"
- USDA: "Fish Tuna White Canned In Water Without Salt Drained Solids"
- USDA: "Wild Atlantic Salmon"
- USDA: "Low-Fat Cottage Cheese"
- USDA: "Black Beans"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- USDA: "Chia Seeds"
- USDA: "Cooked Quinoa"
- USDA: "Cooked Kale"
- USDA: "Walnuts Have Fewer Calories Than the Label Suggests, ARS Researcher Discovers"