Should Desk Job Folks Have Increase Calorie Deficit?

This was a great question on my Instagram Q&A recently.  I have many people reach out to me saying that they have desk job and just can't seem to lose body fat.

It can be easy for these folks... or hard, depending on how you look at it.

First of all, to answer the question.... I don't necessarily think they should have an INCREASED calorie deficit.


Two people, same bodyweight, same fat percentage. One works a desk job and sits for 9 hours a day.  The other has a "lightly active" job like at a retail store (on their feet, but not necessarily physical labor).

Person 1 might burn 1500 calories just sitting at work, breathing and daily function.

Person 2 might burn 1800 calories by walking around the store, breathing and daily function.

If person 1 eats 1200 calories and person 2 eats 1500 calories, both have a 300 calorie deficit.  So no, person 1 does not need a larger deficit.

(NOTE: there are so many more factors than this like current muscle mass, hormones, stress, sleep etc, but let's just play the math game for now to give a basic understanding).

If person 1 adds in some cardio so now they burn 1500 at work plus 500 doing cardio, that's 2000 calories.  They can now eat 1700 calories and still be in a 300 calorie deficit.  More food eaten, better physical activity and a good healthy heart too!

Person 2 could do the same as well by adding in cardio and eat a little more as well and still be in a deficit.  In fact, this is kinda how bodybuilders start slowly getting into prep mode.  They try to keep food intake high as long as possible, but add in some cardio to create  fat burning/calorie deficit.  Personally, I like this option during prep because continuing to eat a higher amount of food is always better.

So now that we've answered that question.....

Why can it be easy for desk job folks to lose weight? Well, usually (again, this is a broad statement and doesn't speak for everyone) they don't move much throughout the day AND they overeat/snack because they are just sitting there munching.  So less movement combined with overeating calories = no fat/weight loss.

Simple solution .... add in some cardio!!  Sure, a walk to the water cooler every hour helps.  Steps add up.  But solid weight loss will come from steady cardio for 20+ minutes with a slightly elevated heart rate.  I mean, we know you ain't jogging to the water cooler.

Cardio a couple days a week (get it in before work, so you're sure not to skip!) will help to create that calorie deficit.  Then monitor your snacking and food choices and you could be well on your way.

On the flip side, it can be hard because their overall calorie expenditure is low.  Their body is happy just sitting there, not burning calories, just typing away on the computer.  Also, some struggle with it because they don't make the time to get in the cardio.  Or the donuts that are in the break room are too hard to say no to.  These both require habit changes, right?  Getting up a little earlier to do some cardio.  Or stopping by the gym on the way home.  Or packing an apple and peanut butter rather than relying on the junk vending machine snacks.  For many this is a big struggle.

Your calorie deficit is dependent on the food you eat and the workouts you do.  So while having a desk job means less calories expended throughout the day, it doesn't necessarily mean that the deficit needs to be bigger.  You won't ever know how many calories you burn in a day unless you get hooked up to a machine.  So monitor and track your food intake for a couple weeks then adjust the food and/or the cardio from there.

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