Let’s be real for a sec: Weight loss is complicated. On the one hand, literally every body is a beach body if you take it to the beach—on the other, wanting to drop a few (or even more than a few) pounds for whatever reason is totally valid, too.
The most important part of weight loss—aside from actually making your own decision to lose weight and doing it for yourself—is to do it in a healthy way (which also leads to a more sustainable weight loss). That means no crash dieting or exercise binging—but here’s the million-dollar question: How much weight can you lose in a short amount of time and still make sure you’re doing it in a healthy way? (Because, yeah, nobody wants to be dieting forever.)
So, how much weight can I lose in a month?
There’s not one set number, says Christine Santori, RDN, program manager for Center For Weight Management in Northwell Health’s Syosset Hospital in Syosset, New York.
It takes 3,500 fewer calories per week—or 500 fewer calories a day—to drop one pound of weight.
“The amount of weight one can lose in a month—and still be healthy—really depends on factors, like age, sex, starting weight, caloric intake, caloric deficit, and exercise,” says Santori. These variables all play a role in how quickly you can drop pounds.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when it comes to weight loss, slow and steady is your best bet—that means shedding about one pound per week for someone who want to lose just a few pounds. That can add up to about a two- to four-pound weight loss in a month. The story’s a little different for those looking to lose 100 pounds or more—in that case, you can shed up to 20 pounds in one month. Though “some of that is just water,” says Santori.
Okay, fair—but how do I even get started?
You’re going to have to look at your daily calorie intake. In general, you should aim to cut 500 calories out of your daily meal plan to lose a pound each week, says Irene Franowicz, an RD at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“It takes 3,500 calories less per week—or 500 less calories a day—to drop one pound of weight in a week.” Following that math, to drop two pounds in a week you’d have to cut 1,000 calories a day. “That’s a big change,” Franowicz says.
But it doesn’t have to be totally diet-dependent—calories burned while exercising can make a difference too, says Franowicz. “A great way to achieve the 500-calorie deficit is to divide it in half, maybe cut out 250 calories a day from food and burn an extra 250 more a day through movement to equal 500 calories,” she says.
That way, says Franowicz, you won’t feel deprived that that you’re making too drastic of a change to your diet that won’t be sustainable in the long run—because the goal isn’t just losing weight, but keeping it off.
Something important to remember when it comes to calorie counting and calories burned, however: It varies between people. “The number of calories one needs to maintain weight or promote weight loss is based on height, age, and weight, and is individual to the person,” says Santori. That means you may have to experiment to get to a formula that works for your body.
How much weight loss is too much in a month?
Honestly, even losing two pounds a week might be pushing it, says David A. Levitsky, PhD, professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology. “My advice is to lose no more than one pound per week,” he says, adding that he doesn’t recommend losing more than 10 percent of your initial weight, unless medically necessary.
Franowicz also adds that it’s important not to dip under 1,200 calories a day—the lowest calorie threshold she recommends. “Very low-calorie diets can result in fatigue and physical activity is such an important part of [weight loss]. If people are too tired to exercise, then this is a sign you are too low in calories,” she says.
But, according to Santori, “even modest weight loss can produce beneficial results. Weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of total body weight is associated with improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.”
Another important thing to remember: The number on the scale shouldn’t be your main focus. If you’re also adding some exercise (through cardio and strength training) to your workouts, you might also see smaller overall weight loss—about half a pound a week—but how your body looks and feels is a better measure of progress, says Santori. “As we already know, muscle weighs more than fat,” she says, adding that you may see inches come off or clothes fit more comfortably as opposed to a major dip on the scale.
The bottom line: For healthy, sustainable weight loss, aim to lose about pound a week, or two to four pounds per month.
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