How fast you can safely lose weight does depend on your current weight and body fat percentage — underweight and very lean folks definitely can’t lose as fast as the obese, and a weight loss quest is something that you definitely should chat to your doctor about before embarking upon.
In general, though, if you have a significant amount of body fat to lose, one pound of weight loss per week is considered a reasonable pace. Two pounds — that’s about a 7,000-calorie deficit in a week — is about as fast as you can safely go.
So how can you pull that off? Here are some actual, science-backed methods.
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1) Subtract 1,000 Calories Per Day
The most foolproof way to lose weight is to track your calories — measure food with a scale or with cups, check the calories on an app like CalorieKing, track it in an app like MyFitnessPal. Boring, yes, but it’s indisputably the surefire method for progress.
If you spend a few days tallying up the food you consume and find you’re eating at least 3,000 per day, taking 1,000 calories off of that total will produce two pounds of weight lost per week.
This is the most reliable method of weight loss, but here are a few other tips worth thinking about that can get you to your goal.
[Interested in finding out your numbers? Check out our macros calculator]
2) Fast Once or Twice Per Week
Fasting may sound extreme, but studies suggest that folks lose about as much weight if they’re eating every day or every other day, so long as their total calories are in check.(1) In other words, when you eat is way less important than how much you eat, and a lot of folks find it easier to hit a calorie deficit by fasting.
This tip, and all of these tips, are really different ways to produce a calorie deficit. If you’re a 30-year-old man and you weigh 250 pounds, there’s a good chance you’re burning over 3,000 calories a day. If you spend two days a week consuming nothing but water, with some black coffee or plain tea thrown in for energy, you’ll be at a 6,000+ calorie deficit by the end of the week even if you don’t change your habits on the days you do eat.
Just make sure you don’t overeat to “make up” for the fast on days you’re not fasting and separate your fast days by at least two days.
[Curious? Read our complete guide to intermittent fasting to learn more]
3) Eat More Water
Don’t want to track calories? Just eat foods that are super filling! I mean, your results be a bit less precise but this is still a very good second option.
To start at the very beginning, drink a ton of water. It’s easy to confuse hunger with thirst, plus if you drink a liter of water before a meal you’ll find that you won’t eat as much, simply because there’s less food in your stomach.
Building off of that, aim for foods with a high water content. The following options are full of water and fiber, a double whammy for slaying your appetite:
- Celery: 16 calories per cup
- Cucumber: 16 calories per cup
- Zucchini: 19 calories per cup
- Broccoli: 31 calories per cup
- Bell pepper: 39 calories per cup
- Watermelon: 46 calories per cup
- Strawberries: 49 calories per cup
- Apples: 57 calories per cup
- Cantaloupe: 60 calories per cup
- Peaches: 61 calories per cup
4) Eat More Protein and Fiber
Not in addition to your current diet, rather you should substitute your regular meals for meals with the one-two punch of satiety: protein and fiber. Both digest slowly and are very filling, plus protein takes more energy to digest than fat or carbs — about 25 percent of the calories in protein are burned just from digesting it.(2)
Fiber, meanwhile, doesn’t digest at all — insoluble fiber doesn’t even provide the body with calories.
So emphasize both of these nutrients and minimize fat, which has more than twice the calories of protein or carbs, to help produce a significant calorie deficit without overwhelming hunger. (Although if you’re in a big calorie deficit, yes, there will likely be some hunger you’ll need to muscle through.) Chicken breast, lean beef and pork, legumes, low fat Greek yogurt, cruciferous vegetables, and all those high water foods mentioned above are your friends.
5) Cut a Food Group From Your Diet
Oftentimes, this isn’t a sustainable approach to dieting because it’s so restrictive — there’s only so long some people can go without feeling like an ice cream-less life isn’t worth it.
However, spending a month or two on a low carb diet, low fat diet, Paleo diet, and so on can be an effective way to produce a dramatic calorie deficit just by virtue of the fact that so many foods are on the “no” list. So long as the diet has plenty of protein and plenty of either fat or fiber, it can prove satiating and nutritious enough. Just don’t skimp on the leafy greens.
6) Walk 10,000 Steps a Day
No, this won’t burn 7,000 calories in a week. But holy moly, is it a great addition to a weight loss plan.
You need to be in a 1,000-calorie deficit every day? Ten thousand steps burns approximately 500 calories, meaning once you reach that goal, you just have to save a few hundred calories in your diet by, say, subbing dessert for Greek yogurt and fruit and ditching a “healthy” high-calorie nut bar for some high-water veggies. Bada bing, bada boom.
Walking is also a dynamite exercise that makes all your other exercise better: it doesn’t fry your central nervous system and make it harder to do the workouts you want to do, it’s joint friendly, it lowers stress, improves heart health, and it helps to keep your joints and muscle active and limber.
7) Engage in Intense Exercise
How can you lose two pounds a week without eating in a calorie deficit? It depends on your metabolism, but ten thousand steps a day plus an intense workout could bring you there.
The trick is to find workouts that burn a lot of calories. Lifting weights is great for a ton of reasons, but it doesn’t actually burn that many cals: if burning energy is your goal, you need to get gassed. A 185-pound person burns almost 500 calories from a half hour of vigorous running, biking, swimming, or jumping rope.
But it’s not easy to spend a half hour going all out on the same exercise: consider, instead, something like circuit training. It involves compound movements that help to build muscle while burning fat — think push-ups, rows, jumps, all strung together and repeated with limited rest between rounds. This keeps your heart rate up without hitting the same muscle group for the entire duration of the workout. That means you actually can last the 30 minutes it takes to burn the 400 or so calories you lose in half an hour of circuits.
Many like to argue that the best way to lose weight is by skipping a 300-calorie snack instead of working out to burn 300 calories, and it’s a valid way of looking at things. That said, exercise inarguably helps contribute to your daily deficit, plus, it appears help to regulate appetite — partly because exercise manages hormones related to hunger, partly because exercise helps you sleep better (which also regulates these hormones).(3)(4)
Reading this article might lead you to think the best way to lose two pounds a week is from ten thousand steps and a half hour of circuit training every day. While that can indeed be a useful strategy, there’s no denying that it’s a little easier to exercise moderately and eat 500 calories under maintenance than it is to spend hours exercising every day.
Regardless of how you tackle your weight loss, most experts agree that a balance of calorie restriction and exercise is a good way forward, as it means you don’t have to be very restrictive with your diet or very exhaustive with your workouts.
Also, don’t forget to get plenty of sleep — it helps with appetite, willpower, and workout recovery.
That’s just another reason why a balanced, holistic approach usually winds up best.
Featured image via Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock
1. Catenacci VA, et al. A randomized pilot study comparing zero-calorie alternate-day fasting to daily caloric restriction in adults with obesity.Obesity (Silver Spring). 2016 Sep;24(9):1874-83.
2. Westerterp KR. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004 Aug 18;1(1):5.
3. Spiegel K, et al. Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Ann Intern Med. 2004 Dec 7;141(11):846-50.
4. Hill EE, et al. Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. J Endocrinol Invest. 2008 Jul;31(7):587-91.