The amount of weight you can safely lose each week depends on many factors, ranging from your weight and body fat percentage to how much sleep you get per night and your activity levels. (Genetics, height, hormones, and stress play a role, too.)
Very lean folks definitely can’t lose as fast as someone who’s obese, and a weight loss quest is something that you definitely should chat to your doctor about before embarking on that journey.
In general, people are advised to lose about one pound per week, though it’s possible to shed two pounds per week without putting yourself at risk of nutrient deficiencies and muscle loss. This involves a lot of personal sacrifice and dedication, but in the end, you’ll see the numbers on the scale continue to drop until you reach your goal weight.
So how does one lose 2 pounds per week? Here are some actual, science-backed methods to help.
How to Lose 2 Pounds Per Week
- Subtract 1,000 Calories Per Day
- Fast Once or Twice Each Week
- Eat Satiating Foods
- Consume More Protein and Fiber
- Cut Out an Entire Food Group
- Walk 10,000 Steps Every Day
- Workout Hard
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
What to Know About Weight Loss
Weight loss is that it all comes down to keeping your calories in check. A calorie is a unit of measurement to track how much energy your body gets from eating or drinking a certain food item. The more calories, the more energy you get — unless you neglect to use it.
In that case, the body hangs onto that energy and eventually turns it into fat. That’s called being in a caloric surplus. To get into a caloric deficit, you need to consume less energy (again, calories) than you use during the day.
One pound of fat is made up of 3,500 calories — that’s how much you need to burn from your energy intake each week to lose one pound. So two pounds means you need to reduce your caloric intake by 7,000 (or burn that amount throughout the week).
So before you set out on your weight loss journey, there’s some math to be done. First, you need to figure out how many calories you need to maintain your weight. You can check out our macro calculator below to find a starting point.
Once you have that, figure out how many calories you need to cut each day to get to that 7,000 number. This is achieved through a combination of exercise and diet.
As we said, 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 a 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 loss per week. That said, a 1,000-calorie reduction is a lot, and so you can also reduce your intake by, say, 500 calories and then burn the rest off through exercise (more on that below). If you take that approach, a fitness tracker can help you keep track of your total calories burned.
Please proceed with caution. Calories are needed for every bodily function — from regulating your heartbeat to getting your body out of bed in the morning. If you’re taking in not enough calories can lead to conditions such as anemia and/or extreme fatigue.
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. (2) Simply put: when you eat is way less important than how much you eat, and a lot of folks find it easier to achieve a calorie deficit by fasting.
Pick one or two days per week and eat nothing. You can have water, black coffee, herbal teas, and any other zero-calorie drink. (Pick days in which you’re not running errands all over town — the lack of food might make you feel more tired than usual.)
This tip, and all of these tips, are really just different methods to create a calorie deficit.
Say that you burn 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. If you don’t change your habits on the days you eat, you’ll practically be at your weight loss goal of two pounds per week.
Just make sure you don’t overeat to “make up” for the fast when you’re not fasting and separate your fast days by at least two days.
Don’t want to track calories? Just eat foods that are super filling! This isn’t as precise of a plan, but it’s a good way to get a handle on your habits and set yourself up for success.
In addition to drinking a lot of water — which can help keep your full — aim to eat only when you’re truly hungry (not bored). 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
Another great tip is to eat low calorie, high volume foods. The foods above are great examples, but there are other ways to reach this goal.
Air-popped popcorn is only 31 calories per cup, which means you can have three cups for less than 100 calories as long as you don’t douse it with butter. You’re eating more food than you would if you went for a spring roll or wings, but you’re still taking in fewer calories.
Edamame and frozen fruit are other great examples of foods that will fill you up without extending your waistline.
This isn’t to say eat more protein and fiber 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. (3)
Meanwhile, Fiber doesn’t digest at all — insoluble fiber doesn’t even provide the body with calories. But it doesn’t fill you up.
So emphasize both of these nutrients and minimize fat, which has more than twice the calories of protein or carbs per gram, 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, protein powder, and all those high water foods mentioned above are your friends.
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 because so many foods are on the “no” list. So long as the diet has plenty of protein and plenty of fat or fiber, it can prove satiating and nutritious enough. Just don’t skimp on the leafy greens.
Also, be sure you’re still taking in all necessary vitamins and minerals. If you decide to drop a food group, it might be worthwhile to invest in a quality multivitamin to keep your body guarded against any ailments.
No, this won’t burn 7,000 calories in a week. But it a great addition to a weight loss plan.
Ten thousand steps burn 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.
How can you lose two pounds a week without eating in a calorie deficit? It depends on your metabolism, but 10,000 steps a day plus an intense workout may get you there.
The trick is to find workouts that burn a lot of calories. Lifting weights is great for many reasons, but it doesn’t actually burn that many calories. According to Harvard Medical School, a half-hour weight lifting session only results in 133 burnt calories. Even a “vigorous” session results in 266 calories burned.
If burning energy is your goal, you need to get gassed. According to Harvard, the same 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 build muscle while burning fat — think push-ups, barbell 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 350 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 to help regulate appetite — partly because exercise manages hormones related to hunger, partly because exercise helps you sleep better (which also regulates these hormones). (4)(5)
Find Ways to Stick With It
These strategies will help you lose unwanted weight, but what happens after reaching that mark is just as important. A meta-analysis of 29 weight loss studies found that 80 percent of weight lost during trial studies was regained. (1)
To avoid weight regain, be sure you’re not eating too many calories each day, you remain active, and get seven to nine hours of sleep. Without these strategies, you’ll be rereading this article in a few months.
With that said, let’s get into the ways you can drop two pounds each week.
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 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. (6)
That’s just another reason why a balanced, holistic approach usually winds up best.
More Weight Loss Tips
Check out these other articles from BarBend about how to safely and responsibly lose weight:
- The Best Types of Supplements for Performance, Weight Loss, and Health
- Fat Loss for Athletes — the Right Way to Approach Calories and Hormones
- Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018;102(1):183-197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012
- 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.
- Westerterp KR. Diet-induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004 Aug 18;1(1):5.
- 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.
- Hill EE, et al. Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. J Endocrinol Invest. 2008 Jul;31(7):587-91.
- Redman LM, Heilbronn LK, Martin CK, et al. Effect of calorie restriction with or without exercise on body composition and fat distribution. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007;92(3):865-872. doi:10.1210/jc.2006-2184
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