Whether you’re on a weight-loss journey because you want to build muscle or live a healthier lifestyle in general, you likely want to have some kind of benchmark to check your progress. Besides taking before-and-after pics, the scale is another popular tool that probably comes to mind. While you shouldn’t put too much stock in the number you get (because your health and well-being are about so much more than that!), it’s reasonable to wonder, How much weight can you lose in a week, realistically speaking?
How many pounds you shed ultimately depends on your basal metabolic rate, starting weight, sleep, and more. What’s important is understanding that what you can lose and what you should lose are two different things. “If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you want to do it in the one to two pounds per week range,” says Lauren Slayton, RD. Keeping it in this range will make your goals and results more sustainable.
“The more you ignore hunger cues, the more you lose your ability to recognize them, which can lead to binge eating disorder down the line,” says Betty Guerrero, RD. Someone who goes about weight loss in an unsafe way might also experience mood swings, impaired sleep, loss of muscle mass, low energy, hormonal disruption, and drops in glucose levels, she adds.
If you’re curious to know how you can safely maximize weight loss in a week, read on for expert insight with everything you need to know.
Meet the experts: Lauren Slayton is a New York-based registered dietician, the founder of Foodtrainers, and the author of The Little Book of Thin. Betty Guerrero is Wisconsin-based registered dietician, founder of Eat with Betty, and a certified personal trainer. Alexandra Sowa is an internal medicine physician specializing in preventive health, nutrition, and obesity medicine. Dina Khader is a New York-based registered dietician.
There are seven main factors that play into weight loss.
1. Water Weight
“If you lose weight too quickly, it’s probably not coming from fat,” notes Alexandra Sowa, MD, a New York-based physician of internal medicine. It’s likely just water weight. She likes to remind her patients, “water can be shed be shed very quickly but comes back on just as fast.”
So, if you’re trying to lose weight, remember that just because the number on the scale is going up or down quickly doesn’t mean you’re achieving the results that you’re aiming for. “Slower can be often be better and a sign that your body is actually dropping fat rather than other crucial elements like muscle or water,” Sowa says.
2. Calorie Deficit
If you’re serious about dropping some considerable weight, you’re going to want to focus on a calorie deficit. Dina Khader, RD, recommends having your doctor perform a bioimpedance analysis (BIA) to figure out what your deficit should be. This test will take into account your muscle mass and the amount of calories you burn at rest (otherwise known as your basal metabolic rate). Then it will calculate how many calories you need to consume in a day to lose one to two pounds a week. That number, plus how much you will lose during a workout, minus 500 will determine your general deficit.
“Typically you want to eat 500 calories less than what you typically burn in a day to lose around one to two pounds a week,” Khader says. So, let’s say you burn 1,300 calories at rest and 350 calories during your workout, that’s 1,650 calories total. So you’d shoot for an eating plan around 1,150 to 1,250 calories a day to lose one to two pounds in a week, Khader says. Generally, you don’t want to go below 1,200 calories a day without supervision from a doctor or nutritionist.
3. Muscle Mass
If you’re shedding pounds too quickly, similar to water, you may be shedding muscle instead of fat. That’s why it’s so important to strength train while trying to lose weight.
Weights will help you to put on more muscle mass and burn more calories, Khader says. How? Because muscle burns calories, but body fat does not. People think, I don’t want to put on muscle because I don’t want to get bulky, but that’s not true. “Lifting weights helps you burn more fat more efficiently,” Khader says.
Night owls, beware. Your sleep habits could be getting in the way of your goals. “Seven hours of sleep is crucial for weight loss,” Dr. Sowa says. Often she finds that many of her patients who struggle with weight loss are actually suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea. This sleep disorder, in particular, involves your body not getting the proper oxygenation it needs at night, leading to terrible sleep quality and tiredness. “And when you’re tired, your body craves carbs for energy,” Dr. Sowa says, derailing your weight-loss plan.
“In times of life stressors, it can be hard to lose weight,” Dr. Sowa says. “Your body knows it’s in a stressed out position. It’s not going to let you lose weight like you would if it was an intentional restriction.” Try to reduce the stress in your life when on a new weight-loss plan. It’s *okay* to prioritize yourself.
6. Thyroid Issues
Ladies, if you suffer from thyroid problems and are try to lose weight, know that those things don’t always go hand-in-hand. “When your thyroid is sluggish, it slows everything down,” Khader says. This includes the rate at which you burn calories and your metabolism, both could impede your ability to make the number on the scale go down.
So, you might want to hit up your doc if you’ve been consistent with diet and exercise, but still aren’t getting the results you want. It could be your thyroid.
This may be an obvious one, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Your diet before, during, and after your weight loss are incredibly crucial in how easily or quickly you’ll be able to lose or keep off weight off. The National Academy of Medicine recommends the average adult gets a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day, or a little over seven grams for every 20 pounds of body weight.
If you want to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, you’re going to want to increase your protein intake. “If you’re not getting enough protein while doing heavy weight training, you will not recover from your workouts enough to perform well, which means that you will not put on as much muscle or burn as much fat,” Phil Catadul, a certified personal trainer and nutrition expert, previously told WH. He suggests that around 30 percent of your calories should come from protein.
Everyone has a different lifestyle, which means how you go about your weight-loss journey might not look the same as the next person’s. “Weight loss looks different for a mom of three kids versus a college student because we have to look at how much time there is to dedicate to physical activity, meal prepping, or buying food,” explains Guerrero. There may also be financial aspects that play a role as well. The goal is to establish a healthy way to lose weight that also works well with your lifestyle.
There are a few tips can help you maximize your weight loss in a week.
Don’t eat late at night: Food metabolizes slower as it gets later, Khader says. You don’t have to go full-on 16:8 method, but try not to eat close to your bedtime. Additionally, paying attention to your total caloric intake is equally important, Guerrero notes.
Eat more protein: The experts can’t emphasize this enough. Khader recommends plant-based proteins (think: pea or sprouted rice proteins) for those with kidney disease. But if you’re a meat and fish kind of person, she suggests lean meats like chicken and turkey. Other great protein sources include wild fish, salmon, and beans. And if you want to enjoy red meat like beef, do so occasionally to reduce your fat intake.
Grab some weights: Remember that strength training is the key to maintaining the muscle you need to fuel your workouts and burn off calories. Catudul recommends incorporating three to four days a week of 45–minute strength and weight training exercises (machine workouts, free weights, etc.) with 60-second rests in between exercises.
Work in some HIIT training: Weight lifting alone won’t always do the trick. HIIT is the most efficient way of burning fat, according to experts. A 15- to 20-minute sesh will burn as many calories as an hour of jogging.
Hydrate often: “Our body is two-thirds water,” Dr. Sowa says. We need it to survive. The calorie counting, weight lifting, and protein-packed meals mean nothing if you’re not hydrated. In fact, dehydration can skew your results, causing more water weight loss than fat loss. And remember, this kind of weight will only come right back on.
Keep an eye on your calorie deficit: These weight-loss apps can help users stay on track by counting the calories for you and pointing out other ways you can get ahead in your weight-loss plan like reminding you to drink more water, curbing late night snacking, or monitoring your sleep.
Consult an expert: If you find that nothing is working, even after you make the necessary adjustments to your diet and exercise, Khader recommends consulting a nutritionist or doctor. They can help you develop a plan that’s more specific and tailored to your body’s needs.
Keep track of your progress. Take pictures and record weight measurements, says Guerrero. The scale shouldn’t be the only thing you use to determine your progress, and keeping track in other ways will keep you focused on other factors that affect weight loss. Note: This is especially helpful considering muscle weighs more than fat.
Make sustainable goals. Thinking long-term about your weight-loss goals is going to set you up for success in the long run. These goals should take a little bit of time and patience, but should also be sustainable rather than focusing on quick fixes or short deadlines, Guerrero notes.
Ultimately, you have to keep in mind that losing weight is a completely individualized process.
Your weight-loss journey will not be like anyone else’s. Try not to focus on your friend or the girl you follow on Instagram. “People get so frustrated that when they get to day five of a new way of eating that they haven’t dropped five pounds,” Sowa says. “But that’s not to be expected.” Weight loss does take time and consistency, and sometimes the speed at which you lose weight is a little bit out of your control, too.
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