Weight loss is a goal for many people, but there is a right way to go about it. Weight loss that is too fast or extreme can do more harm than good, both physically and mentally. Safe and sustainable weight loss goes hand-in-hand with an overall healthy lifestyle that focuses on good nutrition and plenty of activity.
The amount of weight you can safely lose in a month is unique to you. "Like most things when it comes to weight loss, the answer here is contextual and depends on the individual person. However, there are some good rules and rough guidelines we can tell people," says Brad Dieter, Ph.D., a NASM-certified nutrition coach.
To learn more about how much weight you can safely and healthily lose in a month, we asked Dieter and New York City-based dietitian Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, to weigh in. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
- Brad Dieter, Ph.D., is a NASM-certified nutrition coach, author, and research scientist.
- Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, is a New York City-based registered dietitian and the founder of Real Nutrition.
Why You Should Avoid Dieting
The first thought that typically comes to mind when weight loss is the goal is dieting. However, dieting, as it's usually done, should be avoided. Why? They aren't sustainable, and they set you up for the wrong mindset around food and weight.
"Diets tend to be quick fixes that people go on when they want to see weight loss quickly. However, they tend to be extreme and restrictive. Although results are often accomplished, they rarely last because the practices aren't sustainable," explains Amy Shapiro, registered dietician behind Real Nutrition in New York City.
If you base all of your hopes on a diet that isn't sustainable, you are setting yourself up for unhealthy thought patterns around food and your abilities. "Not being able to accomplish your goals or maintain them leads to self-doubt and negative self-talk. When you stop following the diet, you tend to gain the weight back and start looking for another diet to follow. The cycle repeats itself and can last for years or even a lifetime," says Shapiro.
How to Lose Weight the Healthy Way
Ideally, you want to create and practice a lifestyle that benefits your whole health, not just as a weight-loss tactic. "The idea is to implement strategies that you can maintain long-term, where you eat really well most of the time and leave room for the occasional indulgence. The end goal is weight loss and overall better health. While you might not get there quickly, you will get there steadily," says Shapiro. Here are some of her tips for healthy, sustainable weight loss.
- Focus on nutrition: Create meals rich in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats. Processed foods should take a back seat, and portion control plays an important role.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness also plays a role, and tools such as food journaling when you are just getting started help you see how far you have come and where you might need to make changes and hold yourself accountable.
- Avoid all-or-nothing thinking: Whenever we cut something out of our diet completely or add negative thoughts to it like "I can't eat that or I'll never be able to eat this again," then that leads to defiant behavior and overeating. A healthy lifestyle removes guilt because you know there is space for everything, just not all at the same time. If you want to eat something more decadent, then surround that meal with healthier meals.
- Be consistent: My mantra is, "consistency moves the needle. Individual moments (cheats etc.) will never cause weight gain; get back on track the very next time you eat and don't let that blip turn into an event). This allows for long-term thinking, problem-solving, and balance, and ultimately sustained results."
How Much Weight Can You Healthily Lose in a Month?
The amount of weight you can lose in a month differs for everyone, based on age, current diet and lifestyle, hormones, metabolism, and more. "However, oftentimes when making a dietary change, the first few weeks have quicker results, and I have seen anything from seven to 12 pounds and following weeks continue at a slower but consistent clip of about one to two pounds per week," says Shapiro.
Where Are You Starting From?
Another factor is where you are starting from. "Generally speaking, the more weight someone has to lose, the more they can lose in a given month. So, for example, if someone has 200 pounds to lose, they can healthily lose more weight in a given month than someone who has 20 pounds to lose," explains Dieter.
Most guidelines recommend a weight loss of between 0.5 to 2.0 pounds or 1 to 2 percent of total bodyweight per week. "As such, individuals with higher body weight or with higher body fat can lose closer to 2 percent of their body weight, whereas people with less body fat can lose closer to 1 percent of their total body weight," says Dieter.
The longer your time frame in which you’re looking to lose weight can affect how much weight you should lose in a given month. "Generally speaking, the longer the time frame, the less you should aim to lose per month," recommends Dieter.
If you plan on losing weight over a long period, it's wise to go slowly. Dieter explains: "Individuals who plan on dieting or engaging in weight loss, for an extended period of time, say six months, should aim for more conservative numbers. Ideal targets for people with a longer-term dieting need should aim for approximately 0.5 to 1 percent per pound of body weight per week. Shorter dieting cycles can average closer to 1 to 1.5 percent per pound of body weight per week."
If you have a lot of weight to lose or are unsure how to tackle your weight loss, speak to a health care provider who can help. You may be referred to a dietician or nutrition expert who can provide you with guidelines that suit your current needs and lifestyle.
Beyond the Scale
And it's vital to keep in mind that weight loss is not linear, meaning plateaus are an expected and normal part of the process. "Some weeks you'll remain the same; however, many of my clients feel like they continue to lose weight even if the scale doesn't move weekly since they are not bloated, seem to "de-puff," and feel energetic. After a few months, their skin even starts to glow!" says Shapiro.
If you have a lot of weight to lose and are transitioning from a diet rich in processed and fast foods, you'll likely see a huge drop in weight from the beginning. "However, over time, your body will get used to your new diet, and your weight loss will slow down. This is where you need to continue on your nutrition journey and not get discouraged."
Although the weight loss will slow, you'll still be moving towards a healthier lifestyle. "Additionally, this is where continued healthy habits come in, including increasing sleep, meditation, reducing stress, drinking adequate water, and moving your body in ways that you love," adds Shapiro.
A Word From Byrdie
Weight loss is very personal, and it isn't an appropriate goal for everyone. However, if you want to lose weight, remember that the process should be intricately tied to improving your overall health. Never sacrifice your health for weight loss, as this can lead to unhealthy relationships with food, exercise, and your body. Instead, slow and steady weight loss is more attainable and sustainable. Remember that weight loss is not a race and that stops and starts are a normal part of the process. Being kind, gentle, and patient with yourself is vital to healthy weight loss.
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