Wondering how much weight you can lose in a month? A weight-loss specialist gets real about what it takes to lose weight quickly—and keep it off.
If your goal is to lose weight, you want results—and fast. But experts have cautioned against losing weight too quickly, as it may not be sustainable for the long haul. So, realistically how much weight can you lose in a month?
The answer is not so clear-cut. “I recommend between one and two percent of your body weight per week,” says Philadelphia-based board-certified obesity medicine physician and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) Charlie Seltzer, MD. For quick math, if you’re 150 pounds, that might be between 1.5 to three pounds per week, or around six to 12 pounds in a month.
That said, everyone is different. Some people may be able to lose more weight than that in a month. The specific amount largely depends on your starting weight, as the percentage will be higher if your starting weight is higher. Still, dropping more than that may not be realistic, and it certainly may not be sustainable month after month.
So, if you’re feeling frustrated and thinking you’re not losing it fast enough, consider the flip side: You might be at the exact right pace you need to be to make this a permanent change.
The Problem with Losing Weight Quickly
Let’s be clear—quick-fix diets are not the way to sustainable weight loss, and they often backfire. You might lose five pounds quickly by going on a liquid cleanse or another fad diet, but you can’t drink beet and lemon juice forever. So, when those five days are over, you will return to your normal eating habits, and your body will settle back at your starting weight. The bigger promises a diet makes, the more your BS radar should go off.
“Quick diets are very unmaintainable. They basically set you up for failure,” says Dr. Seltzer. “We live in a part of the world where there is food everywhere, and you have to learn the skills to navigate it,” he adds. That means making lasting food and behavioral changes that work with your lifestyle and cultural and food preferences.
When you lose weight too fast, your body has no time to adjust. “Your body is designed to try to get back to its starting weight,” says Dr. Seltzer. “It will do everything it can to fight back and add those pounds back by increasing your appetite.” On the other hand, slower weight loss gives your body the opportunity to reset. It’s also a sign that you’re changing your behaviors in ways that are doable for you to maintain in the long term.
How to Lose Weight Sustainably
While there are many different nutrition plans out there, should you choose to follow any of them, from the keto diet and intermittent fasting to a plant-based eating or low-FODMAP diet, a calorie deficit is the most important piece of the weight loss puzzle. What is a calorie deficit? It means you’re consuming less calories than you’re burning, leading to weight loss.
“People are always looking for a way around a calorie deficit, but if you don’t maintain a calorie deficit, you will not lose weight. Period,” says Dr. Seltzer. How do you achieve a calorie deficit? This has to come from a combination of eating fewer calories in your diet or burning more calories through exercise, though ideally both. If you are not losing weight, that means your body is not in a consistent calorie deficit, explains Dr. Seltzer.
Here’s how to ensure you’re in a calorie deficit so you can lose weight slowly and safely.
1. Track Your Starting Calories
Being in a calorie deficit is so important, so the first step is to get real about how many calories you’re currently consuming. It’s easy to underestimate the amount and assume you are eating fewer than you really are, as you need to count sources that add up throughout the day (such as the butter you cook your eggs in, the olive oil used to roast veggies, the extra two bites of grilled cheese from your child’s leftovers, or the ketchup you dip potatoes in). You can do that by using a calorie tracking app (MyFitnessPal, for instance) to get a reality check and an accurate starting point.
Note: If you have a history of an eating disorder, it is not recommended that you track calories. Seek help from a nutritionist or therapist.
2. Modestly Drop Calories
Severely cutting calories will likely leave you unsustainably hungry. Seltzer recommends decreasing calorie intake by five to 10 percent. For instance, from 2000 to 1800 calories per day. This will lead to a much more gradual weight loss–which is ultimately safer and more sustainable in the long run.
3. Don’t Rely on Exercise to Do It All
Exercise is key for keeping off weight, but it’s not as great at causing initial weight loss. That’s because of the compensatory mechanisms that often occur with increased physical activity. “People tend to subconsciously move less throughout the day and eat more to offset this calorie burn,” says Dr. Seltzer. You should absolutely stay active while losing weight, but keep in mind that you will still have to eat fewer calories and may benefit from tracking them. Read: Thinking a 15-minute run has “earned” you more calories that day will only stall progress. This type of thinking not only doesn’t work but can lead to a negative relationship with food.
4. Ask Your Doctor if a Supplement Is Right for You
While supplements can’t do all the work for you, they may be used as a complement to healthy eating and exercise to help you achieve your goals. HUM’s Counter Cravings, may be able to help take the edge off of your hunger and boost metabolism, while Ripped Rooster can help the body burn fat.
5. Don’t Get Discouraged
Even though you may be measuring your progress with a scale and looking for the numbers to go down, weight loss per se isn’t what you’re after—it’s specifically fat loss. Unfortunately, “fat loss is a slow process,” says Dr. Seltzer. “A pound of fat stores about 4,000 calories, so it takes a while to lose body fat.”
Often what happens is that at the beginning of a diet, you may choose to restrict carbohydrates. Each gram of carbohydrate (stored as glycogen in muscle) holds on to at least three grams of water. A diet lower in carbs means you will naturally shed more water weight. Unfortunately, when you eat a high-carbohydrate food, such as a bagel, you’ll restore these glycogen stores that will then attract extra water. On the scale, this can translate into a big dip on the scale (cue the triumphant music) followed by a quick, confusing rise the next day (cue the bad mood). That process didn’t necessarily mean you lost or gained fat, says Seltzer, only that you were shifting your body’s water balance. However, it’s easy to get discouraged. That’s why it’s so important to stick with your calorie deficit beyond this initial phase.
How to Keep Weight Off
Once you achieve your goal, here are a few ways you can ensure long-term weight loss and keep yourself from gaining it again.
1. Keep Moving
People who maintain weight loss long-term “expend a significant number of calories through activity,” says Dr. Seltzer. That doesn’t mean that you workout several times a day, but that you stay as active as possible with both exercise and everyday activity. “Do things that get your step count up, such as walking around the block or taking the stairs,” says Dr. Seltzer. When your weight is stable and you’re looking to add more calories into your diet, you’ll want to walk more to increase that calorie burn, an activity that promotes weight stability. “Walking doesn’t appear to cause you to compensate for calories burned,” he says. In addition, make sure that you’re not doing things subconsciously that decrease your calorie burn, such as circling a parking lot looking for a closer space to the store rather than taking the time to walk a bit further to the door.
2. Focus on Resistance Training
Aerobic exercise burns calories, but don’t forget about resistance training. The CDC recommends doing two days per week of muscle-strengthening activities, which can be achieved with bodyweight exercises (squats, pushups, lunges), free weights, resistance bands, or weight machines at the gym. Research shows that exercise, including resistance training, helps preserve lean muscle mass and strength that can otherwise be lost during weight loss. Given that muscle is more metabolically active—that is, it burns more calories at rest—having more muscle will also keep your metabolism active.
3. Anticipate and Adjust Your Attitude
Two things that are common among weight loss success stories? One, they think back on their progress and celebrate their successes, according to a 2019 review. That might be by thinking about how their blood pressure or blood sugar measures have improved or by looking at before and after photos of themselves. Another important tactic? Anticipating “slips,” or the times that you’ll order the pasta over a piece of fish with veggies. Developing if/then plans for how you’ll handle any setbacks and coping with them when they inevitably happen (totally normal!) can help keep you on track so you can keep it off for the long haul.