How Fast Should I Lose Weight?
No one wants to lose weight too slowly. The problem is, if you do it too quickly, you have a significantly higher chance of gaining all that weight back when it’s all said and done.
So what is the ideal speed for weight loss?
I have all the details for you.
“Safe” Weight Loss
I remember when I was a kid and we took a trip across the country. My parents folded the back seats down, laid out sleeping bags, and my sister and I slept (with no stinkin’ seat belts to cramp our dreams) as they drove through the night.
I can only imagine what it was like when my parents were kids themselves. They probably got set on top of the family station wagon and were told to grab the luggage rack and hold on tight.
Losing weight too quickly doesn’t run the same risks as not wearing a seatbelt. Barring any extremes, it’s not going to kill you. Contrary to what some would have you believe, it also won’t “break” your metabolism (read more about that in “Did You Break Your Metabolism?”).
However, dropping too many pounds at once CAN cause your body to adapt and burn less calories throughout the day. This makes it more difficult to continue losing weight and easier to gain it again, putting you right back where you started (or even worse off).
So when I talk about how fast you should go, I’m talking about finding a “safe” rate of weight loss, from the perspective of what will have the least negative effect on your body AND that will give you an actual shot at long-term success.
So How Fast?
A common rule you’ll hear is that you can safely lose 1-2 pounds per week. While that’s not a terrible target, it’s not particularly helpful, either.
For instance, the amount of weight a 350 pound person could be ok to lose (theoretically) is way more than what someone who weighs 150 pounds can expect to drop each week (in real life).
Giving a blanket “1 or 2 pounds per week” statement doesn’t make sense in either of those scenarios.
Heck, no matter how much you weigh, it’s possible to lose more than 2 pounds in your first week from water weight alone. That’s certainly not a sign to panic.
Another problem with that recommendation is that it can make you think you’re failing when you aren’t.
For example, some people are able to get more consistent results simply by working on better eating habits, keeping the stress threshold low, and losing weight more slowly — like a half pound per week.
That’s a perfectly normal rate of weight loss, but if you go into it with the expectation of losing 1-2 pounds per week, you might think you’re doing something wrong.
Half a pound per week will feel like nothing for the first couple months. Yet if you quit, you’d be giving up on losing 26 pounds over 12 months of dieting.
I don’t know about you, but 26 pounds in a year sounds better to me than losing 20 pounds in a month just to gain 30 back later.
There are also plenty of people who never drop ANY weight, but lose a bunch of fat (here’s the difference between weight loss and fat loss), tone up, and achieve the body of their dreams (read more about how to Get the Body of Your Dreams).
With all that in mind, you now understand that telling someone exactly how much weight they should lose in a set period of time is… complicated. But don’t worry, I have some practical advice.
I recommend considering what’s most realistic for you in terms of percentages.
As far as what’s “safe” (based on how I defined it earlier), you can lose up to around 1% of your body weight each week on average (e.g. if you weigh 150 you should lose no more than 1.5 pounds per week). But there’s still a problem with that:
It’s not realistic for most people.
Losing that much weight that quickly (assuming you’re at all doing it in a healthy way) takes a level of discipline and a willingness to give up a “normal” life that just isn’t worth it.
You’re much more likely to be consistent with eating and exercise habits that keep you in a lower range of weight loss — around 0.5-0.75% of your bodyweight per week.
That tends to be the sweet spot.
Before you go doing the math, I have two thoughts for you.
1. You’ll be tempted to plug in the 0.75% number. Don’t do it. Start at trying to lose 0.5% of your body weight per week and see how it goes. If it feels easy (it probably won’t), pick up the pace.
2. You don’t have to figure out the math because I did that for you. We created a free “1 Minute Weight Loss Quiz” that will ask you a few short questions and then give you realistic expectations for how fast you should lose weight.
You’ll be able to access that quiz at the end of this blog.
Long-Term Weight Loss
Now that you have a rough idea of how quickly you can lose weight, you can calculate how many weeks it will take you to reach your goal, right?
Not so fast.
It’s not a good idea to be on a weight loss diet for extended periods of time. That means your timeline may change depending on how much total weight you plan to lose.
In general, the faster your rate of weight loss (per week), the less you’ll be able to sustain it over time (possibly a month or less in some cases). The opposite is also true — the slower your rate of weight loss, the longer you can stick to that plan without meaningful complications.
The important thing is to look for warning signs, such as:
You feel worn out
Your sleep is disrupted
Your workouts feel unusually tough
Weight loss is slower and slower
You’re emotionally ready to be “done”
You can avoid a lot of these symptoms in the first place by planning breaks in your diet. If you have a lot of weight to lose, the more important these breaks become.
At the very least, look for the warning signs, know that you’ll need a break here and there, and factor that into how long it’ll take you to reach your goal.
Keep in mind that the more often you’re willing to step away from weight loss, and the longer those breaks are (with the goal being to maintain your weight by continuing to work on healthy eating habits), the better it will be for you in the long run.
If You Remember Nothing Else, Remember This
There’s no definite number on exactly how fast you should lose weight. The guidelines I’ve given you will help, but remember what I said earlier, which is that some people have the most long-term success losing only half a pound per week, no matter what weight they start at.
And some people never lose weight at all but completely alter their body composition.
That’s why I also suggest tracking progress in other ways:
Pay attention to how your clothes fit.
By all means, weigh yourself, too — if for no other reason than to learn to not let the number on the scale control you — just don’t rely on it as the sole indicator of your success.
Keep track of your progress over the course of 2-4 weeks rather than worrying about the daily fluctuations. Just don’t be discouraged if you’re losing less weight than you’d hoped for (or none at all). As long as there’s some kind of measurable progress being made, you’re on the right track.
Now, don’t forget to check out the “1 Minute Weight Loss Quiz” we created to help you figure out what may be realistic for how fast YOU should lose weight.