Let’s be real for a sec: Weight loss isn’t always easy. Often times it’s trial and error to find what sort of diet and exercise plan works best for you. And even once you figure that out, you still might find that your bod just isn’t responding to the changes you've made. That’s because the process of shedding weight can depend on several factors, including your metabolic rate, starting weight, sleep schedule, and more.
The most important part of weight loss—aside from actually making your own decision to lose weight and doing it for yourself—is to do it in a healthy way (which also leads to a more sustainable weight loss). That means no crash dieting or exercise binging. But here's the million-dollar question: How much weight can you lose in a short amount of time (like a month) and still make sure you're doing it in a healthy way? (Because, yeah, nobody wants to be dieting forever.)
So, how much weight can I lose in a month?
There's not one set number of pounds you might lose, says Christine Santori, RDN, program manager for Center for Weight Management in Northwell Health’s Syosset Hospital in Syosset, New York.
“The amount of weight one can lose in a month—and still be healthy—really depends on factors, like age, sex, starting weight, caloric intake, caloric deficit, and exercise," says Santori.
These variables all play a role in how quickly you can drop pounds. And in terms of what's safe, Matthew Weiner, MD says it's not so much about the number of pounds lost, but the method used. "I think there are means that people will take to achieve weight loss which are unsafe—for instance, consuming 600 or fewer calories a day is very unsafe," Dr. Weiner says.
Not only is a too-low-cal approach unsafe, but people who lose weight gradually and steadily (about one to two pounds per week) are more successful at keeping it off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That adds up to about four to eight pounds a month. The story's a little different for those looking to lose 100 pounds or more—in that case, you can shed up to 20 pounds in one month, though "some of that is just water," notes Santori.
Okay, fair—but how do I even get started?
You're going to have to look at your daily calorie intake. In general, you should aim to cut 500 calories out of your daily meal plan to lose a pound each week, says Irene Franowicz, a registered dietitian at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"It takes 3,500 calories less per week—or 500 less calories a day—to drop one pound of weight in a week," she says. Following that math, to drop two pounds in a week you’d have to cut 1,000 calories a day. “That’s a big change,” Franowicz says, and it may not be the best approach for you. But there are some ways to cut out those calories.
What are some general nutrition tips to help eliminate some cals?
Yeah, yeah they sound a little eye-rolly and minimal (and you've probably heard of some of these little tricks before!)—but little tweaks like these can add up.
- Track your meals in a food diary: It's easy to lose track of what—and how much—you actually eat in a day. Writing down your meals and snacks can help give you a more realistic picture of your eating habits (hey, everyone's biased to think they're making stellar food choices more often than they are). With a food journal or an app, you might be able see where you could pass on a snack, swap in something healthier, or choose a smaller portion.
- Replace processed foods with whole foods: It's easier to overeat processed food, and you don't get as much nutritional bang for your caloric buck. A 2019 study in Cell Metabolism found that when two groups of people ate two different diets that were equal in terms of nutrients (one was whole-food based, the other, processed), the processed group ate more calories and gained more weight than the other group.
- Up your fiber intake: Eating fiber-rich foods will keep you fuller longer, and can help you reach your weight loss goals. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, which you can find in foods like these.
- Cut back on sugary beverages: Whether you're sipping regular or diet soda daily, these drinks are proven to cause weight gain. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who drank one liter of full-sugar soda daily gained 22 pounds over six months, and those who drank diet soda gained about three pounds. And remember, a lot of added sugar can be lurking in coffee, tea, and juice drinks, as well as cocktails.
- Stay hydrated with water: More H2O is basically always a good move. A 2014 review of studies published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found several links between water consumption and weight-loss results. It may be because when you're hydrated, you're less likely to mistake thirst cues for hunger cues.
- Cook meals at home: A 2014 study found that people who cooked dinner at home consumed about 140 fewer calories than people who typically ordered in, dined out, or heated up pre-made meals. Make your own breakfast and lunch and you'll be nearing that 500-calorie deficit.
- Get seven to eight hours of sleep: You'll cut at least 300 calories. Research shows that sleep deprivation slows our metabolic rate and increases our appetite for sweets. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who slept four hours per night consumed 300 more calories than people who slept a normal amount. Well-rested folks are also much more likely to exercise, and even a short workout can burn 200 calories.
- Work out before breakfast; don’t eat after 7 p.m.: The combination will save about 520 calories. A recent Japanese study found that when you exercise before breakfast, you metabolize about 280 more calories throughout the day, compared with doing the same workout in the evening. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition reveals that eliminating nighttime snacks helped people consume 240 fewer calories daily.
How does fitness play into the weight-loss equation?
Calories burned while exercising can make a difference too, says Franowicz. Remember, calories give your body the energy it needs to function, but they can also be stored as fat when you consume them in excess. To keep that from happening you have to a) reduce your calorie intake or b) increase your physical activity. But if you want to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time (which you do), you're going to want to do both.
"A great way to achieve the 500-calorie deficit is to divide it in half, maybe cut out 250 calories a day from food and burn an extra 250 more a day through movement to equal 500 calories," she says. That way, says Franowicz, you won't feel deprived because you're making too drastic of a change to your diet that won't be sustainable in the long run—because the goal isn't just losing weight, but keeping it off.
What are some basic exercise tips to burn additional calories?
- Walk on the treadmill or elliptical for 30 minutes.
- Do a 20- to 30-minute Pilates or barre class.
- Try to get in at least 10,000 steps a day.
- Do a 15- to 20-minute HIIT workout.
- Add in some structured strength training a few times a week. A 15-minute weight lifting session using 5-pound hand weights a few times a week can go a long way in building muscle.
Something important to remember when it comes to calorie counting and calories burned, however: It varies between people. "The number of calories one needs to maintain weight or promote weight loss is based on height, age, and weight, and is individual to the person," says Santori. That means you may have to experiment to find what works for your body.
How much weight is is safe to lose in a month after weight-loss surgery?
Well, it depends on the kind of procedure you had, Dr. Weiner says. With a gastric bypass, most of his patients will lose 10 percent of their total body weight within six weeks after the surgery. With a sleeve gastrectomy, Dr. Weiner says the process takes a little longer, with most patients seeing their 10 percent drop within eight to 10 weeks post-operation.
So what's the difference between the two surgeries? A gastric bypass anatomically changes the shape of your stomach and involves changes to your intestines. A sleeve gastrectomy removes about two-thirds of your stomach, but preserves the natural flow of intestines.
"A gastric bypass results in more powerful hormonal changes than a sleeve," Dr. Weiner says. And the primary determinant that drives weight loss in this case is hormonal. But even after surgery there are uncontrollable variables that will determine a patient's ability to lose weight. “It’s really genetics that are driving the difference as opposed to lifestyle changes,” Dr. Weiner says.
Ultimately over time though, most of Dr. Weiner's patients lose significant weight within the first year of their surgery.
How much weight loss is *too* much in a month?
If you have been modifying your diet and exercise, most experts suggest sticking to one to two pounds a week, or four to eight pounds total, unless you have more than 100 pounds to lose, in which case, losing up to 20 in a month is okay. But you don't have to strive for that 20-pound mark (and if you're going over that, talk with your doc). According to Santori, “even modest weight loss can produce beneficial results. Weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of total body weight is associated with improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.”
It's also important to watch your calorie count. Franowicz doesn't recommend dipping below 1,200 calories a day—the lowest calorie threshold she recommends. "Very low-calorie diets can result in fatigue and physical activity is such an important part of [weight loss]. If people are too tired to exercise, then this is a sign you are too low in calories," she says.
Another important thing to remember: The number on the scale shouldn't be your main focus. If you're also adding some exercise (through cardio and strength training) to your workouts, you might also see smaller overall weight loss—about half a pound a week—but how your body looks and feels is a better measure of progress, says Santori. "As we already know, muscle weighs more than fat," she says, adding that you may see inches come off or clothes fit more comfortably as opposed to a major dip on the scale.
The bottom line: For healthy, sustainable weight loss, aim to lose one to two pounds per week, or four to eight pounds per month.