Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.
When you’re on a weight-loss journey, you likely want to have some kind of benchmark to check your progress—and the scale is a popular tool that probably comes to mind. While you shouldn’t put too much stock in the number you see (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?
Ahead, experts weigh in (pun intended) on these questions, the factors that affect weight loss, and tips to keep in mind throughout your journey to help you maximize the results of your efforts.
How much weight is safe to lose in a week?
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, a New York-based registered dietitian, the founder of Foodtrainers, and the author of The Little Book of Thin. Keeping it in this range will make your goals and results more sustainable.
“My goal for patients is between o.5 and 1 percent of their total body weight per week,” says Alexandra Sowa, MD, a New York-based internal medicine physician specializing in preventive health, nutrition, and obesity medicine. She favors this percentage-based approach since everyone starts at a different weight—in other words, two pounds per week may be more drastic for some people than others.
Someone who goes about weight loss in an unsafe way might experience mood swings, impaired sleep, loss of muscle mass, low energy, hormonal disruption, and drops in glucose levels, says Betty Guerrero, RD, a Wisconsin-based registered dietitian, founder of Eat with Betty, and a certified personal trainer. And “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,” she says.
How much weight can you lose in a week?
Again, everyone starts their journey at a different weight. If you have more weight to lose, you may notice you’re shedding a bit more than that 0.5 to 1 percent of your body weight when you first start to change your diet significantly, according to Dr. Sowa. This is OK, she says, as long as you’re still eating enough and feeling well—not weak. (ICYMI, women need at least 1,200 calories per day to function.)
Eventually, your weight loss will slow down to be closer to the 1 percent mark. That generally happens around the second month of your journey, but everybody is different, Dr. Sowa explains.
Remember, if you have questions about exactly how much weight you can safely lose in a week, consult your doctor for individualized advice.
Keep in mind that a quick-fix mindset probably won’t serve you well when it comes to weight loss—it’s a long-term process. With that said, to feel better in your gut, which may translate to feeling leaner and lighter, focus on drinking more water and reducing processed carbs, Dr. Sowa advises. Along with movement, “focusing on proteins and vegetables and whole foods will often have people feeling good,” she says.
To be clear, do not do anything extreme (like a cleanse or fad diet) to lose weight fast.
7 Factors That Affect Weight Loss
1. Water Weight
“If you lose weight too quickly, it’s probably not coming from fat,” Dr. Sowa notes. It’s likely just water weight. She likes to remind her patients, “water can 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 down quickly doesn’t mean you’re achieving the results that you’re aiming for. “Slower can often be better and a sign that your body is actually dropping fat rather than other crucial elements like muscle or water,” Dr. Sowa says.
2. Calorie Deficit
Have your doctor perform a bioimpedance analysis (BIA) to figure out what your calorie deficit should be, suggests Dina Khader, RD, a New York-based registered dietitian. 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.
“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. “Lifting weights helps you burn more fat more efficiently,” Khader says.
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.
“In times of life stressors, it can be hard to lose weight,” Dr. Sowa says. In fact, it’s been shown that people shift their diet-related behaviors when stressed, including overeating high-fat, high-salt, and high-sugar foods and reducing their intake of fruits and vegetables, according to a study published in 2018 in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry. Try to reduce the stress in your life when on a new weight-loss plan. It’s *okay* to prioritize yourself.
6. A Medical Condition
“A lot of medical conditions can impede your ability to lose weight,” Dr. Sowa says. For instance, certain medications (think: antidepressants and even OTC sleep aids) can be a reason for weight gain or the inability to lose weight, according to Dr. Sowa. That said, she doesn’t advise that you stop taking medication without first consulting your doc.
Your thyroid, too, could be making it difficult to meet your weight-loss goal. “When your thyroid is sluggish, it slows everything down,” Khader says. This includes the rate at which you burn calories and your metabolism.
Insulin resistance, a precursor to prediabetes, can also lead to weight gain—and Dr. Sowa notes that it’s pretty common. (In fact, about 1 out of every 3 adults in the United States has prediabetes, and prediabetes cases are the best way to measure the prevalence of insulin resistance, according to Cleveland Clinic.)
Bottom line? Chat with your doc if you’ve been consistent with diet and exercise, but still aren’t getting the results you want. In particular, Dr. Sowa recommends talking to a specialist like an obesity medicine physician.
This may be an obvious one, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Your diet before, during, and after your weight loss impacts how easily or quickly you’ll be able to lose or keep weight off.
First, let’s talk protein: The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, according to Harvard Health. Focus on satiating protein intake first for weight loss, and don’t fear healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish, says Dr. Sowa. “Fat is not the enemy when it comes to weight loss,” she says. In fact, she notes that it’s also very satiating.
Processed carbs, on the other hand, aren’t super filling, Dr. Sowa says. And on top of that, they provide very little nutritional value. Still, they aren’t the enemy—just build your meal around protein, veggies, and fats before you add in carbs, she advises.
Everyone has a different lifestyle, which means how you go about your weight-loss journey might not look the same as how someone else goes about theirs. “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.