You've got two months to fit into a gown, meet your old friends for a reunion or hit the beach, and you want to look your best. You may be able to realistically lose 20 pounds in two months if you stick to a rather aggressive plan of diet and exercise, although losing 20 pounds so quickly might be too lofty a goal if you're already near your goal weight. Reaching this goal requires you to lose about 2 1/2 pounds per week, which is slightly more than the 1 to 2 pounds per week recommended as safe and sustainable by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, if you use sensible methods that still have you consuming at least 1,200 calories per day and gradually increase your physical activity levels, a 20-pound loss in two months is OK.
The Math Behind Losing 20 Pounds in Two Months
To lose 2.5 pounds of fat per week, you must create a deficit of about 1,250 calories per day by increasing your daily calorie burn and decreasing the calories you consume. In the first couple of weeks that you begin a plan, you may lose more than 2.5 pounds per week as your body adjusts. This gives you the head start you need to stay inspired to stick with the plan for two months. The head start can also help you reach your goal as weight loss slows down when you get closer to your goal.
Determine your daily calorie maintenance needs according to your age, gender, size and activity level. A dietitian or an online calculator that takes these factors into account can help you. Once you know that number, determine how many calories you can reduce without dipping below 1,200 calories. The number of calories the average person needs varies widely -- it could be less than 1,600 calories or more than 3,000. If you're larger, younger and male and on the higher end of the burn rate, you can reduce calories more than a smaller, older woman.
Plan to exercise to increase your daily calorie burn by whatever you can't reduce through diet. For example, if you need 2,000 calories per day to maintain your weight, you can trim 800 to eat just 1,200 calories per day. You'll need to add more exercise and daily activity to increase your daily calorie burn by 450 calories to reach your 1,250-calorie deficit goal.
How to Eat
A food diary helps you identify how you can easily trim calories without feeling greatly deprived. Cut out second helpings, extra spoonfuls of maple syrup, cheese on salads, samples at grocery stores, and bread with dinner to start reducing your intake. Cut back on sugary treats, refined grains and foods high in saturated fat to help reduce calories too. Mindless snacking and stress eating contribute a lot of calories to days; keeping track of what you eat by writing it down also helps you identify these calories and triggers.
Avoid processed foods as much as possible and make nourishing, satisfying meals with whole foods you find on the perimeter of the grocery store aisles. Lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains fill your cart. Minimize restaurant visits, especially to fast food establishments. You have better control of a meal's ingredients and calorie content when you cook at home.
Have a lean protein, fresh produce and a small serving of whole grains at most meals. For example, eat an egg with whole-wheat toast and a cup of berries at breakfast; roast chicken breast with broccoli and brown rice for lunch; and lean ground beef with quinoa and a green salad for dinner. Clear your pantry of convenience snacks such as chips, crackers and cereal bars. Have fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt or cut up vegetables instead.
When you have a strict two-month deadline to lose the 20 pounds, you can't veer much from this restricted plan. Alcohol, desserts and treats should be kept to a bare minimum.
Budget Time for Exercise
Cardiovascular exercise brings your calorie burn up, so you can meet your goal deficit. To burn 400 to 600 calories per day, you'll have to commit to an hour or more of cardio per day, depending on the activity you choose. For example, if you weigh 185 pounds, a 30-minute elliptical session burns 400 calories, but 30 minutes of walking at a brisk 3.5 mph burns just 178 calories. Higher-intensity workouts burn more calories in a short period of time, but you have to work up to the fitness level to sustain them without causing injury. If you're new to exercise, you may have to settle for more moderate, steady-state sessions as you gradually increase your stamina and strength.
Strength Train for Weight-Loss Success
Resistance training plays a critical role as you lose weight at this relatively aggressive rate. Large calorie deficits, such as 1,250 calories, can cause your body to turn to your lean body mass for energy, especially if it senses that lean muscle isn't being used. By strength training, you preserve the lean muscle and subsequently bolster your metabolic rate, thus preventing a stall in your metabolism and weight loss.
Start with body weight exercises, and after a few weeks, add weights as you train every major muscle group for eight to 12 repetitions. After about a month, increase the number of sets and weight to continue to see change. Strength exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once and thus burn a lot of calories and build muscle include squats, presses, rows, lunges, deadlifts and dips.
Sleep to Lose 20 Pounds
Adequate sleep provides key support to your efforts to eat less and move more. A review published in a 2012 issue of Obesity found that women who reported better sleep or slept longer than seven hours per night improved their weight-loss likelihood by 33 percent. Too little sleep affects the hormones that control hunger, making you more vulnerable to cravings and hunger pangs. Feeling drained might also cause you to reach for energy drinks and coffee for a caffeine buzz, but these drinks boost your daily calorie intake to interfere with weight loss. If you're tired, you subconsciously move less during the day, which further brings your metabolism down.
For the two months that you're utterly dedicated to weight loss, make sure your sleep efforts match those in the kitchen and gym. Get the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye by adopting good sleep habits. Create a room with dim lighting and no televisions or cellphones and avoid checking electronics or watching TV for an least an hour before bedtime. A bedtime routine, such as a warm bath, a few minutes of yoga or a brief meditation, can help ease you into a night of rest and get you out of the kitchen, too.
When You Hit a Wall
You may lose weight readily in the first month of starting your plan, but then hit a plateau and make no progress as you get closer to your goal. Realize that when your body shrinks, the number of calories you need to maintain your weight decreases. You may need to increase your workout time or intensity a bit more and eat just a little less to continue to drop pounds. As you lose weight, your calorie needs drop 25 to 50 calories for every 5 pounds you lighten. This means that after you lose 10 pounds, your calorie intake may need to drop by as much as 100 calories to continue to lose weight if you find your results stall. Don't dip below 1,200 daily calories.
Other seemingly minor factors may interfere with your ability to lose weight. Review your food diary to notice if you cheat more often than you think. Get a food scale and a set of measuring cups to make sure your portions are on point. Mix up your workout -- run instead of walk, cycle instead of dance, reorder your strength exercises -- to offer your body a new challenge. Results slow when your body gets accustomed to a new routine.