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Can You Lose 20-30 Pounds in 6 Weeks?

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Can You Lose 20-30 Pounds in 6 Weeks?
A six-week deadline for significant weight loss is tight. Photo Credit BrianAJackson/iStock/Getty Images

If a deadline in six weeks has you wanting a slimmer frame, set realistic goals. For most people, dropping between 20 and 30 pounds in this short a period of time is nearly impossible. To achieve such a loss, you need to lose between 3 and 5 pounds per week, on average, which far exceeds the healthy weight-loss rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extreme measures may help you drop weight this quickly, but they require medical guidance. Otherwise, revamp your expectations and create a lasting weight-loss routine. While you likely won't hit your 6-week deadline, you're more likely to lose weight in the long run if you take it slow.

The Weight Loss Equation

You lose a pound when you burn 3,500 more calories than you consume. Most people can create a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit through diet and exercise without dipping below an intake of 1,200 calories per day. Eating fewer than 1,200 calories can leave you nutritionally deficient, with low energy and even the loss of valuable muscle mass, which lowers your metabolism.

To lose 20 to 30 pounds in six weeks, you'd need to create a deficit of 11,600 to 15,000 calories per week. This comes to a daily deficit of 1,700 to 2,100 calories per day -- more than many adults burn on a moderately active day. Extremely obese people or elite athletes who burn close to 4,000 calories per day to run their metabolic engines might be able to achieve this deficit, but it's pretty unattainable for the majority of people.

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Extreme Weight Loss Possibilitites

Quick weight loss of 20 to 30 pounds in a short period of six weeks may be necessary for some people who are obese to avoid medical complications resulting from their size. In these cases, a very-low-calorie diet, known as a VLCD, of 800 to 1,000 calories may be prescribed by their doctor. Under such an extreme plan, meals are usually replaced with supplements, such as shakes, and the person is monitored regularly by health professionals. Quick weight loss resulting from a VCLD may be accompanied by nausea, dizziness and constipation. In addition, a VCLD increases your chances of developing gall stones.

Low-calorie diets, which usually contain between 1,000 and 1,400 calories, can also promote quick weight loss and may involve small portions of real food. Such a diet should still be undertaken only with the supervision of your doctor, however, because they can be nutritionally insufficient if not designed by a dietitian. VCLD and low-calorie diets may leave you with too little energy to move more, which helps burn calories and mitigate the loss of muscle mass.

Realistic 6-Week Goals

A more realistic weight loss goal in six weeks is a loss between 6 and 12 pounds. You may lose slightly more because when you make dramatic changes in diet and exercise for your body, water loss may cause you to exceed 1 to 2 pounds of loss when you first start the diet. Over a few weeks, though, your weight loss levels out to the healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week. The reason this rate is considered healthy is because it's usually achieved with manageable decreases in portion sizes, improvements in the quality of food choices and greater movement.

For example, you may be able to use a juice fast to starve yourself to a quick 20-pound loss in six weeks. However, the diet will not contain all the essential nutrients you need for good health. You may experience weakness and irritability. As your body deals with the lack of calories coming in, it will turn to lean body mass to burn for energy. You'll lose a notable amount of muscle along with fat. This makes your metabolism run slower. And, the quicker you lose weight, the more likely you are to regain it -- and possibly more.

Achieving Healthy Weight Loss

Aiming for a 1- to 2-pound weight loss per week gives you a more achievable goal. You'll still need to make healthier food choices and limit portions, but to a point that is far more reasonable than you would trying to lose 3 to 5 pounds per week. Make your meals consist of a 2- to 3-ounce portion of lean protein, a 1/2 cup of whole grains and fill in the plate with leafy, watery vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, kale, asparagus or green beans. To maximize weight loss, skip sweets, refined grains -- such as white bread and pasta -- and saturated fats, found in cheese and fatty cuts of meat.

Exercise will also help expedite weight loss, but you'd have to work for several hours every day to lose 3 to 5 pounds per week. The American College of Sports Medicine advises at least 250 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly to produce significant weight loss. That's at least 50 minutes of jogging, swimming laps, briskly walking or stationary cycling five days per week. Strength training all the major muscle groups in your body twice per week also helps boost your metabolism and jump start weight loss. Interval training, which involves alternating bouts of all-out cardio with recovery, and circuit-style strength training are ways to perform exercise to achieve the most dramatic results.

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