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One Great Answer: How Much Weight Can I Safely Lose?

author image Brian Sabin
Brian Sabin is LIVESTRONG.COM's content manager. He is a writer, editor and video producer who spent five years working for "Runner's World," where his series "26.2 or Die: The Matt Long Story" won a Webby Award for "Best Sports Video: People's Choice." He resides in California.
One Great Answer: How Much Weight Can I Safely Lose?
An overweight woman is exercising in her home. Photo Credit Berc/iStock/Getty Images


I’m trying to change my body as fast as possible. What is a realistic amount of weight loss to expect per week or month? Everyone says something different.

For each person, the amount of weight you can lose depends on specific psychological issues, metabolic factors, and your level of athletic activity.

The Answer

I get this question a lot, and unfortunately, there’s no one single answer for everybody. The amount of weight you can safely drop in a week is going to be different than how much your neighbor, spouse or even your sibling can lose. For each person, the answer depends on specific psychological issues, metabolic factors and athletic concerns.

Psychological Issues

Many times the success of a diet comes down to an individual’s mindset, and his relationship to food. For some people, being on too restrictive of a diet will only lead to eventual failure; think binge-purge, bound-rebound. For others, however, studies suggest that a fast initial weight loss is associated with better long-term outcomes. So if you are a yo-yo crash dieter, go slowly and target small incremental losses. But if you’re not? Then starting your diet off with a bang by aiming for higher weight loss targets may actually be better for you.

Metabolic Factors

Broadly speaking, the fatter you are, the greater the energy deficit you can afford to create. That means that a very fat person can lose more weight more quickly than someone who’s just slightly overweight. Someone who has a larger fat mass will also be able to drop more pounds before her weight loss plateaus for a given energy deficit.

Various studies have attempted to determine the exact calorie deficit required for maximum weight loss, but the results are simply theoretical, so I caution people against using any single one as a basis for their own goals. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases put together a weight loss tool -- bwsimulator.niddk.nih.gov -- that’s a little more reliable. It uses calculations and data from many studies to predict weight loss timelines.

Take a look – its predictions might surprise you.

Athletic Concerns

If you participate in sports or other athletic activities, you need to consider the effect that weight loss will have on your performance. A study published in the 2011 International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggested that in order to maintain strength and lean mass while dieting, an athlete should lose no more than 0.7 percent of body mass per week. That means a 200-pound person wouldn’t want to drop any more than 1.4 pounds in a seven-day period.

What’s Right For YOU

Trial and error is the only way to find what works for you. Start with a goal of losing somewhere between a half pound and three pounds in a week (less for smaller individuals, more for those who are larger or have higher body fat percentages). Be realistic about what you can achieve given your body type and lifestyle, honest about your intake and expenditure through activities, and re-assess as you see results.

Lastly: Remember that the scale isn’t the be-all, end-all. Weight is only one marker of progress -- and sometimes a very poor one at that. Tape measurements, body fat percentage tests, strength, fitness, visual appearance, energy levels, and overall health and state of mind are just as important, if not more so.

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