When it comes to weight loss, the slow and steady approach with a healthy diet and fitness regime wins out. Using a weight loss calculator or visiting a dietitian can help ensure you're losing weight at a healthy rate.
It is recommended that you lose weight gradually, at a rate of no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week, which works out to about 4 to 8 pounds per month.
Crash Dieting: A No-No
Whether it's for an upcoming wedding, high school reunion or other important event, most people have wished at least once in their lives for the ability to snap their fingers and lose all their unwanted weight. Crash diets promise miracles that can seem tempting but are best avoided for a number of reasons, according to Penn Medicine.
Read more: Healthy Ways to Lose Weight Fast
For starters, they are risky, because they can deprive you of nutrition and dehydrate you. They can also cause heart problems like arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat.
Crash diets include cleanses that claim to flush out your system in addition to helping you lose weight. Frequently doing cleanses can cause you to become dependent on them for bowel movements. Even doing one cleanse that causes you to lose weight quickly can jeopardize your health if it causes you to lose electrolytes (by inducing diarrhea, for example) because that can lead to lightheadedness, dehydration, kidney damage and arrhythmia.
Crash diets and cleanses can also lead to eating disorders. A study published in the Hungarian journal Orvosi Hetilap in July 2018 found a significant incidence of eating disorders like purging disorder and orthorexia nervosa, which is a fixation on healthy food, among people who were doing juice cleanses.
Another major reason to avoid crash diets is the fact that the weight loss is only temporary. Chances are that the weight you lose is from lean muscle and water rather than from fat. So even though you may lose a lot of weight initially, once you revert to your regular eating patterns, you will likely regain the weight you lost very quickly and in fact gain even more weight.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Fat Loss
Creating a Calorie Deficit
The USDA estimates that adult women need 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day and that adult men need between 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. Whether you're on the higher or lower end of the range depends on your age and how physically active you are.
To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit where you burn more calories than you consume. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends losing weight slowly and steadily, at a rate of no more than 1 or 2 pounds a week, or 4 to 8 pounds a month. In calorie terms, that translates to a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories respectively per day for a week, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You can achieve this calorie deficit by eating fewer calories per day and increasing the amount of calories you burn through exercise. For example, to create a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, you could cut out 250 calories from your daily diet and ramp up your exercise routine so that you burn an additional 250 calories per day.
Avoiding Starvation Mode
One thing to be careful of, however, is to ensure that you don't cut out calories from your diet to the extent that it's harmful to your health. Calories are often considered to be the bad guys, but they provide your body with energy and nutrition that are essential to survival.
According to the USDA, many Americans exceed the normal calorie recommendations and consume more calories than they should, in which case, cutting down on excess calories is safe. However, if your regular calorie intake is within healthy limits, you need to be careful to ensure that cutting calories does not cause your calorie intake to drop below the minimum number of calories required for your body to survive.
Harvard Medical School notes that women need to consume a minimum of 1,200 calories per day and that men need to consume a minimum of 1,500 calories per day, unless under medical supervision. Letting your calorie intake drop below these limits could seriously jeopardize your health. According to UCLA Health, eating 1,000 calories per day or less has the same effect on your body as total starvation.
In order to ensure that you're losing weight in a healthy manner, you can use a weight loss calculator or visit a dietitian to help you understand what your ideal weight is and to get a diet and meal plan tailored to your needs.
Building a Healthy Lifestyle
The CDC recommends that you avoid thinking about weight loss in terms of diets or programs, which are short term, and that you build a healthy lifestyle that includes long-term improvements in your exercise and food habits instead. A healthy lifestyle is key to not only achieving a healthy weight but also maintaining it.
The CDC notes that losing even 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can provide significant health benefits, like improved blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. Apart from benefiting your physical health, maintaining significant weight loss can also help improve your overall mood, energy levels and self-confidence.
In terms of exercise, the CDC recommends 60 to 90 minutes of moderate exercise per day most days of the week. When it comes to food, the USDA's 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy grains and proteins and limiting your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, added sugar and alcohol.
Setting Smaller Weight Loss Goals
If you've ever tried losing weight, you know that it's much easier said than done. To help make it easier, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends breaking up your overall weight loss goal into smaller goals that are specific and realistic.
Read more: List of Exercise Goals and Objectives
An example of a food-related goal is eating an apple instead of ice cream for your evening snack four times a week. An example of an activity-related goal is deciding to use the extra 30 minutes of your lunch hour to take a brisk walk five times a week. The ADA notes that while you may slip once in a while, which is fine, you should make it a point to get back on track the next day.
The key to building a healthy routine is to start doing these things regularly, until they're part of your daily routine and not one-offs anymore. For example, you need to exercise four times a week for at least six weeks to make your exercise routine a habit, according to a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine in April 2015.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Losing Weight”
- Penn Medicine: “Want to Lose Weight Quickly? Here Are 7 Reasons Why Crash Diets Probably Won’t Work”
- Mayo Clinic: “Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics”
- Care New England Wellness Center: “One Size Doesn't Fit All When It Comes to Counting Calories”
- USDA: “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans”
- Harvard Medical School: “Calorie Counting Made Easy”
- UCLA Health: “Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD)”
- American Diabetes Association: “Lose Weight for Good”
- US Library of Medicine: "Exercise Habit Formation in New Gym Members: A Longitudinal Study"
- US Library of Medicine: “Potential Relationship Between Juice Cleanse Diets and Eating Disorders. A Qualitative Pilot Study”