Everywhere you turn, you will see an outlandish diet claim promising that, on their diet, you'll lose 5 pounds in two days, or 10 pounds in two weeks or 30 pounds in 30 days. These promises are very enticing – especially if you have a big event coming up soon – but the goals are just not realistic. While disagreement exists on many things in the health world, most nutrition experts do agree on one thing – slow and steady is the key to sustainable weight loss.
Don't Crash Diet and Burn
Eating plans that promise rapid weight loss are called "crash" diets. While these diets may deliver on their claims initially, they are not without risk. Rapid weight loss can actually slow your metabolism in the long run and contribute to future weight gain. Crash diets also often eliminate entire food groups or rely on only a handful of "allowed" foods, which limits the amounts and types of nutrients you're taking in. Depending on which foods they eliminate, crash diets may also leave you feeling crabby and devoid of energy. While you may lose a significant amount of weight – especially in the initial stages – much of that weight loss is water and muscle. Regularly crash dieting – also called "yo-yo dieting" – can also increase your risk of heart palpitations and other cardiac stress.
How Many Pounds per Month Is Safe
Every person is different, so there's no way to say for sure how much weight you'll lose when following a weight loss program, but a safe and realistic goal is 1/2 pound to 2 pounds per week, or about 2 to 8 pounds per month. When you start a new weight loss program, you may experience faster rapid weight loss initially, but that weight loss tends to slow down as your body gets used to the new plan. Those who lose weight gradually are more likely to keep the weight off and stick to the program for the long-term.
Since one pound equals 3,500 calories, you'll have to create a calorie deficit of 1,750 to 7,000 per week to lose 2 to 8 pounds per month. A calorie deficit means that you're using up more calories than you're taking in. The best way to create a calorie deficit is through a combination of diet and exercise. For example, cutting your current calorie intake by 250 per day and adding 30 minutes of elliptical training each day will create a calorie deficit of 500 per day -- or 3,500 per week.
Choosing a Weight Loss Plan
It's likely not the first time you've heard this, but the most successful weight loss programs combine a healthy, balanced diet with reasonable calorie restriction and increased physical activity. Look for a program that does not completely deprive you of foods you enjoy, has a support system in place, and allows you a way to track what you're eating and how much you're exercising. You can find a commercial plan that fits your needs, devise your own weight loss plan, or consult a qualified nutritionist to create one for you.
A healthy weight loss plan should include lean proteins, like chicken, fish and beans, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, like oats and quinoa. Also include healthy fats, such as avocado and olive oil, and adequate amounts of water.
Diet Plans to Avoid
So many weight loss programs are available that sifting through them can be daunting. Make sure to avoid any diet plans that promise an unhealthy amount of rapid weight loss – realistically and for safety reasons, you should expect to lose around 8 to 10 pounds per month. You may lose more initially, however, if you have a large amount of weight to lose. You also want to make sure that the plan you choose does not restrict calories to fewer than 1,100 to 1,200 per day or eliminate entire food groups. The best weight loss plan is always a healthy one that you'll be able to stick to.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-Loss Program
- St. Vincent Hospital: Choosing a Safe Weight-Loss Program
- American Osteopathic Association: Tips for Safe Weight Loss
- Cnn.com: How Crash Diets Harm Your Health
- NHS Choices: Why is Gradual Weight Loss Better Than a Crash Diet?
- American Heart Association: 5 Goals to Losing Weight
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Weight Control and Diet