Promises from supplements or magazine articles that claim you can lose 20 or more pounds per month aren't promoting "normal" weight loss. When it comes to weight loss, however, the term "normal" is truly relative. Everyone loses weight at a different rate, depending on a multitude of factors -- including gender, age and size. Two pounds a week, or about 8 pounds a month, might be normal for a larger man, but a small, older woman might find that 2 pounds a month is normal for her. As you start your weight loss journey, you'll learn what's "normal" for you, based on your activity level and lifestyle.
How Weight Loss Happens
Changes in your weight occur when you upset the caloric energy balance equation. If you consume 3,500 more calories daily than you burn, then you gain a pound of fat. If you consume 3,500 fewer calories daily than you burn, then you lose a pound. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you aim for no more than a 3,500- to 7,000-calorie deficit a week to result in a "safe" and "sustainable" rate of loss of about 4 to 8 pounds a month.
However, this rate may be too aggressive if you don't burn a lot of calories every day. A mostly sedentary woman over 50 only burns an average of 1,600 calories a day. She can't trim 500 calories without dropping to a diet that consists of fewer than 1,200 calories, which could leave her nutritionally deficient. If she's not willing to burn 100 calories through daily exercise to get the 500-calorie daily deficit needed to burn a pound a week, an aggressive weight-loss rate for her would be about 3.4 pounds a month. A more "normal," manageable goal might be closer to 1.5 to 2 pounds a month, as this requires that she only trim 175 to 250 calories a day.
Factors Affecting "Normal" Weight Loss Per Month
Numerous factors affect how fast a normal rate of weight loss is for you. Men -- especially when they first start making better dietary choices and exercising more -- tend to lose weight faster than women because of hormonal differences and because they have greater amounts of lean muscle mass. Because men also tend to burn more calories daily -- because they're larger -- it's easier for them to create a calorie deficit.
The natural loss of lean muscle begins in your 40s and accelerates after you reach 50. While exercise and quality nutrition can mitigate the loss, some loss is inevitable. A normal weight-loss rate of 4 to 8 pounds a month is probably easier to achieve when you're in your 20s and 30s, but this rate may slow to 2 to 3 pounds a month later in life.
For some people, too, creating a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit daily may be just too difficult to maintain, and it could lead to long-term weight-loss failure. If you're particularly active, you may need more calories to support your lifestyle, but if you trim too many calories and try to move more, this could leave you fatigued, irritable and starving. Instead, you might aim for a 2- to 3-pound weight loss a month, if that amount feels more normal -- and doable -- to you.
Where You Are in Your Diet Plan
If you begin a weight-loss program that consists of drastic changes, then you might find weight loss is faster in the first month and then trails off in subsequent months. Initially, your body is losing a good deal of water weight, which can create dramatic numbers on the scale. Getting quick results early on is normal.
Heavier people may also have a more rapid "normal" rate of weight loss. When you have more weight to lose, you need more calories daily to maintain your size. You can create a larger caloric deficit by trimming servings and choosing quality options, without eating too few calories to meet your nutritional needs -- and thus -- you may lose weight faster.
Weight Loss Comparisons Aren't Helpful
Of course, you want to be realistic in setting goals for weight loss, so it's helpful to know that 8 pounds is approximately the greatest amount of weight loss the average person could aim for in a month. Remember, however, that every person's actual results are unique for that person. This can help keep you from comparing your weight-loss results to your partner's or your neighbor's results. If you cut your caloric intake and move more, you'll lose weight and become healthier.
You may feel as if you're doing everything right, but you're not losing a normal amount of weight. Invest in a food scale and a set of measuring cups so you can be certain that your servings are the appropriate size for your caloric intake. People tend to overestimate proper portion sizes. Take note of your intensity when you work out and tune in when you skip a workout. You might be letting yourself have workouts that are too easy or you might skip workouts too often. Weight loss requires commitment and work; you have to find a normal rate for you that also doesn't burn you out.
- Nutrition.gov: Interested in Losing Weight?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Losing Weight
- Shape: How Much Weight Can I Lose in a Month?
- CNN: Do Men Lose Weight Faster Than Women?
- U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Balancing Calories to Manage Weight
- Shape: Ask the Diet Doctor: How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?
- U.S. News and World Report: How to Avoid Losing Muscle as You Age