While it can be possible to lose 3 pounds a week, it may not be safe. Cutting too many calories or exercising excessively may deprive you of the energy and nutrients you need to function.
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That's why there are a few things to consider before getting started with any weight-loss program. First of all, it's important to determine your daily calorie needs and then plan your meals accordingly. Second, focus on eating nutritious foods.
Also, most health care professionals recommend you aim for no more than 1 to 2 pounds of weight a week. Losing too much weight too quickly may lead to loss of muscle mass not fat, as well as depriving you of necessary fuel. Accordingly, talk to your doctor before embarking on any weight-loss plan.
Be careful not to go too low when determining your calorie needs for weight loss. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, people assigned female at birth shouldn't eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day and people assigned male at birth no less than 1,500 calories.
Going too low may impair your ability to get all the vital nutrients your body needs to function at its best, so don't try to lose this much weight unless under a doctor's recommendation and supervision.
Not All Calories Are Equal
Weight loss isn't all about calories in versus calories out. While it's true that calories drive weight gain or loss, food quality matters most. Protein, carbs and fat — the three macronutrients in food — have a direct impact on metabolism, body composition, exercise performance and overall health.
Read more: 7 Unexpected Reasons Why You're Not Losing Weight
As the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health points out, calories are just one part of the puzzle. In a 20-year study with over 120,000 participants, those who consumed refined grains, red meat, sugary beverages, chips, white potatoes and processed foods on a regular basis gained the most weight. Whole and minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts, were associated with weight loss.
For example, 300 calories worth of turkey breast and veggies are not the same as 300 calories worth of French fries. Turkey breast and vegetables provide a hefty dose of protein, fiber, slow-digesting carbs and micronutrients. French fries contain mostly simple carbs and have little nutritional value.
One serving of turkey breast has only 125 calories and more than 25 grams of lean protein. It also supplies:
- 1.8 grams of fat
- 13 percent of the DV (daily value) of zinc
- 6 percent of the DV of magnesium
- 16 percent of the DV of phosphorus
- 47 percent of the DV of selenium
- 14 percent of the DV of vitamin B12
- 62 percent of the DV of niacin
- 40 percent of the DV of vitamin B6
Broccoli, kale, cabbage, spinach and other veggies are loaded with fiber and phytonutrients. One cup of cooked kale, for instance, provides 36 calories, 2.5 grams of protein and 7.3 grams of carbs, including 2.6 grams of fiber. It also boasts a whopping 98 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A, 59 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C intake and 885 percent of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin K.
French fries, on the other hand, contain 166 calories, 2.5 grams of protein, 5.1 grams of fat, 27.5 grams of carbs and 2.3 grams of fiber per serving (about 3 ounces). They are significantly lower in vitamins and minerals compared to a meal consisting of turkey and veggies. Depending on the recipe, this popular fast food item can exceed 331 calories and 11 grams of fat per serving.
The calories in French fries and other processed foods are not the only reason for concern. These products can affect cardiovascular health, put you at risk for diabetes and take years off your life.
A June 2017 cohort study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has linked fried potato consumption to premature death. Eating as little as three servings per week can increase diabetes risk by up to 19 percent. Boiled, baked or mashed potatoes increased this risk by only 4 percent.
Lose 3 Pounds a Week
Whether you want to lose 5, 10 or 30 pounds, eating nutritious food can make a world of difference. Make sure your daily calories come from whole foods, such as fresh fruits, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, fish, lean meat, nuts and seeds. Swap sugary beverages like cola, cappuccino, cocktails and fruit juices for plain water, fruit-infused water, unsweetened herbal tea and green smoothies.
Fruit juices, for example, may seem like a solid option. Despite their high nutritional value, however, they're not the best choice for weight loss.
These beverages are rich in fructose, a natural sugar that contributes to obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other ailments, according to a review published in the Journal of Obesity & Eating Disorders in April 2017. Whole fruits, on the other hand, contain dietary fiber, which slows the release of sugar into your bloodstream.
Creating a calorie deficit is a must if you want to lose 3 pounds a week (though remember — only aim for this amount of weight loss if your doctor recommends it). There are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat. Therefore, you need to create a 10,500-calorie deficit to drop three pounds in seven days.
These numbers are not set in stone, though. Your daily energy expenditure depends on several factors including your body weight, fitness level, metabolic rate and hormones. Additionally, the source of calories influences how they are digested and processed, as the experts at Harvard Health Publishing note.
However, you may use the 3,500-calorie rule to estimate your daily calorie needs. Assuming that this theory is valid, you should burn an extra 10,500 calories or cut 10,500 calories from your diet to lose 3 pounds a week.
But that's a deficit of approximately 1,500 calories per day, which is not recommended unless medically necessary.
Create a Calorie Deficit
So what's the fastest way to burn calories? Harvard Health Publishing provides some rough estimates of the energy expended during exercise. Running, cycling, swimming, rock climbing, high-impact aerobics and vigorous weight training appear to be the most effective.
For example, a 155-pound individual will burn approximately 223 calories on the Stair Step machine in 30 minutes. The same person will torch 391 calories on the stationary bike, 298 calories when playing beach volleyball, 372 calories when jumping rope and 614 calories when running at a fast pace for half an hour. Daily activities and house chores like shopping, gardening and shoveling the snow burn calories, too.
Another way to boost your energy expenditure is high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. This form of exercise, which alternates between short, intense bursts of activity and periods of rest, has been found to reduce abdominal fat, visceral fat and total body fat mass, as reported in a February 2017 research paper in Sports Medicine. Furthermore, it may improve metabolic health and cardiovascular function.
For best results, reduce your calorie intake and engage in regular exercise, as nutrition and physical activity are both important.
Just because it's possible to lose 3 pounds a week doesn't mean you should do it or that it's safe. Instead of focusing on weight loss specifically, eat nutritious foods and engage in activities you love to find your body's "happy" weight range.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "The Best Diet: Quality Counts"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Roasted Turkey Breast"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Cooked Kale"
- USDA: "French Fries"
- USDA: "Updates to Nutrient Values for Fast Food French Fries"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Fried Potato Consumption Is Associated With Elevated Mortality: An 8-Y Longitudinal Cohort Study"
- Journal of Obesity & Eating Disorders: "Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Fruit Juice Consumption in Obesity"
- Joslin Diabetes Center: "How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- NCBI: Lancet "Quantification of the Effect of Energy Imbalance on Bodyweight"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "There’s No Sugar-Coating It: All Calories Are Not Created Equal"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Sports Medicine: "Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Sprint, Rest, Repeat: Exploring the Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "What It Takes to Lose Weight"
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Healthy Eating Plan"