Aiming to lose weight is a great goal, but going too hard too fast could set you up for failure in the long term. Instead, moderate weight loss by adopting a healthy lifestyle is the method most health experts recommend. If you want to set a realistic goal, why not aim to lose 7 pounds in a month?
Losing 7 pounds in a month comes down to a little less than 2 pounds a week, which you'll find is both doable and sustainable, depending on your starting weight and need for weight loss. More important, aiming to lose 7 pounds in a month can help you start to develop healthier lifestyle habits that will benefit you no matter what the numbers on the scale say. Here's what you need to know if you're going to make that aspiration a reality.
Slow, Sustainable Weight Loss
Sure, what person struggling with their weight wouldn't want to lose 40 or 50 pounds in only a month? Unfortunately, such rapid weight loss isn't realistic.
Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledge that it's natural to want to lose weight quickly, you're more likely to keep it off if you lose it at a steady rate of about 1 to 2 pounds week. The Mayo Clinic recommends a goal of 1.5 pounds a week, which requires creating a deficit of about 500 to 750 calories a day.
This means that aiming to lose 7 pounds in a month would be on the more aggressive end of the slow-but-steady weight loss goal.
And for some people, losing 7 pounds is all they might need to lose. The CDC encourages people to determine their body mass index (BMI) by dividing their weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. Although this calculation is not foolproof, as an especially muscular person might have a higher BMI with a moderate body fat percentage, it still gives you a general idea of whether your weight is in a healthy range.
In general, an ideal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or higher indicates obesity. If a person is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds, that person would have a BMI of 25.8. But if that individual lost 7 pounds and went down to a BMI of 24.8, that person's weight would be in a healthy range.
Even for people who need to lose a significant amount of weight, deciding to lose 50 pounds could feel daunting. Instead, the CDC and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) encourage people to aim for losing about 10 percent of their body weight at first. This moderate weight loss still offers significant health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and reduced risk of chronic disease, even if the person still has overweight or obesity. For this reason, starting small is an ideal option.
Read more: 1,600 Calories Per Day Diet
Lose 7 Pounds in a Month
Want to figure out how many calories you need to burn to lose 7 pounds in a month? Do the math: You have to create a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of fat. That means that you would need to burn 24,500 calories to lose 7 pounds — and over the course of a month, or 31 days, that breaks down to about 790 calories a day.
To create this calorie deficit, you want to combine healthy eating and healthy physical activity. As the Mayo Clinic explains, diet has a stronger effect on weight loss, but physical activity is important because it ensures you don't lose bone density or muscle mass as you lose weight. Physical activity is also more important when it comes to avoiding weight regain after loss.
Most adults need only 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week to reap health benefits. The Mayo Clinic encourages people to aim for a minimum of 30 minutes a day; however, if you're aiming to lose weight, you might need to engage in more activity.
Reaching a goal of a 790-calorie deficit every day takes effort. The Mayo Clinic lists that a 160-pound individual would need to engage in an hour of water aerobics to burn 402 calories, an hour of hiking to burn 438 calories, an hour of running at 5 miles per hour to burn 606 calories, or an hour of swimming light to moderate laps to burn 423 calories.
Similarly, USDA ChooseMyPlate lists other vigorous activities that can torch calories and help in your weight-loss efforts. According to the USDA, a 154-pound individual could burn 460 calories walking at a pace of 4.5 miles per hour for one hour or 590 calories bicycling at a pace faster than 10 miles per hour for an hour.
Moderate activities can help you reap health benefits, but they might not be as conducive to weight loss as vigorous activities, particularly if you do them for only 30 minutes. For example, that 154-pound person undertaking 30 minutes of light yard work will burn only 165 calories, and undertaking 30 minutes of golf will burn only 165 calories. This is why the time and intensity of your workout are important if you are trying to lose weight.
But you can burn additional calories if you aim to be active outside of your regular workout sessions. The NHLBI recommends opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator or doing common chores like washing your car, gardening, raking leaves or shoveling snow.
Don't Forget to Eat Right
Physical activity increases your calorie expenditure, but you can also contribute to your calorie deficit by reducing your caloric intake. If you're aiming for that deficit of 790 calories a day to lose 7 pounds in a month and you do a workout that burns about 400 calories, then you need to reduce your caloric intake by about 390 calories. This way, you're creating half your caloric deficit through exercise and half through diet.
Read more: 7 Easy Ways to Cut 300 Calories From Your Daily Diet
If you're used to eating a 2,000-calorie diet and need to reduce your intake to about 1,600 calories, you should aim to do so by eating a variety of healthy foods with the right balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein and with all the vitamins and minerals you need to function. The NHLBI offers a sample eating plan for a diet consisting of traditional American cuisine that totals approximately 1,600 calories.
In this eating plan, dinner is a 3-ounce serving of salmon with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, three-quarters of a baked potato with 1 teaspoon of margarine, 1/2 cup of green beans seasoned with margarine, 1/2 cup of carrots seasoned with margarine, one medium white dinner roll, 1/2 cup of ice milk and 1 cup of unsweetened iced tea, for a total of 625 calories.
Similarly, breakfast and lunch in this eating plan are hearty meals with a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins, ensuring that you don't feel starved or deprived throughout the day.
It's important to individualize your weight loss plan based on your current eating habits. For example, if you are currently eating 3,000 calories a day then following a 1,600 calorie diet may be too extreme and unsustainable. In this example, a reduction to 2,200 should still result in your personal weight loss goals.
And while aiming to create that caloric deficit of 790 calories a day to lose 7 pounds in a month in a great goal, don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen. As a December 2013 study published in the International Journal of Obesity observes, the rule of 3,500 calories doesn't always hold, and subjects in the study lost less weight than expected based on calorie calculations.
Additionally, your caloric needs change as you lose weight, as another study, this one published in January 2018 in the Medical Clinics of North America, points out. For every kilogram you lose, you burn 20 to 30 fewer calories.
Therefore, the number on the scale isn't always the best indication of how successful you are at fighting obesity — instead, aim to consistently improve your lifestyle and stick with choices of a high-quality diet and regular physical activity.
- Mayo Clinic: “Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour”
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Aim for a Healthy Weight: Key Recommendations”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “What Is Healthy Weight Loss?”
- Medical Clinics of North America: “Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity”
- International Journal of Obesity: “Can a Weight Loss of One Pound a Week be Achieved With a 3,500 Kcal Deficit? Commentary on a Commonly Accepted Rule”
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Traditional American Cuisine: 1,600 Calories”
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Guide to Physical Activity”
- USDA ChooseMyPlate: “Physical Activity Calories Burn”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Assessing Your Weight”