Have trouble losing stubborn fat? Consider starting a six-week weight-loss challenge to build healthier eating habits and ditch the bad ones. Six weeks is long enough to change the way you feel about food and get leaner overall.
Generally, it's recommended to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week, which requires a calorie deficit of 3,500 to 7,000 calories. If you stick to these guidelines, you can easily lose 6 to 12 pounds in six weeks.
Steer Clear of Fad Diets
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends losing no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. It may not seem much, but it's better for your health — and your waistline. Generally, very low-calorie diets are only recommended to those who are severely or morbidly obese and require medical supervision.
Approximately 45 million Americans go on a diet each year, reports Boston Medical Center. Unfortunately, many of them have unrealistic expectations and fall for the latest diet trends.
Fad diets, such as the cabbage soup diet, the Atkins diet and even the keto diet, promise rapid weight loss and often sound too good to be true. They typically eliminate entire food groups, have strict menus and say nothing about exercise or lifestyle changes, states the American Academy of Family Physicians. Some recommend specific products, supplements or detox kits, which may further increase the risk of side effects.
Read more: 9 Things You DON'T Have to Do to Lose Weight
As the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes, detox programs can be unsafe and affect your health in the long run. They lack scientific evidence and are unlikely to help you lose weight and flush out toxins. Although you may lose a few pounds at first, you'll gain them back once you return to normal eating. But that's not all.
Crash diets can also slow down your metabolism and make it harder to maintain a healthy weight. Energy expenditure decreases by 20 to 30 calories per day and food intake increases by 100 calories a day for each kilogram of lost weight, according to a January 2018 review published in Medical Clinics of North America. Therefore, you will not only burn fewer calories throughout the day but also feel hungrier.
Set Realistic Weight-Loss Goals
Clean eating and regular exercise are your best bet in the battle against the bulge. Fad diets don't work in the long run and may lead to severe nutrient deficiencies.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a daily energy intake of 1,600 to 2,400 calories for women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories for men, depending on their activity level. Some athletes, for example, consume 4,000 or more calories daily and yet they look lean.
A six-week weight-loss meal plan may provide fewer calories than the recommended daily intake because you need to create an energy deficit to slim down. However, it's not advisable to go below 1,200 calories per day if you're a woman or 1,500 calories per day if you're a man. Consider using LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate app to determine your ideal energy intake for weight loss and then plan your meals accordingly.
When you reduce your calorie intake, your body becomes more efficient at using energy and may begin to store fat for fuel, leading to weight-loss plateaus. In this case, it's necessary to create an energy deficit greater than 3,500 calories to break through the plateau and keep losing weight.
Six-Week Weight-Loss Challenge
The average weight loss in six weeks would be around 6 to 12 pounds if you stick to the CDC's recommendations. This requires creating an energy deficit of 3,500 to 7,000 calories per week. To do so, you must burn more calories than you take in through exercise, diet or both.
If, say, your daily energy intake is 2,000 calories, you need to cut 500 calories a day to lose 1 pound. Crank up the intensity of your workouts, ditch the sugar and make food swaps to reach this goal. Try to hit the gym more often or squeeze mini-workouts into your daily routine to increase the calorie burn — just make sure you don't go overboard.
Likewise, you can swap soda for lemon water, bottled iced tea for unsweetened tea, white rice for cauliflower rice and potato chips for baked kale chips. These simple food swaps can save you hundreds of calories a day. The whole point is to clean up your diet and seek healthier alternatives to your go-to meals and snacks.
A six-week weight loss meal plan doesn't have to be restrictive. The key is to get creative in the kitchen and recreate your favorite recipes.
Read more: How to Meal Prep for Weight Loss Like a Pro
For example, if you love chocolate cookies, you can prepare them at home using raw cocoa powder, almond flour, stevia, walnuts, eggs and cottage cheese. A frittata made with eggs, chicken breast, broccoli, peppers, low-fat cheese, arugula and lots of veggies is a healthier alternative to pizza.
If you're in the mood for a frappe, mix instant coffee, ice, vanilla essence, almond or coconut milk, and protein powder in a blender. It tastes just like the real thing but without the extra sugar and empty calories.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What Is Healthy Weight Loss?"
- UCLA Health: "Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD)"
- Boston Medical Center: "Weight Management"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Nutrition for Weight Loss: What You Need to Know About Fad Diets"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Detoxes and Cleanses: What You Need to Know"
- Medical Clinics of North America: "Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calorie Counting Made Easy"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- International Journal of Obesity: "Why Is the 3500 Kcal per Pound Weight Loss Rule Wrong?"
- USDA: "Cafe Latte"
- USDA: "Coffee"