After starting a weight-loss diet and workout routine, expecting quick progress is totally normal — after all, everyone wants to see their hard work pay off.
But if you're wondering how long it takes to start noticing weight-loss results, unfortunately, the answer isn't exactly black and white.
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A healthy rate of weight loss is about 1 to 2 pounds per week, according to the Mayo Clinic. But visual results vary quite a lot from person to person depending on a few different factors, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, registered dietitian, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.
You can expect to see weight-loss results within the first few weeks of a new routine if you're starting at a higher BMI and are creating a larger calorie deficit.
1. Your Starting Point Makes a Difference
At the surface level, the weight-loss process generally works the same for everyone: If you burn more calories than you consume (aka create a calorie deficit), you can expect to lose weight. But visually, 5 pounds of weight loss can look pretty different on two different bodies, depending on your starting point, Taub-Dix says.
Those who have larger bodies can usually expect to see results more quickly, especially at the start of a weight-loss diet. However, those with a lower body fat level may initially see results more quickly because of their smaller frame.
2. Your Calories Affect Your Dieting Results
As mentioned above, you lose weight by eating in a caloric deficit. And your deficit affects how quickly you start to shed pounds, according to the Mayo Clinic. Generally, a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day (which leads to about 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss per week) is considered safe.
But where you fall on that spectrum depends on your starting point, too. People who consume more calories than others will probably feel more comfortable cutting 700 to 1,000 calories per day. On the other hand, those who normally eat less should probably stick to the lower end or even cut closer to 300 or 400 calories per day.
Although cutting a ton of calories at the start may be tempting, it's not the wisest choice. Creating a sustainable diet is the best way to ensure you keep the weight off in the long term. So, although cutting 1,000 calories a day can help you start to notice weight loss more quickly, it may not be the best long-term decision.
3. Your Measurement Methods
Everyone has their own reason for starting a weight-loss regimen — some want to improve their health, while others may want to feel more comfortable in their own skin. But the measurement methods you use can affect how you see your progress.
During the first week or two of your weight-loss program, you'll likely see some changes on the scale. Mostly, though, that's water weight loss rather than actual fat loss, Taub-Dix says. So, if you're using a scale to measure your progress, don't feel too disheartened when your rate of loss slows down.
"The scale is only one tool that gives information — it's not alive, it doesn't know how you feel or take your emotions into account," she says. "It doesn't mean your [results] were 'bad' or 'good' — it's just a machine that measures body weight, not your worth."
Similarly, if you incorporate strength training as a part of your weight-loss program, you may start to see the scale go in the opposite direction, despite that you're actually losing fat, according to California-based certified personal trainer and strength coach Carolina Araujo, CPT. Muscle has more density than fat, so even though you may be losing fat mass, gaining muscle can cause your weight to stay in the same place or go up.
Paying attention to your clothing fit is probably an easier, more beneficial form of measurement for most people, Araujo says. Although fit varies from person to person (and the clothes you're trying), after several weeks of weight loss, many start to notice their diet working because snug pants or tops start to loosen up.
But even clothing fit is a case-by-case measure because different people lose fat in different parts of their bodies more quickly. And a lot of that comes down to genetics, she explains. While some people may see their upper body slim down more quickly, others may notice a faster weight-loss rate in their lower body.
Weight Loss Timeline
Unfortunately, there's no one timeline for weight loss, Taub-Dix says. But generally, most people start experiencing some positive results within even just a few weeks of dieting.
Weeks 1 to 3
Within the first few weeks, you can likely expect to feel a little more energy and less bloating, Taub-Dix says. Depending on your calorie deficit, you can expect to see some change on the scale and your clothing may start feeling a little bit looser.
"It's important to remember, however, that everyone is different. So if your friend tells you that after losing 5 pounds, they felt like their pants were going to fall off, you might feel completely different after the same amount of weight loss," she says. And that's totally normal.
Weeks 4 and Beyond
Again, there's no hard-and-fast rule but Taub-Dix says most of her clients begin to experience more noticeable physical changes beyond four weeks of weight loss. Generally, women can expect to drop a size in clothing after about 10 pounds of weight loss and men can expect to drop a size after losing 15 pounds.
This isn't a science, though, because sizes vary by garment and clothing company. However, based on your personal calorie deficit and weight-loss rate, you can use this to generally anticipate when the most physical changes will start to happen in your body.