Weight loss becomes an urgent goal with a big vacation or wedding looming just a month away. You'd feel better and fit into that special outfit if you could lose 20 pounds and are willing to do the work to get to that weight.
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Unless you're extremely overweight and on a medically prescribed plan, however, this rate of weight loss is nearly impossible to achieve in just 30 days. However, a month does give you time to lose some weight and to jump start healthy habits to continue to slim down after your goal date.
Establish Realistic Goals for One Month of Weight Loss
Weight loss occurs when you create a deficit in calories between what you eat and what you burn. To lose 20 pounds in 30 days, you'd need to lose about 5 pounds per week.
A pound of fat equals 3,500 calories, so to lose at this rate you need to use diet and exercise to create a deficit equal to 17,500 calories per week — or 2,500 calories per day. This is more calories than many people regularly need daily to fuel basic functions and activity, so such a deficit is nearly impossible to create.
Even if you burn enough calories daily to create this deficit, you'd likely have to survive on a near-starvation diet plan, which stalls your metabolism, causes you to lose valuable muscle and puts you at risk of nutrition deficiencies.
Also, once you return to eating as you were before your weight-loss effort, you'll gain the weight back quickly. A quality weight-loss plan guides you in losing weight gradually with sustainable strategies so you can keep the weight off for life.
Losing weight at a rate faster than 3 pounds per week for more than a few weeks also puts you at risk of developing gallstones. Morbidly obese people put on medical very-low-calorie diet programs can lose weight at a rate of 3 to 5 pounds per week for up to 12 weeks, but these plans are supervised by a doctor and consist of specially designed, nutritionally balanced meal replacements.
Devise a Sustainable Calorie Deficit
A healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week. When you first start a diet plan and make drastic changes in the way you eat and move, you may lose more weight initially in the form of water. This rapid weight loss should level off after a couple of weeks, however.
A deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day is reasonable and doable for most people. This will help you lose between 4 and 8 pounds safely in one month. Expect it to take at least 2 1/2 months to lose your goal of 20 pounds.
Determine first how many calories you burn per day using an online calculator, then consume 500 to 1,000 fewer calories daily. If that puts you below the minimum recommended 1,200 calories for a woman, or 1,800 calories for a man, plan to add more exercise and to potentially settle for a slower rate of loss than 1 to 2 pounds per week.
You want to take in this minimum number of calories to help ensure balanced nutrition and to ward off potential binge eating that results from the feelings of deprivation.
Plan Meals to Lose 20 Pounds
Since you want to see the fastest results possible in 30 days, limit foods high in sugar, refined grains and saturated fats. These foods tend to be high in calories and low in nutrition.
This means packaged foods, such as snack crackers, cereal bars and soda; fast food; and products made with white flour, like bread, are off limits. Replace these foods with high-quality lean proteins, including chicken breast and lean steak, whole grains and ample amounts of watery, fibrous fruits and vegetables.
Limit the dressings, sauces and butter you use to flavor these foods, too — the calories can add up. Use citrus juice, vinegar, fresh herbs, spices and sparse amounts of olive oil to add zest.
Sample meals include two scrambled eggs at breakfast with sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers; old-fashioned oatmeal with raspberries and skim milk; a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce and tomato; grilled flank steak with brown rice and a green salad; or broiled tilapia with steamed asparagus and quinoa. Quality snacks that support your quest to lose 20 pounds include fresh fruit, a scant handful of nuts, low-fat cheese and low-fat yogurt.
Augment Weight Loss With Exercise
Increasing your physical activity levels will help you lose weight more quickly and keep it off in the long run. If you don't already exercise, use the month to work toward at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activities, such as brisk walking or water aerobics. If you already work out, build up to a minimum of 250 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise by adding 10 to 20 percent more time per week.
The American College of Sports Medicine says 250 minutes or more per week leads to significant weight loss. Kick up the intensity of a couple workouts per week to include high-intensity interval training, which involves alternating all-out bouts of work with more moderate ones — such as sprinting and walking. This approach has been shown to help you burn fat more effectively than always working at a steady pace, reported a paper published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Obesity.
Use the month to also add in a sustainable weight-training program that you can continue after the 30 days. Just two total-body sessions per week help you develop muscle, which burns more calories at rest than fat and boosts your metabolism. It also gives your physique a shapely and tight look.
Aim for at least one exercise that hits every major muscle group — including the chest, arms, back, abs, hips, legs and shoulders — with a minimum of one set of eight to 12 repetitions. For more guidance on creating a resistance training program, talk to a fitness professional.