Whatever your motivation for wanting to lose 20 pounds in one month (say, a looming wedding or graduation), unless you're extremely overweight and on a medically prescribed plan, 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, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery. In order to establish a realistic goal for one month of weight loss, consider how many calories you consume and burn.
In order to lose one to two pounds per week, which is generally considered a safe weight-loss goal, you would need to cut between 500 and 1,000 calories per day, according to the Mayo Clinic. Creating a calorie deficit to lose 20 pounds in one month, on the other hand, entails a near-starvation diet plan, which stalls your metabolism, causes you to lose valuable muscle and puts you at risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Also, once you return to eating as you were before your effort to lose 20 pounds in a month, you'll likely 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.
Read more: The Forgotten Keys to Fat Loss
Create a Healthy Calorie Deficit for Your Body
A healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss is one to two pounds per week. When you first start a diet plan and make drastic changes in the way you eat and exercise, 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 calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day will help you lose between four and eight pounds safely in one month. With that said, expect it to take at least 2 1/2 months to lose your goal of 20 pounds.
In order to find an ideal calorie deficit for your body, determine first how many calories you burn daily using an online calculator. Then, plan to deduct between 500 to 1,000 per day, depending on the amount you burn. If that puts you below the minimum recommended 1,600 calories for a woman or 2,000 calories for a man, add more exercise and consider settling for a slower rate of loss than one to two pounds per week, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines.
Plan Meals to Lose 20 Pounds
If you want to see the best possible results within a 30-day period, limit your consumption of processed foods, which are often high in calories but low in nutrients. According to a May 2019 study published in Cell Metabolism, ultra-processed foods lead to overconsumption and can add 500 calories to your daily intake.
Instead of packaged foods such as snack crackers, cereal bars and soda, eat plenty of lean protein at each meal to ward off hunger, recommends the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fill up on fiber-filled veggies and fruit, but limit the dressings, sauces and butter you use to flavor these foods. Use citrus juice, vinegar, fresh herbs, spices and sparse amounts of olive oil to add zest.
Make sure to select snacks that are high in nutrients but low in calories. Quality snacks that can support your quest to lose 20 pounds include fresh fruit, a 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, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Implement a consistent strength training regimen to maximize your weight loss. If you're new to this type of exercise, the HHS recommends two or more days of weight training per week. Building more muscle in your body will improve your metabolism and therefore the amount of calories your body burns in a day, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Per workout, 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 six to 12 repetitions, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. For more guidance on creating a resistance training program, talk to a fitness professional.
Read more: How to Build Muscle in a Matter of Weeks
- Hospital for Special Surgery: "Burning Calories with Exercise: Calculating Estimated Energy Expenditure"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics"
- USDA: "Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Cell Metabolism: "Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Essential Nutrients for Women while Managing their Weight"
- US Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories"
- NASM: "BACK TO THE BASICS: HYPERTROPHY"