What is a healthy amount of weight to lose per week?

by Naomi Tupper on May 2, 2012 · 5 comments

healthy amount of weight to lose

The short answer is 1-2 pounds per week. Let’s find out why.

There are hundreds of weight loss diets promising quick weight loss that sound ideal when you want to drop a few pounds for an important event that is only weeks away.  Unfortunately, most of these diets promote methods that are not only ineffective, but in some cases unhealthy and dangerous for our bodies.

When do you lose weight?

The healthiest way to lose weight fast should be based on the same principles as a long term healthy diet.  The simple combination of eating less and exercising more really is the best for short and long term weight loss.  The principle behind weight loss and gain is simple.  If you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight.  If you eat less than you burn you will lose weight and if you eat the same amount as you burn you will maintain the same weight.  Hence for the most effective weight loss, we want to increase the calories we burn by exercising more and decrease the amount we consume by eating smaller portions and eating foods that have less calories.

What is healthy weight loss?

Health professionals agree that a healthy weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week.  Now this rate may fill you with dread as the hope of fitting into your favourite outfit in time for that special event, but with the help of a dietician or weight loss professional you may be able to increase this whilst still maintaining a nutritionally sound diet.  A combination of calorie reduction and exercise is ideal for the most efficient and healthiest weight loss.

Step 1 – Reduce calorie intake

To achieve a weight loss of one to two pounds per week, you need to reduce your calorie intake by at least 500 calories per day.  Depending on your diet, this may be as easy as cutting out one high calories indulgence, or you may need to reduce calories across your day by choosing low calorie foods and reducing portion sizes.

If you wish to lose weight faster you may need to create a greater energy deficit.  This can be done by reducing intake further or by increasing activity levels to burn more.  It is important not to let your calorie intake drop below 1050-1200 calories per day, as this is considered an unsafe level.  With an hour of moderate to high intensity exercise and a calorie intake of around 1200 calories (see our 1200 calorie diet), you should be able to lose at least three pounds a week, possibly more if you have a large amount to lose.  Weight loss is generally easier when there is a large amount of weight to lose, and tends to slow as you get closer to your ideal weight.

When starting any diet and exercise plan, it is essential to consult your doctor or health professional to find the most effective diet for you.  Different people have different calorie requirements and nutrient needs, so it essential that even if you are reducing your calories, you are still receiving all the nutrients your body requires for normal function.

Easy ways to reduce calories:

  • Reduce portion sizes.  Try using a smaller plate as this will appear fuller with less food and you will feel you are eating more.
  • Choose low fat versions when available such as dairy products
  • Avoid creamy and buttery sauces and dressings and replace with vegetable or vinegar based alternatives.
  • Avoided adding extra fats to food such as butter, oil and mayonnaise. Instead opt for healthy fats.
  • Avoid snack foods obviously high in sugar or fat and replace with low calorie alternatives such as fresh fruit or air popped pop corn.
  • Fill up on low calorie options such as vegetables and fruit and reduce portions of higher calorie foods.
  • Think about what you are eating.  It may help to write down your daily intake as this can help to make you more aware of unconscious eating.

Step 2 – Exercise more

The American guidelines for physical activity suggest 2 hours and thirty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or one hour and fifteen minutes of high intensity exercise per week, accompanied by muscle strengthening activities on two or more days.  If you are trying to lose weight fast however, you will probably need to aim for more than this.

Exercise is important

Try to fit in one hour of exercise per day, with one day of rest per week.  The intensity of this hour will depend on your original level of fitness, so start with something not too demanding and increase intensity as you become able.  It is a good idea to consult with your doctor or a fitness professional as to what level of workout is suitable for you.  Some aerobic exercise burns calories more efficiently than others, but don’t launch straight into a high intensity spin class if you haven’t done much exercise in a while.   It’s best to start at an achievable level, for example walking or swimming, and work your way up to more intense workouts.

Weight training and strengthening exercises are also beneficial

Weight training and strengthening exercises are also beneficial.  Not only do they improve muscle tone and make you look leaner, but by increasing your muscle mass you are also increasing your resting metabolic rate.  Muscle tissue uses more calories than fat; therefore if you have a larger proportion of muscle you will burn more calories even when you are sedentary.

Remember that general day to day activities can also help to burn more calories, try to walk where possible rather than taking the car or bus and use the stairs whenever possible.  It all adds up.

What to avoid

There are a huge amount of fad and crash diets offering temptingly fast weight loss on the market.  Beware, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.  Diets promoting dangerously low levels of calorie intake and elimination of complete food groups can be unhealthy for the body at the least and downright dangerous in many cases.  The body requires a certain number of calories to perform its normal functions and also a wide variety of vitamins and minerals to maintain cells, tissues, organs and the nervous system.

Diets that are too low in calories, say below 1050 to 1200 per day are also generally counterproductive as ketosis sets in, meaning you start to burn not only fat, but also muscle mass, which is needed to exercise.  At a calorie intake this low the body also starts to adapt to what it considers starvation and begins to conserve calories.  This slows down the metabolism and increases fat storage.

Any diet promoting the use of laxatives and diet pills should also be avoided as these are often dangerous, ineffective and a waste of money.

Consult a professional to find the best diet for you and remember that although it might be tempting to get the weight off fast, you are much better off establishing a long term healthy eating pattern that can be maintained in the long term.  Weight loss may be slower, but in time you will see lasting results without drastic dieting measures.

Naomi Tupper
About the author

Naomi studied Nutrition and Dietetics and Biotechnology. She is a certified dietician with experience in Type 2 diabetes and menu planning for weight loss. Naomi is a contributor for our Diet and Nutrition sections. You can connect with her on Facebook and Google+

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

David Allen May 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm

How much to lose each week? – Depends on how fat you are in the first place I suppose..

Alex Chris May 7, 2012 at 4:07 pm

David hi
Your initial weight and the weight you need to lose overall play their role in calculating how much weight to lose each week but in general a healthy weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week; unless otherwise suggested by your doctor or dietitian.

Sandra October 24, 2013 at 3:40 am

Women are built differently than men… It is harder for us to lose weight, or at least it seems like it… This article does give out the right way to go, but if you are skeptical about this system, all I have to say is try it before you knock it… It might seem that losing weight is harder, but that has yet to be proven… We are built different…
If you want to read more about women’s dieting, please click on my name…
You will see the exact reason women should NEVER diet like men. Special tips for controlling female metabolism for that tight tummy and waistline you deserve…
Hope all this has helped out…
Stay strong and never give up!

Kelly February 23, 2016 at 8:58 am

I found this very helpful. I want to lose weight but at a health rate and I can see it will take patience and careful planning. Thank you.

Dianne July 13, 2016 at 6:36 pm

I lost 22 pounds in about two months. I gave up all pop and chips and snacks. Instead of the pop I started drinking water and a cup of coffee everyday. I was scare something was wrong with me because of the weight loss. But after looking at the calories from the pops ( total of at least a 1,000) per day and the chips and sweet I realized I had cut all the extra calories I needed too. I always ate salads, fruits and other healthy stuff. It just kept getting lost because of all the junk I ate everyday too. When I went to see my doctor she was worried I had some other illness. She doesn’t believe that doing what I did should have made me lose that much weight in such a short time. Does anyone out there have an opinion on this?

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