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How Much Weight Can You Safely Lose In A Month?

Originally published in Forbes Health.

Countless images of unrealistic body types and “lose weight quick” claims can make rapid weight loss promises from certain fad diets feel all the more enticing. But when it comes to long-term weight loss, success depends on making a variety of sustainable lifestyle changes that benefit your overall well-being.

“No matter what we’re doing, we’re going to need to work on lifestyle, because that’s the foundation of any changes we make,” says Michelle Hauser, M.D., obesity medicine director of the medical weight loss program at the Stanford Lifestyle and Weight Management Center. “About 80% of the chronic diseases we see are related to lifestyle. No matter what weight someone is, making healthy lifestyle changes is going to help them feel better overall.”

Losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is considered safe and sustainable by experts, but specific weight loss goals depend on individual metrics, such as body mass index (BMI), sex and a person’s level of physical activity. After six months, an individual’s focus might shift from weight loss to weight maintenance based on how much weight they lost and unique weight loss goals, according to the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute.

The Risk of Dieting

Diets promoting strict caloric reduction may enable weight loss at a quicker rate, but potentially at a cost. According to a 2022 review in Frontiers in Nutrition, some fad diets, such as the paleolithic diet, ketogenic diet and detox diets, may pose certain risks to individuals, including:

  • Inadequate nutrition due to unreasonable food restrictions, such as removing entire essential food groups like whole grains, legumes and dairy products
  • Loss of muscle mass rather than reduction of body fat percentage
  • Weight cycling, or the process of losing and regaining weight, also known as the “yo-yo-diet” effect
  • A slower metabolism or increased appetite

What’s more, few fad diets have undergone extensive research, meaning there’s little science to support their long-term efficacy and health outcomes.

Continuing to lose weight or maintaining initial weight loss using restrictive dieting can be extremely difficult. “Quick weight loss is almost always temporary weight loss,” says Margaret Schwenke, a certified eating psychology counselor and certified holistic health coach based in Atlanta. Moreover, “yo-yo” dieting can potentially lead to health issues, such as an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and mental health conditions like depression, according to a review in the Bulletin of the National Research Center.

It’s always best to speak with your health care provider or an obesity medicine specialist before beginning a weight loss regimen to ensure the strategies you’re considering are suitable for your unique health and wellness needs.

The Science Behind Weight Loss

An individual must achieve a caloric deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day if their goal is to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, according to the National Lung, Heart and Blood Institute.

However, the weight loss process is complex: Metabolism is based on many factors, such as age, sex, body composition, physical activity levels, stress and sleep, explains Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist Cheryl Orlansky. “Weight loss is not as simple as calories in versus calories out,” she adds.

A healthy weight loss program must include aerobic exercise, strength training and behavioral changes in addition to caloric restriction to both achieve and maintain an individual’s desired results. “If you diet without exercising, your metabolism slows and muscle mass goes down before you lose fat,” says Dr. Hauser.

Furthermore, the body’s endocrine system actually compensates for sustained caloric deficits, working to increase an individual’s appetite following diet-induced weight loss, according to research in the International Journal of Obesity. Often, people experience a plateau when attempting weight loss, which is a result of the endocrine system operating as biologically designed.

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