How to lose weight fast, but safely
LAST UPDATED: Aug 17, 2023
8 MIN READ
HERE'S WHAT WE'LL COVER
When it comes to weight loss, “quick fix” approaches sound too good to be true because often, they are. Even if you lose weight quickly, you’ll probably experience rebound weight gain, gaining back all of the weight you shed or sometimes more.
To lose weight and keep it off, the best approach is to stick with proven weight loss strategies and lifestyle changes, which we’ll review below. Let’s dig in.
How quickly can you lose weight?
The most straightforward way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn. For people with obesity and overweight, experts recommend reducing your food intake by 500–750 calories per day, which may help you lose 3%–5% of your body weight over 3–4 months. This amount of weight loss can lead to various health improvements, such as better blood sugar levels and a reduced risk of a stroke or heart attack, depending on your starting weight.
However, what’s more important than losing weight quickly is losing weight sustainably. For that, experts recommend a weekly weight loss of 0.5–2 pounds per week. Gradually shedding the pounds helps ensure you lose the weight in a safe way, while avoiding serious issues like nutritional deficiencies or muscle loss.
Be aware that it is common to lose more weight quickly in the beginning. But, as your body gets used to your new food choices and exercise routine, your rate of weight loss may slow. Don’t despair; this is known as the weight loss plateau, and it is a common milestone in any weight loss journey.
Your metabolism essentially catches up with your new routine, and slows down to keep your weight steady. You might be feeling more fatigued, as well. This is common and can appear alongside muscle loss as your body uses existing resources to sustain itself. But don’t worry. Rebuilding your muscle mass through a protein-rich diet and strength training can kickstart your metabolism and get you back to losing weight again.
Fad diets stop here
If appropriate, get effective weight loss treatment prescribed for your body.
How to lose weight
To lose weight successfully, you may find it helpful to think of it as a new way of living your life as opposed to going on a diet. The word “diet” suggests something short-term, and successful weight loss and maintenance is more of a lifelong thing. By adopting new healthy habits, you'll set yourself up for weight loss success and better health overall.
1. Change up how you eat
Different foods can help or hinder weight loss, but how you eat also matters. The following eating habits have been shown to promote weight loss.
Eat slowly and mindfully. Mindful eating means eating slowly and without distractions, allowing you to focus on enjoying your food and noticing how it makes you feel. When you eat without distractions, you can pay attention to whether you’re feeling full, instead of continuing to chew on auto-pilot. When you eat more slowly, you give your stomach more time to notice when you’re full and tell your brain to stop eating. As a result, you may eat less and lose weight.
Stop eating when you feel full. It may sound obvious, but it’s not uncommon to eat more than you really need (see previous mention of chewing on auto-pilot). Let go of whatever admonitions you may have heard as a child about cleaning your plate. Whatever you don’t eat, you can always save for later.
Don’t skip meals. It may sound like a good idea, but trust us: it’s not. Research shows that adults who skip breakfast tend to eat more than those who don’t. They are also more likely to have obesity. Worse, breakfast skippers tend to eat more added sugars, carbs, and unhealthy saturated fats, while missing out on essential nutrients like iron, calcium, and vitamins A, B, C, and D.
Note: Counting calories can work for some people, and may be recommended by your healthcare provider depending on your personal medical situation. But, it doesn’t work for everybody. Besides taking the fun out of eating, monitoring calories and portion sizes can lead to an obsessive focus on food and increase your risk of disordered eating. A better option might be to focus instead on eating well-balanced, colorful meals that contain a mix of protein, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
2. Eat plenty of protein and fiber
Protein helps you feel more full after you eat. Unsurprisingly, people who follow a high-protein diet tend to lose more weight and body fat. Best of all, protein helps you preserve, repair, and build lean muscle mass — which is key to fighting past the weight loss plateau.
Aim to eat at least 25 grams of protein per meal, whether from meat, dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, legumes, or seeds.
Fiber is another macronutrient that promotes feelings of fullness. Specifically, fiber does this by slowing down gastric emptying, or the process in which food leaves your stomach. Since it takes longer for food to leave your stomach, you tend to get full sooner.
Studies of fiber have shown that it can help with both weight and fat loss, especially around the belly. Fiber offers additional health benefits like smoother bowel movements, lower cholesterol, and even cancer prevention. You can find fiber in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
3. Cut out empty calories
While you’re focusing on what to eat, consider what not to eat as well. Empty calories describe foods that go big on calories, but low on nutritional value. Think sweets, processed foods, sodas, and alcohol. In one four-year study, the people who gained the most weight were more likely to eat:
Unprocessed red meats
Processed, refined carbohydrates tend to make you feel hungrier, leading to overeating and less energy expenditure. They also encourage your body to store more fat. Try to stay away from white breads, pastries, starches, added sugars, and other processed foods.
4. Drink water
Animal studies suggest increasing your water intake may even boost your metabolism and fat burning, helping you lose more weight. One year-long study of overweight women found that those who drank more water were more likely to lose body weight and fat, independent of their diet and exercise.
5. Exercise regularly
Beyond diet, exercise is one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy weight. Research shows that while exercise only leads to modest weight loss on its own, it’s a key component of keeping the weight off and preventing weight regain.
For the best results, combine aerobic exercise with resistance training. Vigorous cardio can help you burn calories, and strength exercises can help you burn fat while building muscles — leading to a faster metabolism and more weight loss.
You can alternate between both types of exercise on different days (e.g. jogging one day, lifting weights on another), or you can work strength training into your cardio workouts. For instance, you can hold hand weights while you go on your walk, or take a break from running to do resistance exercises like push-ups or squats.
6. Move more throughout the day
Upping your non-exercise physical activity can also help you burn calories, in what’s known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT. If you have a sedentary job or lifestyle, introduce more movement into your day. You might:
Set a timer every 30–60 minutes to stand up and stretch
Park a little further away whenever you go out
Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Alternate between standing and sitting while you work
7. Choose new comforts other than food
Some of us turn to food out of boredom, or while we watch TV. Others turn to food for comfort. If you’re an emotional eater, you may fall in the second category. The next time you feel like reaching for a snack, ask yourself if you’re really feeling hungry, or if you're just feeling overwhelmed or bored.
If it’s the latter, replace your comfort foods with other comforts, like:
Occupying your hands with an activity like knitting, drawing, or a puzzle
Listening to your favorite playlist or podcast
Lighting a candle and meditating
Drinking a glass of water with a few slices of fresh fruit inside
Playing with or petting your pet
Whatever it is, find something that boosts your levels of oxytocin. Research suggests that oxytocin can help regulate both your metabolism and your calorie intake.
8. Get regular sleep
Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to a higher body mass index (BMI) and obesity. There are a number of biological factors that go into it, but for one, sleep deprivation majorly impacts your hormone levels. Namely, it raises levels of ghrelin (the “hunger” hormone) while lowering leptin (the “satiety” hormone). No wonder you feel yourself reaching for snacks when you’re tired!
Poor sleep may even slow down your metabolism, leading your body to store extra calories as fat. And, sleep increases your cortisol levels (the “stress” hormone) which may lead to further fat storage and make it harder to lose weight.
Try your best to sleep 7–8 hours per night. If you have trouble winding down at night, try creating a relaxing atmosphere by dimming the lights and putting away your electronics about 30–60 minutes before bed. Occupy your time with a soothing bedtime routine. You might light a candle, listen to music, meditate, stretch, journal, or give yourself a mini spa service.
9. Manage your stress
The body’s response to stress is to eat more (especially fat and sugar) and to move less — basically the opposite of what you need to do to lose weight. A little bit of stress here and there is normal, but if you’re dealing with stress on a chronic basis, explore what you can do to relieve it and feel more at ease.
You might try:
Progressive muscle relaxation
Deep breathing exercises
Spending time outside
Reducing your stress levels can help you feel better, and make it easier to stick to your weight loss goals. In one study of children and adolescents with obesity, those who followed a 8-week stress management program experienced a significant reduction in their BMIs.
10. Get support
When you’re making a lot of lifestyle changes to lose weight, it can be challenging at times (or often). Don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be! Getting positive feedback and monitoring your progress have both been shown to predict successful long-term weight management. So, find support in a way that works for you, whether that’s an accountability partner or a fitness tracker.
In one study of coworkers, those who chose an accountability partner lost more weight in a company weight loss program than those who went at it alone. And, the ones with more supportive partners shaved the most off their waistlines.
Other studies have found that using apps or fitness trackers to track your food and workout habits can lead to weight loss, with those who track more often losing more weight. If weight tracking works for you, be sure to stick with it. The same study found that weight loss tends to be higher during times of consistent tracking.
Get access to GLP-1 medication (if prescribed) and 1:1 support to meet your weight goals
Are there risks to losing weight too quickly?
Rapid weight loss typically isn’t sustainable. In a study of contestants from The Biggest Loser, participants had regained about two-thirds of their body weight six years later. Beyond the fact that it isn't sustainable in the long run, though, there are some serious risks to losing weight fast.
Very-low-calorie diets, as well as fad diets that focus on promoting one macronutrient at the exclusion of others, can lead to nutritional deficiencies, bone loss, inflammation, gallstones, and other outcomes you weren’t necessarily planning for. Plus, you might notice your cravings skyrocket once your diet “ends,” leading to rebound weight gain and a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting.
Rapid weight loss can also cause unfavorable changes in your body composition. For example, people who lose weight quickly tend to lose a lot more weight from muscle, which you need to keep your metabolism working optimally. Rapid weight loss also tends to slow your resting metabolic rate, which can make it easier to regain weight.
Finally, losing weight too quickly can lead to changes in your appearance that you may not love. When you lose a lot of weight quickly, you tend to lose fat at a faster rate than the skin around it can keep up — leading to droopy or sagging skin in the face, buttocks, arms, breasts, thighs, and abdomen.
Medication for weight loss
If you’ve been struggling with weight loss for a long time, and the strategies above just don’t seem to be working for you, you might want to ask your health provider about medication.
GLP-1 medications like Saxenda and Wegovy can help you lose weight on a manageable timeline that is also sustainable. People taking these medications may lose as much as 6%–15% of their body weight after about a year and a half. However, these are not a good fit for everybody and are contraindicated for certain health conditions, so it’s important to share your full medical history with your provider before starting treatment.
These medications work best when they are paired with diet, exercise, and support — all of which you can find with the Ro Body program. Our weight loss program matches you with a licensed healthcare provider who prescribes the best medication for you (if any) and a dedicated health coach who offers you personalized resources along the way to lose weight and keep it off. Learn more about how it works.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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