You’ve probably heard the phrase “slow and steady wins the race,” right? Heads up: It’s relevant to weight loss, too. “The safest weight to lose is one to two pounds per week,” says Jonathan Valdez, RDN, the owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. People who lose weight gradually and steadily (about one to two pounds per week) are also more likely to keep weight off, per the CDC.
In some cases, losing more than two pounds a week can cause electrolyte imbalances, menstruation irregularities, constipation, fatigue, muscle loss, hair loss, and gallstones, Valdez explains.
Remember, though, that many factors could affect the actual number of pounds you lose in a week. Nutrition, for one, plays a huge role. “Other factors include diseases related to metabolism, genetics, physical activity, stress, and amount of sleep you get every night,” Valdez says. The weight you’re starting at and how much you have to lose also factor in. And it’s possible to lose inches but not weight if you’re losing fat but building muscle.
While it’s always best to talk to your doctor or a specialist for personalized weight loss advice (including whether two pounds per week is a good goal for you), below you’ll find some general expert guidance around how to lose two pounds a week.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, is a registered dietitian and the founder and director of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit initiative in New Orleans.
How do I lose two pounds a week?
If you want to shed two pounds a week, you’ll want to stay in a calorie deficit, which is the shortage of calories relative to the amount needed to maintain your current weight, explains Valdez.
“The best way to lose two pounds per week is by cutting back your caloric intake by 500 calories and by exercising to reduce 500 calories per day,” he says.
Just take note: This is very general guidance, according to registered dietitian Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, the founder and director of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit initiative in New Orleans. In other words, it’s a good starting point, but metabolic rates are not the same across the board, so the impact of those diet and exercise changes can vary from person to person.
Plus, there’s plenty of room for user error in following that formula, Kimball points out. You may think you’re cutting 500 calories from your diet, but actually be overestimating. And although wearable fitness trackers have gotten better at measuring calories burned, they’re still not perfect. Meanwhile, equipment like treadmills and ellipticals only provide an approximation, she explains. The bottom line? It’s important to manage your expectations—and avoid letting yourself get too caught up in the number you see on the scale.
How do I cut 500 calories per day?
For one thing, it’s helpful to perform an honest check-in with yourself around your typical behaviors: For instance, you might realize that you’re easily consuming 500 calories between dinner and bedtime or identify liquid calories as a go-to place to cut back (think: coffee drinks, smoothies, juices, or alcohol), Kimball notes. Alternatively, you might discover that you tend to consume lots of what Kimball calls “witching hour calories,” or those you take in during the transition time between day and evening (think: snacking when you get home from work). Identifying these habits can help you move away from perfectly tracking everything. Just don’t forget to choose replacement behaviors, too, Kimball advises, like picking swaps for more calorie-dense snacks.
Pro tip: If you’re not sure where to cut back right away, MyFitnessPal is a user-friendly tool that can help you track your calories and figure it out, according to Kimball. One of the benefits, of course, is that it tallies everything up for you—but if you’re more comfortable with a low-tech pen and paper approach, that works, too.
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How many calories should I eat to lose two pounds a week?
While there are formulas and online calculators that are meant to help you determine your unique calorie needs, both Valdez and Kimball recommend working with a registered dietitian to get a more precise number. Kimball’s team uses a device that measures your resting metabolic rate. Once you have that information, you can work with a dietitian to account for your non-purposeful exercise and your purposeful exercise, and ultimately come up with the number of calories you should consume for your weight loss goal.
What foods should I eat for weight loss?
Focus on lean proteins, healthy fats, and veggies for weight loss, Kimball advises. Then, add in whole grains and fresh fruits for carbs and fiber. On the other hand, limit refined starches and added sugars. Those won’t do much to keep you full, unlike protein and fat, she explains. So, when you’re trying to determine where to cut calories, she’d suggest choosing guacamole over candy, for example—even if both options have the same number of calories, Kimball says. In other words, it’s important to emphasize the quality of your calories along with quantity.
What diets are best for weight loss?
Committing to a particular diet can be pretty restrictive, per Kimball. In general, she advises focusing on the foods listed above rather than following a diet. With that said, if you feel drawn toward the basic principles of a certain diet (think: keto or Mediterranean), you can work with a dietitian to help you modify it for your needs so you don’t feel so bound by it.
How do I need to work out to lose two pounds a week?
Although strength training doesn’t burn as many calories as cardio, it is still an important part of a long-term, healthy, and well-balanced exercise routine to raise your lean body mass and power your metabolism. And remember: While the idea is to increase activity to help create your calorie deficit, it’s important to scale back periodically so you don’t overtax your body, per Mitchell. Listen to your body and take days off when you need them, she advises.
There are also habits you can incorporate into your routine to increase N.E.A.T. (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), and therefore increase calorie burn, according to Mitchell:
- Take the stairs
- Take calls while standing, pacing, or walking
- Park further away
- Get up from your desk and move around periodically
- Stretch in the morning, mid-day, and before bed
- Take your dog for a walk
- Play with your kids
- Do chores around the house
How long do I need to work out to lose two pounds a week?
It’s important to note that everyone is different, and how much and how intensely you should work out is based on factors like your current fitness level, lifestyle, and goals. Don’t hesitate to talk to a CPT for personalized advice. That said, here’s an example of how much exercise might help someone lose two pounds a week: Aim to move for 60 to 90 minutes each day by incorporating cardio of your choice (see ideas below, walking counts!) and adding in full-body strength training two to three times per week, Mitchell says. Just remember to build up slowly—you don’t want to wind up injured by doing too much too soon.
No matter how much or how intensely you’re exercising, remember to keep things fresh. “Variety is key and will keep this program fun. Plan out your cardio each week and try to incorporate new and fun ways to move and sweat,” Mitchell says. “Your body will also benefit from different types of movement—making it both fun and effective!”
She recommends the following for cardio:
Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelancer writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness. She is currently based in Pennsylvania and loves all things antiques, cilantro, and American history.
Erin Warwood is a San Francisco-based writer, runner, and sparkling water enthusiast. She holds a B.B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and an M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University. In her free time, you can find her watching Survivor, trying new Peloton workouts, and reading Emily Giffin novels. Her ultimate goal: become a morning person.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, is the founder and director of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit initiative in New Orleans, and host of the podcast FUELED Wellness + Nutrition.