How Much Weight Can You (Sensibly) Lose in a Month?
Sure, crack open your bullet journal, but don’t get too hung up on the numbers, says Susan Besser, M.D., family medicine expert with Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea in Baltimore. “Rather, work on a healthier lifestyle—the weight loss will come,” she says. Exercise regularly, watch your portions, and choose whole foods over processed ones, and you can expect to slim down over time.
But if metrics are crucial to your motivation, both Besser and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that the average person should strive to lose a little over half a kilo a week, or about two to three kilos per month. “The typical calorie deficit for most diets is about 500 calories a day. That translates to about one pound a week,” Besser explains. For most people, a 500-calorie shift in intake is manageable and, therefore, sustainable in the long run. Simply skip that afternoon latte, and you’re halfway there.
Tempted to wage a more aggressive plan of attack? Slashing additional calories may help you drop more weight in the same amount of time, but the long-term outcomes could be less than desirable. As anyone who’s ever undergone a food challenge or juice cleanse can attest, drastic diet changes are difficult if not nearly impossible to maintain over time. Plus, Besser says, rapid weight loss can have negative health effects. “Fast weight loss can cause loss of muscle mass rather than fat, and if you are eating unhealthily, you could cause metabolic changes and make yourself ill,” she says.
Better to stick with a slow and steady approach, keeping in mind that general guidelines offer a baseline for weight loss, but human metabolism is more complex than a simple equation. An individual dieter’s actual results can be affected by myriad variables.
First of all, there’s your starting weight. “The heavier you are, the more weight you will lose in a month,” says Besser. Your sex is also a factor, as, thanks to hormonal makeup and body composition, men tend to lose weight faster than women. Additionally, certain medical conditions and medications, including steroids and anti-depressants, may cause weight gain in certain people and, therefore, hinder weight loss.
And even those who have consistently dropped half a kilo or more a week will most likely stall out or “plateau” before reaching their ultimate goal. “As your body loses weight, your metabolism slows down,” Besser says. “It becomes harder to lose the weight without either more exercise or fewer calories.” In other words, what worked for you six months ago may not continue to work for the now smaller version of you.
It’s also important to note that the numbers on the scale aren’t always the best indicators of progress, especially if your exercise routine includes resistance training (which it should). “You may be gaining muscle mass from the exercise,” Besser says. “Muscle is [more dense] than fat, so the scale may not reflect the change,” Besser says. In addition to tracking your weight, pay attention to how your clothes fit or snap a pic every couple weeks for easy side-by-side comparisons.
The bottom line: Weight loss goals are fine when approached with healthy habits and a healthy mindset, but avoid blindly chasing an arbitrary number. Focus on forming better habits that are sustainable long term, and the rest will fall into place.