Weight loss isn’t always easy. Often it takes a lot of trial and error to find the diet and exercise plan that work best for you. And the most important part—aside from making the decision to go on this journey for yourself—is to do it in a healthy (read: slow and steady) way, which is crucial for achieving sustainable results in the long run. Still, you may be wondering, How much weight can you lose in a month?
While tracking your progress can be motivating, keeping tabs on the number on your scale isn't the only way to do it. "You want to be losing fat, not muscle, to improve body composition and health markers," says Anya Rosen, RD, the founder of Birchwell. "It’s best to combine your scale weight with another metric, such as body measurements."
But if these measurements are hurting your mental well-being, you should focus on other wins such as improvements in energy, strength, sleep, or mood, notes Rosen. After all, the process of shedding weight is affected by several factors, including your metabolism, starting weight, and more.
So, how quickly could you get to your goal while making sure you're doing it in a healthy way? Here, experts explain how much progress you should aim for in a short period of time (like a month) and the best ways to get there.
Meet the experts: Anya Rosen, RD, is a nutritionist and the founder of Birchwell. Christine Santori, RDN, is the program manager for the Center for Weight Management in Northwell Health’s Syosset Hospital. Irene Franowicz, RD, is a nutritionist at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
So, how much weight can I lose in a month?
“The amount of weight one can lose in a month—and still be healthy—really depends on factors, like age, sex, starting weight, caloric intake, caloric deficit, and exercise," says Christine Santori, RDN, the program manager for the Center for Weight Management in Northwell Health’s Syosset Hospital.
As a general rule of thumb, people who lose weight about one to two pounds per week, which amount to four to eight pounds a month, are more successful at keeping it off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The story's a little different for those looking to lose 100 pounds or more—in that case, you can shed up to 20 pounds in one month, though "some of that is just water weight," notes Santori.
In terms of what's safe, it's not so much about the number of pounds lost but the method used, says bariatric surgeon Matthew Weiner, MD. For instance, consuming 600 or fewer calories a day is very unsafe and not recommended.
It takes 3,500 fewer calories per week—or 500 fewer calories a day—to drop one pound of weight.
The amount of weight you could lose if you are doing a different type of dieting method, like the keto diet (a high-fat, low-carb eating plan) and intermittent fasting, where you only eat during certain hours of the day, may have an impact too.
"Keto can cause rapid weight loss at first mostly due to depletion in glycogen stores. It’s not unusual for people on the diet to lose five to 10 pounds in the first couple of weeks, but this is primarily just water weight," says Rosen. "The monthly weight loss experienced with intermittent fasting, however, is comparable to most other calorie-restricted diets."
Okay, so how do I get started?
You're going to have to look at your daily calorie intake. In general, you should aim to cut 500 calories out of your daily meal plan to lose a pound each week, says Irene Franowicz, RD, of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"It takes 3,500 calories less per week—or 500 less calories a day—to drop one pound of weight in a week," she says. Following that math, to drop two pounds in a week you’d have to cut 1,000 calories a day. “That’s a big change,” Franowicz says, and it may not be the best approach for you. But there are some ways to cut those calories in a healthy way.
What are some general nutrition tips to help eliminate some cals?
Yeah, yeah they sound a little eye-rolly and minimal (and you've probably heard of some of these little tricks before!)—but little tweaks like these can add up.
- Track your meals in a food diary: It's easy to lose track of what—and how much—you actually eat in a day. Writing down your meals and snacks can help give you a more realistic picture of your eating habits (hey, everyone's biased to think they're making stellar food choices more often than they are). With a food journal or an app, you might be able see where you could pass on a snack, swap in something healthier, or choose a smaller portion.
- Replace processed foods with whole foods: It's easier to overeat processed food, and you don't get as much nutritional bang for your caloric buck. When two groups of people ate two different diets that were equal in terms of nutrients (one was whole-food based, the other, processed), the processed group ate more calories and gained more weight than the other group, a 2019 study in Cell Metabolism found.
- Up your fiber intake: Eating fiber-rich foods will keep you fuller longer, and prevent you from mindlessly snacking throughout the day or overindulging at mealtime. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, which you can find in foods like these.
- Cut back on sugary beverages: Regular or diet soda has been linked to weight gain. A review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who drank one liter of full-sugar soda daily gained 22 pounds over six months, and those who drank diet soda gained about three pounds. And remember, a lot of added sugar can be lurking in coffee, tea, and juice drinks, as well as cocktails. These drinks are great ways to hydrate without piling on the cals!
- Stay hydrated with water: More H2O is basically always a good move. A 2014 review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found several links between water consumption and weight loss. It may be because when you're hydrated, you're less likely to mistake thirst for hunger cues.
- Cook at home: People who whipped up their dinner at home consumed about 140 fewer calories than people who typically ordered in, dined out, or heated up pre-made meals, a 2014 study found. So, try making your own breakfast and lunch to avoid consuming additional calories in takeouts.
- Get seven to eight hours of sleep: Sleep deprivation slows your metabolic rate and increases your craving for sweets. People who slept four hours per night consumed 300 more calories than people who slept a normal amount, One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows. Also, well-rested folks are much more likely to exercise, and even a short workout can burn 200 calories.
How does fitness play into the weight-loss equation?
Calories burned while exercising can make a difference too, says Franowicz. Remember, calories give your body the energy it needs to function, but they can also be stored as fat when you take in more than you burn. To keep that from happening you have to reduce your calorie intake or increase your physical activity. But if you want to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time (which you do), you're going to want to do both.
"A great way to achieve the 500-calorie deficit is to divide it in half, maybe cut out 250 calories a day from food and burn an extra 250 more a day through movement to equal 500 calories," she says. That way, you won't feel deprived because you're not making too drastic of a change to your diet.
So, how much and how often should you work out to get the best results? Rosen recommends some form of daily movement for at least 60 minutes, including low-intensity movement such as walking, yoga, or pilates and cardio. "Specifically, strength training for 45-60 minutes two to three times per week is particularly helpful," she adds.
What are some basic exercise tips to burn additional calories?
- Walk on the treadmill or elliptical for 30 minutes.
- Do a 20- to 30-minute pilates or barre class.
- Try to get at least 10,000 steps a day.
- Do a 15- to 20-minute HIIT workout.
- Add in some structured strength training a few times a week. A 15-minute weight lifting session using five-pound hand weights a few times a week can go a long way in building muscle.
It's important to remember when it comes to calorie counting and calories burned, however, it varies between people. "The number of calories one needs to maintain weight or promote weight loss is based on height, age, and weight, and is individual to the person," says Santori. That means you may have to experiment to find what works for your body.
How much weight loss is *too* much in a month?
If you have been modifying your diet and exercise, most experts suggest sticking to one to two pounds a week, or four to eight pounds total, unless you have more than 100 pounds to lose, in which case, losing up to 20 in a month is okay.
But you don't have to strive for that 20-pound mark (and if you're going over that, talk with your doc). "Even modest weight loss can produce beneficial results," says Santori. "Weight loss of five to 10 percent of total body weight is associated with improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.”
It's also important to watch your calorie count. Franowicz doesn't recommend dipping below 1,200 calories a day. "Very low-calorie diets can result in fatigue and physical activity is such an important part of weight loss. If you are too tired to exercise, then this is a sign you are too low in calories," she says.
Overall, the number on the scale shouldn't be your main focus. If you're also adding some exercise (through cardio and strength training) to your workouts, you might also see smaller overall weight loss—about half a pound a week—but how your body looks and feels is a better measure of progress, says Santori. "As we already know, muscle weighs more than fat," she says, adding that you may see inches come off or clothes fit more comfortably as opposed to a major dip on the scale.
The bottom line: For healthy, sustainable weight loss, aim to lose one to two pounds per week, or four to eight pounds per month.
Nicole Blades is a novelist, speaker, and freelance journalist who covers women's health, race and culture, books and publishing, and stories of reinvention for various national print and digital magazines. She lives in New England with her husband, son, dog, and a sky-high stack of books by her bedside that she calls Mount Nightstand. Find out more about her at NicoleBlades.com.
Alexis Jones is an assistant editor at Women's Health where she writes across several verticals on WomensHealthmag.com, including life, health, sex and love, relationships and fitness, while also contributing to the print magazine. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, lives in Brooklyn, and proudly detests avocados.
Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.