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How to lose weight fast: What to know before trying a rapid weight loss plan

It's possible to safely lose weight at a steady pace, but don't fall for fad diets that promise lightning-fast results.
healthy plate of salad with lettuce and tomato flat layer
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Wishing to lose weight fast is a common impulse — but rapid weight loss is not typically a sustainable way to maintain good health and fitness.

Fad diets and overdoing it in the gym may get results in the short term, but drastic weight loss programs can’t be maintained long-term, and may even cause harm, research shows.

How long does it take to lose weight?

How long it will take you to lose weight depends on your size, metabolism, goals and lifestyle, among other factors.

For most people, losing 1-2 pounds per week is a healthy, safe and realistic goal, according to Mayo Clinic. Losing more than that per week could result in muscle loss, nutritional deficiency and metabolism decline, studies show.

If you're trying to lose weight for a specific occasion that's coming up, such as summer or a wedding, it's better to focus on building healthy habits that can promote weight loss, reduce bloating and increase muscle tone, experts say.

That said, some people to find noticeable weight loss early on in their journey motivates them to maintain healthy habits to keep it off. For example, many popular weight-loss programs include a jumpstart phase suggest where certain people may see double-digit weight loss in the first couple of weeks.

Just remember that only long-term changes will keep the number on the scale where you want it. Unless you've been advised by a health care provider to do otherwise, women should eat at least 1,200 calories a day and 1,500 for men.

Side effects of rapid weight loss

Common side effects of losing weight too quickly, according to Mount Sinai, include:

  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Loss of bone density
  • Weight regain
  • Dehydration
  • Gallstones
  • Gout
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Poor mental health

Who should not attempt to lose weight fast?

Attempting to lose more than 1-2 pounds a week is unhealthy for most people, according to Mount Sinai. That's why anyone attempting to lose weight fast should do so under the supervision of a health care provider.

Losing weight fast is especially unsafe for:

  • Children
  • Teens
  • Pregnant people
  • Older adults
  • Anyone with a history of disordered eating

If you have a history of yo-yo dieting, talk to your doctor before starting a new weight loss plan.

Best ways to lose weight safely and keep it off

So, what is the best approach if you want to lose weight safely and keep it off?

Identify empty calories

Cut out foods with low nutritional value, for example snacks with a lot of added sodium, sugar and refined grains. Cookies and chips provide quick energy, but cause the body to feel hungry soon after. Try to have these foods only rarely as a treat:

  • Sodas and other sugary drinks, including sweetened tea and coffee drinks
  • Desserts like ice cream, cookies, cakes and pies
  • Pizza and other forms of fast food
  • Chips and pretzels and other packaged snack foods, like chocolate chip granola bars
  • Foods with refined grains, such as white bread, cereal and crackers

Drink less alcohol

More and more evidence shows that cutting out alcohol entirely can help prevent cancer, and drinking in moderation is now defined as two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

Alcohol can affect weight in a number of ways. Some drinks are full of sugar, and alcohol disturbs sleep, which can result in food cravings and fluctuations in appetite-regulating hormones. And since it lowers inhibition, alcohol makes it more likely that you’ll eat high-calorie, low-nutrition junk food.

Drink more water

Drinking more water can help reduce cravings for unhealthy food, and to reduce inflammation. How much water should you drink?

Try to drink half of your body weight in ounces every day. That means a 180-pound person should have at least 90 ounces of water (which is about 11 cups) daily. And if you are exercising regularly, try to drink even more.

Eat more fruits and veggies

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: Fruits and vegetables are good for your health and can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Fruits and veggies are lower in calories and higher in water content, and many are full of fiber, which can promote weight loss.

Eating five servings of fruits and veggies a day is associated with a 12% decrease in risk of fatal heart disease, a 10% decrease in dying from cancer and a 35% decrease in dying from respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Along with plenty of fruits and veggies, a healthy weight-loss meal plan should include:

Set a regular sleep schedule

Getting quality sleep is key to maintaining a healthy weight. People who have erratic sleep schedules tend to have more cravings for snacks and low-nutrient foods that provide quick energy.

So, if you're putting in the effort to lose weight, make sure you're getting enough sleep. Studies suggest that sleep deprivation could prevent fat loss. Some research has shown that even minimal sleep loss could could cause some weight-loss resistance.

Get up and move

Exercise is an essential component to weight loss. It burns calories, of course, but it can also increase metabolism and overall energy. And strength training promotes fat burn even after the workout is over.

If you’re new to exercise, walking is a good way to begin. It reduces stress, improves heart health and helps prevent cardiovascular disease. If walking is your main source of exercise, aim for at least 30 minutes every day. If you want to pick up the pace, add in some jogging sprints or hill climbs.

Join our Start TODAY fitness community to get support and motivation, as well as monthly challenges that will help you to make regular exercise a long-term habit.