If you need to lose weight, you may be thinking the faster you can shed the pounds the better. But depending on the weight loss plan you choose, dropping weight quickly might not be the most sustainable way to reach (or maintain) a healthier weight.
However, some people are motivated by early results, which then puts them in the right mindset to work on long-term changes to their diet and lifestyle. If noticeable weight loss provides the morale boost you need to develop better eating habits, here are some factors to consider.
What can you expect on a rapid weight loss plan?
Research on rapid weight loss suggests that people with obesity who reduced their daily calorie levels by between 500 and 1,500 calories per day were able to achieve a 5% weight loss in five weeks. Many popular plans that include a jump-start phase suggest that it may be possible for certain people to see double digit weight loss in the first couple of weeks.
However, it’s important to consider that individual weight loss results will vary depending on your initial size and activity levels, and the healthfulness of your current diet. The amount you sleep, your stress levels, genetics and medications are other factors that can influence your weight loss. Unless you’re being medically supervised and advised to follow a very low-calorie diet, women should eat at least 1,200 calories a day and men need to eat at least 1,500 calories per day.
The best way to lose weight fast
For the most rapid results, you’ll have less flexibility to enjoy foods with low nutritional value. That means limiting heavily processed foods that tend to be high in sodium, added sugars or refined grains — or a combo of the three. These foods interfere with weight loss because they tend to have more calories per bite. Plus, they’re eaten quickly, which may delay feelings of fullness, and they’re digested quickly, which means that you’ll be hungry soon after you eat them, leaving you susceptible to eating more than you planned. Typically, you’ll see the fastest results when you cut (or strongly curtail) these foods:
- Sodas and other sugary drinks, including sweetened tea and coffee drinks.
- Desserts (including ice cream, cookies, cakes, and pies — even ones with less added sugar or healthier ingredients).
- 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.
While you shouldn’t cut whole grains, you may have to readjust your portion sizes and eat less of them than you’re used to eating. For example, a serving of oatmeal or whole-grain pasta is just ½ cup, but it’s common to eat two to four times that amount.
Additionally, try to limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol can interfere with weight loss in a number of ways: It provides calories, but no nutrition; it can lower your inhibitions and therefore, make you more likely to overeat; and it can interfere with your sleep, which can then lead to disturbances in appetite-regulating hormones, causing you to feel hungrier and delaying fullness. Plus, sleep deprivation increases cravings for less healthy carbs and sweets, so it will be much harder to resist these foods.
The best foods for fast weight loss
No surprises here, but you’ll want to embrace non-starchy veggies. Whereas heavily processed foods pack in a lot of calories per bite, these foods have hardly any. They’re also full of fiber and other health-promoting vitamins, minerals and bioactive substances. In addition to being important for disease prevention, a fiber-rich, whole foods diet also promotes weight loss. Studies suggest that a higher-fiber diet is linked to lower body weight. One year-long study found that people who followed the advice to eat 30 grams of fiber per day lost about five pounds.
In addition to non-starchy veggies, a healthy weight-loss plan should include foods from these groups:
- Lean proteins, such as skinless chicken and turkey, grass fed lean beef, eggs, plain low-fat Greek yogurt, fish, beans and lentils.
- Carbohydrates from portioned amounts of whole grains, starchy veggies and fruits.
- Fat from healthy sources, such as extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and nut butters.
Evidence points to the fact that eating whole foods over highly processed ones can help with weight loss because these foods take a longer time to eat and digest, and they’re more filling. Compared to a diet heavy in processed foods, one that’s filled with mostly whole or minimally processed foods is also likely to be lower in calories.
In one recent study, 20 participants were asked to follow one diet for two weeks and an alternate diet for another two weeks. The diets were either a high-carb, low-fat, minimally-processed plant-based diet or a minimally-processed, low-carb one. Throughout the study, people were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Over the two-week period, both groups lost a similar amount of weight, though the low-carb dieters lost more at first. However, the high-carb dieters ate an average of about 700 fewer calories per day compared to the low-carb dieters. This signaled that the plant-based plan was more filling, and if this calorie deficit were to persist, it would result in better long-term weight loss. It’s also another indication that you don’t need to count calories to lose weight.
What you’ll eat on a rapid weight loss plan
Here’s a sense of what a day might look like on this type of plan. This fiber-rich day has about 1350 calories. Be sure to drink plenty of water as you adjust to a higher fiber diet.
- Breakfast: Berries with 1 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt and 1 tablespoon walnuts.
- Lunch: Savory oats made with ½ cup rolled oats, vegetable broth and mushrooms. Serve with sauteed kale and 2 poached eggs, ORa cup of chickpeas tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes, a teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and Italian seasoning.
- Snack: Non-starchy veggies and ¼ cup of hummus.
- Dinner: 1 cup of spaghetti squash with a ragu sauce made with lentils.
Before you get started, consider this
If the pursuit of weight loss — whether fast or slow — worsens your health by leading to a preoccupation with food, excessive exercise or isolation (because you’re skipping social activities in favor of staying on your weight loss plan), it’s a sign you should stop and seek help. If it impacts your mental health — say, by worsening your anxiety — stop and get help from a mental health expert. If you have a history of an eating disorder, you should not attempt to lose weight. If you’ve been a yo-yo-dieter — losing weight only to regain it — examine your past attempts before embarking on a new weight-loss journey. If the previous efforts were unsustainable, figure out which behaviors felt too challenging and which ones felt more manageable. Then, if you decide to proceed, stick to habits that you can continue past an initial jump-start phase.
The bottom line
Noshing solely on nutritious whole foods and eliminating all of the less healthful ones can get old quickly. If you think losing weight quickly will provide the momentum you need to develop healthier eating habits, try a plan like this for up to two weeks. After that, evaluate how to add more flexibility — maybe by adding back a glass of wine a few times a week or your favorite chips sometimes. Transitioning to a Mediterranean Diet, which focuses on enjoying mostly whole foods, can help you reach and maintain a healthier weight without counting calories or feeling too restricted.